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.


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:


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.