Catching trams, Grocery shopping and Exhibition openings
The first few days here were brilliant. I didn’t do a ton of things; planning routes and figuring out maps takes a surprising amount of time. I did, however, go on a few adventurers, which I chat about in this post, and a few walks in the neighbourhood to try get a sense of my surroundings. Catching trams, negotiating cyclists, grocery shopping and going to an exhibition opening have been some highlights in my initial week here in Germany.
Public transport…. Um… how amazing!
People talk about how efficient public transport is in first world countries, but, until you experience it you really have no idea what life is like on the other side. Part of the residency benefits is you get a MIA card; this allows me unlimited trips on all trams and buses around the city, night or day, which is just AMAZING; and I have slowly started taking advantage of this.
How the tram works: So, as mentioned above, I had to figure out where I wanted to go and how to get there. Step no.1. A task which should be simple but, in the beginning few days has been anything but. So much to see, so much to do…how do I choose. Once I figured it out I would go wait at the nearest tram station, which is about a 5 min walk from what seems to be anywhere, what a dream. You look at the sign by the station and see which no. tram comes to that stop. Every no. goes to a different place in the city. The tram will have a no. and then the last stop written on the front of it, that way you know which direction the tram is going. There is no trying to figure out obscure, if you’re not familiar with them, hand signals and worrying about whether the taxi driver really is going to take you to your stop. No hassling/hustling conductors grabbing your packets trying to forcibly usher you in to their taxi before you get into their competitions taxi. And no waiting 2 hours for your taxi to fill up before it leaves the rank. These trams come to the stop every 5 minutes, roughly, so I was never waiting long, I would watch the minute’s decrease as the tram gets closer. So far, every tram has been exactly on time… madness right!?. I would park cheesy and wait for the tram to arrive, it comes, doors open, I jump in and find a seat or stand by the door. Now, these trams are nothing like any public transport I have seen, super clean, all the lights work, the seats are not broken, nothing smells like urine and a very pleasant recorded voice announces every stop as it approaches. It seems there are a few ways to pay for it, this done once you are inside the tram (unless you have a card like mine). But, generally, it is self-service and seems to be on an honesty basis. I was instructed to just present my card if someone asks, no one has asked yet… I’m pretty sure that in South Africa if no one checked, I would be really surprised if ANYONE paid; but, here it seems as though people generally pay regardless of anyone checking. It all sounds so simple, but the first time I caught one I was of course a nervous wreck; worrying about missing my stop or how to open the damn door when I wanted to get off...I still battle with this sometimes. But, I seem to have figured it out for the most part and have grown to absolutely LOVE the tram. Having the freedom to just hop on to public transport, a minute’s walk from my door, and go anywhere I want really quickly is just amazing.
The other preferred mode of transport seems to be the bicycle. Bremen, like I imagine many European countries to be, is very flat, which makes cycling around not only a breeze but a very fast and efficient mode of transport (I say this having yet to cycle anywhere, knowing my lack of athleticism the ease of cycling will be more like a hard slog, but I will definitely give it a go soon). These guys, have their own lane on the side walk, right next to where you are walking. The only difference is a change of colour in the pavement. So sometimes, being a tourist and having never walked anywhere that has a cycle lane, I forget that the red bricks are for bicycles and get hooted at, if you can call at sweet little bicycle bell hooting, and probably sworn at in German, not that I understand, daily. What was totally bizarre for me to see is that cycling is so part of their daily life that there are kids who can barely walk cycling themselves to school, with their little bikes with flags sticking up, like you see in the movies. Because they have all cycled all their life they are masters, for a number of reasons. 1) these okes, don’t seem to get cold hands. Their they are whizzing down the road, wind beating down on their hands, no gloves. There Karla is walking down the street, with 2 pairs of gloves on, her hands in her pockets and still not entirely sure if my fingertips still exist. 2) If their hands do get a little chilly don’t worry they don’t need handle bars!!! They just slip their hands in their pockets and cycle down the road, around bends, totally hands free...they are insane 3) Now it’s time to fetch the kids from play school, no sweat. Hitch on a trailer/ carriage (well more like a kid only rickshaw) to the back of the bike, and get wheeled home. 4) Lastly, when I said everyone seems to ride bikes, I mean, everyone, not just mom, dad and the kids, oh no, granny, grandpa, great granny. EVERYONE. These grannies over here on this side of the world must have something extra in their prune juice, they would out ride me in a heartbeat. The site of some of these cyclists is unbelievable. I have a friend, Frank, who would literally be on the floor laughing if he saw it, partly with total disbelief and partly with admiration.
So, grocery shopping is much the same as in South Africa, except of course all the products are in German. Finding a soap powder… easy… finding a soap powder that does something specific, unless the image tells you, is a shot in the dark; it’s an adventure, even just shopping for soap. So far there has been a 40/60 percent chance someone speaks English, but I have managed to get by on hand signals. My trouble came when I got to the teller. There are no packets available (which I suppose SA is trying to lean towards by making people pay for packets or encouraging them to bring their own, but we’re not there yet), so you need to put your groceries in a basket/bag you have brought along for the shop, in my case I used my backpack; this is cool but, it means that you are limited to the no. of items you can buy. It makes sense because most people seem to come on their bicycle, which means you can’t carry much anyway. Unlike in South Africa, when you go grocery shopping you are carrying hundreds of packets, a 5kg bag of rice and maybe even a pocket of potatoes on your head as well. Luckily, I left that South Africanism at the door and only bought a few things. But trying to communicate with the German speaking teller and find the right amount of money, got me all flustered. This is where I learnt that I can try appear cool, calm and collected all I want, it will fail, there is no hiding my panic. So far, when I have been out and about, I have been walking around in temperatures of 1-8 degrees Celsius (freaking freezing for a Durbanite). Now, as I search for the right amount of change, getting flustered, while the next person in line waits, my body temperature rises exponentially. My glasses, which are cold because of the low temperature, oh-so-swiftly mist up; now it is impossible for me to see the very thing that is making me flustered. There was money on the floor, bags going flying, what a palaver. I have bought a few more things since then and seem to have gotten my nerves and body temperature under control…well so far.
If you know me, and you know my partner, you will know that graffiti and murals play a large part of our life. This is because Dane is a Graffiti artist. Now ever since he was a wee tyke he has idealized a graffiti artist called Daim. It just so happens that Daim has an exhibition with WOW123 in Bremen (Both Graffiti Artists). And it just so happens that the opening was on my 3rd night in Bremen. I had mentioned the opening to the curator who manages the residency and the art therapist, who is an employee at the retirement home, and my contact, and both had hoped the other would go with me. But, unfortunately, plans fell through and I was left on my own. But, come hell or high water, I was going to this opening, for Dane (and myself). Now bear in mind I had only caught the tram once before, that morning just up the road to the shops and back. I felt it was a pretty big deal that I did this on my own at night, having no clue where this gallery was. But can I say it was soooooo worth it. I got to the gallery during the opening speeches, I am sure it was very interesting, I of course did not understand a word of it. The exhibition was a conversation between the two graffiti artists; WOW123, a Bremen based artist who paints…hmmm, I can only describe it as abstract TV colour signal (pretty interesting). Daim, who, for those of you who don’t know, mostly paints 3D shapes, in the form of his name. He is one of the cream of the crop in the world when it comes to realistic 3D lettering. I had only seen his work online and in books Dane owns. Let me tell you, he does not disappoint. Look, this exhibition wasn’t conceptually moving or anything, they are both graffiti artist after all, but he is technically brilliant. The craftsmanship and control he has over spray-paint is a sight to behold. The sense of depth and illusion of space he creates with simple blocks and light and shadow is mesmerizing. And seeing it large scale on an actual wall was a treat. But, he also made a few much smaller works, which Dane later told me are made with multiple stencils, these were the highlight for me. Finding out that they were stencils made it that much better. But the exhibition as a whole was just amazing. What a way to start my art journey in Germany. l will definitely be going back.
So far my few adventures have been very entertaining to say the least. I have spent most of my time trying to get to know the place and get settled in. Next is to a few more galleries/ museums and the art shop to pick up some supplies to get some art making happening. Hopefully I will be blogging about how fabulous my new work is coming along.