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.