A BACKPACKER’S ACCOUNT OF AN EVENING WITH THE NON-CONFORMIST SENSITIVE YOUTH WHO HANG OUT ON PAVEMENTS ALL NIGHT IN A GHETTO-LIKE QUARTER OF THE UNIVERSITY TOWN OF LEIPZIG
Leipzig is a German city with a renowned university, and a throbbing alternate culture. The latter plays out in the almost ghettoised relatively underdeveloped eastern district where most of the students live. This part of the city has many galleries, venue for wild parties and underground art scene. There’s art, music and marijuana in the air. The whole district comes alive after the sundown.
My friend Andreas, who’s a part-time mail-delivery-boy-on-cycle, an environmentalist and an avid traveler, had taken the risk of being my escort. Dusk was the time of the day and the sun was fading in the red sky is when we ventured out of his flat and walked a few blocks to reach a downtown eatery that was selling burgers like hot cakes. We ordered some grub and settled on the pavement, eating and sipping beer.
There was hustle and bustle, people were busy with nothing imperative. The buildings, tall and slender, stone-faced, unmoved and stoic, seem to be staring at each other from across the road. Many walls were adorned with elaborate yet convoluted graffiti art in bold psychedelic colours. The need to break free was palpable in those images, as if they would disengage from the walls and roam the streets. I thought they represented certain existential frustrations of youth from which there’s no escape.
Cars would make a loud thumping noise on the stone paved road, that was bisected by shiny tram tracks, as they rushed pass. Street lights were scattered and dim. Smell of marijuana hung low in the air like the morning mist. People were constantly talking to each other, fairly animated, like a thousand cats purring. The buzz was palpable. I felt at home.
The crowd was building up, some of Andreas’ friends joined us, mostly delivery boys/girls. One of them was from Holland. He was generally unhappy and couldn’t — or didn’t want to — pinpoint a reason. He came to Leipzig two years ago as a tourist and liked the ‘alternate’ scene so much that decided to stay put. He is glad he stayed back. I felt like I had seen him somewhere. He had a strong likeness with a close German friend of mine. After some enquiries, we concluded that they weren’t separated at birth.
The girls and boys were kind to me and took enormous trouble to speak English so as to include me, an intruder, in their conversations and into their gang for the night. Though there were phases when eerie silence would engulf us, the two prime activities we engaged in were sipping beer and animated conversations sitting on the stone-paved sidewalk.
Something had to be said, so people were saying something. Mundane things were discussed with delectation. And the topics were varied. Like an oral dissertation on why one shouldn’t live with a person he or she loves. Another guy, heartbroken, with expressive blue eyes, bright face and dull disposition, with the air of an underdog, had broken off with his girlfriend. Her nagging had reached levels of abuse. The girlfriend blamed him for being too flaky, out of touch with reality. Perhaps he was better off here, without her.
There was a migrant from Latin America who grew up in Holland and now works in Leipzig. Meek and small, he wandered about before entering into a conversation with one of us. He narrated his experience of spending quality time alone at home when his girlfriend was out working. He meant he enjoyed solitude after a long drill with his girlfriend.
There was another girl, three tattoo dots on her chin, slender with a manly physique, piercings on her forehead, twiggy yet with a weighty presence, constantly sipping barley water with the flair of an alcoholic. She had turned vegan for a reason that was not just about healthy living. She expressed the considered view that humans are the worst threat to humanity. She was self-effacing yet precise in her pronouncements. “The alternative folks, I’m a good example,” she said, “are clueless, struggling with life, have fanciful ideas, are mavericks, iconoclasts. But we’re the people who’ll bring about the necessary change.”
There was another lad, tall, skinny with conical face, dreadlocks brushing his shoulders. He had some beer with us before disappearing into a crowded bar across the street. He was in India when he was 21 years old, five years ago, and travelled the subcontinent for six long months. He particularly liked southern India and described his trip as ‘spiritual in nature’.
“I know me well enough,” he said, “I can tell you that none of us seek stability in life. We can’t even deal with it. Music, musings, drinking, drugs, the din of life illuminate our evenings,” he said with the flair of an orator. “That’s poetry,” I compliment him. “At one point in time I wanted to be a poet. But my conflicting inner voice has made a confused man,” he went on and on without even bothering whether others were listening to him or not. “Bear with me. I’m being judgemental. I suffer from all the malice I see in others. Life is such, I feel sucked into a rut of predictability. I’m overwhelmed by ennui.”
Many young people from affluent Europe, like him, after school or during college, sometimes as part of curriculum, travel to Asia and Africa to witness life without filters. To witness how the poor lead a precarious life without any social security. Travelling to India, many of my European friends say, is an adventure. It’s like being on a real-life pleasure cruise that involves dealing with crawling creatures, mosquitoes, life in its unadulterated form. All said and done, it’s authentic.
When we reached home inebriated, it was dawn. But Andreas was not done. He wanted to go for a house party. I decided to stay back. To an Indian in Europe, trying to get some sleep, the evening seemed a puzzle: What’s all the fuss about?