Monday, March 05, 2007

Voices of Darmstadt


Someone had somehow wangled an invitation to a massive, all-night party at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt. As a result we were all drunk. Pished as the proverbial newts. So it made perfect sense, on that Saturday almost exactly twelve years ago, to pile into a photo booth as we waited at 4:30 AM on the platform at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof for the first train of the day to take us back to Darmstadt. The carriages pulled up on time (of course), and we poured ourselves through the slam-door and into a compartment, snorting and guffawing and shrieking. Probably singing as well, but my memory is hazy.

Thirty minutes or perhaps an hour later we clanked into our station and I opened the door latch and clambered out. I recall thinking the step down was rather far, but it wasn't until all for of us had exited that we realized we had gotten off on the wrong side. We were not on the platform, but on the gravel bed between two sets of railroad tracks. Hooting with laughter, we climbed back through the wagon, rolled out the station, and made our grand entrance into the lobby of the Maritim Rhein-main Hotel. We collapsed on sofas, waiting for the breakfast buffet to open at 6:00 AM while being ignored by the fastidiously unifomed commercial flight crews gathering to be bussed to Frankfurt Airport. We subsequently fed, then slumbered.

Darmstadt...

To this day I do not understand why The Bank decided to fly its management trainees from London for a three-week incarceration at a faceless business hotel in a pokey satellite of Frankfurt. But imprisoned we were, and force-fed both German food (I remember begging the restaurant staff at the start of Week Two for a salad that swam not in a sea of cream dressing) and teachings on corporate finance. Our Overseer was an embittered, dipsomaniac, veteran banker of questionable mental stability. The lecturers, mostly flown in from London as well (go figure) were largely uninspiring; indeed, the one I recall best was a pompous little shit who looked uncannily like Leo Sayer with owl-eye spectacles.

To tell you the truth, I cannot recall one single thing of what I was supposed to learn during those twenty-one days. Not a sausage. Or wurst. What I do remember vividly are the handful of occasions -and there were only three or so- when we left the hotel and ran riot, simply to feel free.

For most of my comrades, I wager these few bacchanalia were simply a chance to let off steam, to take a break from forging their young careers. Of those in the photo above, three have moved on to positions of note within the financial world; a Managing Director in charge of Structured Credit, a Head of Client Relationship Management, a Vice-President Product Manager.

But look at the bloke on the left. Yes, that's me, your FiL. For me those drunken rushes were when the doubt that mildly nagged me during lectures on capital gains tax and bond duration turned into a raging voice that screamed:

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE?? THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WANT TO SPEND YOUR LIFE!!!

It took me another decade before I could screw up the courage to start listening to that voice. And I'm still figuring out what else it's trying to tell me.

The Offspring - Self Esteem(buy here)
There was a soundtrack to Darmstadt, provided by MTV Deutschland. And this song became a personal anthem.

Rednex - Cotton-Eye Joe(buy here, but get out of my shower if you do)
What MTV gaveth with one hand, with the other it tooketh away. This Swedish brain-drilling drivel would, without fail, always come on while I was having my morning shower and thus unable to reach the set.

Lassie Singers - Es Ist So Schade (buy here)
Maybe to apologize for repeated lashings of The Rednex, MTV Deutschland also offered me this wee gem: a hooky, catchy bit of breezy pop with the bitchiest lyrics you could ever hope to hear. Translated from the German, they go something like this: "It's such a shame / That you are how you are / That, unfortunately, you aren't someone else / That, unfortunately, you are just yourself."

Popchor Berlin - 4 My People (buy here or e-here)
I only recently discovered that Lassie Singer Almut Klotz later went on to form the outstanding collective, Popchor Berlin. Thrill as these Teutonic choristers take Missy Elliott to places she never thought she'd go.

11 comments:

A. B. Chairiet said...

A wonderful post, Fil.

You all look like brothers. :)

The Offspring's Self-Esteem was a personal anthem of mine, too.

I hope you hear whatever that voice of yours is trying to tell you.

Take care, and Happy Tuesday!
~ Ash

Mentok the Mind-taker said...

At first, I thought that was a pic of the Bay City Rollers... but that's a little early, even for an old man like you, isn't it? ;-)

Great story! Put me in mind of my own college days. If only we had a time machine, eh?

Tim Young said...

To me you all look like 4 Robert Elms. If you know who I mean. Must be the haircuts. :)

Sean said...

Funny, I have voice (maybe not raging yet) saying much the same thing...

merz said...

Nice write Fil! As you know, I have struggled with that "THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WANT TO SPEND YOUR LIFE" and at 46 years old I am confused as ever...........
Someday hopefully I will figure it out, hopefully...

mjrc said...

i thought you were either the guy on the left or the one in the way back, with just a smidge of face showing.

ah, fil. i'm inclined to agree with merz, in that i'm not sure i'll ever get to the place where i can say--by god, i think i've got it all figured out! i suppose i need to be more zen about it and think, "it is in the process that i am most fully alive"--or some shit like that! ;-)

Crash Calloway said...

If you'd captioned this as a photo competition 'do you rememeber this band' you might have got some interesting answers.

Live deliberately, FiL.
x

JC said...

A tremendous tale. But the lengths that some folk will go to in order to post Cotton Eye Joe.

The photo made me laugh. Crash is spot on with the caption suggestion. I'd have offered something like The Milltown Brothers, Hurrah or some other 80s one-hit guitar band wonders.

Colin said...

Robert Elms!!!

I *totally* see that Tim :)

And my photo-suggestion for 'remember this band?' would be Hipsway (on a bad quiff day, I admit)

FiL... occasionally it pays *not* to listen to that voice, but mostly it does. It's shouting out for a good reason, normally (other times it's just fucking starting...).

If it gets to the point where you are hearing it often enough, on a day-to-day basis, then some kind of action is required... (in my case it involves applying for new jobs and getting an interview... not a radical career change by any means etc but just something saying 'time to move on' (feel free to sing the theme tune to 'the littlest hobo' at this point)

And, as Crash put it, live deliberately (but also with an edge of carelessness and gay abandon).

And don't, whatever you do, let a good thing go. Keep it close.

Mentok the Mind-taker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FiL said...

Dearest Ash: Odd, isn't it? We do look like we're of the same pod. Perhaps we were all cookie-cutter bankers. And I am listening to the voice, intently...

Dearest Mentok: Only a bit too early - I remember the hair & trousers... ;-)

Dearest Tim: Better Robert Elms than a banker.

Dear Sean - do listen to it carefully...

Dearest Merz, try to enjoy the path. I'm not sure I'm ever going to figure it out, so the focus turns to the journey...

Dearest Marcy: Yes, I think I'm on the same path. Stepping into the same shit. But it's all good shit... :-)

Dearest Crash: Amen on both counts!!

Dearest JC: *Face goes beet red* Ah, you have rumbled me. Curse you, o villainous Caledonian. And Milltown Borothers may be close, but...

...I think the 'name that band' prize goes to you, Dearest Colin! Hipsway it is! What a collection of Honey Thieves we are. And as for the voice...

Yes, one should always listen. And try to figure out why it is shouting. It seems like you've chosen to act on yours - good luck, & godspeed...

A variation on the live deliberately theme: "Vivre sans temps mort - live without dead time."

Thank you all for your kind comments, and apologies for my tardiness in replying...