Hamburg to Salzberg in double time

I arrive in Hamburg at 10:30pm from Gatwick, breeze through passport control and customs, and we are back in Jovica's apartment quickly. There is no parking spot anywhere nearby, so we actually walk the couple of blocks. Then we stay up talking for a few hours, Jovica, unusally grim photo of SnezanaSnezana, and I. (This is an unusually grim photo of her. I think I caught her off-guard and she was displeased.) Snezana goes through my compendium of Eastern European literature to vet the Yugoslav entries. "It's okay, but of course there is nothing recent." She is currently translating a new generation of Yugoslav writers into German, herself, so she knows. How the kids stay asleep I don't know, but who am I to complain?

By the time Jovica gets a few last things, and we make a trip to the Yugoslav embassy for my visa (strangely, it costs DM 31, which equates rather closely to $20--the amount Yugoslavs are now charged for US visas), pack the car and head out of town, it is already noon, and we are very behind schedule. The original plan had been to leave early in the morning. (I reflect for a moment on how common both the plan and the denouement are.)

For a trip back to Yugoslavia to see parents and friends, the car is packed as though we are heading from a wet state to a dry one. There are plastic pails and household cleansers and tins of sardines and a small two-burner stove and loads of miscellany. The only thing missing is the jar of peanut butter that we all still bring my parents when we go to Israel. There is also a toner cartridge, and lots of good paper and books for Jovica's friends and projects in Yugoslavia. With our bags and a cooler and bottles of water and juice we were packed to the gills. Time to hit the road. Jovica looks at his watch and say, "Pedal to the metal time!"

Since I was an adult, I have never driven a long distance as a passenger. It is different. You look out the window and reflect. It is a pleasure to fuss with the map, type a bit on the laptop, nap a bit, comment on the smell of fresh fertilizer as we pass particularly succulent fields, comment back and forth about a bit of plowing just beginning. Nothing urgent to do. Time to let the mind loose and contemplate the Germany in which we are driving: flat plains, huge fields, and the occasional pretty, picurebook village in the distance, complete with steep, red roofs (and once, later on, one roof is broken by those famous golden arches). This is the autobahn. Like the American interstates, but better maintained, we avoid cities and drive through the near-sterile, near-featureless, blurred in sameness countryside, kilometer after kilometer, an hour to Hannover, then another hour to pass Kassel, and so on. We maintain a steady speed of 120kmh (70mph), avoiding "staue" (traffic jams), chewing up time and space effortlessly and efficiently.

Jovica pointing a cameraAn hour or two before Munich, as the hills began rolling a bit and as we neared Bavaria, we stopped just past Wüaut;rzberg at a rest stop to eat the sandwiches that Snezana has prepared and to stretch our legs. We have been pushing hard to make up for lost time, so no tourist stop at Nurenberg, or any of the picturesque towns--we will, in any event, do some sightseeing on the way back. The reststop is just like any American Interstate rest stop, except that there is a large center for placing recyclable goods--cans, bottles, etc. It is what I have come to appreciate about Germany: Clean, efficient, and convenient.

This is the same Germany that elected Hitler and ensured that I have no European relatives. It is hard to remember that other Germany. Later in the afternoon, as we pass by Munich making the final turn East to Salzberg I notice "Dachau" on the map. It feels funny to find myself, if only for an instant, seeing "Dachau" as only another suburb on the map, wondering, could it be, that this is the same Dachau that accounted for hundreds of thousands of Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals and political enemies of the Reich (real or otherwise), but, mostly, hundreds of thousands of Jews. In any event, it is a bit after rush hour, that was then. Traffic is heavy, but it moves well. Our thoughts on on Salzberg and Jovica is telling me about his friends Vida and Michael Neugebauer who live there (albeit, being divorced, in separate locations there), and soon we are headed east.

By nine we have passed the border; the guards don't even bother to glance at our passports. Then we are in Austria, and a few kilometers farther, at Vida's condominium in Salzberg.

The original plan had been that I would take car or train the following day to meet Josh Horowitz, a neat cymbalom player who I know from the Internet, in Graz. It is a 3.5 to 4 hour trip each way, but perhaps worth it. In any event, by the time we arrive and meet Vida and get comfortable and talk and talk it is well after 2am before we go to sleep.

We joke at first about Vida's recently departed cat, also named "Ari." It was a vicious cat, scratching everyone. Vida and her cat, RodiVida misses him and has but one cat now, Rodi. We joke about my poor German. "Do you speak German? Well, Austria is no place to learn German." All laugh. Just as Hamburgers sneer at the Bavarian accent, all Germans sneer at the hick sound of Austrian German.

Some of the talk is about the former Yugoslavia. Jovica is convinced that the West deliberately allowed the situation to degenerate and go to war (well, perhaps we westerners miscalculated) because Yugoslavia was important as a buffer or filter between East and West. To Vida (Slovenian, whose family now lives in Serbia?) and to Jovica, the real jerk is Tudjman, without whom there would not have been a war.

It is undeniable that Tudjman did everything possible to help create the war that broke apart Serbia. His statements that almost no Serbs were killed by the Ustashe, for instance, rival Hitler's ability to ignore history. But it is my belief, and the belief of most Americans reporting on the war (and whose observations I have tentatively accepted) that the stage was set by Milosevic and his desire to be in power, and his discovery that racism and fear played well in Serbia. "But still," protests Vida, "Serbs are discriminated against in Kosovo," (although there, both Jovica and I talk about other factors and how Serbs had been leaving Kosovo because of lack of economic opportunity--something that affected the Albanian minority-become-majority as well--become majority because they had no Serbia offering opportunity to them, and were stuck).

It's impossible to untangle. It's the sort of discussion where we bring out how we see things, but it would be silly to insist on one reality over any other at this remove. There are no arguments, just talk and trying to sort out. This is also the first glimpse I get of the role that borders, and how they try to affect the movement of people, affects reality here in Europe. It isn't until we have passed a few borders together, especially the border between Hungary and Yugoslavia, that I will begin to see with Jovica's eyes why the West might have been happier with a disunited Yugoslavia. This isn't the same as changing opinion, just becoming more aware that the situation can be viewed differently.

Eventually, our desire for more beer extinguished (as if any of us has drunk much to begin with), our ability to keep conversation going waning, Vida points out that she must rise at 5am. And so we retire.

[back] to A day ducking hedges in Kent

[on] to Salzberg, birthplace of Mozart Balls and expensive coffee

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