Adam and I have swapped blogs this week which show how exciting our lives are. You can find Adam’s version of events as he guest writes on my blog, Made in Munich. The naming of Adam’s blog was actually the brain child of Nath and I so naturally I feel very at home writing here.To be able to write for the Blankenblog is not only a great opportunity but a true privilege.
A bit of background for those of you who aren’t aware, Adam is a very close friend of mine (up there with the very best of the best) and I am proud to say I have been a member of the Adam Shaw Appreciation Society since September 2010. In our first year at Leeds, we used to eat our Bakery 164 sandwiches on Parky steps along with Jordan “Broomhead” Bruce, Simon, Euan, Scouse and Sam. We’ve also undertaken many trips together and with our close-knit group of fwends. Following the annual university trip to Berlin in December 2010, the friendship group that emerged became known as The Berlin Six. Although this particular meet-up would only involve a third of the sextet, it very much centered around the founding fathers of the group. More about The Berlin Six will follow in next week’s post on Made in Munich. For Adam and I, our shared love of German, Beer, possibly mountaineering, quickly forming firm opinions of people we hardly know, all things Mitchell & Webb (95% Peep Show), reading, impressions, sporadic nights out, stumbling and dangerous spending have made us firm friends since the very beginning of our “studies”, and it would seem that teetering on the edge of various overdrafts is therefore a small price to pay.
Little persuasion from Adam was needed to get me to swap the stormy forecast in Bavaria for sunshine in the former East. It was with high spirits that I departed the city Adolf Hitler called home and journeyed to the centre of Europe to the small town nestled in the Harz mountains.
Adam is living in one of the most remote places of anyone on a Year Abroad in Germany and lives in a little town in Saxony-Anhalt, which is comparable in size to Fireman Sam meets Postman Pat if Gerhard the landlord was massive and ginger had a black and white cat. Gerhard is the landlord and his wife Anita looked like a sorceress, a part-time witch who came complete with straggly grey hair strung carelessly into a bun, warts on the tip of her long nose and baggy dark clothing – presumably ideal for inter-village broomstick travel.
For those who might not be aware of the exact location of Blankenburg, I created this map with you in mind. Including the UK was perhaps slightly unnecessary, it helps to gauge the distances between the German cities.
My expectations didn’t match the reality, and despite various friends telling me to watch my back and be careful of the scary people, I find them all charming, remarkably open and helpful.
The only Anglo-Saxon in a village full of pure Saxons. Despite their very smug motto: “Land of the Early Risers” I asked why this was, how could it be that some people get up earlier than others. Daniel suggested that it could be because local jobs were hard to come by, meaning hat many people commute large distances thereby needing more time for travelling and less for sleeping.
Upon my arrival I looked outside and realised that I had arrived in the town centre, where the police station was opposite the only club in Blankenburg the worryingly named: COMA. As I walked into the bar, people rested their glasses and turned in my direction, wondering how someone had strayed so far off the beaten track to land up in their town. Everyone seemed to be called Mark or Marcus or Marco, at which point I started to think they were having me on.
Adam has transcended into local folklore and simultaneously become a sort of minor celebrity managing to even make it into the local paper due to his footballing prowess, appearing in the local newspaper in a duel with a rival team and leading Blankenburger FV to a 6-0 victory.
What I’ve learnt is that the locals tend to roar for a long while after saying “Prost” and clinking glasses, I assumed it was offered as a sign of friendship. I also learnt that if you want to blend in you want to start growing a moustache as a matter of urgency and take care that it matches a character from Asterix & Obelisk. If it comes down to it, an argument will be settled by the ancient tradition of arm wrestling. A hearty rendition of God Save the Queen will (somewhat ironically in the former socialist state) result in a heartier rendition of the banned verse from the German national anthem, beginning Deutschland Deutschland Über Alles.
Both taxi drivers I spoke to over the weekend felt that the wall still stood, they explained that they only go on holiday in East Germany, but they will plan to go to the west some day. It’s difficult to get your head round that mentality of the Mauer im Kopf. But if you had never been abroad as a child and as a young man, why would you all of a sudden want to travel miles and miles driving to Italy when you can take a dip up the road in the Baltic.
Our Friday night started the same way it always does: with a few comfortable beverages and escalated in the typical fashion, only this time it literally escalated until we had climbed up to the castle beers and bike in hand, pretending to Blankenburg’s only bar/club, COMA. The door to the bar creaked open and I strolled inside taking care to look as much like Clint Eastwood as physically possible, lowering of the brow and slight squint of the eyes were all compulsory. the bike turned out to be much more adventurous than we had expetced (it was a fairly modest pedellar, sloped handelbars, cumbersome light, nothing special about it at all) but it showed its daredevil side as it decided to tackle the hill on autopilot.
Finally I was with Adam and the legendary members of Blankenburg’s high society, one of whom, Marco I believe was his name, looked and talked remarkably like one of the Grinch’s associates.
Blankenburg’s ethnology consists of one Pakistani who works with the one Turk who runs the kebab stall. Aside from that there is one Englishman, namely Adam Shaw and the rest of the population is made up of 19,997 Saxons. When I arrived in the East, word of my presence spread quickly and the headlines were reading “ACHTUNG: Population of Brits in Blankenburg doubles overnight”.
Saturday: Toboggan or not Toboggan, that was the question.
On Saturday morning we arose feeling admittedly under the weather. After a much-needed injection of caffeine, Adam gathered himself and he took me to the legendary Potato House, the dining experience in Blankenburg. Adam ordered a soup which hilariously came in a cauldron and I took what he recommended: a glorious steaming pan of potato bacon and onion. Concerns were raised as we drew to the close of our meals, as the waitress expressed a keen wish to clear our plates, but there was a vulpine glint in her eye that I recognised from having hungry younger brothers and Adam and I suspected she may have been looking to scoff the rest of the ‘tatoes. I wasn’t smiling. Not on my watch, I thought to myself. In fairness, Adam had warned me beforehand that the pan held a generous portion of both carbohydrate and protein, but I think he secretly assumed that I would then take it as a challenge that he had only finished it once before.
Adam deserves a pat on the back for not making me go and watch football, if I hadn’t been there he probably would have turned up, though unfortunately since we had attempted to turn our livers into minibars on Friday night, drenching them in all varieties of drink, Mr. Shaw would have been about as much use as Leicester’s horror transfer Frank Sinclair who managed to fluff two own goals in just three games at the start of the 1999-2000 season. We had big plans for Saturday in the Harz mountains and ventured to nearby town Thale which was just a bus-ride away. Adam was shocked when a woman selling drinks refused to let me inspect them but reassured me that it wasn’t something I said, just that the old witch had lost a few of her marbles.
We were able to really drink in the fresh air up the mountain at the Bodetal (Bode valley) which is a ravine at the bottom of which lies the small town of Thale.
The most enchanting thing about the Harz mountains was witnessing the refreshing pride that the locals took in their heritage, the logo of the witch was on every possible brochure, sign, door, menacing little witchy puppets decorated the front door, the hallway and the door to Adam’s flat as if to somehow protect him against evil.
Isn’t the about the region is the way that the landscape remembers a pre-Christian time when tribal chiefs made human sacrifices at the peak of the mountain, legend has it that the witches would then come and dance over the spilled blood at the Hexentanzplatz, Nowadays this is celebrated by a large bonfire being lit on the May Eve, this year it will take place next Tuesday the 30th of April.
On the mountain, Adam led the way to the Rodelbahn was probably the most fun you can have tobogganing, unless you intend on going professional. We got a bit overexcited towards the end and went down in the same cart, only with Adam blindfolded and in the drivers seat, which led to me screaming “BREMSEN” when I wanted him to brake, he didn’t brake. The mountain views were spectacular and you really got that feeling of enchantment, that the bare faced craggy faces inspired fear and respect into the hearts of the people who once inhabited the surrounding area. Luckily Adam checked the time and with a sprightly jog we managed to catch the last cable-car down the mountain, otherwise we would have had a creepy journey down as the sun set and the witches came out to dance. Adam took us along to
Saunawelt where we indulged ourselves in various temperatures of water and various humudities of air including participation in a menthol session. When enough was enough we taxied it back to the Burg where Angus and Mahmood made heroic and energetic appearances on Skype which combined with the fresh Hasseröder Pilsner was so that we became drowsy and drifted off.
All too soon the weekend was drawing to a close, but we still caught up on a bit of Made in Chelsea before snoozing on the train to Halberstadt, our final destination being Halle, where a punk beggar asked for ten cents, but at the time we (perhaps unreasonably) felt deciding if we were going to give our hard-earned cash out to randomers, we would at least want to choose what they wear, or at the very minimum expect them to be dressed like normal beggars.I didn’t realise goth clothes and stupid boots costed so much, that it lead him to the streets in search of sponsorship. We ambled into the town centre, where I was tempted by every kebab shop in sight, but Adam maintained that we could always come back if we didn’t find anything better. We eventually settled on a nice restaurant right in the centre of the town which on the one hand was perhaps a bit unnecessarily romantic but on the other hand completely worth it since we were both craving pizza. Quite why we thought it would be acceptable to stroll into a restaurant in trackies, I don’t know but no-one seemed to mind as the place was almost empty when we arrived and completely empty when we left.
Apart from being stopped by the Autobahn police “Papiere bitte, ve vont to exämin your papers” on the way back, everything went swimmingly and we were both back in our respective towns before nightfall. Thanks very much to Adam for the hospitality and for literally showing me round his neck of the woods, I hope it’s not the last I see of the Harz Mountains.