It started snowing as I walked (minced through the grey slush) to the Hauptbahnhof, tiny little pellets that stung on contact. My face did its hardening trick so it felt like stone about five minutes into the walk. The morning, which dawned pretty in pink, had an air of quiet excitement about it. The Deutsche Bahn and I, after a long hiatus we sorely needed from each other, were about to be reunited. I had a 7.53am train to Leipzig with my name on it. The last time the DB and I had cavorted, it was in Bavaria, puffing between Weiden and Nürnberg in sub sub temperatures.
Kiel Hauptbahnhof, which will always go hand in hand with memories of midnight trains pulling in, delivering me to the SG for a weekend and early evening trains pulling out, heading back to Münster, was blinking awake in the Wednesday morning chill. I ordered a coffee, found my train and snagged a cabin. Cabins are little closeted pockets of quiet, sequestered away from the riff raff of the general carriage and this one had no reservations. Ultimate luck. One cannot help but feel they are part of another era in a train cabin, particularly when all outside is covered in white. As we pulled out, the snow began furiously pummelling Kiel with its little flaky fists. I sipped my coffee and cracked the spin of my crime novel, awash with that specific sense of smugness that comes with successfully catching a punctual, quiet Deutsche Bahn.
Somewhere suspended between departure and destination my phone went a little funny with its reception. I needed it not to do so as I was awaiting an email from my Leipzig date, confirming where to meet and when. She had flown in from Canada and we were meeting to pick brains and share stories. Suspecting the little glitch in reception could be solved by the classic turn on/turn off, I did precisely that. And upon turning the device back on was told my SIM card had locked. Fucking. Locked. I hadn’t had a SIM card lock on me since 2002. I, obviously, couldn’t rattle the PIN off, off the top of my head, so resorted to optimistically wondering if, at some point, I had chosen a PIN for my SIM – a point I may not have recollection of because it would have just been so second nature – and this PIN would be something really simple like my birth date and I could just pop it in now and see what happened. WRONG PIN. TWO TRIES REMAINING. No problem, I thought, coccooned in my cabin, I will simply pull out the SIM and see if my Australian SIM, lolling about in the coin compartment of my wallet, can magically find some network. Except with iPhones you need to carry a paperclip with you 24/7 in the event you ever need to remove your SIM and I was fresh out of paper clips. So I sat back. There was nothing I could do. I would have to (like the time I turned my shitty little 12€ phone on and off en route to London and forgot there was a PIN to get back into the phone and thus had to throw myself at a free internet terminal at the airport and Facebook my flatmate to ask her to fossick through my drawers of paper and find the PIN) find a paper clip upon arriving in Leipzig, pull out the SIM, find free wifi somewhere and take it from there. So I re-opened my crime novel, sat back and journeyed on.
Leipzig Hauptbahnhof yielded both a paper clip – borrowed from a sales assistant at a Saturn – and free wifi. Thank you Starbucks. In a tizz, I ordered a ‘große cafe latte’ absolutely forgetting a large at Starbucks could sustain a family of 5 for a week. But it gave me something to do while I set about using the free wifi to track down my date and instruct SG to find my SIM pin in my drawer of papers. After a little emailing, Starbucks was designated as the meeting spot and I waited with my latte bucket as Leipzig froze outside.
We had to walk around for a little while to finish our enormous coffees which were, after 10 minutes, iced beverages. It was freezing. Miserably freezing. The streets were just grey slush, the cold snaked up the arms of our jackets and in underneath our scarves and froze the tips of our toes through our boots. It chased us into the nearest place offering warmth and food, where we huddled over the special of the day, defrosting. After that, stuffed with noodles, we ducked outside again and walked in circles looking for an establishment that would serve a warming glass of wine. Turns out they’re well hidden in the Altstadt of Leipzig and by the time we found one, tucked away out of sight, any motivation we may have ever had to explore our surrounds a little more widely, was dead. Or at least encased in ice. So in the wine-serving establishment we stayed, brain-picking and story-sharing until it was time to go back to the Hauptbahnhof for me to catch my evening train. Via Starbucks for the free wifi.
So, that was Leipzig.
My train home took 5 hours, chugging begrudgingly in the cold. Two stop out of Kiel, there was a commotion and a ticket inspector, moving like the wind, chased a commuter off the train and pinned him to the wall of a shelter on the station. The woman in front of me was out of her seat and into the fray like a rocket. Turns out she was an off duty police woman. The rabble rouser never had a chance. The voice coming from the rabble rouser was an English one. The announcement that came over the loudspeakers informing us of a slight delay while they waited for the cops was a German one. The clock ticked closer toward 1am. I began to resent both trouble makers and the dedication of the Deutsche Bahn staff and its off duty law enforcers.
And then I was home, 17 hours after I left. Leipzig felt like a grey, slushy dream, interspersed with free wifi and paper clips. My camera had one photo on it. But over the noodles and the wine, a wonderful conversation was had. And that’s really why I went.
We’re heading to Sweden next weekend, just for a little day/night boat trip. I’ll try again there with the photos.