Gunnar saw me off from the bus station in Braunschweig, making sure I knew exactly where and when the bus would be coming, and the actually deciding to stand next to me to make sure I made it on safely and with all my things. Minus my glasses, everything was still with me…
The bus ride took about six hours and was entirely uneventful. It was actually so boring and there were so few people, I got lonely and kind of depressed just from the lack of human contact. But as soon as I’d arrived in Düsseldorf, that was fixed when I met my host, Rama.
Rama is an expat from Bangalore, living and working in Germany for the past seven years. She recently took up CouchSurfing and has dreams of traveling a lot.
Part of the challenge of CouchSurfing is that you never quite know if you and your host will click. It’s sort of a lottery; even if both of you are fun, genial, polite, or whatever, something might just be missing and you’re left with just an okay experience. This was not the case with Rama.
She immediately took it upon herself to show me around the city, take me to the Rhine, and explain as much as she could about the world’s “longest bar,” and took me for this amazing German specialty called pommes fritz (fried potatoes). They’re basically just thick-cut seasoned french fries smothered in a special mayonnaise and (curry)ketchup. It’s heaven. She took me along the Königsallee, which “is where all the rich people shop and spend their time. Everyone who walks here is very well dressed and you can just tell they have money.” About the city, it’s evidently a very good area for people looking for well-paying work.
And as we walked along the immeasurable, quick-flowing Rhine, we talked at length about heavy topics like we had been good friends in a previous life. I learned a lot about India, but I’ll save writing about it for when I actually go. Let’s just I’m in for quite a trip…
We decided on a pasta dish for dinner and went to the supermarket. I savored simply looking at the prices of everything in Germany– it’s unbelievably cheap, especially after having spent a month in a coupe of the most expensive countries in the world (and know I’d be headed to London and Dublin soon, which are themselves quite expensive). Someone had left a bag of groceries at the bus station right outside, and we weren’t sure what to do about it. I was thinking about bringing the groceries home if it was still left by the time we came out, but as we left, we saw a small boy holding the bag and looking around confusedly as he spoke on the phone with someone.
The next morning, basically everything was closed (on Sunday, supermarkets and lots of restaurants are closed in Germany. Back in the US, I thought about Aldi) so Rama treated me to pita (and showed me how to properly prepare it because I’ve been doing it wrong) with a savory, spicy, and sour sauce called sambar.
She was surprised it wasn’t too spicy for me, but I was sweating by the end of breakfast and didn’t want to make it obvious. We sat out on the deck of her apartment in the warm sunlight and for the first time in a long time, I could feel my skin actually burning from contact with the sun. Maybe twenty minutes max of being there and my face had broken out in freckles.
Around noon we met another CouchSurfer Rama knew in the area and he picked us up so we could go to the Neanderthal museum outside of town (in a weird twist of fate, he was actually a KU grad who had lived in Lawrence, KS for four years). Where the most famous Neanderthal remains were unearthed, they built a museum complete with models and panels with information, exhibits of old human tools, explanations of human evolution, and they gave us headphones to plug into the walls in various places so we could listen to more information about each section.
None of it was anything I hadn’t heard before but it was fun anyway. It was kind of funny listening to people re-enact the discovery of bones in a terrible Scotch accent (or maybe eighteenth century Virginian accent???). If you’ve ever seen Gilmore Girls, it reminded me of Taylor’s reenactment of the founding of Stars Hollow.
We enjoyed a coffee after the tour (how very European it is to just take a break for a cappuccino). There was also a hiking trail which led to the discovery site where there used to be a mountain which had been mined down to literally nothing, and now there was just a field.
Before leaving, we checked out an “Oldtimer” car show, but being gay as all hell, I don’t know anything about cars and focused instead on the paint colors. #passing
There were significantly more cars around before our museum visit and by the time we actually went to see the cars, everyone was driving away.
The three of us went back into the city to get food at the train station (I got more pommes fritz because fuck yes mayonnaise) and Rama decided on Dunkin Donuts (because fuck yes donuts). Then we spent all of ten minutes trying to figure out what ticket to get me.
“No! That’s so expensive! We can get you a cheaper one. What about this one? Oh, no, that’s the same price…”
“What about a day ticket?”
“Expensive too. What about this one?”
The three of us took up three machines at one point. I felt like a celebrity.
“I’ve found it!” The former KU student proclaimed. It was a 9€ ticket, almost half the price of the other one we’d found six or seven times.
“What if it doesn’t work and it’s the wrong one?” I asked nervously.
“It’s okay,” Rama replied, “you’re a tourist. Just say you don’t speak German.”
They saw me off right at the platform and as I left Düsseldorf knowing I wouldn’t be back for a really long time, I got really sad. Germany had been perfect. But there was a lot to look forward to, so I put on some happy music and resolved to be content.
And as luck would have it, someone actually came by to check tickets (which almost never happens in my experience). He punched everyone’s tickets quite quickly, until I handed him mine. I looked aloof like I could care less that he was checking meh ticket, until he had been staring at it for ten solid seconds and my sweat glands were starting to open up. I pulled my headphones out and looked directly at him. He finally punched the ticket.
“Sorry, this is my first time with this ticket,” he said, handing it back to me.
“No problem,” I said nonchalantly. Damn straight, I thought, and smiled.