Trier Troubles

We needed alcohol. Due to the lack of time and poor planning we had not picked up any before we started traveling. So we hit the streets of sleepy Trier in search of a shop that sold alcohol. But try as we might we could not find one. We drove through deserted neighborhoods and leafy suburbs but there no sign of alcohol on the horizon. We crossed the Mösel many times in our quest. It was as if we were living in a time of prohibition. All our impromptu plans of playing poker with a cold beer in hand at the camping ground were at risk of going waste. So we wandered some more. There were comparisons between the ease of finding alcohol after midnight in India and in the beer capital of the world, Germany. I found it strange that it was taking us so much time to find an open kiosk. Back in Cologne I only had to walk a few hundred yards from my house to find two. It seemed as if the people of Trier had no craving for alcohol after midnight. And so we found ourselves across the Mösel yet again. Cars passed us and their inhabitants seemed strangely content. Had they been more successful than us? Would we ever find what we were searching for? Or would we have to return empty handed and crawl into a tent without the cool balm of alcohol in our stomachs to ease the cold passage of night?

After crossing the Mösel another time we took a random turn to the left and found ourselves at an intersection. And standing right there to the right of the intersection like a lighthouse for floundering ships was an open döner shop. My friend ventured out full of desperate hope. I joined him. But our hopes did not last long. The shop did not sell any alcohol. Perhaps he saw our faces droop or felt our hopes slipping away, whatever the reason, as we were leaving the shop owner threw us a bone in the form of a suggestion. He pointed to a bar opposite his shop, tucked away on the corner and suggested to us to try our luck there. Hopes renewed we thanked him, crossed the road and approached the bar. From the outside it was unremarkable. I forgot its name as soon as I saw it. We passed through the open doors and strangely it felt like as if I had crossed some kind of special portal into another world. We walked into a land not often encountered.

The bar was a large room interspersed with wooden benches and tables. Along the walls at regular intervals were garishly bright game machines with blinking lights. At the far end, opposite the door was the bar counter. On the right side of the room were two doors. One presumably led to the toilets while the other opened into a room filled with a pale yellow light. I could not see clearly what the room contained or ascertain its function. It seemed rather odd and out of place as if it was added as an afterthought by a bored builder.

There was an air of impending decay about the place. The bar was not in disrepair but perhaps due to the sickly yellow light or the garish lights of the game machines the bar had an air of approaching apocalypse.

There were six people in the bar. Two young men were sitting in an alcove right next to the door. They were talking among themselves in the harsh guttural German that is characteristic of first generation Turkish immigrants. I was struck by their presence in that bar. It did not seem like a place for young people. What were they doing there? Had they also set out on a similar quest as us, wandered into that place and could not go back across the portal into the normal world outside? What was the strange attraction that the place held for them? I suddenly realized that sometimes when you spend too much time amidst mediocrity and routine and encounter anything out of the ordinary it exerts a force on you that is not easy to shake off. I could almost believe that the young men there were caught in the same force.

The remaining people in the place consisted of two women and a man with a white beard sitting at the bar and drinking. The fourth person was the bartender. He seemed ancient and had the same air of slow decay about him as the bar. His cheeks were sunken in gloom and he spoke in deep ponderous tones with long pauses between his words. It was as if he was measuring the passage of time in the spaces between his words. In this he reminded me strongly of Vajpayee, the former prime minister of India, whose speeches were also filled with such thoughtful pauses between words.

The Unknown Reader

The Unknown Reader

April 2008, Cologne (Fuji Sensia 100).

This was quite literally an off the cuff shot. I just placed the camera on a thick book I was holding, turned it to the direction I wanted, focussed to infinity, guessed half the exposure and shot off three frames. I had no way of knowing what/if I’d get/anything. Luckily, two of those frames came out decent. This is one of them. After a long time I am happy with something I shot.