Go East: Life is simple there.

This post was written by guest writer Adam Shaw.



Last weekend I finally got a visit from Marcus. Naturally he had expressed a desire to venture East throughout the year but due to various ski-trips/beer festivals/driving lessons, rarely had the time or the funds to reach me. However, a few weeks back we had settled on a date in mid-April and after the standard umming and ahing, made the collective decision that if Marcus was to grace Blankenburg, it was now or never.

Throughout the year, whenever I have had to travel further afield, I have often complained about the sheer hassle involved in getting from A to B. I like to think that having done the journey in reverse, Marcus can now appreciate that although not physically draining, it requires a fair degree of planning and mental effort.

Anyway, he set off from Munich in fantastic spirits, resembling a Furby that had just been fed. After a quick joke where he pretended that the guy taking him to Halle had cancelled at the last minute (which I must admit, well and truly fooled me), we buoyantly shared a phone call and promised to speak before the next leg of his journey.

A few hours later and Marcus was in Halle. Everything had gone smoothly but due to the timetabling, he would have to wait at the station for a couple of hours. Here he was to first experience the downside of visiting someone who lives in the middle of nowhere. I needn’t have worried however as Marcus was absolutely fascinated with East Germany. As soon as he crossed the border from Bavaria, he acted as if he were Columbus discovering the New World. He highlighted the beautiful countryside as if Bavaria was just one giant city, marvelled at the lack of people and general greyness and came to realise that although being situated in the western part of the former East Germany, the whole region has a different mentality, regardless of geographical position.

This mentality was explored further on the way up to Blankenburg. Speaking to anyone and everyone, Marcus was particularly intrigued by those who had experienced life in the GDR and some of the restrictions they had faced. Seriousness soon vanished however when he was on part three of the journey in a taxi from Halberstadt to my temporary home. By this stage several beers had been sunk and although technically we were drinking alone, there was some sort of connection that made it seem as if we were in fact sharing a beer together. After an excitable conversation Marcus explained how he had ended up at the infamous Coma, Blankenburg’s one and only bar.

I met Marcus and after much jubilation at having seen one another, introduced him to some fellow Blankenburgers. He had heard much about the football team I had joined for the year and, inevitably, there was one of my teammates nearby. Coincidentally he was also called Marcus (with a C!) which created an immediate and unbreakable bond between the two. Even when German Marcus’ drunk friend came in and starting causing a minor fuss, leading English Marcus to confront the two of them, the recently blossomed friendship could not be harmed.

We drank and drank and drank. The highlight (aside from the beer) had to be how nice it was for us to sit around a table speaking endless German. Marcus and I only broke from this when we needed to say something serious about someone else. The company was great, including German Marcus, Max who I had previously met and on this occasion discovered he was a former German Luge Youth Champion and Marco who had an uncanny resemblance to a Who from The Grinch. The only negative part, for me at least, was drinking a shot prepared by Marcus, not knowing it contained an unhealthy amount of Tabasco and as a result spent five minutes mimicking a dog, panting with my tongue hanging out, desperate for it to cool down.

We left at closing time, which was somewhere around 4.30 and despite being small and no more than a bar; I like to think Coma gave all it’s got and that Marcus had a good time. In a rush of excitement, we felt the most suitable thing to do next would be to visit the Castle which overlooks the town. Although it looks fairly close, it is a steep climb to the top. However, when drunk and hyper, everything becomes easier. Aside from the abandoned buildings, they just become creepier. We headed up with a couple of beers each and took in the views as Blankenburg twinkled below us. Unfortunately coldness and tiredness overcame us quite quickly and as a result only drank about half a beer each and missed the sunrise. It had been a long day and an eventful evening but above all, it was great to have Marcus in the Harz.

We woke up late the next day and I for one felt hideous. After a lazy morning, we finally got ourselves together and headed out for some lunch. As with all my visitors, I recommended the Potato House as the top place to eat. I further advised Marcus to try the fried potatoes with bacon, onions and fried eggs which he took and enjoyed immensely. I opted for soup due to a somewhat delicate stomach and after a coke or two, felt a lot better. Marcus now has a theory that cola is to me what spinach is to Popeye. If Popeye got hangovers.

Again, as with most of my visitors, we headed for Thale. Marcus continued to be in awe of rural East Germany as we wound through the country roads on the bus. We headed up the craggy mountain via the cable car and after a few snaps, made our way towards the Harzbob. The Harzbob is a toboggan run through the woods which is surprisingly lengthy and allows you to get up to a decent speed. Marcus and I had perhaps a bit too much fun on it and had we not checked the time, would have missed the last car down. Still, it was worth the rush to experience hurtling down the shoot separately and together – even if Marcus did insist I drove blind during the latter.

With the sun setting over the peaks, Marcus again found himself stumped by the beauty of the Harz region although in this instance, it was more than justified. At dusk we headed over to Saunawelt to relax having convinced ourselves that it wouldn’t be awkward. It turned out not to be although all German liberalism on display in the saunas goes out the window once two men are spotted together. We got a fair few confused looks, even when we weren’t speaking English, but despite all this came out feeling relaxed. As on previous trips to the sauna complex, the highlight was the Witches’ Sauna. Here we experienced a menthol session during the ‘Good Night Sauna’ and despite almost blinding us, was extremely cleansing. We paid our bills (Marcus racking up 22 Euros including a whisky and ginger ale and half a litre of tomato juice) and took a taxi back to Blankenburg.

The ride back gave Marcus the chance to pick the brains of another former GDR resident. He was a great bloke, explaining how the restriction on travel he experienced years ago pretty much remains the same due to his financial situation. He also mentioned that life was simpler during Socialist times, overcome with the ‘Ostalgie’ phenomenon. Despite mild hints of racism leading to a few awkward pauses, it was a great journey back which rounded off a great day. There was still time for epic Skype sessions with Angus and Mahmood before we were once again crippled by tiredness and decided to give another night at Coma a miss having done more than enough that day.

We realised Sunday would be a case of getting up and heading off to Halle. I decided to accompany Marcus and after another chilled morning, we reached the former state capital and found somewhere for lunch. As if an evening at Saunawelt hadn’t been enough, we settled on an Italian restaurant decorated with false street lamps and large paintings with romantic music softly playing in the background. To further the mood the waiter immediately lit a candle for us as we made the decision to eat the pizzas we were so desperately craving before quickly getting back to the station.

The pizzas were superb, Marcus rewarded my loyalty in travelling with him by paying for my meal and as we headed back in the sun, it was clear that the time had gone too quickly. We parted ways at the platform and from what I could tell; Marcus had had a great time. He certainly didn’t seem to mind taking the time and effort to get here and as we frequently said, he would have surely regretted it had he not. I have no doubts that Marcus is in love with Munich. If he knew he was going to have money, it would certainly be a place he could consider for permanent residence. Yet I also sense that he appreciated what living in an unknown area can be like. It might not have thousands of people walking the streets or be dotted with major landmarks but for different reasons, it’s certainly likable.

~By Adam Shaw

To read my version of events on Adam’s blog click here.


Licence to become Führer: access denied.



Gone are the days of the weekly update but fear not: Marcus’ digital diary recommences. In this post I will be including a bit about Easter (admittedly overdue) instructions of how to fail a driving test in German as well as touching on my new roommate, but not like that.

Far-Eastern Felix has gone back to Karlsruhe Insitute for Technology to write his Master thesis. I imagine our paths cross in the future, we certainly became great friends and learnt a lot from each other. What do I mean by a lot? Well, he  introduced me to Germo-Chinese cuisine and taught me to love Chairman Mau.

Interesting to note is that the Chinese apparently still seem to think of the British as we used to be in the 19th Century, kitted out with top hats, pipes and what have you. Felix learnt of the hazards associated with eating bacon and eggs with chopsticks and that it is possible to watch entertainment which doesn’t involve either the Japanese or anime. A truly great man.


Easter in the Isle of Wight

All of a sudden it was Easter and I was happy to be able to spend it with my family. Managing to tear myself away from Justin Bieber’s promising concert in the Olympic Park, I made my way to the airport. I’m not someone who has ever had a problem whilst travelling, not that I can remember at least so you can imagine my surprise when two minutes before boarding I heard my name over the tannoy in not one but two languages. As I stood up and made my way over to the desk, the crowd parted like the red sea. They were clearly wondering whether I was a criminal on the run or guessing how many explosives I had sewn into my jacket. Travelling with two passports at the time didn’t exactly help live down this fugitive aspect of my character. I thought I was done for. Where are the police, take me away, I thought. I was expecting to appear on the front page headlines the morning after and I cursed myself for being so accommodating to that charming Albanian chap who asked if there was space in my suitcase for him and his family.

The reality was rather unexciting and the BA staff had “deleted my travel details” so I struck up a conversation with the nice lady whose son was also doing a Year Abroad, in the hope that my fellow passengers would see that I was clean to fly. I boarded a plane and flew back to London from chilly Munich. Auntie Sue played a cameo role and was to be our chauffeur for the evening. We headed back to a brand new refurbished house in a sleepy London suburb for quiche. It was perfect. Mum even managed to get hold of some Weihenstephan (a Bavarian beer), presumably she had assumed that I would refuse anything less than German-brewed beverages. She was right. The purpose of the visit was to visit my slightly nutty but adorable family at Fabian Regis (the Isle of Wight homestead) to see pater, mater and my three not so l little brothers Fabians Major, Minor and Minimus. I couldn’t wait to catch up with my family and have a good old chin wag. Hopefully I would still be clinging onto the title of tallest brother. Against stiff competition, titles such as cleverest brother and sportiest brother, as well as most musical brother and even best-looking brother have all slipped through my fingers, however I am glad to report that tallest I do remain.  I suppose we’re a bit like the spice girls. Sort of. I mean there’s a few fundamental differences like gender before we even get into performance ability. During the bank holiday weekend, a fab time was had by all, racing demon seemed to be a somewhat compulsory activity as was fine dining and of course it wouldn’t have been Easter without the traditional Easter egg hunt in the garden.


That’s what Dads are for.

New roommate

In accordance with the communist theme, my new roommate comes from Russia, not with love but rather with two suitcases. If you’ve read a fair bit of the blog you’ll know that my housemates obtained nicknames to flesh out their characters. A reminder to those who might have missed out on the fun, I started off living with Macbook Matthias (proud to say that he was the fifth person into the Apple store in Regent Street) Reini der Schweini who was often naked when I came home from work, Bavarian Ben was the most conservative and most stereotypically German housemate, next in the running came Far-Eastern Felix a successful mechanical engineer from China who referred to Mau as “The Chairman” making him sound more like a wrestler than a dictator. For consistency, the bestowing of nicknames will continue, I was more than happy to welcome my new roommate Soviet Serguei (Cоветский Сергей) to Motorstraße or as my boss refers to it: Mordor. Managing the transition from Far-Eastern Felix to Soviet Serguei has been simple. The first thing Serguei did was cover the light spot on the wall where Felix’s portrait of Mau had previously shone with a portrait of Vladimir Putin who looks simultaneously intimidating and yet forgiving. here is the image for your enjoyment.

Putin sa mere.

Back to Munich

Having ventured back from the UK, I arrived to find that Niklas was back from his adventures in Italy and Helena was also in Munich, being an utter Trojan and pretending to fight off various attackers but ending up letting her fortress get invaded by suitors who have pledged to wed her. She partakes in a great night out and never fails to seduce our friends which makes for a great spectator sport. Ten out of ten.

And now some sad news to report: the German Driving licence looks like it’s gone down the drain which is a shame really – it would have sat nicely alongside my Iranian marriage certificate and Taiwanese tax return. Maybe another time. It did make me think though, you’re asking for problems, politically speaking, if you make it available to attain a licence to become Führer. Will the Germans ever change?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of blaming it all on a nasty driving instructor, I just genuinely drove awfully during the test. “But what went wrong?” people asked, amazed that I hadn’t passed. For example, things got off to a bad start, when I drove off with the handbrake on. From then on I knew it was going to take some seriously good driving to pass. It was more a question of what did I do right, than what I did wrong. Lesson learnt: do not argue with the driving instructor about theory even if you are right. He may fail you to show you he can. I didn’t crash, or cause a crash, so surely that’s a pass? But unlike the forgiving DVLA in the UK, where learners are prohibited from driving on the motorway, in Germany, an ability to drive safely on the Autobahn is considered paramount to learning to drive. Thus it is a part of the training and rears its head in the practical test. Essentially, learning to drive in Germany is like learning to play Mario Kart on Rainbow Road.  I was penalised for not hitting 80 quick enough, and also cruising at 75 for a small stretch where I thought, since it was the test, I’d be on the safe side. Understandably, driving too slow is actually worse than driving too fast because it could cause rear traffic to brake creating a domino effect of breaking and resulting in accidents and traffic. No-one’s impressed by it of course, but the Grandparents reassured me and explained that those who don’t pass first time are better drivers for it. Definitely not a positive moment in my Year Abroad but a highlight nonetheless. Probably karma of some form. Obviously I would have preferred to pass first time, but I guess that’s just karma. Cold chicken karma.

The people that know me well knew that I would only react to comedy, and told me their best stories of relatives who had failed five times. The most reassuring of which had to be David’s, he was told to drive back five minutes into his test having smashed the wing mirror off another car as he was passing it. Oh well, I guess I’ll just do the licence in the UK then, providing I get used to driving on the left…

Important weather update: Angela Merkel decided to cut costs by removing spring from 2013 and extending the brutal winter, to compensate for the lovely weather in Southern Europe. The only thing this has meant is that we have gone straight from Weimar Winter to Sri-Lankan Summer in a matter of hours. That what happens when the “problem countries” refused to sacrifice their sunshine. The result of this weather is that everyone is out and about and grilling meat whenever they find an excuse to do so.

Some of you might know already, I am undertaking to run the Munich Half Marathon on the 5th of May with my friend Ludo and training is going superbly. I’m up at 5am twice a week to run 15-20km, cycling 50km a week and swimming a bit just to keep the body is ticking over. I’m looking to raise £1000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital to which there is an important emotional connection. We’re 10% of the way there, but with only 20 days to go, it would be great if we could get a bit closer to the target. If you would like to read more you can do so by clicking on the following link: https://www.justgiving.com/marcus-fabian.

“We need to raise £50 million each year to help rebuild and refurbish Great Ormond Street Hospital, buy vital equipment and fund essential research. Amazing things happen at Great Ormond Street Hospital every day. With your help we can keep the magic alive for our very ill children & their families.”