It's still dark. Motionless bodies are lying everywhere in this building. No, this is not a war zone, nor is it the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. This is the Standsted airport in London, where countless tourists have gathered, sleeping in the most uncomfortable positions, only to avoid the expensive prices for accomodation in London. Banner ads inside the airport guarantee that in the near future there will be over 70% additional seats available. It was a wise decision to book a room in advance, a very new experience to me personally, despite having stayed in so many hostels and hotels in the past. It was also most convenient to arrive with almost no luggage. The flight back to Cologne has been delayed, giving me time to reflect on my stay in London.
On the way from the airport to the city I spot a foggy scenery, reminding of a typical setting in a horror movie. It is not without any reason that all kinds of places in London are known for creepy ghost stories. There are also countless reports on metaphysical appearances in London Underground, the world's oldest rapid transit system, which I enter after arriving at the Liverpool Street station. In 2013, only a few feet below this station, another burial pit was discovered. Since the first phases of construction, remnants of countless victims of the so called "Black Death" have repeatedly emerged in the London Underground. In the 14th century, this great pandemia cost one third of the European population's lives, leading to the arbitrary burial of millions of victims. Nowadays, in the London Underground you find more life than death, and today is no exception. The train is filled with passengers. The next station is being announced. It is time to get off.
New Countries, New Rules, New Year
Only a few hundreds of meters away from the King's Cross station, some of my friends from Germany are staying in a hostel. They still don't know that I will join them to celebrate New Year's Eve tonight. But first it was time to reach the nearby Clink Hostel, a 19th century courthouse. This becomes most noticeable once you enter the common room, which was formerly the court room. Its former function is visually highlighted and strongly contributes to the hostel's unique character. The Clink hostel also offers accomodation in former prison cells, whose authenticity has been perpetuated to this day. For the budget traveller there is the possibility to violate certain laws, if one is so keen to spend a couple of nights in a prison cell. Sleeping at the airport is probably still the more reasonable option, though.
Several curious laws that exist in the United Kingdom might turn out to be very expensive for too enthusiastic party lions and jokers. In the UK, you must pay hundreds of pounds if you get caught playing doorbell pranks or if you sing obscene songs on the streets. It is also prohibited to slide on ice or snow, which is of lesser relevance in these days, where the weather is more merciful. According to another law, for pub owners it is forbidden to serve drinks to already intoxicated customers. Perhaps this is why at some point of time too many people on the streets were heard singing obscene songs, leading to the prohibition of such singing as well. But unlike tourists, when walking in the streets of London intoxicated, the local English man is at least used to the irritating left-hand traffic in the UK.
All these rules made it appear a little bit adventurous to smuggle into the guarded hostel of my friends to celebrate New Year's Eve with them. Entering the Generator hostel is normally only allowed for those who have booked a room. But we didn't need any "Ocean's Eleven-Plan" to successfully implement our idea. So we got together and celebrated with an international group of tourists. And since the night felt so young even hours later, the celebration continued in the Camden High Street, where plenty of bars are located. On the way to this street I meet two friendly Somali men, with whom I extensively talk about the hereafter, only to later give in to the temptations of London's nightlife.
2014 was over, and the first evening of 2015 would continue where last year ended. Back near the Camden High Street we enter a rock pub named "Monarch". As far as the alternative crowd and the respective atmosphere is concerned, there is certainly no lack of authenticity here, to say the least. Two locals join us before we head to "Barfly", which was more crowded than expected, despite the fact that on New Year not too much is going on in London. Our new British friends put much effort to make sure that we have a good time.
The Landmarks of London
But what about the famous sights of London? Once you arrive in the city, it doesn't take long to spot the typical objects, with which you would associate the UK, from the black cabs to the red double deckers and phone boxes (those boxes today only have a decorative and cultural function). The obligatory sightseeing tour really started on the last day of this trip. The only thing that was untypical about London on this day was the weather, not just because of the fact that there was not one single snowflake, but because it was considerably warmer than one would expect London to be. Only a few days later the news media would confirm that 2015 will be London's warmest year since at least 1910.
The most popular sights are predominantly located in Westminster. Some people are already waiting in front of the Buckingham Palace to witness the famous changing of the guards that has been implemented on a daily basis for over 700 years. The Queen is not in attendance today, as the flag of the UK above the palace signalizes. It is usually replaced by the "Royal-Standard" flag, when the Queen is in the house. On the opposite side of the Thames river you find the London Eye that is "looking over" to the Westminster Palace. The palace's most prominent part is arguably the Elizabeth Tower, housing the Big Ben, probably the most famous symbol of the UK. However, to many people the Westminster Abbey must be even more eye-catching, not simply because of its two towers that were established in the 17th century, but particularly because of the late gothic chapel that is two hundred years older.
London Bridge and Tower Bridge
Along the Thames river you find some monuments that are dedicated to the UK's fallen soldiers of World War II. Just like in St. Petersburg or Budapest, the bridges are not only part of the sightseeing experience, but a good orientation point for travellers. One of the least spectacular bridges in this city is actually the most historical one. Today there are tours in the arches of the London bridge that tell its story. Not surpringly, they also offer a spooky tour. The predecessor of the bridge, which was made of stone, and whose appearance was coined by its bows, is still existent, albeit not in London anymore, but in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. in the 19th century, as the city of London was confronted with the problem that the bridge started to become an obstacle to solve the accumulating traffic problem, it was decided to sell the bridge. After being marked, many stones were removed and delivered to the US, until a widely authentic version of the former London Bridge was established in the desert city in Arizona, which can be visited today. In London, this bridge had replaced an even more impressive predecessor that dominated the cityscape of London for over 600 years.
A long walk along the Thames river leads from Westminster to the Tower Bridge, which impresses many people much more because of its appearance than its younger history, albeit the construction period coincides with the most infamous serial murder case that has ever taken place in the very same borough called "East End". As if this borough hadn't plenty of horror stories to tell because of the Tower of London, where countless people were executed, hanged and tortured, the brutal series of murders, which "Jack the ripper", whose real identity could never be revealed, committed during the construction period of the Tower bridge, gives the whole setting an even eerier touch.
Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November
In this borough, however, there is arguably no event that has coined our generation as much as the failed conspiracy of Guy Fawkes and his allies in the beginning of the 17th century. As a reaction to the persecution of Catholics, Fawkes planned to blow up the Westminster Palace to target those, whom he made responsible for the persecution. The elite learnt about his plans. Only after suffering long and extensive torture, Fawkes would name those individuals, who had conspired with him. After those individuals consequently had to suffer the highest punishment in the Tower of London, it was Fawkes' turn, but he shortened his punishment by jumping off the platform, hanging himself before being hanged. Particularly for the elite, Fawkes was a cold-blooded assassin, whereas the people of England celebrated him as a hero for fighting oppression against the Catholics. Yet, the elite won, and to this day, on every 5th of november, the circumvention of blowing up the Westminster Palace is celebrated. But in the last years a new movement called "Anonymous" has resuscitated the spirit of Fawkes, as his mask is worn by its members and countless supporters. This movement has become an influential and unofficial party that has caused a lot of trouble not only for high-ranked individuals in the UK, but for institutions and individuals worldwide, implementing several large-scale cyber attacks. While Anonymous is a movement that aims at targeting online censorship, human rights violations and repression, it can paradoxically be used even by its own enemies, given that Anonymous is ultimately a modern tool of virtual anarchy, where you can never be sure, who is behind them.
What this will mean for todays elite in London, needs to be seen. As the most important financial center of the world it is the capital of the UK in particular, that has much to lose in a cyber war. Will Anonymous ever play the modern version of a "Robin Hood"? Will the spirit of Guy Fawkes, that was allegedly striking terror into people's hearts years after he was hanged, seek revenge one day? The future will show.