After I left Italy, I couldn’t decide where to head next. An old friend, whom I had met in Barcelona, suggested that I visit Germany. So I hopped my happy self over to Düsseldorf in west Germany, and stayed there from December 28th to December 30th. Logistically and financially, a terrible move. But absolutely worth doing and I’d repeat it.
There’s no simpler way to say that the Germans are very proud people. When you consider German innovation and engineering, it’s easy to understand why they continue to operate as they do. Everything is done with efficiency, and they can come off ‘cold’. As I was told, their demeanor is mostly reserved.
As I mentioned, Germans are proud and reserved. But as soon as you sincerely tell them everything you find beautiful about their country, their faces beam with pride and they open up. I’ve found people in other countries focusing on the negatives of their specific country, as my later experience in Czech Republic. But Germans become elated and appreciative, open to conversation.
They are a curious bunch. I believe most recognized that I was a simple traveler, passing through. As soon as I began to show my curiosity with random strangers in small coffee shops, they loved telling me about their culture and places I should experience.
My German friend explained the culture and politics of Germany to me. Germany’s dark past of World War II still haunts the country today. Students need to learn about the Holocaust every year. In order to never seem as dark as its past self, Germany accepted vast amounts of refugees. Some Germans worry about the financial struggles this may impose on the country but understand the country’s standpoint.
I would first suggest going to a German city’s Altstadt, which translates to “old town”. I was fortunate to visit the Düsseldorf’s Altstadt during the Christmas market! So try the hot chocolate! Explore the beautiful lights. I used offline Google Maps to navigate around. The Altstadt was also where I was introduced to the life-changing magic of glüwein. It’s essentially hot wine, like the mulled wine constantly referenced in “Game of Thrones”. I need to figure out how to make it at home.
(Also, Düsseldorf has numerous old castles in the vicinity. And excellent dark beer, if you’re a fan.)
If you wish to explore Düsseldorf, then definitely check out the Media Harbour by the waterfront. Beautiful sights and lights to explore, with excellent viewpoints. I was able to get a few pictures at night, while walking around the nightlife scene (also located in the Altstadt). I eventually made it back to my AirBnB, one I specifically chose because I needed to do laundry. Unfortunately, the lady never actually had anyone use the washer before. So here I am, standing in my underwear trying to figure out an old German washing machine. I had to translate individual words and ended up just pressing a bunch of buttons with a time. That was an absolute nightmare, since my clothes looked somewhat disgusting in Prague (UGH). I definitely screwed up, something that a few Australian friends pointed out in Prague.
There’s a last little bit of my German experience worth sharing. I stood in the German airport of Düsseldorf, with plans to fly to Hamburg and then Prague. As with my usual ability, I noticed the crowd around me where this girl stood out. She wasn’t very tall, and wore a beige sweater with denim jeans and white sneakers. She was beautiful to look at, but I looked away. You see beautiful people all the time when traveling, so this one was probably no different.
We boarded the flight from Düsseldorf to Hamburg, after much delay. After landing, I noticed the girl again. She was glancing at her phone and her eyes puffed up in tears. I’m not one for strong emotion but crying bothers me. And here was this gorgeous girl crying as a bus took to from our recently landed plane to the Hamburg airport. I just thought to myself, “Maybe she just received some sad news about family”.
The delays caused me to miss the connecting flight between Hamburg and Prague. As I went over to the Eurowings help desk, I noticed the girl already standing there. She still had tears. We opted for the same booking passage, from Hamburg to Frankfurt to Prague. The layover in Frankfurt would be over 5 hours.
So this girl and I are on the same path. We’re standing in line for security and I make my usual jokes to the surrounding people. It helps to lighten everyone’s mood. I made small-talk with her, finding out that her name was Sarah. She was crying about missing the flight and not making it to Prague on time, to which I laughed because I constantly fly.
Sarah asked to stick with me, because airports and flying make her nervous. I didn’t really dwell on this, because people get nervous all the time. I don’t expect anyone else to fly as often as I have. And it helps to have a travel companion.
We proceeded to find a way to sit next to each other throughout our flight from Hamburg to Frankfurt. The air hostesses were accommodating, and allowed us to sit together at the back of the plane. We talked about her family, and how she’s trying to focus on studies in nutrition. While her English wasn’t the best, it was certainly better than my German.
There wasn’t a single dull moment, so we kept talking. And unfortunately for me, I realized that Sarah had a boyfriend.
At Frankfurt, we decided to drink. And we shared a large wine bottle, plus beer. I couldn’t help but realize how much I felt at ease around Sarah. We were laughing and truly enjoying each other’s company. There was some flirting, entirely me. When a girl has a boyfriend, this is something I actively avoid doing. But I felt comfortable around Sarah and I think she enjoyed my company. She was, perhaps, the sweetest girl I’ve met.
On our flight from Frankfurt to Prague, we convinced an old Asian lady and her mother that Sarah was my girlfriend and terrified of flying. Sarah felt the effect of alcohol and rested her head on my lap. I covered her, using my heavy wool jacket as a blanket. It felt peaceful, actually. We parted ways at the airport. I hate romanticizing things, but 8 hours seemed like a lifetime.
I don’t think I’ll meet many girls like Sarah. She was a special girl, and I’m grateful that I met someone like her. I’ve always been one to avoid relationships, but she made me question if a relationship would be worth it.
And I think that’s what traveling should be about. Not just admiring the world and its beauty, but consistently asking yourself about the lessons you’ve learned and your own place in this big beautiful world.