Germany, March 2009
Germany is cold, grey, efficient and to a certain, and perhaps understandable extent, lacking in soul. Compared with South Africa and the India I have just come from – two countries alive with diversity, colour and energy – Germany does appear particularly drab and unexciting.
CeBIT in Hannover was the focus of my trip, and being the largest technology trade show in the world, it was somewhat overwhelming for a first time participant. My focus was on manning my little stand and making sure I did not miss a single opportunity, and so I did not get much time to get around and see the other 20 something halls, each of them larger than the ICC in Durban. Everyone who had been to CeBIT before said that this year’s event was much smaller and the number of people attending significantly lower – I can only imagine what a busy year must be like!
Upon landing in Germany, I withdrew the €1100 of the €1320 I needed to pay the rent for the two bedroom apartment I had booked for Colin and I to stay in near the fairground (Messe). After that I was unable to draw anymore… ponderous. Sure enough, Standard Bank phoned me a few moments later to tell me someone in Germany had drawn a large amount of money and I realised I had forgotten to notify them of my travel – an amateur error which I hope never to repeat, because it has taken me two weeks, no thanks whatsoever to German customer service, to get the issue resolved. Deutsche bank flat refused to assist me each of the three times I went to them pleading for assistance in obtaining hard cash, the use of credit cards, it seems, is not a regular occurrence in Germany.
In the end, I paid a large restaurant bill with my Credit Card and pocketed the cash contributions from the rest of the diners. A fist full of €uros I have.
The highlight of the trip is without a doubt meeting a few special Germans; some CouchSurfers (Florian, Doerte, Sebastien, Cornelius et al and Marc and Susanna) and a few of the people working for the South African Government in Germany (Marion and Marc). If the initial perception is of a Germany lacking colour and soul, these very good people certainly put that perception on trial. Now they all need to come and visit me in South Africa so I can share with them my pride and joy.
After the very metropolitan experience in Hannover, I decided that with y remaining 48 hours in Germany, I would head to a small country City called Hameln just West of Hannover instead of Berlin, as suggested by pretty much everyone. Berlin is massive and I think it needs at least a week to experience properly – and I needed some time out, some peace. Hameln, Marc and Susanna were that peace.
The afternoon of my arrival, Monday, they took me up onto the hill to look down upon the very beautiful fairy-tale City, and then down into the Old City for a walkabout. Very chilly, but very charming to be in the City of the Pied Piper – rats and piper boys at every turn, on every pub and house in some way or another.
Marc and Susanna met one another at a CouchSurfing event – be sure of this, they did not meet online – they met, first time, in person at an event arranged for CouchSurfers to get together. They’re both in their forties and if they had not told me they only met a year ago, I’d have though they’d been together for a lifetime. It was a privilege to share their home for two days; share in their tasks such as chopping wood for the heating oven; entertaining the cats; shopping; preparing pizza; and recounting travel stories and photos. It was just the rest I needed to feel ready for another ten days away from home in another cold part of the world. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder and home is definitely where the heart is.
I am glad I have visited Germany and glad I met people who are open minded and able to speak about some of the contentious issues in Germany society, most relating to Nazi Germany and the legacy that regime has left for anyone calling themselves German. Coming from a country where the miracle of reconciliation through the Magic of Madiba seems so obvious, I was quite taken aback that nearly 65 years after the end of the war the German people I met were still so burdened by their past.
I had, until now, a perception that the final release was the 2006 FIFA World Cup where Germany showed the world colour, energy and fun – playing the perfect host to the world. But, it seems, the shadow of Mr H and his atrocities will continue to haunt these people for decades to come.
We should never forget, but we should always forgive – and the German people should have been freed of this guilt generations ago.
Tips for travelling Germany (Hannover)
1. Carry cash and be able to draw cash – credit card facilities seem few and far between
2. The tram in the City is free if you are an exhibitor at CeBIT (or any other show at Deutsche Messe?) for the days of the event otherwise you purchase a ticket for you or your group for just the zones you need to travel in. Ticket checks are very seldom done but I believe the penalties are very steep if you are caught. Tram lines are numbered 1,2, 3 and so on and designated with the blue symbol U for the tram line. Tickets can be bought at most stops from the automatic machines. Check http://bahn.de for schedules/pricing. A 1 day pass for 2-5 people in 1 zone cost €4.80.
3. To get to Messe on the tram you need to get to BothmerstraBe on the 1/2 line and ensure you are on the tram to “Messe Nord”.
4. DB (Deutsche Bahn) is the overland train system and their lines are designated with the red DB symbol. The station in Hannover is upstairs from the Hauptbahnhof tram station – not obvious from the signage – just ask. A ticket from Hannover hbf to Hameln cost €10,30 and took 45 minutes while the return from Hameln to Hannover Airport cost €13,30 and took an hour or so. Check http://bahn.de for schedules/pricing.
5. Tips are not included in restaurant bills and even if you pay by card, the tip needs to be paid in cash.