Snow in the city is a bit like a tiger in the zoo- Nice to look at for a few minutes, until you realize that it is neither particularly entertaining nor graceful. Like the fat tiger in the snow, snacking on prepackaged treats, the snow in the city is essentially just a sad story, sticking to the pavement with a yellow tone. One of the 17 Inuit words for snow must include a term for the kind that perpetually melts and freezs back up . The newspapers have picked up on the weather as virtually the only news item, and when walking to my local metro stop I regularly walk by billboards advertising the day’s headline, which usually reads a bit like “Berlin in the tight grip of winter” or “Public transport grinds to a standstill”.
Speaking of public transport, though, the winter has some unexpected yet really quite fascinating consequences in store when it comes to human interaction.
Lately, the weather has been so terrible that the lock of my bike froze and forced me to carry the bike up the stairs into my apartment. It now serves as a glorified towel hanger while the winter outside rages on and on. Not being able to bike in weather like this, I have resorted to taking public transport pretty much all the time and it has been an experience not unlike playing chatroulette: A brief glimpse into the lives of absolute strangers. Sardined into the metro cars, people’s private spaces not only vanish, they actually intersect:
Saturday night, Anika and I were on the metro when an old man with a heavy accent came up to us, instructing me to cross myself for being with a girl with such “beautiful blue eyes”. “Usually”, he went on, “the Polish have the most beautiful girls”. He had acquired that expertise since he was Siberian but had spend some time in Poland. To back up his credentials, he then launched into a brief monologue about of the world’s most flavorful sausages, which can apparently be had in Cracow, Poland.
The same night on the metro, we got to listen to a woman shout into her cellphone for about 10 minutes, while she tried to talk her daughter into coming home straight away rather than staying out. “Are you kidding me?”, she would shout “YOU ARE ONLY 16!”. “If you don’t get your ass home straight away, I will send you to your father in Bavaria!”. The twist was, that this conversation did not cover any other sentences than the ones just mentioned. Every 20 seconds she would whip up a new combination of those elements. “Since you are only 16, you can as well stay with your father in Bavaria. I am not kidding!”
Really, being squeezed into the metro gives us a strange insight into people’s lives in ways that one simply does not have a chance to during regular days. Particularly in big cities, you can spend your entire day being surrounded by people and never intersect with their daily lives. “A million bubbles” is the metaphor that describes it most accurately – one floating by the other.
So aside from a few pleasantries, it isn’t a far stretch to scratch one’s head and question the logic of staying put in one’s country during the winter. Particularly since the advent of modern information technology, “the digital bohème”, as my housemate just so poetically put it, has been driven by the desire to make places completely obsolete. Many of my generation spend their workday entirely in front of a portable computer and cling to a mobile phone. Give us those devices and we can work practically anywhere, so why spend the winter in Northern Europe? I keep mulling over these ideas in my head and try to somehow come up with a way that would enable me to spend future winters in Lisbon, where it is currently 17 degrees. Check back with me in a while when I have hopefully figured this out.