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Coming in from the cold

By Terry Joseph
December 16, 2005

Those who know me best will no doubt find it easy to recall at least one of my many derisive descriptions of winter, the most complimentary of which suggested that peoples so afflicted should swiftly fall to supplication and atonement, hoping a forgiving God would replace this terrible annual punishment with continuous sparkling sunlight and warmth.

The more spiritual among them would have, and with reciprocally impish snicker, wished me at least one such experience, consequently revelling in recent victory occasioned by my current circumstance, crisscrossing Germany since last week Tuesday, often in sub-zero temperatures; discovering to my chagrin that the combined value of sweaters and leather coats in such an environment has been ludicrously exaggerated.

The big chill that is winter 2005 in Germany was not without assuaging elements, primarily the intrinsic joy of participating in initial legwork required to ensure a warm cultural reception awaits the multitude of fans confidently expected here to support the Soca Warriors at next summer's FIFA World Cup finals. A well-informed German media has been shadowing us, boosting the Trinidad and Tobago image in a land where our immigrant numbers do not even register on the most liberal census.

But the past ten days has also delivered a singularly fascinating experience as we toured Germany, mostly via its extraordinary network of high-speed trains, notably the Inter-City Express (ICE), clocking up to 330 kmh between stops but often requiring connections that can sometimes demand encounters with biting cold on open-air platforms awaiting the next bullet-nosed convoy of carriages that will, not a second too soon, come screaming down the tracks.

Leipzig, our base for the first half of this expedition, had been truly wonderful. Last Friday, a side-trip to Berlin afforded visits to a number of historical sites, including what remains of the Berlin Wall, where a hustler became somewhat irate when we refused to purchase what he swore was a piece of the original structure, now wrapped in polythene and proffered to tourists.

But there was the Brandenburg Gate still majestic in its posture, the imposing Humboldt University, music halls of every size and variety where famous classical works premiered and actors playing out the cold-war scene that typified activity at Checkpoint Charlie, a tour conducted by final-year law student Daniel Oesterheld, who doubled as our driver for the day; completing the four-hour trip at dizzying speed.

That same evening, there was the FIFA draw for grouping of the teams, a simply fantastic production that culminated with merriment from every quarter, the Trini contingent returning to the Renaissance Hotel to be hosted by the ubiquitous Jack Warner as the partying and heckling took us into early Saturday. That afternoon we would experience one of the many Christmas markets, where an alcoholic concoction called Gluhwein, something of a national drink this season, was on offer at just about every stall.

Later that night, for reasons unassociated with freezing conditions at the Christmas market (or Gluhwein), I took ill and had to be rushed to the Leipzig University Hospital where, in true German fashion, the care was nothing short of excellent, delivering me back to the hotel in four hours with a brace of medication that has itself worked wonders.

This delayed our 250 km trip to Nuremburg until Monday and imposed a crunch on the rest of the week's travel schedule. After meeting officials there, we immediately departed for the equidistant city of Kaiserslautern, where we would overnight to repeat the fact-finding process there Wednesday morning, hopping the ICE again that afternoon to ride another 240 kms as the crow flies, to spend the night before going back to the train station to get to Frankfurt Airport Thursday to begin the journey back home via London.

But it never was "as the crow flies'' for we were using a different method of transportation, one that offered vistas of snowed-in hamlets, rolling plains, tunnels, stops at various towns en route and the inevitable maze of train stations requiring much planning to change platforms lest you end up on the wrong side of the tracks.

What was in evidence at every sequence, though, was the imprint of Christmas, in this country that created Santa Claus and jealously guards its heritage through a combination of church-inspired events and tolerance, all set against a backdrop of order and respect or, as Daniel Osterheld succinctly put it: "Everything here is regulated, either by strict law or traffic lights.''

Except, of course, for the speed limit on its highways which, every driver testified, are "merely suggestions.'' Even so, the one thing over which they clearly have no control is the temperature at this time of year.

Believe me, baby, its cold outside.

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