26 Jan 2002 // places

I am spending the weekend in Hanover, the former capital of the glorious Prussian empire - the birthplace of the British Royal Family. It's my first foray into Germany and my conclusion is that everything they say about the German character is true. The evidence - German trains are the best, comfortable, well organised and everthing looked onto a well-oiled timetable. This in itself would mean nothing. But as we pulled into Koln; the German way imposed it's will on me.

First, the Koln train station is a hyper-realised example of Usefulness. Who needs a facade or an imposing building? All you need is a skeletan structure of cast-iron ribbing to keep the rain off. Then I wonder down into the guts of the station, expecting the usual smattering of dodgy food stalls, cafe's and station bars. Instead, I found a ... shopping centre. How practical! I thought as I slapped my head on the face. It makes immense sense. People travel to buy things. Let's cut the distance from the station to the goods. Just hop off the station and buy. Furthermore, you alleviate the problem of empty and dangerous railway stations as you can easily combine the security forces of both the shopping centre and the railway station thereby making it safer for all.

Now don't think this is peculair to Koln as when I arrived in Hanover, it was exactly the same. Yes, the same no nonsense hardheaded realism that makes life richer and more joyful for greater numbers of Germans.

Once into Hanover, I met Sebastien, a former flatmate from sunny Sydney. I met up with his friends who then apologised for how boring Hanover is. But it's not. I walked around Hanover and there was much to see. Hanover had the absolutely shit bombed out of it in the Second World War and the Hanoverrians have done a remarkable job restoring it. Old churches reconstructed, buildings from different areas carefully restored. Hanover boasts a lovely town hall from the days of the old Hapsburg empire. There were also leftovers from the Nazi regime, an eternal reminder of darker days.

The undeniable jewel of Hanover is the public transport system. Their buses are brightly coloured boxes that roam around the city powered by bio-gas - that's right horseless carraiges powered by pig-shit. After all Germany at the moment is jointly governed by the Greens which is slowly falling apart. The buses are big and roomy with large windows, all the better to see the sights of Hanover with. The seating arrangement is diverse and you can face whichever way you want and there is even a section separated for the back-of-the-bus people. Raised a bit higher and seats that face each other. A group of drunken Germans can be drunk together at the back of the bus whilst only minimally disturbing the rest of the passengers. And Hanover boasts one of the more arresting bus-stops I have seen. I can only describe it as a large vertical wok.

However, I was most impressed with their integrated tram/train/sub-way system. Some streets in Hanover have been designated as tram-only streets. Given that these trams hurtle around the streets at a rather disconcerting speed, god help any little old ladies who hobble across the street with their walking frames. These same trams then enter the sub-way system in the inner city where they accelerate into angry beasts of the underground. As it is unseely for sub-ways not to have platforms, the train/trams have a dual entry system where the exits extend horizontally to meet the platforms in the sub-way, whereas as trams, they trans-former away into steps that lead onto level ground. Finally, when these trams head into the outskirts, they can suddenly accelerate up to 100 km/hours to reach the nether regions of Hanover, the old Expo 2000 site for instance.

And finally, a few words about German cuisine. It's not true that Germans don't know how to eat. I'm a bit of a fan of the old Bratwurst and in Germany, there are sausage stores everywhere. They serve it perfectly. A big long sausage is served on a tiny little of bun - a most pleasing ratio of sausage to bread with a generous dollop of mustard. And you can yummy matjes fillets on bread.