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The picture of this empty Russian train heading from Moscow to the Ukraine caught my eye because it brings back so many memories.  Over teh years, I have spent a fair few days and nights on Russian trains and this is not what they should look like!  Usually they’re full of life, crowded with people who have brought enough food to last for 2 weeks, rather than the 20something hours the journey should take.

Very quickly, a temporary community is built, food and drink shared.  And if you’re lucky enough not have someone near you who has had rather too much to drink, they can be fun times.

Now the trains are empty, no one wanting to head to the Ukrainian coast for a holiday.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27654442

 

Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 1.54.14 PMThis hit the news a few days ago.  Crowds attacking the Russian Embassy in Kiev, protesting against the shooting down of a Ukrainian plane.

The thing is, I have been in that building.  And waited in front of it for some considerable time.  Years ago, but still.  We had taken the overnight train from Moscow to Kiev (see above). Before going on to the conference we were to attend, we had to make sure we would be able to get back into Russia a few days later.  Which required getting a visa.  So we headed straight from the station to the embassy.  For what felt like a very long time, we had to wait for the place to open.  It was cold (February mornings in Kiev are definitely not warm…) and I seem to remember there being a lot of annoying dogs around.

At one point, it seemed like we wouldn’t even make it in.  Too many people ahead of us in the queue. But then one of the guards realised we were German. He had lived in East Germany and liked the place.  So he let us in and we got our visas.

Very strange when the news story we get so used to seeing suddenly feature places we know!

“I wonder what different people see as they watch this?” That was the question in my mind as this Guiness advert was making the rounds on Facebook on St Patrick’s Day. Do we all see the same thing?

There is the obvious story.  Rather silly, but endearing and fun.  A dog herding a bunch of guys into a pub for a Guiness.

What about all the sub-plots, though?  How many outside the UK will have heard of “One Man and His Dog“? Already the plot is slightly less random.

And the Indian restaurant.  Not just any restaurant, but an Indian one.  Couldn’t really be anything else.  “Going for a curry“.  So much part of British life.  It implies a night out with friends.  Not really significant in the advert but still there.  But lost to many who lack the background.

Silly, I know.  What does it matter whether or not we get these things.  But.

How often does that happen in the stories we tell each other?  Stories about ourselves?  Phrases we use, little references – all are significant.  But the other likely will miss those.  And we feel misunderstood, not really known.

Even when we share a lot of the same frame of reference that happens.  How much more between different cultures!  It is so easy to think we understand and then to pass judgement.  Yet we only hear what’s on the surface and so easily miss what’s behind, the real meaning.

What we see, what we hear, can be so wrong, so far from what is meant.

Oh for the wisdom to hold my tongue, to listen, to seek understanding!

IMG_0423Finds at a second hand book sale.

“Scenes and Narratives from German History” (first published in London 1861) and  German textbook for Russians (published 1934), with handwritten translations into Russian.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/letters/

1779218_10152231050961445_803043737_nThe funny thing about monuments is that they are so familiar, so much part of the landscape.  Yet so often, what they were meant to commemorate is so far removed as to be virtually forgotten.

Berlin is full of history.  The Siegessäule (in the background, built 1873) commemorates various Prussian victories.  Prussia is no longer even a country!  Or anything, really.  And with all that’s happened in German history since then, anything remotely nationalistic is a definite no-no.

Yet “Goldelse” (as Berliners affectionately call her) is as much part of Berlin life now as she was then.  History might be forgotten, monuments remain and take on a new and different significance.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/monument/

IMG_0351

On the threshold of something new.

New possibilities, new challenges.

A blank canvas.

Rooms that are empty still, yet in our minds already filled with people, with laughter.

These first few steps, where will they take us?

We have crossed the threshold.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/photo-challenge-threshold/

 

1780244_10152082258992928_1213650001_o(Foto: Olaf Schieche)

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across this bridge on the train.  Many many times during my years at university!  More times than my parents care to remember, I’m sure, as they spent way too much times at Hamburg-Dammtor, waiting for my train to arrive.  It’s a cold, draughty station (aren’t they all?) and despite their reputation abroad, German trains are not always on time. So all too often my parents would venture into McDonald’s (something they would ordinarily NEVER do) for an apple pie and to warm up.

Meanwhile, I would have been on the train for many hours already, making my way north.  Slowly the hills would disappear and the land would become flat (and I mean really flat)!  A sure sign that I didn’t have far to go.  That I was nearly home.  Then the warehouses started appearing, the cranes that move containers, side arms of the River Elbe.  The excitement grew!

Hauptbahnhof always felt like a bit of an annoying delay.  Most passengers got off there, the train became very quiet.  Then we set off again.  I wanted to stay seated for as long as I could, to be able to really enjoy this view.  The view that says “home” like few others do.  Instead I collected my stuff and headed into the corridor, awkwardly crouching down because I really didn’t want to miss THE VIEW.  And then I was home.

On the return journey, the view was the same, yet the feelings were very different.  There was a quiet sadness at leaving, yet also an excitement that started to build as I got ready to return to my “other life”.

I haven’t come across this bridge in a long time.  For many years, I was living abroad and arriving at the airport became the new normal.  Now I’m back in the country and do often travel by train again.  These days, though, I get off at Hauptbahnhof and therefore miss the view.  Life changes.

Yet when this picture appeared on my Facebook feed, I was instantly back in that place and time.  All those feelings were real again.  The view that carries so many emotions.

The View That Says Home.

Russia

It’s nearly midnight but still warm.  It feels like the whole city is out on the streets, celebrating.  Groups of people everywhere.  Laughing, chatting, drinking.  Kids running around.  Sometimes I hear music, usually the sound of an accordion, and people would be dancing to it.  Out on the street.

We came into town to watch the fireworks and now it’s time to head home.   For us and for thousands of other people.  Yet the city has not put on any additional trams or buses.  After a brief moment of thinking “Isn’t that typical – why doesn’t anything ever work here?” (but not saying it, as I don’t want to offend my local friend) we decide that trying to walk home is preferable to waiting for hours for a tram.  And so we start walking.

I have never seen the city like this!  There is a sense of fun and enjoyment that you don’t normally see in public.  The reserved, the suspicious people are showing their lighter side.

This is my last evening here before I leave the country and start building a life in a whole new place.  It’s been a tough year.  Many many times I’ve just wanted to pack up and leave.  The language, the climate, the team dynamics – all seemed to conspire to make things difficult. All seemed to be bringing to the surface lots of things in my attitudes and in my character that I would have quite liked to stay buried.  At times, it was only my stubbornness that stopped me packing my bags.  Love at first sight it definitely was not.

But on this night, as we spend a couple of hours walking across town, I am genuinely enjoying it.  It strikes me what an amazing gift that is.

To have this evening of seeing and enjoying so much of what is good about this country.  The warmth that is so often hidden behind a harsh façade.  The tremendous hospitality  (my friend lets me stay over in her very small dorm room, as walking home by myself would not be a good idea).  Their love for their country, even though it is not an easy place to live, at this time of great change and uncertainty.

It might not have been love at first sight but I know a part of my heart will forever be in this place.

Love at first last sight

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