Bonn, day 2
The next day, a big greasy traditional Irish breakfast in a pub down the street from Florian's - sausage, fried eggs, ham, beans, the works. Then a day of sightseeing with Esther, who turned out to be a bit of a Bonn buff so was able to give me this great private little guided tour of the city, explaining the histories of the buildings to me as we passed them by. Esther is so great, man, and we got along so incredibly well, partly because she spent time in an English boarding school as a teen so gets my Anglo sense of humor and will laugh at my jokes (a rare occurrence in Germany indeed); partly because she's just cool and will rock you like a hurricane, and loves to drink and smoke and make bawdy jokes; partly because there's this whole traditional side to her as well, one who loves collecting antiques and listening to classical music and reading Goethe; and partly, of course, because every time she bought me a meal or drink or tram ticket, she'd turn to me and say, "Now, you know I am buying this as a bribe for you to write only good things about me, ja?" Ist keine Problem, Esther! I would've said nice things about you if you had bought me stuff or not!
After the sightseeing Esther dropped me off with three of the Lebenskuenstlers I had met at the bordello bar from the night before, while she went off to prepare for the slam, and one of them took me to the Haus Der Geschichte. This was one of the only museums in Germany on my "absolutely must see" list, to tell you the truth, mostly because it's dedicated exclusively to German history from 1945 to 1989, the end of World War II to Reunification, and I think this is a particularly fascinating era in German history. And indeed, the museum turned out to be just as interesting and entertaining as I was hoping it would be, and does this great job of walking you through the profound changes that have taken place here over the last half-century: Adenauer and his "NO EXPERIMENTS!" postwar policy; the "economic miracle" of the 1950's and subsequent invasion of Hollywood and television, starting Germany's weird relationship with American pop culture; the beat poets, student riots and new Communist scare of the 60s; the rise of Willy Brandt and the Green Party in the 70s, leading to profound changes in environmental policy that you still see here today; the prominence of anti-war, anti-fascist campaigning for a global audience, first in the 80s while dealing with Pershing missile buildups; and finally, the siege of the German embassy in Hungary, leading to the quick fall of East Germany and the dismantling of the wall. And the museum is free, too! What's not to love?
On the walk home, Esther's friend Younes and I got into a big discussion about movies, because he turned out to be an intern for a group of professors studying the history of German film and writing their interpretations as academic papers and essays. Then back to their apartment, a German equivalent of a slacker apartment, which was the funniest damn thing to me; imagine a typical collegetown apartment, with the Radiohead albums and Japanese comic books and David Bowie posters, then add Renaissance chandeliers and moose antlers and antique photos and strange ads from Soviet-era Russia in the kitchen. Surreal and fun, just like I like my evenings out.
That night - the War of the Roses! Esther's slam, in fact, is literally called the Rosenkrieg, and works in such a funny, pleasurable way - each person who pays to get in gets a rose, and then at the end of the performances they throw their roses on the stage to signify the poet they liked the most. One of the funniest yet most effective ways of gathering poetry-slam scores I've seen yet. It's held at a club called Bla, which was the epicenter of the Bonn punk scene in the 80s; the place comfortably holds 50 or so, but they manage to squeeze in 100 to 150 each slam. (Seriously, people are packed in there tight; you'll see what I mean when I finally get the photos developed.)
This was the first show this tour that worked like American shows; there was the slam which all the local writers participated in, and then a special twenty minutes set aside for me, the "featured artist." Sehr gut, man - I much prefer situations like this, where I'm presented as something special and therefore am thought of as something special, and more books are sold and more beers bought for me and more girls flirt with me. In fact, my performance killed in Bonn, and it was almost without a doubt the friendliest, warmest reception I've gotten all tour yet. And I indeed sold a ton of books and had many beers bought for me and had many girls vie for my attention.
Oh, and did I mention Johanna? Jo...hanna. So beautiful. So sexy. So intelligent. So savvy. So confessional. So honest. Jo...hanna. Sigh. Johanna is an intern for a local magazine and was assigned to do an article on the slam this month; Esther's press release included the URL for my website, so Johanna checked it out last week and became a fan and spent some time clicking through the various sections. And she asked Esther if she could schedule an interview with me for after the show, which Esther then related to me, except left out the part about being a journalist and made it sound coy instead - "Jason, there's a woman who's become a fan of your website and wants to meet you after the show."
So I went to the show last night and near the beginning of the evening caught sight of a woman in the audience I instantly fell in love with - short hair, pale skin, boyish-looking, that really German look I like. And she caught me looking at her, and then I caught her looking at me, and then suddenly we had this little googly-eye thing going on. And then later Esther slipped me a note, telling me that the woman who wanted to meet me was in the audience, and (you guessed it) turned out to be the girl I had been making googly-eyes with, so then I was officially excited. (Yeah, you heard me.) And then we were introduced after the show and we immediately got into a conversation that turned very personal very fast, and then she sat down with all us drunk slammers and shot the shit until the bar closed and we all got kicked out, so we proceeded to go a couple of blocks down the street to a 4 am bar and get wasted. Viva La Holiday!
Johanna started telling me about her own trip recently to Thailand, and how she experienced many of the same culture shocks that she imagined I was going through myself in Germany. She had this amazing way of expressing the exact thoughts I've been having in my own mind this month, that I hadn't talked about with anyone for fear of not being understood. The fact is that there's a flipside to this ease of communication I've talked about here in the journal; namely, it's only the more simple communication that's easier to achieve than expected, while very sophisticated, very personal, very emotional communication is almost impossible because the language barrier is usually too big.
Johanna wasn't any better or worse at English than anyone else I've talked to, but had this wonderful way of getting sophisticated points across in simple language that sometimes sounded like poetry. She would say things like, "You become two people when you travel, ja? There is this person here, who is the person everyone sees - smiling, friendly, 'Hallo, wie gehts?' Then here is this person here, who only you see - alone, afraid, confused. Feeling out of control sometimes. But you don't want anyone to see that person, so you smile and say, 'Hallo, wie gehts?'" And then I would say things like, "Marry me, Hannah." And she would laugh and I would laugh and we'd all go get another drink.
I've gotten really sick of not understanding what women think of me here, so I took Sebastian's jokey advice in Munich seriously last night and said to Johanna, "Look, I'm going to be in Bonn for one more day, and I'd really like to spend some more time with you, if you'd like to do the same." And she laughed and said of course and gave me her phone number, and then Esther and I went back to Florian's and fell into our respective beds at nearly five in the morning. Sleep. Blessed sleep.