The Predicament of Preparing for International Travel
So for frequent flyers most of what I am going to talk about in this post may seem totally ridiculous…but perhaps you can sympathies, reminiscing about your first trip, or at least even just have a laugh with me through my plight of both build up to hoping on a plane and coming to Germany, and my first day here.
Everything leading up to my trip felt like a bit of a mission; applying for a visa wasn’t a stress-free experience, especially as I went to the local German consulate and no one knew what to do with an artist residency. Needless to say, I don’t think many visa applications for residencies go through those doors. There were a few requirements that got me in a total spin; one was a letter of employment. Being part-time, all my contracts end in November, the month I am due to fly to Germany. I doubted this held much clout. The other is the finances. A requirement is that you can prove, through bank statements, that you have sufficient funds in your bank account to survive your stay in Germany. This meant 60 euros per person per day. For a three-month residency that meant a whopping spare R89000 floating in your bank account. For a part-time everything like me, my bank would probably shut down immediately if it had that amount of money in it, thinking something must be wrong, ERROR ERRRORRR!!!! Anyway, there seemed to be ways to get around this. I had to prove, with a very official letter, that my meals, residence, and a small stipend was provided for, and I was not going to be broke and homeless on the streets of Germany. Can we take a moment to talk about the fact that you have to buy your plane ticket and health insurance BEFORE applying for a visa! A fact I am sure many frequent flyers are like ‘ja… duuuur’. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the theory behind it but jeepers… The cost of plane ticket, insurance and the visa application fee, with the possibility that it may or may not be approved, is enough to make any strapped for cash artist/person vomit. None the less, all seemed to be forgiven and accepted and they approved my visa. Hooray!
Since the residency doesn’t provide much in terms of materials, it is import that I packed all my tools that I will need. Cutting knife, blades, pens, pencils etc. No problem…. Um problem! When you’re going to a cold country packing heavy warm clothing is a necessity, add that to the tools and a few materials to get you started on the first few artworks equal one VERY HEAVY Bag. Unfortunately, all my tools had to be in my main luggage and not my carry on, since I work with sharp blades. Getting arrested and having to explain why I had a pack of a hundred scalpel blades in my carry-on bags to airport security was not on my bucket list. So, in my baggage it went. I happened to fly with SAA - South African Airways, who have a weight restriction of 23kgs. I was well over 23kgs. I dumped some clothing and a few tools, and seemed to just scrape by without paying any extra baggage fees. I did have two bags for hand luggage, a backpack and a camera bag, filled to the max to compensate. There is a weight restriction on hand luggage but, it seems as though as long as you walk as though you have a bag of feathers on your back and not an elephant, they don’t weigh your bag. So I was walking through security like a frolicking fair, but inside, I could swear there was sweat dripping from my eyeballs. Let’s just say I had very sore shoulders at the end of the trip.
I am going to be honest here, I may be 27, which in many societies is considered a fully-fledged adult, but, the thought of catching a number of different flights to a completely different country all on my own was completely terrifying, I was a total baby. It wasn’t just the international flights I was scared of; it was Johannesburg airport!!!! I had heard it was big. Let me tell you, big is an understatement. Both Joburg and Munich are full on shopping centers. I was worried about everything, how the heck was I going to know where to go? Do I have to get my bags? Do I have to check-in? Where do I check in? How will I find my gate? Will I have enough time? And all this on repeat for the next airport. Luckily I booked all my flights with SAA, which meant I could book my baggage all the way through to Bremen, no hassle, except the whole time a little voice in my head was questioning how the heck they know to put my bag on each flight. Geniuses, I tell you. My bags and I made it to our destination with no hiccups. I really should have listened to what everyone says, airports are excellently sign posted, all in English too. There is virtually no way you will miss where you are meant to be. Munich airport was a little tricky; when I got there it turned out my flight was with another airline, and I had no clue, and there was no help desk in sight. I eventually got an email about an hour before my flight saying that I was now flying with a different airline. All was well.
The list of things I was stressing about for the flights was endless; going to the loo on the plane, the food on the plane, not being able to work the screen to watch movies, who will sit next to me? etc. These were all totally fine. The only issue I had was sleeping. It is nearly impossible to get comfy enough sitting up, even with one of those neck cushions. I must have gotten about 2-3.5 hours sleep, if I was lucky. You can’t sleep so you think you will watch a movie, but you are too tired to watch a whole movie so you try sleep, and the endless cycle continues. 10 longish hours of this on repeat until I eventually arrived in Munich and then one more flight to Bremen. I arrived in Bremen completely finished, not with jet lag, the time zones are very similar, just with sleep deprivation. So kind of like jet lag - not that I know what jet lag feels like.
I HAVE ARRIVED
When I arrived the curator, who is the contact for this art grant, met me at the Airport and drove us to the retirement home the residency is in. We drove through the beautiful city center of Bremen, or at least I think it was, and I got my first glimpse of real life story book buildings and cottages. What a great first impression. She gave me a brief tour of the property and the apartment for the artist, and we ate lunch together at the retirement home; getting to know each other a little. I haven’t spent much time with her yet, but she seems lovely. She left me to get acquainted with my space and environment. To be honest I got exceptionally acquainted with my pillow that first late afternoon and night, and that’s about it.