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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Germany

Beautiful Bonn
Marianne de Nazareth

My invitation to the UNFCCC conference on Climate Change in Bonn in early April had me scuttling around for my visa at the last minute. Getting a German visa is not easy and entails going to Chennai (Madras) for an interview. But for a three day visit, I decided to take the chance and just send my documents by courier. It was a relief to get my passport back, with typical German precision in two days, albeit just stamped with a single month visa.

While getting onto my Emirates flight in Bangalore I decided taking less luggage is better and e ven deliberately left my heavy Toshiba laptop at home. It was a good decision 'cause racing around huge airports and railway stations with a heavy laptop strung around ones neck is a nightmare. The Dubai airport is so enormous, and fabulous, I wonder how I have always believed that Singapore’s Changi warranted that distinction. Dubai just floored me, and believe you me, I have seen the best airports in the world including Seoul in Korea. Dubai is not only huge but it’s exciting and brings out that wild shopper in me!

On the flight out to Dusseldorf from Dubai I met a young German male nurse who was tanned to a crisp brown slice of bacon on Thailand’s beaches. So I shed the concept that Germans are not friendly and helpful. My experience was quite the opposite though the only barrier is really that their English skills are very basic. Inspite of that Stefan made a great effort to be friendly and even guided me about taking the sky-train on to the train station to get my connection to Bonn from Dusseldorf.

I was marking buttons lost in thought as the sky train took me to the train station wondering how to get my ticket at that late hour. In Europe or anywhere in the West, there are just machines from where buying a ticket is child’s play but scary for the uninitiated. Suddenly I heard the familiar soothing sounds of Tamil being spoken and looking up I saw a group of Indian Engineers who had just boarded. It was a matter of minutes when they helped me buy my ticket and even helped me get onto the right platform for my train. Amazingly they were all fluent in German! The train was a sleek beauty which sped into the night carrying me to (Cologne) Koln. There I had to change trains which took me to Bonn. What was amazing was the ticket cost 14.40 Euro which is about the same as what I would pay for the same journey in India and no where near the comfort levels I had experienced.

I arrived in Bonn quite late in the night and was immediately advised about which metro I should take to get to a place close to the Kanzler Hotel where I was being hosted. It was quite amazing, the Metro station was just a few yards from the hotel and there is an elevator which brings one up from the train station to the road! That’s when one realises the differences between my home country and any country in the west. Comfort levels are at an amazing high and the low density of human life makes living so much easier. In India we are all practically living in one another’s armpits for most of our lives and the roads are a seething mass of smog belching cars.

We were greeted by Jeremy Lovell our trainer for the media workshop even though it was really late and were advised on the next days’ itin. before we trundled off to our rooms and crashed for the night.

The weather was unusually hot for early April and according to the receptionist there was no need for overcoats which was a blessing. So after an enormous breakfast we walked in a large group to the Maritim Hotel where the UNFCCC was having its negotiations. It was a crisp half an hour walk past quaint old homes and large glass and chrome buildings which housed Mercedes and Telia. A tiny tram ran through the centre of the main road which was not open to our use. However the Metro was available for those who did not want the walk. For me it was a flashback to my two years in Amsterdam and Denmark when I did the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Journalism. A flashback to the beauty of an emerging spring with the cherry blossom and the fresh new chestnut leaves with a black bird singing somewhere in the trees. I enjoyed the morning and evening walks back to the Kanzler along with Ansel and Leger, two French speaking journalists from the Congo and tghe Cameroons.

The conference like the one in New York and Poland was an eye opener to the crisis being faced by the world and human kind. I could see the Climate Change talks could go nowhere if the gap between the rich and the poor countries was not closed. Yvo de Boer the executive secretary of the UNFCCC has a hard task cut out before him trying to diplomatically iron out the differences and work towards a solution on combined efforts to mitigate Climate Change.

The hotel was dressed for Easter with huge Easter decorations of bunnies and eggs alongside security machines to check all visitors similar to the ones we went through at the airport. The uniform colour of the clothes all the delegates to the conference was black but the delegates themselves spoke a variety of languages and the place looked like a Benetton advertisement with the blending of different language tones and skin tones.

Banners with ‘Survival is not negotiable" and placards with details about the Clean Development Mechanism, Greening investments, Joint clean energy efforts, possibilities for mitigation and adaptation filled the lobby as we filed in everyday. We reporters sniffed around the rooms for stories and angles to write our pieces on the negotiations with an angle that might get our readers back home interested in the effort. It is strange but the human race inspite of the obvious signs are not willing to cut back on their comforts to help save the world for future generations just yet. At the rate Climate Change is galloping forward I hope we live to see a world anywhere close to the one we enjoyed as children in our own old age. Probably only when all sources of water dry up and the sun burns us all to a crisp will the prophecy sink in.

In the evening I walked back to the Kanzler and after a quick shower decided to find where the nearest supermarket was to buy my gifts to take home for the family for Easter. Duty Frees anywhere in the world are expensive and on my travels I have found one can get the best deals on chocolates, cheese and perfumes out of a supermarket! However with having hurt my left foot with a strain in my Achilles tendon, I had to make three trips before I could be satisfied with my gift purchases! Take this travelling tip from me: It’s really great coming back with loads of goodies which cost a fraction of what they cost in the Duty Free. Mon Cherie, Lindt, all the brands are cheaper out of general supermarkets than at Airport duty frees.

One evening we all decided to sit on the banks of the Rhine and enjoy dinner in the cool spring air under the flowering Camellia trees. What drew us to the restaurant was it was run by two Indian techies from Hyderabad, who were in Germany working in IBM. Yet they followed their dream of running an excellent restaurant with a variety of world cuisine- not just Indian cuisine. They worked during the day and then ran the restaurant at night. If that is not called enterprise then what is? Fantastic food and we had a wonderful evening with a bill that did not break the bank.

Our three days were up in Bonn and it was time to fly back to our home countries to make it in time for Easter Sunday. On the way back at Dubai I splurged on the cutest Toshiba notebook laptop. It’s inexpensive with great features and perfect for a travelling journalist like me to carry. I promise, it costs just $500 or less.

Hopefully we will all be back in Bonn in June to cover the next round of Climate Change talks. We do have a long and laborious road before us before the Copenhagen consensus in December which hopefully ends on a positive note for our planet’s very existence.

© Marianne de Nazareth May 2009
mde.nazareth at

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Marianne de Nazareth

There was one last wish, one last desire to fulfill before I came home to Bangalore forever. I had to visit Bath, in Somerset,

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