Tag Archives: leipzig

Isn’t grey hair just the first light of a new dawn?

To make sure I got to Tegel on time, I set my alarm for 6:45am, attempting to grab a few hours of sleep on the sofa in Ursula’s kitchen after my leaving party. I had, predictably, reached that point of the night known as Oh Fuck It, Sure I’ll Drink Some Vodka Now, Because I Am Invincible. I had already Tetris-ed most of my stuff into my rucksack; now I just needed to put on clothes, brush my teeth and say a quick goodbye to Ursula and Franzi, too bleary to convey sufficient gratitude to them for making me feel so welcome. Trams rumbled past the open window, sounding like low-flying aeroplanes.

I got a lift to Berlin with a German, a Hungarian and two Iranians. Wind turbines sped by as we talked travel and life. Two of them reckoned they could maybe use my help editing their academic work, and I handed out my new home-made business cards. (As close to home as I’ve been in a long time, anyway; I can say now that I live in Leipzig twice a year.)

The last time I flew out of Tegel airport, I was basically a wreck. On the outside I was keeping it together – I maybe looked physically drained, but at least I wasn’t a sobbing heap, which was what I felt like and what I had been for most of the preceding week or so. I was actually on the brink of a big adventure, except I didn’t have the energy at the time to even consider things from that perspective.

Yesterday Tegel airport was just another place I was passing through, except there were hundreds of police around it, which turned out to be because the Pope was on his way and not, as I had somehow decided, because someone was filming a music video. But I bypassed all the action to queue up at the check-in desk. I was listening to I Am Nothing by Withered Hand.

it’s a victory just seeing out today

And suddenly I was thinking back to a Withered Hand gig in an art gallery in 2009. While the rest of the audience stood dutifully to attention, Neill was sitting on the floor eating beans and complaining loudly about every band that wasn’t Withered Hand. He was accompanied by his sidekick, who he referred to as The French, a notoriously wretched twentysomething with low standards of hygiene. The French didn’t think much of me for a while until I offered to break a drug dealer’s legs for him, which apparently scored me some points. There was the time, also, when the three of us went to the Edinburgh Mela and I watched The French absent-mindedly take out his pocket knife and hack away at some dead skin on his thumb, while he reminisced about the time he didn’t wash for two weeks and got the most action he’d ever had. He was last heard of taking an excess of drugs at Roslin and chasing people around with a dead goat or some such, before running away into the hills. At least that’s how Neill tells it.

Edinburgh had its moments, you know? Before I had to get out. I want to see Neill again, and others too, but I can no longer comprehend going back to a place that’s so familiar. Why settle when I can keep moving? For all I know I could change my mind two months from now, but at the moment I can’t see it.

I’m insignificant, that’s my size
in the greater scheme of things I am nothing

play Withered Hand – I Am Nothing

The greater scheme of things makes it so much easier to bear everything: the petty, transient bullshit that bugs me for an afternoon, or the genuine pain, whatever its source. Maybe the song wasn’t intended to be uplifting, but it works for me.

On the plane, I sat next to a Puerto Rican living in Berlin (“yet another artist,” he said) and reluctantly paid five euros for a glass of orange juice and a box of vegetable chips with excessive packaging. We circled Barcelona several times before landing.

play Withered Hand – New Dawn

Everywhere and all over

I spent two extra days in Kurdistan because I turned up at Sulaimaniyah airport on time for my flight to Stockholm and the airport staff didn’t know anything about it. This turned out to be because Air Sweden had changed the departure airport to Erbil, two hours away, without bothering to let me know. I was now overstaying my visa. I stayed with an activist friend and his family. I didn’t sleep well at night because I was in the room that he normally slept in and he had received death threats. I didn’t bother to mention it because I had only two nights to worry about a prospective case of mistaken identity whereas he had to deal with it every night. They knew where he lived.

Finally in Stockholm, I had to quickly come to terms with all the snow and the fact that things were super-expensive. And then on to Berlin for half a day, too tired and in a hurry to bother stating that it felt weird to be back. My home from mid-February to mid-March was Leipzig, where I was looking after a cat while its owner was travelling.

I was in a neighbourhood not far east of the city centre. A few times a week I’d head down to the Turkish shops on Eisenbahnstraße to buy flatbread and yoghurt, which I’d eat with my date syrup from Amedi in Kurdistan. I didn’t go out much at all my first week, I was just glad to have some space to myself. I followed the protests in Sulaimaniyah closely, worrying about my friend’s safety.

I found myself narrating the cat’s every move. I couldn’t help myself. “Stretchycat!” I’d crow whenever he awoke from slumber and stiffly attempted to straighten himself out.

John from Belfast came to visit. We went out to Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, allegedly Leipzig’s most happening street, on a Saturday afternoon. The ghost town effect lacked only tumbleweed. That night we got drunk in a cheap smoky pub called Dolly Dimple. “Maybe it’s a stealth gay bar,” I said hopefully, watching the heavily tattooed girl dancing with female friends to nineties dance music. “I don’t think so,” said John, ever the realist. I requested The Key, The Secret by Urban Cookie Collective and the DJ agreed instantly. I drank a lot of wine. “Maybe he’s a nazi,” I said to John when a shaven-headed boy showed up with a dubious smile. “You think everyone is a nazi,” said John. I attempted to chat up the heavily tattooed girl for him. “Du bist sehr schön,” I explained, harking back to Blur lyrics rather than my two and a half years of German classes.

I allegedly turned into a troll on the way home. “You just don’t understand,” I wailed to John, weaving from side to side, “I hate EVERYTHING.” I couldn’t find the way back to the flat even though we were close, and John stopped a helpful passerby for directions. “Yes but what is there to do in Leipzig anyway?” I demanded to know. “Everything,” said the poor stranger after a bewildered pause. I don’t remember any of this. I am sorry for being a troll.

After John went back to Belfast I developed a social life. I met New Friend Andre and New Friend Ursula and went for VoKü with them, got a free haircut, took a day trip to Dresden with its tobacco mosque, attended house parties with cheap bars. I realised there were indeed things to do in Leipzig. If I were to move to Leipzig properly in the future, I’d already have good foundations for a life there.

I knew that one reason why I thought of my time in Berlin as artificial was that one of its main features had been a relationship that turned out to mean different things to each party. But besides that, it was artificial because it was too easy. If you move to Berlin everyone will be jealous of you. Everyone will tell you that you’ll love it. “Berlin is so you,” they’ll say. It’s not as if you won’t like it when you get there, but the experience will already have been scripted for you to some extent. As an English-speaking expat I’d lived in a bubble where I didn’t need to use German beyond the most basic of transactions, and few of the people I ever hung out with were German and in a way we could have been anywhere. Leipzig was different. Its low immigrant quotient was disappointing in the sense of less multiculturalism – beyond Eisenbahnstraße there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of scope – but at least I was spending time with locals and I felt more conscious of being in Germany.

The legacy of the GDR had not entirely faded. “These West Germans,” said one of my friends, “they’ll see apple trees and they’ll still go to the supermarket and pay money for apples. Us East Germans will just pick them.” I learned about the antideutsch people and Kamal K, the Iraqi man who had been murdered in the city centre. I went to the free museum to learn about life before and after the wall.

I watched Anita – Tänze des Lasters. It was in German. There were a few parts I didn’t understand but I got the overall gist and even enjoyed the film. I went for vegan kebabs at Vleischerei.

There comes a time in every place I go when I’m surprised that it’s almost over. But I have become used to saying goodbye. And anyway I will be back to look after Stretchycat in the summer.

Then Vienna, Istanbul, Kandy, and now Kuala Lumpur. I was last here in 1999. I didn’t last 24 hours back then. Cockroach Stuart and I gave up on it and took the first train we could find to anywhere, which turned out to be Penang.

Heading for Australia, crossing time zones in short bursts. Every so often, especially as my expenditure currently outweighs my income, I find myself wondering what I am doing. How did it come to this?

On my first night I stood on Jeffrey’s tenth-floor balcony. I could see the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower in the centre of the city. I could also see a cluster of lights shaped like a lassoo or a speech bubble, glittering in the sky above a tower block. What kind of futuristic craziness was this? But it was Genting, Malaysia’s Las Vegas, a distant town in the hills, not a projection in the air at all.