Hearty Welcomes & Salutations! Originally an action-packed travel blog from a globe-trotting Scotsman, An Ache for the Distance has, over the years, slowed down (I post less often), mellowed out (my dogs and kid have found their way on here) and become more of an expat blog (I German things up). Take a look around, leave a comment and share the love if you like something.
Stuart Mathieson, Lübeck, Germany

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Woes Of An Addict (Part One)

Travel is an addiction. It’s as simple as that. It shares with drug abuse and alcoholism all the major addiction symptoms. Withdrawal effects, desire for a bigger and better highs and, quite often, no real control over ones actions.

This latter point is very much on my mind as I sit in my Hamburg apartment, glued to my computer, scanning the outskirts of the city on Google maps. It’s a beautiful 30C summers day outside, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the majority of the populace are doing the right thing by lounging in parks, relaxing and generally enjoying a lazy day. I, on the other hand, am hatching a plan involving four train rides, kilometres of physical labour on a bicycle and a morbid tourist attraction in the form of Neuengamme concentration camp. Like I say, it’s an addiction…

My tourist attraction of choice is actually so far from the city that it’s completely off my Hamburg map and as such I desperately resort to scribbling a route from Google onto a piece of paper. I turn the computer off, get myself ready and head off. I study my home-made map as I lock the front door and realise it looks like a treasure map drawn by a retarded pirate. The possibility of getting lost in suburbia looks quite likely.

I walk out of the apartment block into a wall of heat and make my way to the U-Bahn (underground) station. It’s an easy 2 minute cycle but by the time I get there I feel disgustingly hot and sticky. I take comfort from the chap standing next to me at a pedestrian crossing, his light grey t-shirt informs the world just how hot it is by being almost entirely dark grey with sweat. I haul my bike up the station stairs and onto the platform. A train pulls up almost immediately and I inwardly thank the public transport gods for the efficiency of the Germans. Three stops later I’m at Berliner Tor station and looking to change onto a suburbia bound S-Bahn train. I get lost in the myriad of tunnels and I’m forced to surface onto street level to hunt down the different section of the station.

I manage to find the adjacent S-Bahn quite easily but, my pride in my own simple accomplishments is soon shattered by the realisation that by breaking away from the rest of the human traffic, I’ve made myself more vulnerable to attacks from the clip-board and question wielding fraternity. I’m accosted at the entrance by a Frau armed with the board, a pen and a plethora of guilt inducing scenarios complete with monetary solutions stemming from my bank account. Being very aware of my own financial plight, it crosses my mind to strike the first blow and ask her for money but instead I claim complete ignorance of the German language and, with an apologetic look, walk straight past her. She shouts questions at me in fluent English and we have an increasingly distant conversation as I continue walking towards the platform.

The train arrives after a couple of minutes, I wheel my bike on and realise that outside it’s 30C but inside the compartment it’s 40C. Everyone looks like they're being cooked. It dawns on me that these carriages are almost completely air-tight for rain protection (Hamburg’s normal weather) and little thought has been given to the occasional hot summer’s day. Only two small windows at the front can be opened and air-conditioning is non-existent. Death by public transport, a novel idea…

The train driver announces each station we arrive at, but he does so with a very distinctive muffle, as though he might be eating socks for lunch. I resort to counting the number of stops to go instead of trying to understand what he might be saying. I slide off the train after 10 minutes of baking, 3 kilograms lighter and with a thoroughly soaked t-shirt, confirm that I can count by checking I’m at the right station and then make for the streets. As I walk out into the sunshine and hop onto my bike, I realise that my hastily drawn and increasingly retarded looking map has no directions from the station itself. Brushing any doubt about my navigation skills aside, I set off in search of the first street on my map. I quickly make my presence felt amongst the locals as I free-wheel along on the wrong side of the pavement. At least I think that’s why the old women are scowling at me. Or maybe I’m on the wrong side of the street too? Perhaps it’s a no cycle zone? Do I need a license to ride a bike in Germany? This is after all the spiritual home of bureaucracy. Whatever the reason behind the scowls, I flash them a big toothy smile that I hope they interpret as “Feck off crinkly!”

I find my first road on the treasure map after a brief but extensive tour of the local vicinity and I’m soon fighting my way past roadworks, building sites and throngs of shoppers. Not the leisurely country amble I had envisioned. I persevere nevertheless, perhaps because the idea of getting back on a sauna train so soon strikes sweaty fear into my core, and I’m soon wheeling my way down a large but mainly empty thoroughfare, skirted on either side by red brick houses, more reminiscent of Manchester than Germany. After 5 minutes of brisk pedalling I reach a sign for Neuengamme. I swing right onto the long straight countryside road toward the camp and begin my 6km slog in the afternoon heat…

From Life in the Germanic Shires



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