Ever since I left my flat in north London the day promised to miscarry. I ventured to carry my folding bike in a shoulder bag all the way to Hamburg so when I stepped outside at 3 o’clock in the morning, I had more than a suitcase, a backpack and the bike bag to worry about: the downpour forced me to grow an extra hand to hold an umbrella. I literally fought my way through the rain, potholes, loosening shoulder strap only to notice that the bus going to Cricklewood was 20min late. Not to worry, I had allowed for such hurdles: time was plentiful. I sheltered myself from the rain inside the bus stop and waited patiently for the next bus. Finally, it was there, I boarded, left my rolling suitcase only to chase it through the bus when the doors opened for me to get off. I gathered my gear and left the bus, resuming the trudge to the train station. Having bought the ticket to Gatwick airport, I sat in another of those platform shelters waiting for the train: 10min late. Boarded again, this time set for a long journey.
Once at the airport, I checked my bag, did a bit of shopping (allergy pills, Nurofen and a banana) and went to the gate. Took off, fell asleep as if someone hijacked my controls and only woke up on descent. Landed in Hamburg, attempted to change money but was appalled at the exchange rate and made my way to the City on board the S-Bahn, still carrying the bike bag that I safely recovered from oversize luggage, despite its suitcase-small size.
The S-Bahn took around 30min. The main train station (Haubtbahnhof) is very dirty and made me miss St Pancras station for the first time. I went out and made my way to the Goethe Institut where they were expecting me for the sign-in. I passed two bridges only to realize that I had read the map wrong. Still carrying my bike bag, a suitcase and a backpack, I went down the street the Institut was alleged to be on. Having found it after a while, I walked inside and went through the careless interview, had some welcoming refreshments and out again, ready to see the lady in whose flat I had booked my room (with shared facilities). The Institut had done all the arrangements. I knew the address but didn’t know the lady. What was I to expect? Once at the door, I rang the bell and to my surprise, repeated barks came from a dog inside. I had a terrible feeling about it. She opened the door and there she stood, Frau Henssen and her lovely oversize hound. I was struck as if by a bolt of lightning. How was I to live with such a dog for two weeks? No amount of cetirizin would keep my histamine from cascading. I went up, she showed me inside. The place was dirty, scrappy, cables everywhere, paint had gone off, doors squeaking, dog hair following me everywhere. My assigned room was medium-size with something that words cannot describe. The bed had once been double but a mattress had been removed and it now featured a single mattress and a solid hollow space where the other mattress had been. The air was fetid, all appliances must have been a century later but not gone vintage. In one word, not the thing I had signed up for. I rushed back to the Institut, complained but alas, there was no other available family I could stay with. Nonetheless, I hurried back to Frau Henssen, picked my stuff and appealed for help.
Friends have friends who have friends. Such a friend became my friend today and he welcomed me in his wonderful flat for a day or two. A happy ending to a long and strenuous day. The lady at the Institut promised to do her best to find me a replacement. I believed her. I hope I can settle somewhere for good for I am not here to fret but to learn German. It’s worth the trouble though.