I had just gotten used to Freiburg when it was time to leave. That’s not to say I didn’t want to go — I had a week of travel ahead of me, and beyond that, everything that waited at home. It’s just that that final day snuck up on me.
I finished the last day of my language school, went out one last time with my friends, and woke up late the next day with the residence staff telling me I should have already left. What followed was a frantic hour of laundry and packing, and then I was out, bags in hand, taking the Straßenbahn back into town. One last coffee, one last pretzel, and after wandering the streets a bit more, I made my way to the same friends I stayed with when I first came to Germany, who graciously let me stay again. I was quick out the door the next morning, and ready and waiting at the train station ten minutes early. I found my train number and platform, and five minutes before my train was due, one pulled up. I got on, and within a minute, the train sped away at two hundred miles an hour. It was only then that I saw it was heading to Hamburg, not Cologne. Such are the bullet trains in Germany. I got off at the next stop, thankfully before my lack of a ticket was asked for, and caught the right train — turns out there are IDs I had managed to ignore before.
Stepping out of the Cologne train station, bags in hand and watching the impossibly large cathedral come into view, I felt like a real world traveler. That feeling was quickly crippled after I had walked half an hour in the rain with two too-heavy bags to reach my hostel, but still.
After resting up at the hostel and having dinner at a nearby beer garden, I got some sleep and set out early the next day, walking along the Rhine.
I had originally planned to visit the Cologne Zoo, but I decided against it when I saw that all the visitors had children under ten. Instead, I made my way to the botanical gardens a minute away, and though most of the exhibits were muted at best — it was the middle of winter, after all — a greenhouse I came across was stunning. Half the space was devoted to variations on a single flower — the Camellia.
After an hour, I wandered back down the other side of the Rhine and across the bridge my train had come across. This time, I could see a small detail I had missed before.
There was time for a trip to Gaffel am Dom, a beer garden almost on top of the cathedral, and then my time in Cologne was over.
Where the Tall Trees Stand
Next was Berlin, but first, a six-hour train ride followed by an hour of walking with the bags I was quickly coming to hate. I found my hostel, a labyrinthian thing nestled in the upper floors of a pub. If the aesthetic weren’t so modern, it could have been a medieval tavern.
I took a brief walk in the dying sunlight to a memorial to the Berlin wall, complete with a museum and a reconstructed segment. It’s a sobering reminder of how recently the city was divided, and how physical barriers do more than keep people apart — they tear them apart, too.
The next day, I headed down Unter den Linden, a street famous for its history, passing a massive march of protesting public transport workers on my way to the Brandenburger Tor.
Another mile took me through Tiergarten, a public park very much lacking in Tiere, and eventually to Siegessäule, or victory column, constructed after Prussia’s victory over Denmark in 1864. The view from the top is remarkable.
Dinner that night was a halfway-decent burger at the pub below the hostel — a reminder of where I’d be in just a few days. And just like that, Berlin was over too.
Both the train to Amsterdam and the walk to the hostel managed to be longer than those to Berlin, and by the time I set down my bags, I was exhausted. It didn’t help that I woke up the next day with a 101-degree fever. I barely managed to set foot outside by noon, but even the five hours I was out were worth the trip. Every canal is picturesque and every building quaint, and there really are more bicycles than people.
I had had a lot I wanted to see, but with a fever, I reduced a dozen goals to one — a windmill that had been converted into a brewery. I made it after an hour of slow walking, had an outstanding flight of beer with cheese and nuts, and got back to my hostel utterly exhausted.
The next day was my last in Europe, but it felt like my last day, period. I had a fever of 103° and 25 hours of travel ahead of me. Suffice it to say that I got home, but only just. I’m sure I was public enemy number one on the ten hour flight to Los Angeles. But in the end, I walked in the front door, saw my parents and my dog, and collapsed in bed. I didn’t get up for four days, and even now, more than two weeks later, I still have residual symptoms. The flu is a monstrous beast.
So, here I am. I’ve seen all my friends and resumed the existential agony that is disc golf. I’m writing more than I have been in weeks, and I’m finally finishing typing up all my notes. In a few weeks, I’ll be sitting in on a German class to hold on to what I learned. And I’m tutoring again, more than before. It’s a while until grad school begins, and I still don’t even know where I’m going, but there’s a lot to do in the meantime.
I’m glad to be back, but I’m even more glad I made the trip in the first place. I learned so much more than German in Germany — a different culture. A different way of life. Independence. And how barely being able to communicate can make relationships deeper as often as it gets in the way. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, just that it is a when, not an if.
But on that note, it’s time to wrap this up, and I may not unwrap it for a while. I have other things to focus on, and more importantly, nothing interesting to write about. For now, this is the end of the story. But what a story it’s been.
Learned every constellation
Just to find where you’re at
See I’ve been gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
But now I’m back
Gregory Alan Isakov, Wings in all Black