In the summer of 2017 I travelled by train through the Balkans. I met some interesting people, here’s their story:
The night train
It’s 1 o’clock at night, the train is two hours late and I’m lying in the lower bed of the sleeping compartment. The German or Austrian man enters our compartment. I say “gutenabend” but he has already run up the ladder. I hear some rumbling and a minute later I hear the balanced breathing of a person who has fallen asleep.
In the morning we are awakened by a loud pounding on the door. Even before I have time to turn around and stand up straight, he has already jumped out of the upper bed to receive his breakfast. I say “gute morgen” but he and his breakfast have already gone up the ladder with astonishing efficiency. He calls back “gute morgen”, but the next hour I hear nothing but complete silence.
When we arrive in Vienna, he leaves the compartment as quickly as possible. He wishes me a good journey, and he’s gone.
This man does not relax. He applies German efficiency in all aspects of life.
In the bar of the hostel in Vienna, everyone spends the night as if it were the last one of their life. It is a place where hedonism is the goal. The youth drink beer and jägerbombs as if their lives depend on it. The bartender, dressed in Hawaiian shirt, gladly lets it happen. He balances the shot of liquor on the edge of a pint of beer and gives the backpackers a water pistol. The French, American and Austrian tourist only need one attempt to place the jägermeister in their pint glass by means of a skillfully directed shot. The Asian boy, who spent his last hard-earned money on this drink, misses so often that the water pistol runs out of ammo. The mocking cheer is painful to hear. The Korean doesn’t understand and laughs sheepishly. The American takes the weapon and uses the butt of the water pistol to throw the shot glass into the beer while speaking the wise words: “If you don’t train better, the North Koreans might win!
The Korean boy is happy, he has made international friends. The group laughs, alcohol seems to have made everyone friends for an evening.
I turn around and start talking to a Swedish girl about the beautiful Scandinavian nature.
The EuroCity train
In the EuroCity train to Ljubljana I meet two British boys, eighteen years old, who’ve had a hangover since Budapest. A Swedish guy with his Slovenian girlfriend join us. Our conversation goes largely unnoticed by the suffering English lads. We talk about how Sweden is modern, how Slovenia is beautiful, and how Belgium does not really know what it is. The Swedish drive to be modern becomes evident when the train assistant wants to sell a ticket and they both only have a debit card with them.
“In Sweden nobody pays with cash any more”, he tries in vain, but the train guard cannot suddenly conjure up a card terminal. I lend them ten euros, which I get back on arrival in Ljubljana. These honest people restore my faith in humanity and I arrive in my cosy hostel with a smile on my face that I will not lose for an entire evening.
Ljubljana makes me happy.
“How are you, where are you from?”
I look up from my book. We’re in Metelkova, a kind of Dour Festival that continues 365 days a year.
His last name is Piltz, he says. “It means mushroom.”
I explain that in my language ‘pils’ is an alcoholic beverage. He’s a twenty-one year-old guy who looks like he’s already lived a whole life.
“I’ve been clean for two years now,” he says. “I don’t use cannabis anymore, only stimulants.”
I let him tell his story:
“I don’t remember anything of yesterday. I was the DJ here. Then I used molly (MDMA) and I don’t remember how my DJ set ended anymore. Maybe I should look it up in the history of my computer. I don’t use cannabis or other mind-altering drugs anymore, they gave me psychoses. I had to stay in a psychiatric hospital for two months! Ever since then, I’ve only used molly and coke. What is it you get high on?”
“I quite like a beer from time to time,” I answer.
“Those are drugs too! Fancy a party in the club next door?”
Although I feel like going for a dance, I also know that I have to wake up at 8 am. I apologize and he’s off to his party. I talk to some Germans about travelling through Albania and I prolong my walk back to the hostel by taking a detour. Ljubljana makes me happy.
The next morning, at ten o’clock, I happen to meet my exhausted friend on the street. I carry a heavy backpack, he carries the effects of a heavy night.
“I didn’t sleep all night, Molly kept me awake. Now I am going home. I have to pack. Soon I’ll be leaving for a festival in Croatia!”
I wish him all the good in the world and I mean it. I hope he is happy, or that happiness will find him.