The morning opened as a crisply washed and clear morning to our well rested crisp minds. Clear blue sky, gentle and clean golden sunlight on buildings and trees (trees dotted the buildings throughout the city), an unawakened low intensity shopping strip across the hotel, and mainly pedestrians and cyclists on the vacant rain-washed roads hunched and hooded against the cold 14o morning breeze hurrying to their workplaces early. Ah, so this is ordinary, suburban Germany! Clean, beautiful, gentle, well off, but not garish or in-your-teeth wealthy looking. Actually these words sum up all the patches of Germany I saw during my whole trip. There were one or two worrying points, but about that later. Meanwhile through the half opened window of our hotel room we breathed the clean air in this foreign country, gazed at the sights it presented to our eyes, sensed the ineffable mystery of a new land, felt the enigma of arrival Naipaul has spent his whole life writing about. We stood gazing out of the window, rapt.
To see more I opened the other window. I must have done something wrong, because the whole huge window, 6 feet by 3 feet, bent inward from the top and started falling upon my head. I pushed it back up in panic but it wouldn’t shut – it remained up but jammed, somehow stuck and about to fall any moment. Calamity. Whatever philosophical pretences Indians project for themselves and for foreigners about their deep mystical philosophical stances, in truth the deepest philosophical view of dharma – The Way – we have is close to Murphy’s Law: if things can go wrong, they will, with the added lemma that things always can go wrong. Life, ie, bhavasagara, is fundamentally fucked up. Pessimism is the polite word for it. May be those early 18th century Britishers in India driven by their newly found optimism of nascent capitalism had got this part about us right: religious pessimism; although they later got caught up in their wretched racism against Indian baboons. Of course these reflections of mine are ex-post-facto. Holding the swaying window up somehow with one panicked hand I tried to contact the hotel management, only to discover that the room did not have an intercom to the reception, or to anywhere! I later found that nearly all German hotels have these odd kinks mainly motivated by sly economic calculations. My wife ran out to the lobby to raise alarm, as I held the huge window teetering on disaster.
Eventually a man, white, but vaguely Turkish or east-European, with a middle-management air came to our rescue. I explained the matter. His English was in trial and error stage, so I calibrated.
“Window broken,” I said. “Fix this. Or change our room.”
“All rooms completely full,” he said proudly.
“Then what about this?” I shouted pointing to the swaying window. “We go to another hotel?”
He was puzzled.
“Tziss is for air,” he said.
“For air!?” Was the fellow mad, to top it all?
Totally immune to my worsening panic on the utter fuckedupness of life he moved to the window and held the handle, and I quickly removed my restraining hand holding the window at bay and stepped back cleverly. He turned the handle in some mysterious way and shut the window up nicely with a crisp click. Then he turned the handle another way and the window opened smoothly like normal windows do – around a vertical axis, the way I had wanted to open it in the first place.
“Tziss iz to look outside,” he said now smiling rattily. “To zee the beautiful view outside!”
Then he shut the window again and turned the handle 180 degree and pulled. The huge window started tilting inward from the top, now moving around horizontal axis – the way it had started falling upon my head triggering the whole catastrophe. To my horror he kept pulling the knob. The window tilted about 6 inches inward from the top and six inches outward from the bottom – and stopped firmly and coolly.
“If you keeps window open, somebody can come inside,” he made running gestures with his arms pumping like a sprinter, smiling dementedly.
“Really?” What have we got into here?
“Of course, nobody comz inside!” he grinned placatingly making soothing gestures with his hands, but still looking very Dostoyevskian. “That iz only I am talking to explain.”
“I see,” getting the point probably. What we had seen of Karlsruhe didn’t quite support the image of rampaging burglars or dacoits.
Then he pointed to the vertically, partially opened window triumphantly.
“And tziss is so to let air come inside,” he said grinning. “When you go out shopping, sightzeeing.”
He saw that my wronged universe was probably beginning to right itself.
“Tzee, yourself,” he pointed to the handle encouragingly, and shut the window again. I tried the handle cautiously and pulled. The window tilted inward six inches and halted sweetly. I breathed with relief.
“Try the other zide,” said the Dostoyevskian gnome. I did. The window opened normally, in the familiar way. “It iz for your comfort,” he said winningly. He was not looking very Dostoyevskian anymore.
“Thanking you,” I said with deep feeling.
“No problem, welcome,” he waved and went away.
So, with one window open to air and intruders and the other open only to air, at peace again, we had our first tea in Germany, from the tea tray of things kept in the room. The tea was good, like home. We were to know later that most hotels without airconditioning and maybe homes too had such windows. It made sense, just. I saw many similar practical things in Germany in this trip that made sense, just.
Like the breakfast, in the breakfast lounge (no room service of course). It was our first German food of the trip, and was quite a spread. Various kinds of local bakery baked breads, various cold cuts of meats, scrambled eggs, various salads, pickles (gherkins were the best), fruits, coffees – and fried Nuremberg sausages and ham. Why Nuremberg sausages? Hadn’t heard of them, but then I had hardly heard much of things German anyway. Nuremberg, the city of trials of war crimes of the Nazis was all I know of it. The sausages were small, mildly spiced and good. Oh, and many flavoured yogurts (very good). I saw a small tray kept hesitantly next to the sausages and its name card said “sauerkraut.” Sauerkraut, at last! I had read so much about it, the standard food of childhood in Germany like cabbage soup of England since Dickens. It was in my must eat mental list. It is wettish shredded cabbage, fermented and mildly salted. It tastes sour and does the probiotic job and is eaten as a sort of basic salad for sausages. Not very good. I could understand why eating it every day, German school boys hated it, in the novels I had read – as English school boys hated cabbage soup in English novels. Cabbage is good for growing children, it was and is believed; and children want to quickly grow out of it – like most things of childhood. Clean, nutritious, good and sensible, and after the first day, repetitive and boring breakfast. Breads stood out. Every day even the commercially run hotel had women baking different breads with different dough, and breads were of different shapes and taste. Germany freaked out on breads. I liked “bretzel” the best. It is a giant, spoked-wheel-like, pretzel shaped, spiced, tasty bread. I will give it the gold medal. Breads, meats, and wine/beer. This is all that is German food, just. Of all European food Germany`s has the least variation. Why? Because being late starters on the gravy train (heh, heh) of colonization – later even than the Italians who in turn were late in following the British, French, Spanish and the Dutch – they missed out on the bounty of spices? The current historians are coming round to the view that the famed Age of Exploration in Europe was actually driven by the earth shattering experience of taste of Asiatic spices in food, and by the mad lust unleashed by this discovery into the centuries old dull palates of the “pagan” ancient times and the Christian middle ages. The flag, the cross, and even gold etc were later quests really. Again the mediterrandan angle. Forget exploration or conquest for spices, Germany and Switzerland without a Mediterranean shore even missed out on the normal civilizational contacts in that direction. Later I was to see in the marketplaces that Turkish origin Doner Kebab eateries have pretty much displaced the “German food” restaurants who have, shrewdly, adjusted to this trend.
My wife had to catch the punctual bus of the punctual Germans for the conference while I wanted to go back to sleep. Many other delegates were staying in the same hotel – mainly senior bankers from Asia and Africa, a cynical and humourous lot as I found when I met them later. The conference was being organized by something cutely called European Organization for Sustainable Development. “Sustainable Development” is of course World Bank speak for sustaining the comfortable lifestyles of the white G-8 or G-10 people at the cost of sweatshops of Asia, Africa and Latin America where laboring men, women and children on sub survival wages live in unsustainable homes and habitats and hopes. The sad and wise Afro-Asian bankers were, I found, tolerant of the German hypocrisy and cant and merry about it – mildly joking about “Deutsche Mark, oops, Euro” – having really come all the way to Karlsruhe only to pick up one or two technical tricks on waste-management or forestry. Humour was the best way to bear the German naivete and arrogance. The bus came punctually, the delegates went punctually, and I returned to my room now rendered much fresher by the open anti-intruder window. All I wanted to do was to get back into bed and begin rereading Czeslaw Mislosz’s The Native Realm that I had carried with me as my sole companion-book for this trip and, occasionally watching the clear indigo sky outside the sunlit window, to go back to sleep. In this book which I had first read twenty years back Milosz has explored within his own life the tortuous meanings of nativity and nationality and all that.
I read Milosz, and also dozed for a time. But through the open window I could hear, apart from sedate sounds of trams stopping and starting, laughter and shouts of children at play. Probably no sound in our universe is more mysterious and uplifting. I went to the window. There was a school – schule in German – across the road, with a vaguely Greek or Roman looking building. May be the school day was over and the children were waiting for mothers or elder siblings to come in bicycles to escort them home also on bicycles, filling up the waiting time with as much play as they could wrest from the day. Clean, white, healthy children, eyes shining, faces lit with laughter and mischief. I watched, speechless, fascinated, as trams glided to the stop and glided away with soft pings of opening and closing doors in both directions. These were German children, living out their childhood here before my eyes for their destinies in life! Clean, big, modern cars were cruising smartly. I felt I could spend the whole day at the window watching this uncluttered and ordered life go by. And I understood why I wanted to go back to sleep and to the memoirs of Milosz. After having come thousands of miles to Germany, its infinite and foreign suchness looked huge as a mountain and I felt that my going outside will start an enormous and absorbing encounter. Encounter in the best sense of the word. I was afraid that I would be fatigued. I was wrong. Germany energized me instead.
The first thing to do was to go to the tram stop outside my hotel – Kalstor – and try and understand how the system worked. In Karlsruhe the tram lines (two) are in the middle of the roads and the two outer sides are for cars, buses and others – with a border of bicycle-track on each side abutting the pavements for pedestrians. There are many zebra crossings for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the roads (one can take one’s bicycle inside the tram, space permitting!) well controlled by profuse traffic lights which are obeyed by all. This is so all over in Germany it is said. Karlsruhe’s tram system is more advanced, as an expert told me later, in many ways but mainly because the tram tracks are by design integrated with the national and international rail tracks, so that if necessary trams and trains can connect seamlessly with each others track. So far it has not been necessary it seems. Only the highways outside the city have a respectable volume of vehicular traffic although very tame and girlish looking when compared with Delhi-Gurgaon highway or even Bombay-Pune expressway.
The tiny stop Kalstor had a tiny shelter from sun and rain and an automatic ticket vending machine, which accepted cash and coin of Germany but also all major credit and debit cards of the world. There was a helpful menu of instructions to operate the machine and buy tickets – but it was in German. I couldn’t decipher it at all, as I pretended to read it with a casual nonchalance (why was I being so silly?). The man at my hotel’s reception, which also doubled as its bar (jolly hotel!), had told me to buy a Euro 6.20 ticket which will enable me to travel in any tram or any bus – or any train, should they get suddenly integrated with Karlsruhe’s trams today – for the next 24 hours. It sounded like a bargain and later proved to be so. But right now I was stumped by my illiteracy. Three frail old ladies waiting for their tram were watching me with kindly smiles. Maybe that is why I shrugged theatrically and sauntered off lightly as if all along I was studying the vending machine merely for an academic caprice! An Inscrutable Indian here. But well clear of the tram stop, at a road crossing, I stopped and wondered where to go, and how. I was standing at a pedestrian zebra crossing and I was the only one there. The traffic signal opposite to zebra crossing was red. Obediently I stood unmoving for quite a few minutes while no car or bus or even a bicycle went past either way. German’s are sticklers for rules I had been told. When I was beginning to feel silly in the situation a senior lady came from behind me, pushing a wheeled stroller filled with the day’s domestic shopping and happily skipped across to the light shining red. Germans break rules too! Happily I too started to cross the road and I was midway when the light turned green to rob me of the thrill of breaking a rule in Germany. On the other side sobriety dawned on me and I sought the help of google maps on my mobile phone.
I found I was walking along the Karlstrasse (strasse = street) northward which would hit the Kaiserstrasse half a kilometer ahead at Europaplatz, which seemed to be and later proved to be the main crossroad of the downtown part of Karlsruhe, which in turn was a stone’s throw away from the big daddy schloss (castle) built by Karl Wilhelhm or William in 1715 (Germany has had a lot of illustrious Karls in its roll of honour) around which was built the whole town…. But I was saved from this kind of Wiki perspectives when opening and closing doors of a smallish bakery ensnared me with the smells. I had to go inside, to see the brightly lit, cheerfully painted bakery to look at a mini galaxy of breads and meats and salads – looking at all this was itself like a tribute, eating would have been like a violation of the splendor. I was too full of my first German breakfast anyway. I drifted out spellbound and trudged along towards Europaplatz as planned through google maps. But I was snared again. This time by a biggish sort of park dotted with green, sloping roofed, square rain/sun shelters built on four poles at its four corners. Benches were scaltered around all over in the open. A sign said Biergarten – beer garden – and it was a garden where you sat down and had beer. At this early hour with a cool breeze and weak sunlight only one shelter was occupied, by two large, senior women who communed with each other silently over two generous mugs of beer. I had to get inside the park and sat on a body warming bench in the open. I too wanted to have a 1 litre plus tankard of bier sitting in this well-maintained garten, but it was too cold for a black skinned, breakfast full Asiatic. I just sat, gazed around stupidly, enjoying the gentle sunlight lighting up this gentle town even without a bier.
Along one side garten (3 sides were open) was a large four storey classical looking and old looking building. For a post-colonial dark-skinned any building other than the strictly Euclidean and coldly utilitarian construction is classical – the sort of buildings you see in the historical pictures of European cities, the sort old architects had designed till WW II, or the sort today’s architects fake to imitate and insinuate old culture, old money. The building had a worn out look. A small, old sign over a small gate in the middle said – etched in old stone or plaster – Post Galerie. Post? Post office. So huge? This was Karlsruhe’s old, main post office! Post offices have – at least for me they do – about the same romantic charm as railway stations. I had to see it.
But it was not a post office at all. It was a huge multi-storeyed mall swarming with people. An open, glass-walled lift took you up and down from floor to floor. One floor – the lower ground floor – was given over to eateries, bakeries, bars and full restaurants and florists. Other floors had all the merchandise all the malls carry as cargo, in all modern cities in the world. The only things you probably couldn’t buy here were cars and airplanes. I saw bicycles, skate boards, body building equipment, mountaineering gear, Chinese pottery, apart from the usual. I saw… I don’t know what I saw. After the bier garten, this was claustrophobic, smothering my senses with excess. I blundered outside in some panic. It was on one side of the Post Galerie on my Karlstrasse as it joined the Kaiserstrasse. It was full of people, standing on both sides of the Karlstrasse; girls were having ice-cream; boys were weaving in and of the crowd smoothly gliding on roller skates. I walked to the end of Post Galerie and turned the corner, and the full splendor of Europaplatz hit me full force.
I was standing on the adjacent side of the Post Galerie and on the ground floor outside, facing the downtown shopping plaza of Kaiserstresse, were the Burger Kings, Macdonalds, travel agents, Western Union and a bank. Thronged with people there were semi-permanent shops of eateries, eateries, eateries – German, Italian, Turkish foods and such. The road in front – Kaiserstrasse, intersected by Karlstrasse – was busy with trams coming and going on both tracks. There were half a dozen tram stops. Electronic panels on each tram stop showed an ever changing menu of trams’ destinations with ETAs in minutes. The stops were full of people, some sitting on the helpful benches, holding full shopping bags, flower pots, babies, ice-creams and dogs. I walked to the junction, with trams smartly negotiating the bends in three directions, and saw along Kaiserstrasse endless vistas of restaurants, Woolworths, Nikes, bars, more Burger Kings. I felt I had to get away, even if temporarily so.
I went to the nearest tram stop and stood before its undecipherable automatic ticket machine and watched people coolly punching its buttons and the machine’s slot spewing out tickets. Trams were stopping and moving off. Do I dare disturb the universe? I stood bang against the ticket machine, like Oliver Twist in Fagin’s kitchen. A girl bought her ticket and I blurted out in English if she could help me buy a ticket, and held out a fist full of euro coins. She looked worriedly at the panel showing arriving trams and said oh, okay. I want one for Euro 6.20, I said. She picked out the coins, put them in the slot and punched the buttons too fast for me to see. Out came the ticket. She handed it to me and ran to catch a tram that had just arrived, saying get it punched inside the tram. I now held the getaway key to the universe. I got into the next tram that came, stood around to see what others did, and saw them pushing their tickets inside a small box fitted just inside the entry door. I did the same. The punched ticket showed the date and time. I was now moving, inside some tram in Karlsruhe, away from Post Galerie. And I could go on doing so for the next 24 hours! I was moving,I was free!
I did not understand it then, but this simple getaway act eventually turned out to yield a decisive perspective to my whole visit to Karlsruhe – freed me from the inevitable foreclosures of seeing contained in helpful things like Google, Lonely Planet, Wiki, schlosses and museums, the entire template of tourism. Why only Karlsruhe? This freedom made my whole trip to Germany more personal, more, um, subaltern.
As the fug of my glorious escape in the tram cleared I saw myself sitting on a nice window seat of the half-filled tram, with huge clean glass windows, watching the city glide past. Glide is the word – no duk-duk, duk-duk… pulse of railways – only a smooth sway of being conveyed at a gentle pace. I had no idea of where the tram was going, of course, but I thought I saw my hotel go past, followed by less intense shopping streets and offices of small businesses, and soon I was at the terminus of the Karlsruhe’s Hauptbahnof – the main train station I had arrived at yesterday from Frankfurt! This gave a sense of roundedness to my movement and also of the size of the city.
The tram took another curve of the rails and it was passing residential parts of the city. Quiet sleepy houses, cars parked filling both sides of the streets, leaving only a narrow lane clear in the middle. Trees, parks, benches, well maintained outer walls and pavements. Soon habitation became sparser, occasional houses changed to older traditional sloped roofs with gables and chimneys. The tram passed close to the walls. I could see glimpses of interiors of rooms, the washing hung out to dry on balconies and lawns, flower pots on window sills, rusting bicycles outgrown by the children, houses newly painted or barely lived in, cute letter boxes grown old… life. The tram emptied too, as it neared the end of its route, now both sides surrounded by greenery and trees. It reached the last stop and I was the only passenger left sitting. The driver got off, slowly walked to a small toilet, came out after a few minutes and lighted a happy cigarette. The few houses had the vacancy of the noon. No one was about. Two elderly women were chatting in the balcony of a two storeyed house. They finished their chat and one of them came down to her waiting stroller full of the day’s shopping, waved to the woman looking out from the balcony and slowly moved off. The empty balcony of the adjacent house showed a drooping small flag of Germany, not removed after the German football team which was expected to be the champion had shockingly lost to Italy in the semi-finals of Euro 2016 last week. A tall, erect, old man in white beard with a rucksack on his back slowly walked past. The tram driver waved to him. Two old ladies and a small dog came into the tram. The driver finished his cigarette, turned to see us sitting inside, and slowly moved to his driving seat. I was in a trance. Within 24 hours of having come thousands of miles across the planet from the ever-problematic India, here I was, effortlessly given the opportunity of seeing comfortably from a fine tram the ordinary, suburban, life of white people of an advanced society in Europe! I felt I was given a fantastic privilege. This easy and intimate access was precious – far more than what books, TV and internet could give me. I was hooked by Germany seen thus. The tram moved off again, showing me more of it, immersed in rapt exultation.
Slowly my eyes began to focus better on less ethereal aspects and I began to read street names, shop signs, tram stops, etc. I saw a Goethestrasse. It was to be expected, of course – Goethe. The next street said Mozartstrasse. Mozart, next to Goethe! On an impulse I got out of the tram at the next stop, in a park land residential area, and started walking. The next street read Beethovenstrasse. Marvelling, I walked from street to street reading Haydnstrasse, Bachstrasse, Schubertswtrasse. Which people will name their neighbourhood streets after famous music composers? I moved over some major road crossings and into an institutionalish area and was stumped to see Lorenzstrasse, which joined – appropriately – Einsteinstrasse, passing Otto-Hahn strasse (of the atom bomb of USA in 1940s) on to Gutenbergstrasse and Zeppellinstrasse, Then I saw Siemenstrasse, Nobelstrasse, Marie Curie strasse. Streets named after music masters and physicts! Is there any city like this in the world? This wonderland was, I saw, in and around Ettlingen and it had its old and carefully preserved schloss (castle) too, of course! Quietly energized, I got into the next tram that came along in some tram stop I was standing in. The tram moved on. I remembered out of nowhere at all the fascinating name of a packet of cigarettes I used to see advertised in my childhood days, when smoking was not even an distant idea in my mind: Passing Show. The tram looped back along another arc to the Hauptbahnof again, and further towards the town centre now beginning to look somewhat familiar. This rich pageantry, this was cinema in the most generic sense of the term – this smooth passing of meaningful scenes of Karlsruhe in front of my eyes. A city and all that it contained of the past and the future was unfolding before my eyes according to some deep script of history. And lo and behold, I was approaching the thick market area of the Europaplatz from another direction, the very spot from where I had fled to begin with, but this time with more settled eyes and mind.
It was mid day. The platz was full of people, trams coming and going from all directions, in a city that moves on trams. By now my eye was in and a sort of mode of discovery had been lit in my mind no longer bewildered. Karlsruhe’s trams had led me inside gently to glimpse private lives of ordinary people. The viewpoints of Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, and Deutsche tourism, etc had been left behind by now and I felt free and well centered in a strange city so distant, so foreign and yet I could do as I pleased!
I was sitting on a steel bench of one of the Europaplatz tram stops, watching people shopping, eating, travelling, chatting, or just sitting in the mild summer sunlight. Many were standing in bunches smoking cigarettes. It struck me that I was seeing much more public smoking in Germany than what I saw in Mumbai or Delhi. Odd, this. The electronic panel announcing the pending arrival of trams showed place names and minutes of ETA. One name entered my newly focused mind, a name I had read back in India before starting this trip. Durlach. Two names actually, Durlach and Daxlanden, in the east and west of Karlsruhe respectively, the former the original site of pre-1715 Karlsruhe of the local king’s dynasty, and the latter in the opposite direction near the Rhine river and the dockland areas. And I saw a tram arrive and stop before me, its destination said Durlach. Free, I just got into it and found a nice seat among all the nice seats.
The uber market place of Kaiserstrasse persisted for quite some time, thinned out, and gave way to business centres, churches, schools, and then thinned out further to show up green areas, parks, and well-appointed residential houses in wider roads, and eventually the tram came to a stop where everyone got down, including me. The stop said KA-Durlach.
On one side was a school and on the other side were auto-parts shops, bars and bakeries. So this is where it had started. The tram track, I saw ahead, curved away to eventually return to mid-town areas again. But the road ahead reached a major cross-road where there was, for a change, much car traffic. I walked along a fine pavement sloping upward. There was a hill with a smallish fortress (schloss) on top – Turmberg – which had been the seat of political and military power since medieval times. There is a small “funicular” train to take tourists up to the schloss, but it was not working that day. In my non-arthritic days it would have been a 15 minute climb up the hillock. There was a nice road too. I walked up along this for a while. And I saw the surrounding neatly worked rural farming land, the original catchment area for revenues of the ruling kings. To my Indian eyes spoilt by the huge scale and grandeur of Indian medieval forts, the Turnberg schloss was puny and unremarkable. I sat on a nice stone bench in the nice sunlight, and looked around. Most of Germany since its medieval times would have been governed, apart from its river and sea port towns, like this, by such kinglets operating their military power from such fortresses. I could also see on the hill a small church which would have, gracefully and disgracefully, legitimized such local kings. Such was Germany for centuries, till its industrial revolution. Why only Germany? All Europe. I could also glimpse what must be the bypass road for the highway going south towards Switzerland. It was full with Mercedes, Volvos, Toyotas, Renaults, of Germany today. Hm.
By 1715 as the medieval times were ebbing the king of Baden-Durlach, much influenced by French ideas from across the Rhine river and also no doubt by the rising revenues from custom taxes from rising river borne trade on Rhine, shifted what is so delightfully called the “seat of power” from Turmberg to its present, modern, schloss near Europaplatz on the Kaiserstrasse. This new schloss, much hyped in tourist literature, with a vaguely pared-down Roman architecture, is in the centre of the “planned” Karlsruhe town from which radiate like spokes of a wheel streets in straight lines to all ends of the city. It was the first “planned” city in Europe it seems, and it is said that after independence from Britain America built its capital town of Washington D.C. based on inspiration from Karlsruhe. It is also said that till this day the old timers of Durlach try to sneer at the parvenu people of Karlsruhe with the impotent rage of those superceded by history. The past has not been vanquished. In Baden-Wurtemburg district of Germany, in which Karlsruhe is situated, and also in the neighbouring district of Baden-Baden, right wing political parties have always carried much clout and public adherence – even till post-Brexit EU today.
Back at the Durlach tram stop, with no hurry at all in my liberated mode, I saw a small stall of Doner Kebab for my well earned lunch. Eating a Doner Kebab bun, which is similar to but much superior than a hamburger, I watched a clutch of school children also eating things from the stall probably at the end of the school day – early teenage white boys and girls. The boys in long shorts and hooded T-shirts were mostly in bunches – pink of skins, blue of eyes, and semi-blonde of hair – in the universal spirit of mischief of boys. The girls were less in bunches, wearing very short shorts (so short that cheeks of their buttocks were clearly visible) and T-shirts and their spirit seemed more advanced, and turgid. Such aggressive display of the body at such an early age was puzzling. Many girls were smoking. May be it was the original genetic code – females of the species trundling around as widely as possible among the available choices for best male mating – expressing itself early due to better and assured nutrition. Or maybe it was just fashion, if fashion is ever just fashion.
The selfish genes, articulating themselves, in ever-renewing expressions. What anxieties have been sprouting in the female human genes in Europe so as to trigger such aggressive mating display and behaviour from the 20th century onward, despite higher levels of nutrition? Industrial labour? World Wars? Decolonisation? With my stomach full of kebab and my mind full of semi-educated thoughts I gave up the idea of catching a train back to the town centre. Instead, I wandered around Durlach, which was an upper class residential area with top end SUVs parked outside top end houses and top end manicured flowers in the lawns and window sills. Rich but understated, mild and gentle – a German, settled suburb. The afternoon ebbed. I saw a wonderful sight of three smiling, young, massively pregnant ladies back from their local super market, sitting and chatting while eating ice-cream at a bench of a bus stop, their stroller trolleys full of shopping waiting beside them like pets. A huge man in workers’ denim overalls with an exaggerated beer belly was hurrying, a burning cigarette in one hand, may be having signed off for the work day at a motor repair workshop, to the bars around the tram stop for his evening tankard of beer. He nodded hello to me. Polite drivers in smoothly humming uber cars braked and allowed me to pass in my random wanderings surely transgressing traffic rules and conventions. I wonder what they saw. A brown skinned Asiatic, surely over-the-hill, lost in the affluent and superior cantons of today’s German civilization? My wife’s whatsapp message said that her day was over and she would be returning to the hotel. My mobile phone clock said 8 p.m.! I had thought from my Indian daylight hours mind that it couldn’t be more that 5 pm. I turned to the tram stop, calling it a day. (… to be contd.)