For once the weather forecast in Denmark seemed to hit the mark. We awoke the next morning, getting our bags ready, one last foiled sandwich wrap from Katerine to go, and a train to catch to Germany awaited. The sun was out, hardly a cloud in the sky. "Well so it does show up here in this country once in awhile huh?!" I thought. The one good time the light will shine on this great country and we happen to be leaving it.
We were scheduled to head to Germany through an early morning departure Friday, change trains in Hamburg, and arrive in Berlin late afternoon. We said our goodbyes, reminisced, and I made sure to of course, pack the few beers for the trip and ride. One thing I always remembered when travelling in Europe, was that you could drink on the train ride, and it was a great way to enjoy a tasty beer.
If there is one thing I love and miss about Europe while living in the United States it is taking the train through the country. It's efficient (most of the time, Romania being a very clear exception in my experience), relatively affordable, and just a great way to get around. Looking at the map though I was a bit confused perhaps of our route. Our train was to go to Hamburg, and the only land direct way I could see with Denmark's connected islands and flat geography was to head West from Copenhagen towards Kolding, and then take a sharp turn South through a small border perhaps passing by nearby Flensburg in Germany.
This was not to be.
We settled into the train at our assigned seats, and took stock of our neighbors. Fairly quiet so far, but two gentlemen got on and stuck out like a sore thumb. Two big Danes got on with bags in tow, large patched heavy metal badged jean jackets, ripped disposition, and shimmering bald heads. My first reaction and concern was they might actually be skinheads... ugh.. this could get ugly. My analytical disposition is always going into overdrive in situations like this, but if anything I knew that this couldn't be the whole story.
Checking around the guys just seemed to be having a good time, they smiled to all the passengers who came and went of all races, and I noticed that instead of hatred they were filled with a love and talk of metal music. I was to be surrounded by some other metal head brethren. "Look honey! METALHEADS!!" I tried not to point to my wife and be like some jerk but I couldn't help wanting to somehow be part of their conversations. Perhaps we could swap stories on what we thought of the last Soilwork album or something, or if the Tool album will be released someday, but with a language barrier in the way and the possibility one of these guys might get pissed and take a swing at me being some arrogant Yank I may just want to just listen first.
It was mid to early afternoon as we hit through the sunny countryside. What a gorgeous day it was. As the green landscape passed by, the odd canoe in the water it seemed from a distance, it became quickly yet beautifully familiar. I was getting thirsty, but also a bit bored. My thoughts turned to a cold one, but I never want to be the first on a train to pop a brew cause I am never 100% sure it's allowed. Luckily my Danish metalhead clan quickly made me aware of this rule within 15 minutes of arriving.
Shortly after they arrived, one guy rammed his iron ringed skull fist into his duffelbag, and with a fury pulled out 2 plastic solo cups. Then he pulled out a big box of bitters, a container full of Underberg, I am talking.. the equivalent of a case of these things, as they got their chasers going and then pulled out a 2 liter of Absolut vodka. And then they began drinking...
I grabbed a Kriek I had found in Copenhagen from Girardin, a Belgian producer. I of course for this trip had planned my own solo cup, a curved plastic wine glass which works beautifully in instances just like this one.
I found a great stash of Belgian brews while in Copenhagen and was ready to partake in them. However, shortly after trying the first one we had come to what appeared to be the end of the road. Actually it wasn't so much the end of the road, but the end of the railway line as the train made it's last stop in Denmark at Rødby, with only the small body of water between us and Germany/Puttgarden on the other side.
"So are we going to be wearing life vests now?" I asked my wife. With a gleeful smile she knew what was coming as she had read about how the journey was supposed to continue.
I am always nervous about boats, because I get horribly sea sick. If it's really choppy weather and water, it's a disaster every time. I have had lots of practice at this because growing up my father had a sailboat, and still does. I spent many a youth on that boat, doing things as a "family together" should be (sic) which meant me being forced to get on that thing and barf a lot.
The Perfect Storm". All of this was happening while groups of small kids kept jumping and climbing over my seat constantly. I am NOT making this up...
Somehow I lived, and somehow my wife is still married to me.
We sat out on the open deck and I cracked open a bottle of De Cam, a very tasty lambic/gueuze brewery out of Gooik Belgium whose beers are pretty much "nearly" impossible to find in the United States. This is how to live baby! I said to my wife. She was very excited of the journey so far, the big winds coming off, and the sights as she snapped more photos.
I had finished my beer and of course wanted to recycle my bottles. Did I say bottles I meant cans too? Did I have more than one beer? I am not sure, but the point is my wife and I wanting to be proper and not slobby American tourists were trying to figure out where to put our recyclables. I looked all over the ship and couldn't find any blue bins, or places to put them. The only thing I did see was a bin on the ship deck that people were putting stuff in, but I never saw people place the recycling away. If anything people were leaving their cans and bottles just lying around and not picking up after themselves on their tables, ledges, chairs, everywhere. It looked like the aftermath of a frat party.
"What is it with these people?" I thought, "why can't they put this stuff away?" Everyone was leaving all their garbage behind. "What do I do?" I asked my wife. We couldn't figure it out and she said just put them in that bin over there. I think that's trash though? I said.
Why was this so hard I thought, how hard was it to put up signs telling us what to do, heck I was looking just for logos or something blue on the ship. I sheepishly took the bottles and cans and dumped them in that bin. As the passengers were leaving, others went up to that bin. One guy another passenger looked in and started shaking his head, and pulled out the 3 recyclable items I just put in there, all well conversing with his friends about what he just found, and no doubt probably saying something like, those stupid frikking Americans.
In the end I think what happened, was that you left the recyclables out, and ship cleaning staff picked them up. I guess?? I have no idea... like I say this whole incident completely baffles me. It's all one of those things where we as individuals through language and culture just want to do the right thing but somehow end up upsetting each other for no reason at all. But in the end... it's all just trash. No big deal.
We returned back to the train and headed to Hamburg. We had to disembark and transfer, it was to be my first time experiencing Germany, the land where my mother grew up, the place were most of my family had already been before. A land I was real excited about visiting. My wife had been before to Berlin back in 1994 of the Spring during college. She was happy for me but I also was very aware of her experiences there which she remarked saying she didn't always enjoy. There was excitement but also those thoughts kept coming back sticking in my craw.
The train pulled out, we got off, I stepped on the platform in Hamburg. We were back in a somewhat bustling city, in the main train station. There were lots of people running around, I noticed a sizeable Turkish population which gave me great memories of visiting Istanbul. It was crowded, there were cops all over the place, It was... loud as hell it seemed.
This was my first impression... I sat a little slack jawed, I knew about the country, I understood a little bit about it's history (yeah ok more on "that thing" later), and as always I brush up about foreign places as much as I can before arriving. You make yourself as prepared as much as you can, but now matter how much you study, now matter how much you try, that very first step and your first glance your eyes see, you are never fully prepared.
I stood around, listened... and looked and surveyed the scene briefly. I turned to my wife a bit stunned and unexpected. I said...
"This is not Denmark..."