This is the view from my window in Duisburg, Germany. It’s of the back residential area behind Gallenkampstr Road. I look out and I can see an old Chinese couple drinking tea and yelling nonsense at each other on their narrow porch to my right, and down a few floors right in front of me is an extended German family having a picnic dinner, celebrating the national holiday.
Ascension day is the fortieth day after Easter, and it’s celebrated in Germany with a day off from work. This year it also happened to fall on Holocaust Remembrance Day. I initially maligned what holiday all the shops were closed here for.
Almost needless to say, it has been a quiet day. Some families have gathered in the open air malls and in the parks, enjoying the sunny day and each other in the otherwise empty streets. Only a few restaurants and the shops at the train station are open.
I walked around for a little while by myself watching the families playing and couples dining at the sidewalk restaurants. But there is really nothing much for a traveler on such a holiday — I’m shut down as far as my meetings and interviews are concerned until everyone goes back to work tomorrow.
There is something about northern Europe that just makes me feel kind of sad. It always has. This isn’t the boo hoo, poor me kind of sadness, but more the type of sadness that arises from the realization of the passing of time, of late afternoon on an autumn day. The Japanese have a phrase for this feeling: mono no aware, which can roughly be translated as an awareness of ephemera. I get this feeling in Scandinavia, I had it in the Netherlands, and now here in Germany. Maybe it’s the cold, ice-like architecture, the cool breeze, the wide open streets that people merely scurry through on their way to getting somewhere. You just feel alone, which isn’t usually what I feel when traveling by myself.
Although I have to say that Germany has been interesting so far. I like cultures that hit back, and this is definitely one of them. I like the Chinese, Israelis, Indians — peoples who wear their culture like shining badges which sometimes glare so brightly that it can become hard to see past them.
I believe I’ve seen more beggars in Germany in one day than I did in weeks of travel in Bangladesh. I’m not sure what this indicates and it may not be an adequate comparision, as the beggars here are mostly street drunks. This isn’t a shallow assumption — you can watch them sitting together on curbs and in parks drinking.
Duisburg has become the prime European terminus and transshipment area for China-Europe transcontinental trains, which is why I’m here. The Chinese presence is everywhere. This recent wave of Chinese outward migration follows a similar pattern as ones in the past, but the locations of the country they emanate from are different. These are Mandarin speakers from all over China, whereas previous migration booms predominately consisted of Cantonese, Hakka, and Minnan speaking peoples from the southeast.