For our second day in Hamburg, rothko had arranged a German scrapbooking meetup. We got the bus into Harburg, then got onto the S-bahn to head into the city at around noon.
Just after we boarded the train, a young couple got on. I’d guess that they were in their 20s. He had short dark hair and looked as if he’d been awake for a couple of days; a slight sheen of sweat, disheveled clothes and a good dose of stubble. She was thin and tall, with red-streaked dark hair and various piercings. She was also clearly extremely drunk.
He sat down facing the same direction as us, one row ahead in the carriage. She swayed uneasily after him, dropped her bag on the seat in front of him along with a bottle of unspecified liquor, and then sat astride him, facing us. As the train started moving they began making out. After a few minutes she struggled with her belt and jeans for a while, and before long it was clear to everyone in the carriage that they were having sex.
Hamburg sits on the Elbe river, a few kilometers inland. A cunning tax dodge in 1189 propelled it into becoming Europe’s second largest port, and a world class red light district soon followed, surrounded by dive bars and seedy nightclubs. These days the city is keener to present the area through rose-tinted John Lennon glasses, omitting to mention that the Beatles played the Star-Club mostly because they couldn’t get a paying gig anywhere else in 1962.
The Elbe is apparently pretty deep, because the Queen Mary 2 was there. She’s the largest ocean liner in the world, making the Titanic look small in comparison. She takes around 7 days to cross the Atlantic, at a price of $1000+. Mind you, that’s not much more than we paid for our tickets, and if they have broadband on the ship I wouldn’t even need to use up vacation days on the crossing. I bet the food’s nicer than Continental. If they toned down the swanky ballrooms a bit and made it cheaper, they could have a compelling business proposition. But I digress.
We like to think that we are immune to propaganda. Yes, other feeble-minded individuals may allow their attitudes to be shaped by the media and their surroundings, but we’re sure that we are far too smart for that.
In 1975, John Cleese savagely satirized British attitudes to Germany, in the classic Fawlty Towers episode The Germans. After a blow to the head, hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty loses his ability to self-censor. While taking a dinner order from some German guests, he proceeds to blurt out the names of Nazis; eventually he descends into xenophobic ranting.
The sad thing is that after 30 more years, nothing much has changed.