Saturday, 6 April 2013

Jonathan im Deutschland - Fourth Day

We returned to Frankfurt for in the evening we had tickets to see Euripedes' tragedy Medea. There will be more on that later, and I strongly encourage you to stay for it, because it's an episode of my life that will haunt me forever.

But we shall start at the very beginning, which Julie Andrews tells us is a very good place to start. We took a direct train to Frankfurt and began our day at the Natural History Museum. You know. With the dinosaurs. Remember this guy?

Well it turns out that underneath that scaly skin and without the piercing eyes and walbut brain filled only with rage for humanity he's just like us.

Only weighing about five tons and with a radically different skeletal structure.

And still with the teeth.

Alright, so he's not like us at all, but I needed a lead in to this incredible skull.

The museum itself was incredible. There were admittedly a few rooms where the complex zoological language was only rendered in German, but that just meant I wandered through with glee. As long as it's not life threatening or people shouting loudly at me, I love not understanding. I like learning, and I love languages, but there's a certain childish glee in looking at a block of text surrounding a long-extinct fish and thinking I have absolutely not the first idea what this says. And that's especially true in German. Capital letters suddenly and spontaneously arrive in the middle of sentences, verbs go rocketing to the ends of clauses and there are instances of this letter, ß, which is just gorgeous. Reading Roman letters and suddenly seeing ß is like waking up one morning, going to eat your breakfast and finding you've got snails next to the porridge.

However, I would say around 90% of the museum has translations, and they're excellent. There are whole rooms of taxidermied animals, and if you get the audioguide a nice chap explains exactly what goes into making a dead animal into a beautifully posed statue covered in animal skin.

Eventually we worked our way into the dinosaur exhibit. Dinosaur bones are just the coolest. They offer your imagination the chance to put skin, muscle, soul on the shape in front of you. I like skeletons, and this was just a beautiful opportunity. I essentially just ran around reading and forgot to take photographs, so there are only a few to share.

After this visit we were starving, and Italian food was the desire of the day. We found what looked like a seriously promising Italian restaurant which was bustling with people. However, as we passed the front desk, the server said "Do you know our system?"

This is pretty high on my list of "Worrying things servers can say." I was, until this point, fairly sure I understood restaurants. I sit. Someone on minimum wage comes to the table, smiles the smile of someone who knows their job depends on it, and takes an order. It is delivered. I eat. I pay (and tip, because this industry is harder than investment banking and those guys seem to get decent bonuses). I leave.

That was what I understood, so the question "Do you know our system?" threw me. Clearly it was different to normal. I said no.

She explained in rapid German and then pointed us towards the table. As we walked, we passed queues of people. I found this odd, so we sat and observed.

It transpired that this restaurant had been inspired by school canteens. You lined up, ordered your food when you reached the front and faced the rushed-off-his-or-her-feet chef and then watched with fascination as he or she whipped it up in front of you.

No meal took more than five minutes to cook, and seeing it made in front of me, but after waiting for twenty-five minutes I was willing to lay about me with knife and fork and simply eat whatever body parts my flailing managed to carve from the bystanders.

And then when I'd finally been served, and watched my (admittedly delicious) meal be prepared in front of me, Ali then had to go and repeat the process.

Time spent eating: five minutes. Time spent waiting: fifty minutes.

Go only if you enjoy queueing. Never again.

After lunch we set off for the GeldMuseum, a museum about money and economics. I love economics. I love dinosaurs and German and philosophy and...

Well. You get the idea. I like most everything.

Allison had not been keen on the idea, but after much cajoling from me she acquiesced. The museum is a good distance out from the centre, but approaching it one is faced with a spiked fence and a spiked sculpture.

Basically, at no point are you allowed to forget that this museum adjoins the Deutsche Bundesbank, and people trying to get in without permission will be met with spikes and unpleasantness.

We, however, were not. We were met by a charming lady who gave us a free token for the cloakroom lockers and told us the museum was free.

(We shan't mention the irony of a museum which extolled the virtues of the free market offering an exhibition at below market price.)

So we entered, and a more enjoyable, a more fact-filled 90 minutes I have never spent. I learnt how money is made, forged, designed, counterfeited and its history, from cows to roe skins (a buck, from which comes the American slang for a dollar) through to our cotton based notes. I explored the whole gamut, including various oddities like the smallest banknote in the world, the note with the largest number on it, the note with the greatest value and the oldest continuously issued note - the honour of which belongs to the States, where any dollar bill issued after 1847 is legal tender - though if you were to sell a dollar bill from 1847 for $1 worth of goods and services you might be interested in a perpetual motion machine I've got.

Ali found something to be interested in, and managed to control inflation while increasing growth in a fictional Germany. I tried the same and caused hideous inflation, which simply tells me that the model is clearly wrong. The exhibition also had a shop adjoining, in which you could buy a block of €1m for less than €30.

There was a flaw, of course. Someone with a seriously twisted sense of humour had shredded the notes first. Imagine a million euros as confetti. It's enough to make you weep. You could also buy a sheet of 86 €10 notes that hadn't been cut for the low price of €960, which would be enough to make even the most mathematically-challenged of people go "Now, hang on..."

Still, as flash wallpaper goes...that would certainly be my pick. Or even just as as part of a daring ploy to pass yourself off as an international fraudster.

We followed the trip to the museum with a jaunt to the theatre to see Medea. In German. Now the Medea I remember from an admittedly swift reading at school was action-packed, with a chorus, blood, infanticide and Jason being an awful human being.

As a result, I was excited. Even though the words would be in German, I was absolutely certain that I'd be able to guess at where the play was by the action, by the emotional state of Medea, by her progression.

Audience, if you know about my life, you know that there was no way the universe was going to let that happen. What happened instead was two hours of dialogue, in German, punctuated by characters arriving on stage and then leaving and then never coming back. Medea was positioned on a ledge at the back of the stage throughout, clearly distressed, but when I was planning on mapping the play by her ongoing distress this rather scuppered me.

So my enjoyable evening turned into two hours, no interval, of extremely angry shouting in German. At one point the ledge on which Medea was perched began moving forward. It kept moving forward. There was fear in the eyes of the actors in front of this advancing behemoth and, since I had no idea what was going on, I felt certain something had gone hideously wrong with the mechanics.

I perked up. An early end was in sight.

Sadly not. To my disappointment, but the obvious relief of the poor souls in the first row, the scenery ground to a halt at least a foot from their noses. The rest of the play passed in a blur of similarly unintelligible German, although I must note that the final scene, where Jason discovers that his children are dead at Medea's hand and their bodies spirited away was evident, despite the fact that he may as well have been speaking the words in the original Greek. The emotion was raw and evident in every line of his body, drenched as it was in mud and water. This was a man who had dug up graves with his bare hands.

And then I plummeted back into a sea of strange words. The only other part I recognised was the five curtain calls the actors took, because actors are the same everywhere in the world.

After the performance we caught an early train home, and this is where things got a little iffy. You see, although we got an earlier train, the train network did not react to this by sending our connecting train earlier. Instead they stuck to their timetable.


So Ali and I waited for thirty-five minutes on a freezing platform in the middle of nowhere. The platform belonged to what would have been a one-horse town, if they hadn't sold the horse to Findus. However, the train came, we got home, and we crashed. The next day we would go to Cologne, and so I slept instead of blogging.

Mea culpa. Here it is.

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