The following is the first of a series of excerpts from the forthcoming untitled Tanktronic book, due out this winter. In this excerpt, I reflect on my short time living in Stadthagen, a small town in Germany.
I lived in one of the town’s two hotels, in the one room they had that loosely resembled an apartment, complete with a kitchen fully stocked with pots and pans – but no stove or oven. That pretty much summed up the spirit of Stadthagen – accommodating and quirky. I made my three minute commute to the office in my rented small Mercedes, a name brand which is more Chevrolet than Cadillac in Germany. I managed to find a couple young adults [and one child, embarrassingly] outside the office who spoke English fluently, and they gave me some sense of friendship and normalcy over the weekends.
There was the curt but warm-hearted Friederike, the first person I met who spoke English – which was like finding someone in the desert in possession of a jug of cold water. I best remember her for her summarization of the pigeon races her father would hold around Germany. When I asked if all the birds always made it home, she said plainly, without emotion or irony, “…there were always victims”.
Then, there was the pure and innocent Inga, whom I would only see at the local popular watering hole accompanying her father as he drank and played foosball with the other men. Her English-speaking ability was amazing, easily the best in the city. I would come to find out after talking to her frequently over the course of several weeks that she was only fifteen years old. Whoops. I mean, there was nothing nefarious in play, at all, but a 34 year old befriending a 15 year old just isn’t a good look regardless of context. Perhaps it wasn’t just my poor Deutsch that was drawing the evil eye from the townsfolk. Nonetheless, I kept going with our conversations – it kept me sane, and it was the lesser of two evils. I don’t think her father was a big fan of mine, but hey, he was dragging his teen daughter to the pub every night, so we’ll call it a wash on the morality front.
Finally, there was the beautiful Johanna. She was a bubbly twenty-year-old who worked in the only gym in town. Johanna was the prettiest woman I ever saw in Stadthagen. She was always attached to a different faceless twenty-something guy who seemed to be going nowhere and doing nothing for her every time we spoke, but such is life in a small town, I guess. I told her she should go to Berlin and try modeling; she laughed it off as flirting [I guess, technically, it was], but I honestly thought that was her best path forward. She was probably too modest to ever make it in that world anyway.
Between those friends, some scenic drives through the nearby towns and countryside, a few weekends spent in Hamburg enjoying the festive Reeperbahn, a visit from my dear Tina, ten hour work days, and an assortment of drunken evenings walking the cobblestone streets back to the hotel, I made it enjoyable.
Perhaps my favorite single place in time was an evening at a bar-cum-dance club called Heines Deele on the outskirts of the town. The place looked like [and maybe used to be?] a barn, with exposed wood everywhere and a bar that contained exactly one beer tap, which was manned by one tender who never stopped drawing pints the whole night through. Stadthagen was located about 45 miles away from Hannover, the nearest major city with an airport, and there were really no noticeable towns outside Stadthagen for at least half an hour in any direction. So if it was a weekend night, and you wanted to dance, you had one place to go. Sure, there was a club called the Music Box in nearby Minden that absorbed most of the harder-edged youth that were looking for a good time, but just about everyone else going “out for the night” within a 40 mile radius was coming to Heines Deele. This led to an extremely amusing mix of clientele at the bar on any given weekend. From dolled-up beautiful 19-year-old girls, to decrepit 65-year-old men, and every type in between – everyone was there to drink beer and, eventually, dance.
The DJ had a penchant for talking over the music, and talking way too much in general, and doing so in a deeply affected baritone strip-club DJ persona. He would ramble over a third of each song when it started, something that was surely unintelligible to my foreign ears, but also possibly indecipherable to the locals, as they always appeared a mix of irritated and confused when he spoke. I did clearly pick up, though, that he ended every monologue with an emphatic “Heines Deeeeeeellllleeeee” sign off. Classy touch.
The highlight of these nights at Heines Deele was the one night when a gentleman who was probably somewhere in his early fifties and wearing a cheap-ish looking suit got wildly intoxicated and decided it was a good time to start dancing. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Freddie Mercury, only with ill-fitting glasses. His particular brand of ‘dance’ was more like an upright controlled seizure, arms flailing about with only a loose connection to the music. He would punctuate this display with a confident pose every thirty seconds or so, one that could each time be described as disco-esque.
Like a vicious cycle of awesomely terrible, the more German Freddie Mercury danced, the more the rest of the inhabitants were entertained, and out of a combination of amusement and concern for personal safety, they formed a distinct circle around him on the dance floor. This only served to validate his actions, and emboldened him to step it up even further. Now his flailing was so violent in its immediacy that he would fall over during some of his “moves”, being propped up by the people on the innermost edge of the impromptu dance circle. This continued for a good ten minutes until he finally stopped due to exhaustion. Credit to the otherwise intolerable DJ – he had the good sense to appreciate the moment, and kept looping the chunk of the song that seemed to get this guy going the most.