The Living and the Dead

The only people who catch trams in Leipzig are old ladies, people who need to transport their dogs long distances and do not have cars for this purpose, and school children. Tourists don’t seem to catch them either, they are busy in the centre of the city, photographing the statue of Goethe. Goethe looks over their heads and up to the sky, pleased at the heavy thoughts in his brass head.

I catch trams because it is impossible for me to stay in the guesthouse and read Chekhov and write, which is what I would be doing otherwise. The guesthouse is being renovated, and the place resounds with drills. I imagine that I am in a big mouth, full of rotten teeth, that requires much dental work. I think I can bear it, but then a drill starts up so loudly I am sure I will see the end of the bit poking through the wall. “Get out!” it says. “Or I will eat you!”

I stay on the tram until the end of the line. Although I have been here long enough to get used to it, I am still surprised at all the empty buildings. Whole, long apartment buildings are empty. Their striped 70s awning are fading, and there’s graffiti all over them. Each window is host to a spraypainted letter, another clue to an overall cryptic message, spread over the windows of Leipzig. I’m surprised there’s enough people left to tag these empty buildings, but the artists are thorough, no empty building is able to remain a secret. Some of the buildings have for sale signs on them and I wonder how much it must be for one of these crumbling buildings with smashed windows, taken over by pigeons.

Next to them are the living buildings, with lace curtains and plants on the windowsills. I glide past many of these on the tram, every lace curtain different until it’s the terminus. There’s nothing here but a park and people’s garden allotments, with a thick yellow pipe running over the huts and the fruit trees. “Pipe-zig”, I think foolishly, every time I see one of these big pipes. Every time I think it is funny.

I wonder if the tram driver noticed me get off the tram and get back on it again. People here don’t seem to comment on such weirdnesses, like they would in Australia. At home I would at least get a, “you right love?” and because I expect it I start to work out how I would explain myself in German. The word “Touristin” would feature heavily. Then how to explain that I am as interested in everyday things as the extraordinary? That I like to see the different areas? I think the right word for area is “Bezirk”, but that word makes me laugh, and I don’t think I’d be able to even say it…

But no one asks. The driver is smoking and staring at the receding storm clouds. I get on the waiting tram and after a few minutes the doors shut and it glides back towards the city.

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