Mute musings

29. Juli 2016 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar


This cool and dank Friday finds me, the 80-languages cyclist, in Frederikshavn, Denmark, on a short stint (less than 24 hours) to log another language, Danish. But this port town doesn’t really speak to me. The Turisthotellet, which I booked many weeks ago, remains entirely mute: it’s a self-service low-cost outfit, but I didn’t expect to stand before a deserted squat building with a code in hand. It had to be entered in a key-pad at the outside door, and again for my room, which had been pre-assigned. The light in the shower went on by itself, as did the fan. The bed and towel explained themselves.  The main drag is surprisingly long with more shops and taverns than the 70’000 inhabitants could possibly hold above water. Well, several large ferry boats from Gothenburg and Oslo come in every day. And while Denmark might not be a lot cheaper, it sports lax liquor laws, and to tell from the hectic trade on board already, punters make good use of the local shops for more than they can drink in one go. Another way of shutting people up.

I went for an exploratory ride on a route that the clerk at the tourist had handed to me almost wordlessly on a colour copy (I should have asked some stupid question). The first hotspot of the town was a palm-lined beach. Yes, okay, the palms in their pots had been put there for the summer only, and perhaps the sand too, but it’s a good try to make a statement (only – what exactly do they want to say?). Tourists were videoing and marvelling at the scene, and a mother who wanted to pick up the kids drove her car deep into the sand pit. She addressed me for advice in Danish, but I could only raise my shoulders helplessly. Neither do I drive, nor would I know what to do in any language. 

As most of the attractive country lanes terminated in dead ends around some cozy holiday homes, I turned back towards the town centre through a carefully manicured suburbia with family homes. I noted that dogs can read the local language here. At least I assume that the sign NEJ TAK, IKKE HER! with the English rejoinder NO! is addressed to fellow canines, with the admonishment not to carry out their business in this front yard.


Before the silent doggy, I had visited the cemetery, which has an ample section with victims of WWII (if the 1224 Germans indeed fall under this rubric). The crosses were all identical, packing two names each. In one corner allied troops rested from places as far apart as New Zealand, Canada and the UK, mute all of them. In a wooden box, there rested a robotic lawnmower, as eerily self-propelled as my hotel room. Its surface was badly scratched. I imagine it scraping against the granite crosses of the dead soldiers, the software unable to figure out the patterns with which the stones are set, yet intent on delivering an immaculate lawn in their memory. 


And I remember the line from John Irving’s Garp: We’re all terminal cases.

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