Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The light woke me. 4.a.m., that dreaded in-between-time where night has not yet ended and the day is still waiting to start. My sister was lying next to me, sound asleep, missing the spectacular sunrise. In winter the light hides away in other corners of the planet, but when summer comes so does the day: the sun rises at about 4.30 and only sets at 22.00. It is strange to me to have either really short days or really long ones because I am not accustomed to such extremes. In summer this is lovely, with long evenings spent at the harbour sipping drinks and contemplating what life will bring next.

In a week I'll be heading home for almost two months, so I looked at the photographs from when my family came to visit. Their suitcases were filled to the brim with things for me: Chutney, glorious glorious bottles of chutney. Proper rooibos tea. Beskuit (rusks), baked by my mom. Marula jelly. Custard powder. Biltong. A section from The Sunday Times. And tons and tons of my clothes.

And now that the flight leaves in little more than a week I am planning my gifts carefully. Who would enjoy what? Would the gift break in my bag? Will it melt? Mostly I have settled on chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate.

Although I am bubbling over with excitement it is also strange to leave here now, just as summer has blown in for a few weeks. When my mother and sister were visiting, we had a few nice days where we explored Glücksburg by boat and on foot, and were also lucky enough to go aboard the Alexander von Humboldt II. Now on to exploring my hometown :)

The Okseø islands


Alexander von Humboldt II

Friday, 25 July 2014

Made of Stone

The Forgotten One

Nicholas knows they can smell him before they can see him. What is he supposed to do? He can’t go back; there is no place to go home to and there is no place for him to go forward to. So he spends his life huddling into the spaces that others ignore. There is the corner of the bus stop where he can rest his head against dirty Plexiglas. Then there is the corner opposite the Indian restaurant where he can smell the coriander, the turmeric and the cumin combining with a hint of cinnamon, maybe some garlic and a handful of chili peppers to create their garam masala. Or on warm summer nights he can hide away from prying eyes behind the arches of the old rum storage hall near the harbour.

He does not grow embarrassed anymore. Now he simply exists as he is, waiting for a future that brings him no hope. What do they see as they walk quickly past him, fearful of him extending his empty coffee cup in that tell-tale way of the beggar? But he does not beg, even though his condition would be best suited to it. His wheelchair is a good start, but it is the burns on his face and upper body that could really make the people empty their wallets. The stench and the rags are just a bonus, something to add to his look of callous wretchedness.

Nicholas knows he scares them. He knows what he looks like. His once blue eyes have submitted to a greyish colourlessness and the right one has a droopy lower lid. He has no eyebrows left, his right cheek is torn apart by disfiguring burns. The right wing of his nose is missing completely, making him appear more skull-like than human-like. The scars on the top of his head he hides underneath an old beanie, but the ones extending down his chest and torso he wears as a shield of armour. Thick worms of badly healed skin crisscross down his torso like veins and arteries that have inverted their place in the body.

His looks he accepts, it is just one of those things. But the loss of his life he did not consent to. And now they walk past him, daily, the ones who loved him most also most afraid of him. He struggles to push his chair up the slight angle of the hill of the main shopping street. Cobblestones be damned. The plastic bags hanging from his chair’s handles sway-swish-swish as he tries to move forward. They contain all of his belongings, which does not amount to much: some ratty clothes, a pair of black boots for the winter, a towel and a bottle of wine. He is not really going anywhere, but the holidays have started and the city is inundated by them so he had to get away. He is advancing slowly, creeping up the hill, but no one offers to help. They part in front of him like the Red Sea.

He escapes and hides in the corner behind the church. No one goes to church any more, he knows he is safe from the hordes. The steeple casts a long shadow. It is 18:00. The bells start ringing all over town. Nicholas carefully fishes a paper cup from one of the bags and wipes it down with a serviette. The wine is pink and girlish but it was the cheapest he could find. He pours himself a glass and takes a big sip. But he does not gulp it down, no, he swirls it from one side of his mouth to the other, savouring the berry-like sweetness before he swallows soundlessly. The contents of the bottle disappear slowly; his head falls to his shoulder as he drifts into an uneasy sleep.

Only in this drunken stupor does he relive the horror of that night. The most joyous of them all, the night they had prepared for during the past 364 days. The day that ruined him.

All the preparations had been in order, his team had done a wonderful job and thought of everything. The first half of the night passed eventlessly, but then he slid down the chimney that would disfigure him forever. Nicholas had seen no smoke, felt no heat and smelt no soot so he felt safe. But when he reached the bottom he was engulfed by flames. The plastic imitation leather he was wearing because his workers no longer advocated the use of animal products singed and clung to his skin. It seared him, a fat steak on a griddle pan.

The children heard him scream. They came running but there was nothing they could do. Their parents appeared, tried to extinguish the man on fire in their living room. ‘How had he broken in? What was he there to steal?’ - they wondered. Good thing they let the fire burn. The parents phoned the ambulance and the police. Nicholas was rushed to hospital, but because he had no identification and kept mumbling that the children could not see him like this he was treated like a criminal, a pervert even. They barely patched him up, thinking him strange and scary and thus undeserving of proper care. Then they stuck him in a wheelchair and rolled him out of the front door. He had fallen through the bureaucratic cracks, no one cared what he did from that point onward.

Nicholas tried getting in touch with his office, after all he had worked there all his life and practically been the boss. But they only sent him a note: “Regret this happened to you, but we can no longer employ you. We hope you understand. Kind regards, Fir Tree Management”. He did not blame them, really, accepting that his looks made him ineligible to be the main guy any longer. But could they not have found alternate employment for him? Could his loyalty to the company for the past centuries not have been rewarded by something other than a letter of dismissal?

He started existing on the streets as he discovered the hidden nooks and crannies where he could breathe in peace. Worse than the betrayal by his employers and friends however was the way the children now looked at him. They retreated in disgust and avoided him at all cost. Nicholas had spent his life trying to bring them whatever they most desired, and this was the way they repaid him. He knew is anger was unfounded, knew that he should not blame them. How could the children recognize him like this? To them he was a crippled hobo surrounded by the stench of the streets, a urine-soaked figure of filth and human indifference. To them another Santa would be coming to town.

Friday, 11 July 2014

She gone with the man/ In the long black coat

The biggest musical moment was when Jimmy Eat World came to Oppikoppi in 2007. After Savage Garden and Usher in the Dome in Johannesburg when I was still a preteen this was huge. I must have been 19, ready to finish my Abitur and head out into the world at the end of that year. I remember standing pretty close to the stage with one of my best friends, how excited we were and how we sang along to every song. It was magnificent.

This year I have had the privilege of seeing the National, and with that my musical bucket list had started. There are just 4 names on there: Radiohead. The National. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Ben Howard. Easy. Doable, in a lifetime, surely.

And then someone came along who would blow that bucket list to smithereens: Bob Dylan. As in, the Bob Dylan. Bobby D. The one and only. For some reason (I do not question the powers that be in this case) Bob Dylan came to Flensburg, of all places. And played for us. Jimmy Eat World were magnificent because of who I saw them with and because they are the band of my teens; the National were a testament to how sad songs can make you incredibly happy; and then came Bob Dylan.

Except for jazzy versions of All Along the Watchtower and Blowin in the Wind played as an encore I knew none of the songs. Not a single one. There was no singing along, no great dancing, no great moving along to the music. And yet he was mesmerizing. He walked on stage in a black suit where the jacket was quite long and then a wide-brimmed hat. During the performance, he switched between singing and playing on the piano, walking between the two stations with more swagger than an entire Hip Hop crew, and enthralled us. The hall was stickily hot, the people were packed quite densely next to one another and I was constantly stepping on my jacket on the floor. And yet, him being there was all it took to make everyone forget how hot and humid it was.

To him it must have been just another gig, one of 1000s, but to me it was the world. It was seeing someone who had lived their dream and who at 70-something was still going strong. I am not a musician and I am entirely unsure what the future holds, but seeing him in the hall us students had been welcomed to Flensburg in, well, it made me believe for a little while that anything was possible.

(After the concert we watched Germany beat Brazil 7-1, so that night the impossible truly became a reality.)

Standing Bob.
Piano Bob. 
Germans celebrating their win.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Peacock Tail

I start helping out in a crèche today, so this seemed fitting. 

Blue umbrellas
by D. J. Enright

'The thing that makes a blue umbrella with its tail -
how do you call it?' you ask. Poorly and pale
Comes my answer. For all I can call it is peacock.
Now that you go to school, you will learn how we call all sorts of things;
How we mar great works by our mean recital.
You will learn, for instance, that Head Monster is not the gentleman's accepted title;
The blue-tailed eccentrics will be merely peacocks; the dead bird will no longer doze
Off till tomorrow's lark, for the latter has killed him.
The dictionary is opening, the gay umbrellas close.
Oh our mistaken teachers! -
It was not a proper respect for words that we need,
But a decent regard for things, those older creatures and more real.
Later you may even resort to writing verse
To prove the dishonesty of names and their black greed -
To confess your ignorance, to exiate your crime, seeking one spell to
life another curse.
Or you may, more commodiously, spy on your children, busy discoverers,
Without the dubious benefit of rhyme.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


Crossing the bridge to the island. 
With the international students, I had the privilege of visiting the island of Sylt. Initially I wasn't sure where it is located or why one should go, but after some Wikipedia research it seemed like an interesting place to visit, especially since the university would be covering my costs haha. It is shaped like an anchor lying on its side, and although the island stretches for 40km from north to south it is only 320m in width. Because of strong storm tides, they have an enormous erosion problem and after trying to salvage the island throughout the years with groynes and tetrapods they are now dredging the sand back to the beaches. It costs the government millions every year, but for some reason it must be worth it. 

We took three trains to get there and then another bus to our hostel/previous boarding school. The accommodation was wonderful. Everyone was extremely friendly, all our meals were catered for and the rooms were nice as well. On the afternoon of our arrival we went on a guided tour of the Wadden Sea (Wattwanderung) where two young students explained to us the different creatures that live in the muddy sand and how the ebb and flow works there. One also said that the weather changes extremely quickly on the island, but I was not listening too exactly to his words. 

The Wadden Sea on both sides
Hah, he was right. During the night an enormous thunderstorm harassed the island and I was panicking a bit because our group was supposed to be touring around on bicycles the next day. At breakfast it was still gloomy and rainy, but by the time everyone had showered and gotten ready the skies had cleared and it was a lovely day. Later on we returned to the hostel and a thick thick mist covered the buildings as we ate our supper. I wanted to walk the 100m to the beach to see the mist there, and only 2 students joined me because the others said it was too cold. However, as the 3 of us climbed over the dune there was no sign of the mist. We settled into the beach chairs and watched a beautiful sunset instead. 

The main beach at Westerland

There are 11 000 of these in season spread on the beaches.