A week in Mannheim

Trip Start Mar 29, 1999
Trip End Jun 18, 1999

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Tuesday, June 1, 1999

I caught the 9.30 train back to Heidelberg. Left my big bag in a railway station locker and waked around the city that had rejected me a day earlier. Found an English shop and bought Bill Bryson's book "Neither Here nor There: travels in Europe". I had read it previously but thought it might have more meaning having been to the places he went to (some of them anyway). Also bought today's Daily Telegraph to ensure plenty of reading. I am constantly amazed at how quick these places get the British papers - I was here at about 10am and today's paper was already on the rack.

I strolled down to Heidelberg's river and sat on the grassy banks for a good two hours. It was very sunny today and was also the first day in about 2 weeks that I had worn my jeans and clumpy shoes. Coincidence? Bill Bryson turned out to be just as funny second time around and I found myself giggling uncontrollably at some bits, to the amusement of some passersby.

After that, I found an internet place, but it was again one of these super-trendy, computer-illiterate places with crap computers and no one who knew they were crap. Then back to the station after a pleasant day in Heidelberg, collected my bag and boarded the 5pm rush hour train to Mannheim.

Tried to call Jodi a few times as she was due back in Mannheim today, to no avail. The YH was full but I managed to find a proper hotel for 45DM in the centre - not a bad deal I guess. Mannheim strikes me as a well-organised city. Having said that, the blocks in the old town are in a kind of chess board formation, numbered from A1 to U6 in slightly confusing fashion. But the tourist office lady was nice and Jodi lives here somewhere so I'm going to give this town a chance for a couple of days, even if I only use it as a base to explore elsewhere.

The next challenge is to find a bar showing the Champions League football final between Bayern Munich (boo!) and Manchester United (yay!). Stayed at the hotel for the game because I couldn't find a bar with a big screen. Watched down in the breakfast area with three older German guys. What a game! Bayern went up 1-0 after six minutes and the German guys were sitting smugly until 89.58 minutes when super-sub Teddy Sheringham made it 1-1. Then about 1 minute later there was a melee and United got another goal to win 2-1. I was pretty excited by this stage and it was lucky the Germans couldn't understand what I was saying.

Thursday 27 May

Full marks to the Hotel Basler Hof for breakfast. A great spread of cereals, yoghurt, fruit salad, bread rolls, cold meats, juices, tea & coffee and a hard boiled egg. Yum.
Another fantastic day in this part of the world, so I let fate take me where it would. First sight was just up the road, the Wasserturn, a big water reservoir-cum-monument thing with a nice fountain and gardens beside it. Then on through the numbered streets to the hub of the town (about G1 I think). A lively enough town with the usual mix of ages and styles. Still no sign of Jodi - she must be still on holiday, or back but hiding.

That breakfast was amazing - it's now 6.15pm and I haven't had anything since 9.30am but I only feel vaguely hungry, and probably only that because my brain says I should. Spent two hours in the park in front of the Wasserturn reading the paper and Bill Bryson. Then wandered around town through the city centre, to an internet café (very cheesy 80s style) etc. etc. It was very sunny today and very energy-sapping, which makes my lack of hunger even more noteworthy. Explored a bit of the other side of the river. I really like Mannheim. It has a real middle-size town feel to it - lots of cafés and bars and good-looking people without the overwhelming traffic and suited yuppies that bigger cities have. I've now spent just over 24 hours in Mannheim and it feels like a week. Not in a bad way, but having had so many 'one night stands' with cities (13 in all) it is odd to spend two nights at the same place.

This hotel is interesting in that there is always a different person at reception. I must have been down there (for various reasons) maybe 8 times during my two nights and have not seen the same person twice. It's almost like they're auditioning for the part: "Okay, thanks, we've seen enough. Don't call us, we'll call you."

Had a doner kebab for dinner. Bill Bryson's right, German foodstuffs don't sound very attractive in German. Not quite as bad as his example of Schweinensnout mit Spittle und Grit, but "ein grosser doner mit hackfleisch" hardly sounds appetising.

Friday 28 May

Another fabtastic breakfast gave me the energy boost that I need to keep pace with my busy lifestyle, so I promptly caught a train to Heidelberg to get a newspaper. They didn't have the one I wanted so I went to Stuttgart. It wasn't there either so I spent a couple of hours at an internet place 'watching' Pakistan pile on 269/8 vs NZ. Stuttgart (another brill day, by the way) was having some kind of festival which involved drum bands marching through town and traditionally-dressed couples doing rather measured and unadventurous dances on stage. I also had a chat with an American mormon who, remarkably, didn't try to sell me anything or convert me.

Then I went to one of the big rectangular department stores that any respectable mid-range German town seems to have scattered across its main drags to check Pakistan's final score. There was no one at the internet desk so I waited around for about five minutes before some crusty old employee who had been watching me waiting all this time sauntered over. "Can I use a computer please?" I asked nicely, pointing to the row of unused units in case he didn't speak English. He scowled at me and barked "5 marks!" I paid him and sat down at a computer, which it turned out needed a password. "Excuse me" I asked "what is the password?" He looked at me with disgust and shouted "surfer!" as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Alright, alright you grumpy old bastard" I retorted "keep your last two hairs on. And it wouldn't kill you to smile a bit either you know." "What?" he hissed, edging towards me. "You know, smile", I explained with a demonstration. He cursed something in German at me and pointing his finger at my nose shouted "it's not my department!" "So?" I shouted back, "you can still be nice about it. It's not my fault your over the hill and still selling crap at a department store, is it?" he stormed off and after I had fumed over my computer for 10 minutes, I went downstairs to find an 'information' lady and ask where I could lay a complaint. "Sure", she smiled, "second floor, Service Department. Second floor, who should be standing in the Service Department but old grumpy guts himself. So I walked back down the stairs and asked the info woman to complain directly to the manager on my behalf.

Then, my good deed done for the day, I boarded another train, to Pforzheim, in a token gesture to keep the 'P' dream alive. Nicish town, but I only spent an hour there as it was getting on in the day and I was a bit far from Mannheim. Train back to Stuttgart and then one of those nifty speedy ICE trains straight to Mannheim through a series of underground tunnels. Still no sign of Jodi so I wrote her a note and delivered it to her door. Well, I tried to but there was no letterbox, so I didn't.

There is a big festival in Mannheim this weekend so I ventured out in my glad rags to look at Friday's offering. There are a LOT of people in the city tonight, mainly along one of the main shopping streets. There are beer tents, food tents, bands, cafés, entertainers etc. and everywhere is jammed solid with people. They certainly get in behind this sort of thing over here. An observation I've made is that people in Germany are either extraordinarily gorgeous or have been given several coats of ugly paint, it is quite an extreme. And the locals, orderly well-behaved sober Germans by day, turn at night into orderly well-behaved drunk Germans. At one five metre-wide road there must have been 50 people on either side and not one of them dared cross against the lights, despite there being no traffic in sight. And the young 'wild-boys' scouting around for trouble with that 18 year old swagger wouldn't even dream of jaywalking.

So, I spent an hour or so being jostled by beefy German blokes and listening to quite awful covers of American songs before buying a doner and retreating to bed. I thought it was just the weather but my room (on the top floor) is very hot. In fact, as Robin Williams would say, it's "DAMN hot". Phew.

Saturday 29 May

Today, I think, is the two month anniversary of me leaving. I had no particular celebrations but I'm sure there were in NZ.

If I were ever to go to hell, for whatever reason/s, this is the kind of sunburn I would get there. Three hours lying in the German sun topless is not recommended - except in special circumstances. And the thing about sunbathing is that you don't realise at the time that you are burnt. So now, having lain/lied/layed in the park for three hours reading the paper, I have an uncomfortable, humorously uneven and colourful sunburn down my back, neck and back of my legs.

However. That festival thing is still going - I'm not sure it actually stopped last night. In search of a supermarket to restock my supplies of fizzy drink (essential in this heat, both outside and in) I was carried along in the never-ending current of people along the main pedestrian thoroughfare. One moment of humour came when a middle-aged couple in front of me were walking with their arms around each other's waists, his right hand around her waist and her left hand holding his behind his back. Except that it wasn't her hand he was holding, but that of some strangely dressed street performer. This carried on for about 200m to hoots of laughter from other pedestrians before the guy realised what was going on.

Wellington could really do with one of these festivals, maybe in November/December as a city-bonding and money-spinning exercise. So, I bought my three bottles of Fanta - mandarine, grapefruit and lime flavours (none of which I've ever seen in NZ) and returned early to my hotel to douse my back in wet towels. Unfortunately the 'cold' water is warm, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Sunday 30 May

My back is very sore. Ouch. I have been moved to a smaller room at the Basler Hof because my current room is booked for tonight. Hopefully the new room will be a little cooler as the one I've been in is like a cooker.

Tentatively went outside with the small weight of my little backpack feeling like barbed wire on my beetroot-red shoulders. Followed what is becoming a pattern of my stay in Mannheim by buying a paper and reading it in the park - careful this time to stay covered up and in the shade. Sifted around from shady spot to shady spot till about 4pm, bought a good doner kebab.

In the evening the Mannheim festival was still going and there was a really good American jazz band called the Swinging Ladies. An all woman 5-piece group, they did toe-tapping covers of Ellington standards etc. They also had this really cool black American guy called Ron Ringwood or something, a mix between Barry White, James Brown and Lawrence Fishburn, who would join them for the last couple of songs of each set for some blues or soul. The Germans don't really seem to go in for dancing so much - this was the music to but the only guy dancing was an American 'doood' with a bottle of Jim Beam in his hand.

Date: Monday 31 May

Woke up early this morning and went out to a nearby phonebox. Lying there was someone's wallet and when I looked inside there was at least one 1000DM note. I gave the wallet to the nearby newsagent to hold on to until claimed, had a note to such effect written and was going to stick it in the phonebox when the owner came back looking for it (I recognised him from a photo in the wallet. He was very grateful and offered/insisted on giving me a 20DM reward. I refused, saying I knew how it felt to lose a wallet and he was most grateful. And all this before breakfast.

Debated with myself whether to stay in Mannheim or go to Frankfurt. In the end I did both by booking in for yet another night at the Basler Hof and then catching a train to Frankfurt. It is really just another German city with the charmless storefronts and thousands of people who seem to be permanently on holiday strolling through the streets. Of course, it is a biggish city and therefore has everything on a bigger scale. I saw this fantastic 6-piece Russian band. They all played really weird Russian instruments in a lively Russian music style, wore furry hats (must have been sweltering) and black boots and belts with stars on them. They did Cossack-type dancing and dances involving swords which were spectacular but kinda dangerous looking. One little middle-aged woman from the audience threw down her handbag and started doing some really lively dancing as well. Great fun.

Eager to check on NZ's progress v Scotland in the World Cup, I went to the internet café that the tourist info had recommended. I had my second unpleasant encounter in a row at an internet place. However, I 'watched' NZ stroll to victory and qualify for the Super 6s ahead of the West Indies, along with those scurrilous aussies who went on a go-slow yesterday to keep NZ from qualifying. Up yours aussie!

Then almost ran for a (crowded/slow) train back to Mannheim. I rung up a couple of names I had found on the web of cricket teams in Germany in the hope of getting a game some time. One team had shelved its season until the World Cup was over but the guy gave me his mate's number and he said there might be a place in his club's 'B' team. That sounds like fun - 2nd grade German club cricket! I have to call him back tomorrow night.
My railpass only has 10 days to go and I don't really want to be stuck here when it runs out.

Tuesday 1 June

Hired a bike today from a place next to the Hauptbahnhof. For 15DM I get a very feminine road bike, complete with front basket and foot brakes, for a whole day. Proceeded to get myself in a muddle almost as soon as I left the shop, breaking most of Germany's traffic rules and swerving from one side of the street to the other as I weighed up whether it would be worse to be hit by a tram or a large truck. Fortunately the other traffic realised that I was a stupid tourist who had no concept of sensible traffic laws and let me live.

Somehow I made it to the park, where everything becomes a lot quieter and easier to negotiate. However, the floods this region has experienced recently meant that some of the cycle paths were blocked off. The park had a woodsy, swamplike feel to it with most of the tree trunks underwater. While taking a photo of my silly bike I stood in some plants which have now made my legs really itchy - hopefully not fatally so.

Then I cycled over to the other side of Mannheim via the city to a huge park called Luisen Park. It has lots of practical sporty things there and I watched some kids' soccer tournament. The standard of some of these kids (who look 8-10 years old) is pretty high - good dribbling and coordination. They play on grassless fields, which must be sore to fall on. I continued my ride and ended up at the Northern part of town where I dropped into my old haunt, the New World Internet Bar for a few minutes. Then, over the bridge and around the nice suburbs there and back around the old city - nearly ending on a high speed motorway once or twice before finally making it back to the bike shop, with some relief.

I rung up some other guy about cricket and he arranged for me to play in a game on June 13. I agreed enthusiastically but I don't think I'll be here then.
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