Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Awake in Cologne

A couple years ago, while I was in Cologne, Germany, I awoke in the middle of the night, jet-lagged, unable to sleep. I did what nearly everyone does at this point: I turned on the TV in hopes of catching something rare and wonderful on late night TV (this becomes more and more unlikely every day, but I will talk about that in some future post). On TV in Cologne at four in the morning, you will catch one of four things:

  • Softcore porn
  • Call-in game shows
  • A computer-generated gnome
  • Trains

The softcore porn is remarkably tame and nearly unwatchable. Beautiful blondes bathing themselves to bad lounge jazz, or pretending to compete in naked Olympic sports. Even the description is more enticing than the actual shows. The call-in game shows consist of tall, buxom, nearly-naked Valkyries accepting standing in front of a white board covered with 100 Euro notes. People call in and try to guess a word that might be behind one of the notes. They are usually wrong, and they have probably already spent 100 Euros in phone charges anyway. Again, the description is more interesting than the actual show. The computer-generated gnome is a little character in lederhosen and a trachten hat. People can send messages via their computers, and the little fellow will say whatever they type in—a bit like those shows on MTV and G4. Usually, the messages are along the lines of, "Gisela, ich liebe dich. Du bist mein Traummädchen."

After watching the gnome chatter meaninglessly for a while, I switched channels. Finally, no porn, no game show and no gnome; instead was a video of a train going down the tracks, shot from the POV of the engineer. I watched for a while, expecting a voice-over narrator to come on and explain something about this particular train trip ("Always watchful for obstructions on the track, the engineer must remain vigilant."). After five minutes, there was still no narration; just a train going down the tracks. After a few more minutes, the train pulled into a station and the name of the station appeared at the bottom of the screen. At this point, all action stopped, and I began to think that, perhaps, the video had frozen. Then the train started to move again. I was mesmerized. I kept watching, waiting for clues as to why such a video even existed, but none came. A five in the morning, the train abruptly shut off, replaced with morning television.

For the next few days, I wandered around Cologne, trying to find somebody who could explain these videos to me. I went to the local DVD store, but nobody there knew anything either. Finally, as I was leaving Cologne, I found my answer.

While waiting for my train back to Paris, I decided to spend some time in the bookstore at the Cologne train station. Upstairs, I noticed a section devoted to trains, so I figured, what the heck, I'll ask about what I saw on TV. "Oh yes," the woman behind the counter said. "Those are called Im Führerstand videos. We have several here." Elated, I asked to buy one.

"Which country do you want?" She asked.

"Country?" I said. "I don't know I hadn't thought about it." The woman told me that there were Im Führerstand videos for most of the countries in Europe. On her recommendation, I chose Switzerland.

"Do you want a modern train, or an old train?" She asked.

Now things were getting a little more complicated. My choices here ranged from a rickety old narrow-gauge steam engine to an ultra-modern ICE train. I opted for a middle-ground, ordinary train—neither too fast, or too slow.

"Which season?"

Yes, my readers, not only did they have these videos for nearly every country and train in Europe, they also offered them in a choice of seasons as well! I toyed with the idea of the winter train, with its minimalist landscapes of white, but settled on late summer, when the weak trees were starting to turn fall colors, but the landscape was still mostly green.

Contentedly, I headed back to the states with my purchase. I showed the video to a few people; most of them found it strangely mesmerizing. One got motion sickness and spent the rest of the evening throwing.up. The link above is for an amateur version of the Im Führerstand video, but it will give you a fair idea of what to expect. For actual DVDs, you can go to the GeraMond web site. Ordering instructions are in German, but easy enough to figure out. If you do order DVDs from them, be advised that sometimes, the wait can be terrific.

1 comment:

dennis nyback said...

A nice report on something few Americans know of. I read in the 90's that only 15% of Americans had passports. That has improved with the edict that a passport is now needed to go to Mexico. I still see few Americans when I am over here. I have seen the soft core porn and game shows on late night German TV. Hilarious. The other day I returned late to my hotel in Freiburg but forgot to turn on the TV. Darn!

Dennis reporting from Kiel, Germany December 3, 2010