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Published: November 13th 2009
5th March '09:
Namibian, never a picture of athleticism, has taken a turn for the worse. With sunken eyes and clutching a bottle of cough mixture, he looks like a Peruvian spectacled bear. His nose runs as he asks how far it is to the shopping centre. My reply - ' a fifteen-minute walk' - has him wincing, and coughing; rather than attempt such an undertaking, he shuffles despondently round his trailer. It’s as though I’ve suggested a twenty-mile trek through searing desert.
What he desperately needs - aside from new lungs, new feet and a hairstyle - is an extension lead. Yes, Namibian wants mains power to his truck, to watch films on the laptop. But, wait, how selfless - this lead, I'm told, is for both of us. What do I need a power lead for? I'm never in my truck when it's stationary. In fact, if I could get away with being absent while it's moving, I would. Remote control trucking from my seaside home in Hastings - now there's an idea.
'Yes, but it’s good if you need power,' he hounds me, intimating that perhaps I might like to run this errand. Putting my
..one of the biggest in Germany
hands over my ears, and singing: 'la la, I can't hear you,' does me no favours - the irascible Namibian becomes moodier. You see, he’s had to move his truck after elaborately laying short cables, and is now incandescent with rage, vocal chords on the verge of collapse. One can't help smiling.
There is an icy gale this morning; even wearing layers, it simply tears through one's bones. “Alice” - who is really called Mark, I hope you remember - sidles up. After at least twelve hours’ sleep, he seems on top form: 'I slept with an icy Gail once,' he says. 'She had wind.' As I head for the tram station, snippets of conversation waft in the breeze: 'isn't a bidet when you do a handstand in the shower?..'
You know how I love superlatives. Oh, you don't? Well, I do. Saxony’s Leipzig has the biggest tram network in Germany - more than 300km of tram network. And a short hop on Tram 16 brings the traveller to Central Station and, believe it or not, one of the largest terminus train stations in Europe - with expensive toilets.
Bus 690 takes me, via Grimma - made
even grimmer by the rusting Trabant parked in the square - to Colditz. A weak sun tries to punch through the pervasive mist as we pass Adecco’s PERSONALDIENSTLEISTUNGEN. Blimey, they just make words up in Germany, don’t they? Jolly unfair on the foreigner is what I say. And fancy having a language that ascribes a sex to inanimate objects. I mean, how can a table be a man in German yet a woman in French? Why not just say “the”?
Anyway, Colditz Castle is built on top of a high cliff promontory, jutting out over the River Mulde. Deemed to be escape-proof after World War 1, it received escaped Allied officer prisoners of war from 1940-43. The castle was floodlit from every angle - despite the blackout - and barred windows looked down at clear drops of 100 feet. I watch goats nibble at the fenced allotments far below as I contemplate being a prisoner. Well, it wouldn’t suit me, would it? No rock and roll tours? I would have to escape..
Did you want a bit more on Colditz? OK then: I join a tour in English, along with four shirt-wearing sexagenarians from Kendal.
They've come all this way...and not a single bit of Mint Cake between them. We look under-dressed next to Susanne in her duffle coat, and feel it, too.
Either Susanne's coat is electronically heated, or the woman is impervious to the cold. The tour starts outside...and remains outside. She recounts the camaraderie between the Brits, whom she calls “the boys” - predominantly, British prisoners were housed here - and points out escape routes. Sadly, most of the castle is off-limits so we amble round the courtyard, at the speed of sloths, yearning for a nice warm room.
Our noses pinking, and with prominent cheek capillaries, Susanne finally leads us through a door beneath the church - to a tunnel. Jeepers, it’s even colder down here than it was outside. I worry that all this dawdling in inclement conditions might trigger the advent of varicose veins. Upstairs, there is a small museum but, all in all, watching “Escape from Colditz” would give you the gist just as well. Sensing her five tourists are numb, Susanne concludes. 'That's the end of the tour. You should take a hot tea now.' Ah, music to my ears.
It’s lucky we’re coming
back to Leipzig on the AC/DC tour in May - there is so much to do. Of course I’ve been here before, but one often achieves little on tour if the schedule is punishing. Thus, a report on Bach and Mendelssohn will have to wait. But...a pressing concern has arisen - my cab interior is now festooned with pamphlets on city attractions. Indeed, there is a sizeable risk of Namibian discovering me buried alive under a mountain of glossy tourist literature. Opening the door to a corpse in the driving seat, he may remark: 'Ooh look, he wanted to visit the oldest botanical gardens in Germany.'
Talking of Namibian, our familiar South African - actually he was born in England but served in the Namibian Air Force - visits a truckstop barber today. About time too, I hear you cry. Yes, he is beginning to resemble one of those brushes used for cleaning toilets. Unfortunately, though, he emerges uncut, bellowing that the girl doesn’t understand English. Ten minutes later, my honeyed words coax him back downstairs...to a young lady speaking fluent English. Isn’t he a one?..
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