Lugging my life in my suitcase and backpack, I wended my way from Paris to Århus, Denmark. Because I am travelling by train to avoid paying hefty airfare and extra baggage costs, there were several transfers along the way. With all the subtlety of a grizzly bear falling down piano stairs I launched myself and my heavy heavy bag off one train and onto the next. I felt like a whale lumping through a flood of guppies and krill, but ah well, such is the nature of travelling with your entire livelihood jammed into a suitcase…
Somehow I have a natural magnetism for odd strangers and people with more than a few screws loose. This trip was no exception. I got on the train from Paris to Köln and the man across from me (a dead-ringer for the actor Alfred Molina) kept giving me that look that says “I really want to talk to you but I don’t know how” and tried to start conversations, first in French then in German, with topics like “Are you German?” and “Where are the bathrooms?” He continually pulled out gadgets from his pockets, first a cellphone, then a Blackberry, an ipod, and finally a portable GPS on which he went beep-booping along for about half an hour, apparently trying to get driving directions to somewhere in Belgium.
On the train from Köln to Hamburg I sat next to a German lady in a cherry-red knobby sweater who reminded me a lot of my grandma because of her eyes and her haircut. When I wrote out my itinerary on my hand (so I wouldn’t have to keep taking out my timetable) she asked me if I had a long trip ahead of me. I said yes and we picked up a conversation alternating between German and English. It turned out the lady had a linguist daughter who was doing research in Ecuador to preserve dying tribal languages. She quizzed me on my studies and gave me the very sage advice to do what I love, not do what I think will make me the most money. “Not following your heart equals not living,” she said. She wished me good luck and happiness for the new year and we said our goodbyes when she got off at Bremen.
A 20-something guy in a toothpaste haircut (like this) and a faux-tribal sweater (eagle print with a Greek-inspired scroll in red, blue, cream, and grey) sat down in front of me. He had popped his grey knit collar up and sat slumped fashionably in his seat, reeking of some godforsaken body spray only people with an overabundance of confidence could wear, making the entire car stink of eau de Arschloch.
Next to me sat a pleasant bald guy whose only luggage, if you could call it that, was an adorable English Setter dog.
At Hamburg I boarded the train to Flensburg, then from there to Fredericia across the Danish border. The switch from German to Danish sensibility was immediate, reflected even in the look of the Flensburg train. On the German train, the colors had been stark, functional but not particularly exciting. On the train into Denmark the main theme was bright green and grey, with a mural on the walls. Even the doors were awesome: they were motion-activated, but you had to do a sort of karate-chop to get them to open.
The language switch was pretty remarkable. Danish is related to German and Dutch but it’s far from mutually intelligible, though it is helpful to be familiar with both when words cross over and I can understand a little bit. To me it sounds like German and Dutch smushed together, chopped up into little pieces, and then melted so the ends of words and certain consonants disappear. The spelling especially is a trip. I delighted in the stop announcements: a woman’s voice would say something like nae-ste sta (which i took as sounding like “naechste stop”= next stop) and then the town. The name would flash onto a little signboard above the door and any guesses that I had made at approximating spelling were thrown completely aside. Skanderborg became “Skanabow,” for example. A kid a few rows behind me kept shouting “Rede mal Deutsch!” (speak in German!).
At nearly 10 pm I arrived in Århus, a little worse for wear, but happy.