Down and out in Bonn and…Bonn

So, all change this week.  The course at the Goethe-Institut finished on Wednesday so many autographs were signed, final dinners eaten and much beer drunk.  Having waved them all off I moved house, away from dear old Duisdorf to Watchberg-Liessem.  Now it’s strange but, when I arrived in Germany I had two suitcases.  One month later I had two suitcases and two bags.  Next month I might need two pairs of hands!  Anyway, the move was nice and straightforward and the village is beautiful.  I had a two hour training “web seminar” with an English teaching company in Cologne (hoorah!) so I was late setting out to find the footpath the Mehlen, having been assured by my landlady that there is one (and a cycle route so I can buy a bike, hoorah!) but having wandered over a few fields, past plots of vegetables and what looked like an orchard of plum trees, I baulked rather when the path led into a wood.  Sadly I had a good half hour to wait for the hourly bus so I decided to do without extra food and make do with what I had.  This amounted to potatoes, butter and dry spaghetti. I fried the potatoes in butter but left the spaghetti.  Tomorrow, I promised myself, I would go shopping.

On Friday I had a job interview.  Now I have had a few interviews over the last week.  The one on Friday had been set for Monday but I rescheduled it to fit in a second interview writing job in Munich.  You will note that I got all excited last week at the prospect of a regular job with good money.  I was so excited that I went out and bought a new top, hoping to look sufficiently well dressed to satisfy a fashion company.  Only a top you understand, no need to get carried away, with Skype they can only see your top half.  I needn’t have bothered, having rushed home to ensure my internet was working properly and agonising over whether the earrings I was wearing would work for or against me, the HR woman e-mailed to say that her Skype wasn’t working and to ask for my number so she could call instead.  She then called and said, without learning anything about me that hadn’t been covered in the first interview, that although the ad said they wanted a writer / proof-reader, what they really wanted was someone who lived and breathed fashion, practically slept on the catwalks and knew how to wear the latest shoe.  The killed line was “I’m sure you’re very clever but…”

I hate it when people express their confidence in my intelligence, it does rather suggest they have none.  Anyway, I suspect they won’t be calling me any time soon and I am not sure now that this is the sort of company for which I want to up-sticks.  It is a very prominent fashion company, high end designers, based in Munich.  Their website is very nice indeed.  When it talks about (yet another) 70s revival, it doesn’t just describe the clothes, it also provides an article on what was going on politically in the 70s (US anyway) and explains the politics behind the different styles.  So I was really getting on board with the importance of fashion until I spoke to that woman who seemed to embody all the negative clichés.  And I must say this, surely, if a fashion-obsession is crucial to a job (not unreasonable), this should be mentioned in (a) the job ad (b) the initial contact when they ask you to do a writing test or (c) the first interview.  It does appear to be a pretty fundamental requirement of the job and yet it was glossed over / hardly mentioned until I reached the final stage.  Poor practice HR Woman! And to think they were aware that I had rearrange my week to accommodate them makes their opening volley of “You’re not what we want” all the more unforgiveable.  So, I will redirect my energies to those companies whose good opinion of themselves does not translate into total disregard for everyone else.

So, Cologne.  Now this is pretty obvious, I know, but I will say this; if you are going to a town you don’t really know, take a map even if you think you know where you’re going.  I didn’t.  I thought I knew the street and found it without problem and then I realised that it wasn’t the right street.  Which was doubly strange because, on my previous trip to Cologne, I could have sworn that I had walked past the language school I was going to.  Indeed, I had not.  I had to take two S-Bahn’s to find the right square and then I walked for miles before I found the right office, having convinced myself that it was all a lie and the place didn’t even exist.  Of course, once in all was lovely and I signed my first free-lance contract.  I even had to sign a clause to say that I wasn’t a Scientologist.  That’s just how the German educational system rolls.

All good, onwards then to Aachen to meet a German friend I had last seen in Rome ten years ago.  She had married and had a baby since, I had met her husband in Rome as well but it was lovely to see them both again, and of course to meet the baby.  A lovely evening, I was a little worried about the time as I have a limited number of buses to Liessem and it is an hour from Aachen to Cologne and then another half hour to Bonn.  Still, I set of at 6.18pm and got back to Bonn at about 7.20pm.  The train to Bonn-Mehlem left without demur and I stood and waited the expected hour for the 857 from Bonn Mehlen Haupbahnhof and this was my mistake.  My landlady had told me that this bus went everywhere and so it did.  Everywhere but Liessem.  By now it was dark and I was the only one on the bus when the driver stopped at Meckenheim Bahnhof and asked why I was still there.  I asked whether the bus went to Liessem and he just shouted Falsche Bus! (wrong bus) and that this one terminated here.  I got off, went over the road to the bus stop in the opposite direction and found that there were no more buses going that night (it was about 9.40pm at this point.  I then realised that the bus that was the wrong bus had terminated at a train station so went across and bought a ticket.  The next train was at 10.20pm so I sat on the platform and waited.  Panic began to set in at this point  I thought I would never get home and realised that I had no one to call.  Parents in England?  Indisputably selfish to call them, language exchange partner?  Unreasonable after two meetings – aargh!  Having no phone number for my landlady I e-mailed her from my phone.  Now there is something very surreal about writing a panicky e-mail in German when you’re hands are shaking.  My right hand was shaking so much that I thought, “In a minute this phone is going to end up on the tracks”.  Writing the e-mail was a little calming, as was trying to book a hotel in Bonn – until I realised that they might not let me in without a passport.  At this point I looked up and saw a train leaving a platform a hundred yards further down on the other side.  I checked my watch, yep, that was the Bonn train and I had missed it.  Now, to be fair, this other platform wasn’t directly opposite the one on which I was sitting; to get to it I had to go over the bridge, down the road and through a pub carpark.  Still, IDIOT and another hour to wait.

I then remembered that friends had spent a night in Berlin without booking accommodation; they had simply found a nightclub.  Hence a quick search for a nightclub in Bonn.  By the time the train arrived, thought, I had decided that I would go back to Mehlen and try again, thinking that I had simply got the 857 too early – it is the correct night bus, I was just an hour ahead of it’s Liessem-going schedule.  However, I arrived in Bonn to find that there were no more trains out that night.  I was stuck in Bonn.

It was ok, there were still lots of people around, even approaching midnight.  I walked among them, looking for some establishment that looked like it would be open for a few hours yet.  The trouble is, I don’t go to nightclubs so distinguishing them from regular bars – especially in Europe – was a bit tricky.  I also didn’t want to admit to anyone that I was in trouble.  I had preselected my inevitable doorway; I had first met my language exchange partner at Café Orange, sitting in the doorway because it was closed.  It is a deep doorway and, if you keep still, you will not be seen by anyone passing the street.  So I headed that way resolved to sit it out until the trains started running again at 5.30pm.  The curious thing is, the panic had left me by this time and I was left in a sort of dazed resignation and resolute bloodymindedness.  I had stopped feeling the cold too which was promising.  Having run through all the horrible things that could happen to a girl sleeping out at night, I thought the most likely outcome would be that I succumbed to hypothermia.  Anyway, as I wended my way, I passed the rather aptly named Hotel Eden.  I was strangely reluctant to disturb anyone at this hour but, aware that my dad would be really angry if he knew I’d slept rough simply to avoid talking to someone, I’d better have a go.   I had tried one or two hotels in my earlier ambulations but, past midnight, no one answered.  However, this time a man came to the door, there was a room and he didn’t mind about the passport as long as I paid there and .  What I find incredible now is that, even though it was after midnight and my only alternative was a chilly doorway, I still asked “How much”?  He told me the usual price, which I didn’t hear, so I’m not sure whether 60 Euros was a reduction or an inflation but it was good enough for me.  I stood there n stupefied relief while he processed the order and even agreed that yes, I would like my debit card receipt clipped to my invoice.  Never have I been delighted with a hotel room.  I remember being surprised that it had a TV and an en suite bathroom, though let’s face it at that time of night I would have been grateful for a sofa and a blanket.  And yes, I e-mailed my landlady to let her know all was well – she didn’t get the e-mails until this morning anyway.

It was a nice room too so, if ever you come to Bonn, I would whole-heartedly recommend Hotel Eden am Hofgarten.  It might have saved my life. 




About afewwordsinpencil

An English writer of novels and theatrical pieces. My first novel, "And I Shall Be Healed" (Quickbeam Press) follows the experiences of a young army chaplain on the Western Front 1916-7. This and some theatre writings are available on the usual websites.
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