Friday, September 14, 2018

The Travel Bug: My First Trip to Germany

I mentioned in my last Travel Bug post that the summer I spent in Dublin was what sparked my desire to travel. It's completely true; I was there for only a short while, but everything I did and saw in those months felt bigger and more transformational than anything I'd ever experienced. These experiences include my first trip to Germany, which is where this post begins. 

Disclaimer: please excuse the quality of the photos in this post - this was before the days of smartphones and I had a brick of a Kodak camera that no amount of editing can fix (haha).
I had never been to Germany prior to my summer internship in Ireland. I'd read about it, dabbled in learning the language, and knew my family had German roots, but I never actively pursued visiting Germany. I liked German: it was an entirely unique language and completely different from the French I'd been studying for years. Gothic, not romantic. Different sentence structures. Different verb forms. A completely new culture with a whole new set of traditions, norms, foods, stories, architecture, history....the list goes on. I was the secretary of my high school's "Deutsch Club" (I did study it for three years) and loved watching German movies, cooking German foods, and celebrating the culture with other members in the club. We even went Christmas caroling (auf Deutsch) around the school before Christmas break!

And then I met Cleo.

Cleo was an exchange student from the northern part of Germany that I met my junior year of high school. She was in my French class and we started sitting together at lunch with a few exchange students from Japan, Korea, and Switzerland. It was so neat being friends with such a diverse group of people, and I loved hearing stories from their home countries over lunch. The better half of our conversations left us in misunderstanding and we were terrible at putting plans together because of language barriers, but we grew very close nevertheless. And then at the end of the school year, after we all went to Prom together, it was time for Cleo and the others to return home. I honestly thought I'd never see her again. We Skyped a few times after I graduated and went to college, but eventually we lost touch. It was devastating to lose such a great friend but I came to terms with having to let go of things and move on. It's part of life, and I did the best I could to embrace that. 

The Easter before I went to Ireland, I got a phone call. I didn't recognize the number at first, but I decided to answer anyway - and thank goodness I did! Cleo was back in Michigan visiting her host family and was wondering if I'd like to meet up for coffee. OF COURSE I WOULD! The voice in my head was screaming, I miss you!!! Unfortunately I went to school in Minnesota, nearly a thousand miles from home, and it obviously it didn't work for me to see her. But as I had already started planning for my internship, it hit me: I was going to Europe that summer. Germany was only a short flight away and I simply had to see her. We didn't have a solid plan, only that we had to make it happen somehow. We re-established contact over the next few months as I prepared for my internship, and the following weeks until our visit just flew by.
We'd decided on the Fourth of July weekend. We would have Friday through Sunday evening together, and Cleo said she had loads of things in mind for us to do during my first trip ever to Germany. It came before I knew it, and I had packed only a small carry-on for the weekend. I boarded the small Aer-Lingus plane and landed in Germany a short while later. When I did get to the airport in Hannover, Cleo met me at the gate. We hugged, we cried, and we just stood there for a moment in disbelief that we were actually seeing each other again. It felt like I was in a dream as we walked to her car, catching up on each others' summers thus far and what was coming in the next few days and months.

Her house wasn't far, only a short drive to her beautiful neighborhood in a town called Langenhagen. We grabbed a quick snack of German brot and a few fruity beers, then headed off to Hannover. The majority of our weekend was spent exploring the city: we walked around downtown, visiting a few different cafes and bars including "Jack the Ripper", where we met a few gentlemen who were watching the Fussball game. The World Cup was going on, so every place we went to was showing the games as they were played. 
Cleo also showed me some of the unique parts of Hannover, such as a "love lock" bridge, a few of the government buildings, some ruins from WWII, and bookshelves randomly placed throughout the city for people to "take a book, leave a book". It was so different from Dublin, and incredibly different from anything in the United States. I was in love. The city, the architecture, the people, the transportation...everything. We went to the Herrenhäuser Gärten, a large garden leading up to the Herrenhäuser Palace, where people now put on events and even weddings. It was modeled after the Garden of Versailles, and having been to both, I can say they were very similar but completely unique. We loved it.
After the Garden, we went to a flea market (Flohmarkt), where I bought a German mug and Fussball scarf, Cleo bought a kilo of cherries, and we both bought brightly colored, extremely comfortable pants from India. We had an amazing time browsing around, seeing all the knick-knacks that people brought to sell. It was a nice day out, and we walked around for what felt like hours. It was like she'd never left Michigan: I half expected the bell ring and for us to 'head to class' like we had years before.
From the Flohmarkt, we went back to her house to have dinner before heading out again. Germany was playing France in the World Cup that evening (the second-to-last match in the entire tournament), and Cleo wanted to take me to a traditional Biergarten to watch the match. When we arrived, I was blown away by the amount of people donning black, red, and yellow gear! Everyone was showing German pride and it was an absolutely electric atmosphere. The game was on a giant screen at one end of the Biergarten, so after Cleo and I ordered our drinks (Tequila shots and Kirsche - cherry - beer) we found a spot and settled in. Germany won (of course) and the entire place erupted. We had a few more drinks before leaving, and the Germans were celebrating hard. Flags were being draped outside cars, people were running around with their faces painted, and drivers even honked at each other in celebration. Even Michigan doesn't get that excited when the Lions win...
We had a relaxing night that evening, watching Wolf of Wallstreet (Cleo and I share a passion for a good Leo flick), having some wine we picked up at Edeka, and just talking. Then the next day it was back up and about, soaking in every minute we had together. We drove into town and went to a Schutzenfest (Shooting Festival) parade, both sporting our new pants from India. It was hot out, and we were amazed to see the heavy costumes worn by those in the parade. I'm fairly certain I would have passed out if I'd been wearing so many layers!
The day passed quickly, and before I knew it Cleo was driving me back to the airport. It was an incredibly short visit, but we were both thankful for the time we had together. And since that trip, Cleo and I have kept in touch - through snail mail, Skype, Facebook, you name it - and I've even been back to visit her a few times (more Travel Bug posts to come!). For never having thought that I would visit Germany, it made an enormous impression on me. After just that first trip, I knew I'd go back. I had to. And I did.

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