Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Photo--Me and Tommy (one picture of him clearly wouldn't suffice)

Photo--Sunset in Mainz

Photo--Tommy and Elizabeth in Mainz

Leipzig, Germany—Mainz, Germany—Days 248/249

Today I had all the intentions of going back to the zoo and getting the photos of the hippos before heading down to see Elizabeth in Weimar at 10am. Well that didn’t happen. Because I was up until 1:30am sorting other hippo photos out, I didn’t get my things together until about 8:30 and wasn’t really on the road to the train station (where I thought I would drop off my things at a locker and then go to the zoo from there) until a bit later after checking out and everything and didn’t get to the train station until twenty minutes before my train was supposed to leave for Weimar.

Because I knew Elizabeth was waiting for me on the other side of the train (when I arrived into Weimar she would be waiting for me) I thought that the best thing to do would be to actually go down to Weimar, meet up with Elizabeth, and then come back up to Leipzig.

So I got on the train and forty five minutes later was in Weimar. Elizabeth didn’t show up for another half and hour (she had a meeting that ran late) but we eventually met up again and I told her my plan to go back. She decided to come with me but first we had to go get her things from the place where she was staying. So we took the bus over to where she was staying (at a friend of the families) and after talking with Helena, the family friend who is from Portugal and had some good advice for me for when I get there, we literally raced down to catch the bus back to the train station.

Riding a bus with luggage is always an adventure. Especially when you have a huge suitcase like Elizabeth’s or several heavy smaller ones like mine. Not only do you have to maneuver getting the luggage down the isle without blocking it or hitting anyone, which always seems to be done while the bus is moving. This makes you look quite ridiculous as you are trying to maintain your balance while moving your luggage while trying not to fall on other passengers.

We got to the train station and had just enough time to get a bite to eat at a restaurant down the road. We then dragged Elizabeth’s suitcase up the hill to the train station and found our train. Luckily we had stored my luggage (which I brought down with me from Leipzig) in a locker on the same track that we were departing from. So I got my stuff out of the locker and we waited for our train to come. Soon we were heading back to Leipzig.

We made it back and after a fiasco of trying to shove Elizabeth’s bag into a locker at the Leipzig train station. By this time it was three o’clock—much later than I had hoped to be at the train station—and feeding time was at 3:30. I wanted to get to the zoo and with all of Elizabeth’s heaving and trying to shove her luggage into the tiny locker I knew at this rate we weren’t going to make it one time. Clearly there was no other option.

Elizabeth’s suitcase would come with us to the zoo.

So we started walking to the zoo (remember the tram is under construction so that wasn’t an option) and it took us about twenty minutes to find and get to the zoo. Too bad it was ROASTING outside. We were both so hot from walking and from dragging the suitcase. We made it to the zoo and bought our tickets—after standing it line for what seemed like ages as the people in line in front of me decided to buy annual passes. Didn’t they know that I HAD to get in by 3:30!?!?!

I got the tickets and went over to the entrance where Elizabeth had asked if she was allowed to bring in her suitcase. She was, thank god, and we headed into the zoo straight for the hippos. Having Elizabeth’s suitcase was just ridiculous and we couldn’t stop laughing. Who does that? Who else would bring their suitcase into a zoo? It was hilarious, especially when we had to go through sand.

We found the hippos and already a huge crowd had gathered. I threw down my bag and raced over to the enclosure but couldn’t for the life of me squeeze my way through. I was getting desperate and there just seemed to be people EVERYWHERE. Luckily Elizabeth intervened and asked two incredibly tall people who were in the way to move so that I could get in. She then went off in search of a keeper while I held my post.

She came back and had talked to the keeper who said that he would let me in behind the scenes! I was thrilled. So we waited for a bit as the crowd grew and finally the keeper showed up and beckoned us over to him. We went over and he gestured for us to climb over and under a gate and into the keeper’s area behind the hippos.

Two keepers took me and Elizabeth over and around the back area of the pool that the hippos were in. We were taken up to the gate where the hippos were to be let out into their feeding area. The angle was great but unfortunately really dark. The keepers let the hippos out and I took pictures as they walked towards me and then over to the feeding area in front of us. Problem was that now their backsides were facing us rather than the front. I asked if we could move around the front to get a better view and they said yes.

So we walked around and back out where we came from. The crowd had grown and people were probably wondering what the heck was going on. Elizabeth and one keeper stayed back as I went on with the other keeper. They told me to over and over again walk slowly (Elizabeth translated for me) because the hippos are scared of people standing in front of their eating area for some reason. So with the keeper in front of me, I followed him as sloooooowly as I could, almost tip-toeing my way over, until we were close enough to get some good pictures of the hippos.

That’s when Brandy freaked out.

It all happened so fast that literally, as my camera documented, it was all a blur. Brandy just freaked out and started to desperately make her way out of the feeding area and into the pool again, but Stenek was in the way. This meant that she literally ran into Stenek and her sudden force pushed Stenek around. They both dashed into the water so quickly that I hardly had time to even to register what was going on.

Basically I scared the hippos away.

The keeper brought me back over to where the other keeper and Elizabeth were standing. They told me that we would have to wait now for another fifteen minutes for the hippos to come out of the water again.

Great, so I scared the hippos AND ruined feeding time for the crowd.

We thanked the keepers and watched the hippos for a bit. After a while Stenek appeared and opened up his mouth for the keepers (several of which were leaning over and watching) and I was let in again to the keeper’s area to take pictures of Stenek. He didn’t seem all that happy to see me again—he wouldn’t take his eyes off of me and it was hard not to notice the angry look he was giving me and the whites of his eyes. I was pretty shaky and felt for sure that Stenek would leap out at me. But I kept taking pictures and got some great pictures. I then went back out front the keeper’s area and stood with the masses to wait for Brandy and Stenek to come out of the water again.

As time passed, the crowd dispersed. Even though they didn’t get to see the hippos eating, they sure did stick around to see what on earth I was doing. Elizabeth and I waited for the hippos to come out again and it took almost a half an hour for Stenek to even attempt to get out of the water. He came out once, went into the feeding area but not even halfway in, turned around, marked his territory, and went back out again.

Ten or so minutes later he attempted to get out again, taking his time and sniffing out the entire area before he deemed it safe to eat again. Only when he was out eating did Brandy even show her face, circling around the pool a good many times before finally deciding it was safe to go out. Stenek turned around and almost beckoned her out (perhaps showing her that it was in fact safe to get out again) and after quite some time she eventually did.

Needless to say, all of this provided great photo opts for me, although I was horrified that I scared them so much. I felt really badly for them but was fascinated by their behavior.

When I was satisfied with the photos, Elizabeth and I left and headed back to the train station. We dragged the luggage across the city and made it back just in time to catch our five o’clock train to Mainz, where Elizabeth’s good friend Tommy lives (Tommy is from Scotland but is now living in Mainz for the year). Unfortunately because we had to go back to the Leipzig zoo, our plans to spend the day with Tommy were scrapped and our new arrival time into Mainz was pushed back to nine thirty.

We arrived into Mainz and met Tommy on the platform, made our way back to his apartment on the bus and then went out for a bite to eat down the road. We woke up the next morning and spent the day walking around Mainz with Tommy as our fantastic tour guide. We checked out the famous Stephanskirche with the amazing blue stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall as well as the Gutenberg-Museum. Mainz is where Gutenburg was born and where he created the first printing press. The museum was great and by the time we were done looking around it was time to get something to eat. We found a great little local place to eat and dined amongst the locals (who were probably wondering who we were) and then stopped for a few drinks along the way back to Tommy’s apartment. Tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning (we have to catch a bus at 4:20am and get a taxi to the station at 3:45—eek) we will head to Barcelona for a few days for a little sun-drenched break from life in Germany.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Berlin, Germany—Leipzig, Germany—Day 247

Elizabeth and I parted ways today. Our separation was quite sad which I guess is natural when you spend two full weeks together. I had to get to Leipzig for the hippos, of course, and Elizabeth had a meeting in Weimar which is just south of Leipzig. WE were able to take the same train down to Leipzig, where I got off in search of the zoo while Elizabeth continued onwards.

At the train station I took a taxi to my hotel which turned out to be in the boondocks of Leipzig. Some hotels that I have been to have been pretty far away, but this one is up there in the ranks of being the farthest away. It took quite a while to get there via taxi (my driver didn’t know what hotel I was talking about initially, until he realized and exclaimed to me, ohhh, that hotel—in the country.

Yes, I guess, in the country. I finally was dropped off at my hotel which seemed to be in sort of a shady area of Leipzig, and by shady I do not mean lined with trees. Nonetheless, the hotel was nice and I checked in and headed up to my room.

My attempts to establish an internet connection at the hotel was just destined to fail from the beginning. I walked in and found the little desktop advertisement on my dresser claiming that the hotel has internet. Wireless in fact. Even better. So I set up my computer and clicked on the internet explorer icon.

Immediately popped up the T-Mobile connection page, the one where you enter your name and credit card details and are immediately assured that you will have instant access and will be able to endlesslessly search for the next twenty-four hours. Perfect.

Problem was, when I actually tried to connect (after having paid of course), I couldn’t connect. It just wouldn’t let me, and kept showing either the error page, or just the t-mobile homepage. To make matters more frustrating, when displayed the t-mobile homepage where you could enter your newly purchased access code, I was informed that I “was already connected.”

I gave up after several attempts which involved turning off and on my computer several times to see if it would work. But it never did, so I decided to leave the country and head into the city where the zoo was. I would try internet later.

So I got onto the tram which was luckily located just down the road from the hotel. Maps in hand, I was determined to find the zoo and make it there to spent the entire afternoon with the hippos.

I got onto the tram after having bought the wrong ticket (a short trip ticket which I think was good for like two stops---I was going just about fifteen) and headed into Leipzig. Going back into the city, I watched the stops on the overhead screen and checked my map to make sure that I was going to get off at the right stop. I finally got to where I needed to switch onto the other tram which according to my map would lead me directly to the front entrance of the zoo.

When I stepped off, I had quite the time trying to find the number 12 tram—the one that was supposed to take me to the zoo. Couldn’t find it listed anywhere on the tram station, even though my map said that I could catch it there. That is when I realized that the big black pieces of tape on several of the signs were in fact blocking the number 12 signs for the tram. Whatever this meant, it definitely didn’t mean that I would be getting a tram from there anytime soon. Based on the construction going on around the tram station, the next number 12 tram would probably be sometime early next year.

So I had to walk. I followed my map and maneuvered the construction and a short while later found the zoo. Success! I went in and after trying to buy my ticket from the information office rather than the ticket booth, I was redirected to the booths that sold the tickets and was soon inside the zoo.

It took me a while to figure out where the hippos were since they were not listed on the zoo map or on any zoo signs. When I figured out that they were hiding in the elephant house, it then took me a while to actually find the elephant house. I managed to walk around to the African savanna area (where you actually would expect to find hippos really) but then eventually found the elephant house and went in.

I found the two hippos—Brandy and Stenek—swimming around in their pool which was not all that impressive. It was rather small for the two hippos and based on the construction going on outside of the enclosure (the whole house was having an addition put on it outside) it seemed like the hippos weren’t going to be going outside anytime soon. However, according to this great website which documents the history of hippos at Leipzig, it seems like Brandy and Stenek will eventually be transferred over to the African animals section which will no doubt have more room for them than at the elephant house.

So I watched them swim around and around for a bit, taking note of the 3:30pm feeding time scheduled. I had just over an hour to wait around for the feeding time to begin, so I sat down on a bench across from the hippos and read my book to fill up the time, ignoring the pungent smell of animal dung that seemed to swirl around the room.

Time passed and I sat and waited until the room began to fill up with people. The elephants had already come in and been fed fifteen minutes before the hippos. There is a baby elephant at the zoo which was quite the site and I was hoping that people would be too distracted by the elephants to want to see the hippos.

Not the case. There were an ungodly number of people trying to see the hippos after seeing the elephants. Because there was only about fifteen minutes until the hippos were to be fed, people crammed in and waited. I was getting really annoyed—who just STANDS there and doesn’t allow other people to get a good view? Just because I do it, doesn’t mean that others should! I had to fight my way through the crowd up to the front and stand there, holding my guard. I was armed and ready, waiting for the keeper to come out with a nice big bucket of apples or something to throw to the hippos.

If only! Instead of that happening, when the keeper finally appeared all that happened was the opening of a small gate in which the hippos got up and walked over to another small area (more like a holding pen with big black bars around it) and started to munch on their hay. No no! This wasn’t going to work! I took as many pictures as I could as they got up and out of the water, and struggled to get a good view through the bars.

It was no good—I sat down on the bench again, defeated and waited for the crowds to disperse. Unfortunately there was a large division between you and the hippos (I couldn’t just stick my camera through the bars since there was like six feet between me and them, blocking me off by a wall and another gate). I decided to wait it out—see if the hippos would make a move back into the water.

Why I thought that, I don’t know. Anyone who has watched hippos for a long period of time when they are eating knows that it takes them at LEAST two hours to munch their way through the infinite heaps of hay. I was at a loss and couldn’t find a keeper to help me if it was the last thing on earth. So I continued to sit and watch the hippos—time passing and getting very close to closing time. Eventually (two hours later) the hippos were defeated themselves. Stuffed and seemingly content, both Brandy and Stenek resigned themselves to the floor of the feeding enclosure, letting out huge sighs of relief as they made themselves comfortable on the concrete.


I got up and gathered my stuff and headed out, making it out of the zoo just as it was closing. I would have to come back tomorrow—the only problem was that I needed to meet Elizabeth in Weimar, which is about an hour away from here. I decided not to think about it and worry about it in the morning and headed into downtown Leipzig for a bite to eat. Feeling sorry for myself for NOT getting good pictures today and for my complete and utter lack of German (what I had learned seemed to escape me while I was trying to order my dinner—which was ITALIAN food no less which would seem to be much easier to order since it was in Italian!) and eventually took my thirty minute tram ride back to my hotel for the night.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Photo--Me and the Golden Hippo, Berlin Zoo

Berlin, Germany—Day 246

After meeting Nina for a late breakfast, I headed back to the zoo (joined by Elizabeth shortly afterwards) to photograph the hippos for a second time as well as meet up with Tim and Diana at the zoo, friends of my boss who live in Berlin and who are zoo aficionados. They have even adopted the pair of sloths at the Berlin Zoo (rightly named “Tim” and “Diana”). Today was an absolutely gorgeous day—in fact the nicest weather that we have had in Germany so far.

I headed to the zoo via the U-Bahn and bought my ticket. I walked over to the hippo enclosure where Tim had agreed to meet me next to the golden hippo statue. I stood there and waited and waited, and another couple stood near me waiting as well. Then we realized that we were waiting for each other! They were of course expecting me to be accompanied by Elizabeth and I wasn’t sure what to expect!

We introduced ourselves and headed into the hippo enclosure where we had a few minutes to spare before the feeding would begin. Sure enough, around 2:15 the water jet started again (this time Bulette was really no where to be found so she wasn’t getting sprayed off the platform with the hose!) and the hippos happily welcomed the drinking water. To my delight, and much to Tim and Diana’s delight, the hippos were fed just like I saw on Friday and I was able to get through the crowds and get some wonderful pictures.

After the feeding was over, Tim, Diana and I wandered around to the back of the hippo enclosure (the outside part that Elizabeth and I could not find the other day) but the hippos decided to stay inside. So we visited the bears and then went back to the hippos where we found Elizabeth. The four of us headed over to the sloths and found them hanging in their trees (according to Tim and Diana, the sloth “Tim” hardly ever moves at all!) and also visited the baby gorillas and chimpanzees. We then spent a good two hours walking around the rest of the zoo, visiting all sorts of other animals including the penguins and the nocturnal house. The lions were quite a sight and so was the petting zoo. I have to admit, I can’t for the life of me remember the last time I actually fed an animal in a petting zoo but we got some handfuls of food and fed the goats and miniature horses which was secretly really fun.

Tim and Diana really are zoo enthusiasts—Diana grew up going to the Berlin zoo every weekend and continues to go at least once a month. I was impressed—they have probably been to just as many zoos as I have since they visit a zoo wherever they travel on vacation.

We headed out of the zoo and Tim and Diana were kind enough to give Elizabeth a ride over to Sophie-Charlotte-Platz where there is a nice lake. We said goodbye to Time and Diana and headed over to a nice little lake to spend about an hour lying on the grass—one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon!

We then headed home, stopping by a gas station to get some wine (the only place open on Sundays!) and met Nina at our apartment to have drinks before going out for Indian food in Kreuzberg. We then stopped by Katharina’s to say goodbye and drove home to Schoenberg along the “Eastside Gallery”—a large portion of the Berlin Wall that that has remained and painted by artists.