10 – HOW I GOT HERE

The situation is this:

I am sitting on a rather uncomfortable, wooden chair in a small room in Neukölln.

In front of me is a brown desk, and on top of it lies a black notebook in which I am writing these words.

To my left, a cup of the finest Matcha-iri genmaicha tea gives off its familiar rice-tinted fumes into the cold winter air.

To my right lies a loaded gun, and behind me a string of more or less considered choices.

And their consequences.

I first came to this city in 1987, when I’d had enough of my shitty little home-town.

I had not planned to end up here, but a lot of the music I was interested in at the time came out of here.

Bands like Einstürzende Neubauten.

Neue Deutsche Welle.

I made some ideas about how the city would be like when I listened to this music.

Ideas that turned out to be all wrong.

But as another long and dark winter had started losening its grip back home that year, I had bought an Interrail-ticket for the summer, which meant that I could go wherever I wanted around Europe for a month.

So as summer approached, I caught a coach to the nearest town with a railway station, and jumped on the first train towards the south.

From there on I could relax and follow the tracks wherever they would take me.

Not that there were that many options.

There seldom are with train tracks.

But I soon found myself racing down the west coast of Sweden, and after a short ferry journey, the east coast of Denmark.

Arriving in Copenhagen, I didn’t really know where to go to next, so I just got off at the station to get some cigarettes and food.

In that order.

I checked the board for possible transits, and found that a train to Amsterdam would leave in less than an hour.

I decided that Amsterdam was the place to go.

As I made the decision, I could feel my shoulders ease from the usual tension, and life felt better than ever.

No plans. 

No schedule. 

Just the freedom to do whatever I pleased at any given moment.

They way I wanted it to be.

When the train pulled up, I got on, rigged myself in a seat, and pulled my Sony Walkman out of my bag.

I put on one of my mixtapes, and stared absently out the window at the people hurrying about the platform outside, when my eyes caught a familiar face.

It was a friend of mine from back home.

He smiled as he saw me through the window, and I got up and lowered it.

“What are you doing here?”, he asked.

“I’m not sure, actually”, I answered, “But it seems I’m going to Amsterdam.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Mind if I join you?”, he replied.

I didn’t.

He was my kind of guy.

As we rolled out of the station, sat face to face in the train coupé, armoured with a set of headphones each, I knew his would be a companionship of minimal verbal conversation, which suited me perfectly.

The entire trip to Amsterdam was spent looking out the window and changing tapes when they ran out, only abrupted by regular walks down the isle to the smoking carriage for a cigarette or two.

When we finally arrived at Amsterdam Centraal, we grabbed our backpacks and walked out of the station, where our future plans ended.

Looking around the crowd of tourists, junkies and hustlers, we decided to sit down on the ground to see if any new plans emerged.

It was early in the evening, and as we had no idea of where to stay the night, we decided to postpone any decicion on the topic.

Instead, we started walking up towards the Red Light District, where we knew there were some coffee shops.

I didn’t smoke dope regularly, but had been familiar with it ever since a school trip in 8th grade, when a girl I used to hang out with in class took me to the side and snuck us off into the woods.

She sat us down under a tree and pulled a chillum pipe out of her handbag, lit it up and handed it to me.

I smoked, and was underwhelmed, as with most things.

But the Amsterdam coffee shops were still a curiousity to a Scandinavian youth in the eighties, and we didn’t know what else to do, getting stoned seemed a feasible option.

We found a place that seemed not too popular, picked out a couple of bags of weed at the counter, and sat down by a table and rolled up.

I pulled the walkman out of my bag and handed my friend the extra headphones.

Then we disappeared into the music as clouds of smoke filled the air.

Night had started falling when the batteries of the Sony had lost enough power to make us notice the slowing-down of the music.

We decided that we might as well start looking for somewhere to stay the night, and got up and left the café.

Walking the Amsterdam streets at night with heavy eyelids and backpacks is a clear giveaway, and soon enough we were hit by a hustler whose job was luring young, stoned tourists to stay at a hostel-ship down by the harbour.

We didn’t disappoint his judgement, and followed him back through the train-station to the dark areas beyond.

As we registered at the front desk, the Pied Piper of stoned backpackers got his commission, and disappeared into the night, hunting whatever was on his list of cravings.

We were still loaded with a selection of pretty potent grass, so as soon as we settled in our cabin, we inserted some fresh batteries in the Sony, put on a set of headphones each, smoked as much as we could handle, and drifted off to sleep on a cloud of cotton.

We both slept well into the next day, and only got up when the heat and stench of sewers that filled the boat reached its bearable threshold.

Packed up, and on our way out to hit the town for some late breakfast, we stumbled upon a couple of German backpackers in the corridor outside the cabin.

Two giggling white boys with dreadlocks, playing dub reggae off the boombox that one of them carried.

After exchanging formalities in the usual backpacker lingo (“Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?” and “Mind if we join you?”), all four headed towards town in the baking sun, armed with fresh expectations and hungry stomacs.

It turned out the guys were from Berlin, and the conversation soon turned into one of music.

And of politics.

The kind that demanded big changes to the status quo, without presenting any real alternatives.

Youthful willpower at its best.

We agreed on what we thought to be the problems of the world, and as if to celebrate the political breakthough, sat down and rolled a joint at the first coffee-shop we could find who served food and actual coffee.

After a string of joints, several cups of coffee, and a selection of foods that started out quite nutritious and gradually ended up consisting of little more than sugar, due to the amount of weed smoked, we thanked each other for the sharing of goods and chat.

Then we headed in each our directions, but not before exchanging contact details and a “If you ever find yourself in Berlin, we have plenty of room in our squat.”

The pair of blonde dreadlocks disappeared back in the direction of the harbour, and me and my friend decided our ways also parted here.

We shook hands with a smile and few words, knowing both agreed that the best of times had been had.

I sat down on the sidewalk, had a cigarette, and wondered what to do with all my freedom.

I decided to check out the Van Gogh museum.

For no particular reason, I’d had quite a passionate hang-up with the painter, which was actually rather strange, as my interest in art in general was totally absent.

The art world belonged to old people.

Irrelevant people.

But Vincent had caught my interest, and I’d read all the biographies I could find on his rather sorry life.

Finding a strange resonance, that I didn’t understand at the time.

Even though I though I knew what to expect as I entered the first hall in the museum, I was totally taken by surprise at my own reaction to the paintings, now that I could see them in the flesh, and not just as dodgy reproductions in Taschen books.

The sunflowers were alive.

Vincent’s stare more intense than any real eyes I’ve ever looked into.

Works of Magick, charged with the soul he so painfully but willingly gave away.

I ended up walking around the museum until closing time, and by the time I was on my way out, I felt Amsterdam had shown me all it had to offer for now.

Walking down towards the Centraal Station in the evening sun, I knew I had to keep up the flow I was in, and didn’t offer a thought about where to go next.

Inside the station, the information board listed an upcoming train to Paris, and as I couldn’t find any reasonable objections, I decided Paris to be next.

But as I was waiting on the platform, just before the one I was expecting, another train came rolling in.

One with “Cologne” spelled out in bright luminous letters above its front doors.

So Cologne it would be.

The first part of the journey was uneventful, although my inner voices were busy making up fantasy scenarios about what would be waiting for me.

Then I fell asleep.