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I spent the day in Bremen today. Our program gave us the long weekend off to visit the cities in which we’ll be spending the year, but I did not want to pay, in money or time, to spend the whole weekend there, and so I went up for the day (by “for the day” I mean “I took a four hour train ride from Marburg to Bremen, spent four hours in Bremen, and took a four hour train ride back to Marburg, because this is how I’ve chosen to live my life”).
I rode the tram. I saw the city, which is very pretty and historic, in parts (other parts are still doing 1950s architecture real proud)if somewhat gray and cold, and in which the haves and have nots are directly adjacent and mixed throughout. I saw the apartment in which I’ll be living (although, since it’s closer to the University than to the city center, and since even the woman from my future research centre suggested that I may want to live with Germans, perhaps it will not be my apartment for the full year—STAY TUNED). I met the aforementioned woman from my future research centre for coffee and a brief tour of the city, and she was lovely and helpful and encouraging on both my project and my upcoming time in Bremen. We spoke about my future project (not many people have worked or are working on Soviet era legal dissidence and its connection to Russian Rule of Law (har har) today, and so that’s neat), which is how I learned that the Russian-ness of Russian archival systems extends beyond that country’s borders (they’re all in the process of being reorganized, because of course they are). And she told me that there are three things one needs in Bremen: an umbrella, good outerwear, and a bicycle. We are not in the south, she said, noting that she had to throw out three pairs of shoes from rain damage when she moved to Bremen from Berlin. (I had independently noticed that to approach Bremen by train is to see the sky get increasingly dark and drizzly.) And that Bremen is, if not the single most economically depressed city in Germany, then right up there (when I noted that there’s much less construction in Bremen than elsewhere in Germany, she responded that this is because there is no money in Bremen with which to build anything). And it is on a swamp, so it’s cold and humid. Like St. Petersburg (but without, I was told, the palaces). “Of course I’m living on a cold swamp,” I told her. “Why?” she asked. “Are you drawn to places like this?”
I don’t know that I would say that I’m drawn to them. To the cold and the gray and the mixed up identity. To rain. To trams filled with surprisingly helpful strangers. To ugly buildings flanking beautiful ones. To perpetually under construction archives. To the feeling of belonging to decided un-belonging. To finding oneself confused, and to accepting that confusion.
But, whether it’s because of some bizarre attraction or simple circumstance, I find myself in the Bremen’s of this world more than I do the Bavaria’s.
So I’ll see you in three weeks, Bremen. For more than four hours. We’ll be spending a lot of strange time together, in fact. And that seems right to me, somehow.