How chilly it is for a person being attacked by wind on all sides while standing on the platform. Shivering from cold, I try pushing my hands deeper into my pockets. Fortunately, I have not long to wait. Finally, I am inside the carriage, pressing my face against the window in order to see out. The train slowly starts to move. I see freight containers, warehouses, city buildings and automobile intersections passing by outside the window. Soon, they are also replaced by rural scenery. During my trip, I observe small towns that are as identical as two drops of water, having the requisite similar church steeples and clocks on their town halls. The many-colored tile roofs of houses give the impression of impending holidays. Beech tree forests and copses enveloped in frost are replaced with fields covered in last-year’s stubble. An hour later, our train stops at the station in Karlsruhe. Ah! Mother Germany, you have everything but a large area.
Iskander Amanzhol (Photojournalist)
Following next are friendly hugs and pats on the shoulder. After twenty minutes of driving by car, we find ourselves at Pforzheim. Our substantial breakfast – frequently interrupted with exclamations of, “Do you remember…?” – takes a whole hour and a half. Finally, enthusiasm from the long-awaited reunion dies down. The time has come to continue the trip.
Acid-base Balance of Germany
In Baden-Wurttemberg, the names of many locations contain the prefix “bad”. Those places are famous for their mineral springs. In the Middles Ages, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, a legendary doctor more famously known by the names of Paracelsus, practiced in this region. He believed all processes occurring within the human body were similar to chemical reactions, and that daily consumption of those healing waters restored the acid-base balance of the body. During the warm seasons, many people who wish to recover their health visit this area. Unfortunately, this number is not as large as in the past, which is why many sanatoria have been closed.
Paracelsus, as it turns out, was right. The federal system can also undergo an imbalance – even in Germany. We pass many boarded-up petrol stations. On the weekends, many Germans prefer to walk or to ride bicycles. The reason is not simply limited to the health benefits of this exercise, but is also due to high prices for petrol. For many Germans, heating their houses with diesel and natural gas has become an unaffordable luxury. Even if they utilize such types of fuel, they set their thermostats at the lowest possible level. On the roofs of many houses are solar panels with capacities barely large enough to even slightly warm up water, and this fact allows them to somewhat economize. The residents of agrarian areas have an easier time, as they utilize organic fuels. One may see neatly organized piles of firewood in the yards of many houses on the edges of towns as well. Spring has yet to come, which is why barely noticeable streams of smoke are coming from chimneys. Strangely, these are not as dark as ours. As it turns out, Germany has very strict environmental protection legislation. Only the wood from trees that had been cut at least two years ago may be burned. Seemingly, during this time the water and any carcinogens would have left the wood. However, I am unable to understand the difference here, as any toxic chemicals would find their way into the air or soil.
Due to high fuel prices, the growth rate of industrial output and the volume of car sales have gone down. Four-wheel drive vehicles are rarely seen on German roads. Germans are very economical people, and life has taught them to count every cent. This is why, in contrast to the “new” Kazakhs, they prefer to drive fuel-efficient vehicles, such as the “Smart” cars. Despite the seemingly simple look of these cars, the producer has applied the best technologies, which is why the price for one (12,000 euro – I.A.) is above the level of affordability for those having a low income. One should expect quite soon that more German consumers will start using mopeds and bicycles. Even now, the radio announces that fuel has risen by 40 cents.
“… happy to deceive myself…”
Many small companies have closed down. At a café I listen to a story about a small furniture company on the edge of bankruptcy. A crisis manager sent in by a bank believes that the problem was caused by managers who had allotted themselves more than one third of the company’s income. This did not leave enough funds for equipment upgrades at the factory. Following a meeting with the workers, the director made a decision to sell the rights to the company’s patents. In a year, they were able to repay the credit to the bank, and now the company, though not yet prospering, at least has its head above water. Those with whom I am conversing believe that the top managers in Germany have formed a so-called “caste”, which is not controllable by any other party. They believe that the same system exists with regards to state officials.
We are entering the town of Kalv. High above, on the top of a light post, where nobody can remove them, are posters of the Republican party, which supports an ideology close to that of Nazism. In rural areas of Germany, this party is very popular. 50% of respondents consider the performance of Chancellor Markel as satisfactory. My companions especially underline that the first 100 days were especially successful for the new Chancellor, but not for her government. One of them continues commenting in a voice full of skepticism, which he tries to hold back, “As a matter of fact nothing has yet changed. Like a year ago, we have an army of five million unemployed people. If before we had a good life, now it is bearable.” Some of my acquaintances had hoped that the economic programs of the Chancellor would be capable of altering the situation for the better. But still, many people are inclined to believe that in the current situation little may change.
While visiting Germany, France and Italy, I notice that in these countries the standard of living is gradually decreasing. The number of citizens unhappy with the performance of their government is also increasing, which is primarily due to the high rates of social and income taxes. In principle, this is expected. Following the acceptance of the new member states, at present the EU is busy raising the standards within those recently accepted countries. Taxpayers must pick up the check for this. So far, ordinary people are not seeing any advantages in extending the EU’s borders.
We are walking along a stone bridge towards the center of town. The harsh outlines of a church, with its arrow-like spire climbing into the sky, make the church seem like a crystalline stone Druze. The asceticism of the interior of a Lithuanian church is in radical contrast to a catholic cathedral. And, here comes the city hall. We continue our stroll. From the bridge opens up a river waterscape, which fills one with peace, quiet and serenity. This river view is a piece of what the famous German philosopher, Hermann Hesse, a resident of Kalv, associated with the idea of motherland. He often described it in is works.
The nighttime flight, with a five-hour difference in time, starts to tell on me, and I keep nodding off on the way back. A decision made in the morning is wiser than one made at night.
Shrovetide in Weilderstadt
After learning that I am about to pay a visit to Germany, my colleague, Marcus Bensman, strongly recommended that I visit narrenzunft – a carnival-like party. I follow his instructions. Entrance to the city by car is prohibited, which is why I leave my car at a parking lot and continue on foot into the town. After paying 2.5 euro, we enter the fortress gates. As we progress we find ourselves running into more and more of the carnival participants. The mist around us gradually clears. The square by the city hall has been decorated. A monument on the square bears witness to the fact that Weilderstadt is the native home to the renowned astronomer, Johannes Kepler.
Dancing because of the cold, we await the official start of the celebration. I notice a shop selling the most radical cure for colds – mulled wine. After having purchased a glass, I make my way back to my seat. By sipping this hot drink, I feel my blood running quickly through my body. One more sip, and finally I come to the conclusion that until this moment I had an incorrect understanding of life. The fact is that life is good. Even a man wearing the mask of a silly, smiling Michael begins to look funnier. Though, local residents note that the number participants and viewers at the event this year is lower than the last.
The blare of trumpets – the celebration begins. The festival opens with a ceremonial procession led by a herald, who is followed by a drum major and a brass brand that are accompanied by majorettes dressed in miniskirts, with hussar jackets and high, plumed hats. Next are Caesar and his Roman soldiers, complete with helmets, shields and catapults, the latter being filled with candies. Following is a brotherhood of monks, who play music as they walk. Closer and closer come the fiery rhythms made by tambourines and drums. Afterwards come different evil spirits: ghouls and witches, demons and vampires, wood goblins and water fiends. Some of the actors had such devices on hand as remind one of the clippers utilized for cutting the tops of shrubs. These were actually used like pliers. As soon as one nearby man looked away, his headwear was quickly grasped, leaving him to chase after a vampire who had taken off with the item. Next come Eskimos with polar bears, followed by residents of the island of Madagascar, and then a column of costumed people – these last are students from the famous Tubingen University. Slowly come vehicles with musicians mounted on flatbeds. On one I recognize singers from the pop group ABBA, which was once very popular. The next holds the Italian trio, Richi e Poveri, and I sing along with them to “Piccolo, piccolo, piccolo amore”.
Shouting, noise, uproar – this is real pandemonium. A thought occurs in my head that all this does not correspond with our impressions about the reserved and well-balanced Germans. Either they are all being manipulated by the devil, or they have ingested some sort of hallucinogenic food. Where does it all come from? More likely, this has been inherited from medieval times, from spielmen and vagrants – traveling dancers, poets, jugglers and circus performers. Then, on improvised platforms stand in their mandatory nightcaps and aprons, blonde Brunhilds and Margaritas, throwing candies for which children briskly rush to pick up. Here come sausage makers, who pour out schnapps into proffered glasses, and hand out small sandwiches. The next vehicle to come has performers cheerfully dancing to a loudly played cancan. The scene mimics “Le Moulin Rouge”.
Aha! Here you are! Good spirits carefully toss an unsuspecting fraulein onto the bridge and, despite her resistance, stuff a couple of handfuls of candies into her blouse. The other good spirits hobble her by tying her shoestrings together. All in all, everyone is having fun to the fullest. Finally, after having turned blue from the cold, we all head home.
“Too Smart for One’s Own Good”
We drive by a girl standing at the edge of the road trying to thumb a ride. I look into the rearview mirror: all the cars behind us follow our example and do not stop to pick up the hitchhiker. This is not surprising. I remember the story of an acquaintance of mine, who is the well-mannered father of a family. He once gave a lift to a girl, and when they almost reached her indicated destination, she tore open her t-shirt and scratched her neck and bosom. My acquaintance stared at her in a completely abashed way, as the girl donned a predatory smirk, and said, “Should I call for the police, or can we do without them?” He understood that since he could be charged with attempted rape, he chose to part with a thousand euros. He said that following this for a long time he felt as if he were being spat on.
My conversations with different people have lead me to think that during the years following World War II, Germans accepted democracy with every fiber of their being. Now, from time to time they suffer from this. A citizen of Turkey, by the name of Kaplan, who had been sentenced to death in his home country, fled to Cologne, and requested political asylum. Later on, after having settled down, he began preaching fundamentalism in mosques, which did not stop him from buying expensive properties. The matter of his extradition was under consideration for fifteen years. Only after having received guarantees that he would not be executed, Kaplan was transferred by German authorities back to Turkey. One might get the impression that militaristic Muslims who are persecuted in their own homelands take advantage of the democracy and humanity found elsewhere, and thus settle down in the West.
We have returned to Pforzheim. Following a farewell dinner, we are again on the station platform at Karlsruhe. While I am waiting to board the train, I recall a conversation with my new acquaintances, who said that Europe is interested in diversification of its energy supplies, as they have already noticed how dependent they are on Russia. This bothers them. If oil and gas from Kazakhstan would break the Russian monopoly, it would be wonderful. They also told me that Turkey never became a link between the West and the East, and that Kazakhstan should take braver steps in order to become an intermediary in this issue, which would have a positive effect on the image of our country. They are right about all of this.
I take my seat on the carriage. The barely audible clicking of the wheels brings about sleep. Even through my dream I hear the calling of station names: Munich, Salzburg, Lienz. We are arriving at Vienna soon.