ROUTINE family conversation often became too idiomatic or full of dialect for me to follow, leaving me free to listen to the sound of the language, and its intonations, an experience much like listening to opera in an unfamiliar language (isn't it always?).

And as in opera, five minutes of emotion and high drama often boiled down in the subtitles to the crashingly routine, perhaps the possibility of rain. Not that the Germans talk much about the weather - their fixed subject is money.

Opera was also on my mind as I came to one of the older parts of the town which had escaped allied attention in the war. The houses were of an age we would call Victorian, built for prosperous burghers in a Wagnerian vernacular with overwrought wooden framing in heavy browns, symbolist blue-greys and olives, primeval colours full of darkness, a massive folk-gothic - as in an Old German book face.

A stage set for some brooding drama.

As I walked, the lighting became more and more theatrical, the sky dimming to black as the cloud thickened, changing mid-afternoon day for night. I began to feel the air thickening and growing heavy with static, and as the storm broke I ran for the shelter of the railway bridge.

As holes go, it was a well-placed one. Opposite, a fifty metre sprint would make the Catholic Fellowship beer hall, while a mere ten yard dash would gain one of the town's few remaining public urinals, its convenience now somewhat reduced by the lack of roof, allowing rain to provide a welcome and sanitary scrubbing.

The bridge's main attraction was however its dryness, and after twenty minutes of downpour this began to wear thin as the water increasingly soaked through from the tracks above and dripped from the roof to run streams round my feet. Fortunately the sky began to lighten and the rain slackened enough for me to head for the bus and home.

Things seldom run that smoothly. As I reached the main street to cross it, the lights changed and I was faced by a red man. Two minutes later, the road now clear and all traffic halted, the lights still showed no sign of changing to release the small crowd now waiting on each side for green as the law requires.

Suddenly a pair of youths broke ranks and ran across. Scandalized mothers commented sternly to their children; the man beside me said to us all that they should be locked up; an old lady screamed abuse.

I didn't have the nerve to cross although the lights had obviously given up the ghost, and so I missed my bus. I turned and went for a beer. At the lights they are presumably still waiting.


Photograph © Peter Marshall 1985
Photograph © Peter Marshall 1985
Photograph © Peter Marshall 1985
Photograph © Peter Marshall 1985

 German Indications

  Photographs and text by Peter Marshall

photography and writing are necessarily
fiction-creating enterprises
Any resemblances in this work to actual people places or events
are simply resemblances