Germany, Of First Impressions

I made it through Germany on a ‘danke’ and a shrug. And that shrug was both acceptance and indifference.

As a language of little interest to me, I made no effort to learn much German before I left, despite the fact that we would spend most of our days there, so I had to accept the fact that I could only engage as much as I could engage. I could say “please”, I could say “thank you”, and I could ask if someone spoke English. If they didn’t, we were reduced to a series of gestures and broken language between us. But you know something? Gestures and broken language work. You can find yourself in the middle of a very surprising conversation in Arles, France through gestures and broken language.

But more on that later.

As for the shrug as reaction, I was a little “eh” on Germany overall. Held up next to the other places we visited, the parts of Germany where we spent our time had lesser beauty and seemed to hold less tightly to their culture. And what did remain of that culture felt more fabricated.

The first days in Germany, which consisted of an evening in Munich and the next day driving through Alpine ski towns and standing in the shadow of one very famous castle – this one –> famous castle – I could have just been too jet-lagged to find my sense of wonder. There were moments, though. The castle, rising like a fairy tale over a near-perfect landscape. The old lady who stopped to help us find our way when our directions led us astray, and shook her head at us, telling us it was a shame we had written our directions as we had. The brat at the base of the mountain. That was pretty memorable.

(And that’s brat, not brat. The tasty sausage, not the back-talking little toe-sniffers.)

As we left Germany, though, with its practical sound walls that blocked every beautiful thing that might have been on the sides of the roads from view, and started driving through the heart-stopping beauty of the Austrian Alps, all thoughts of Germany instantly faded.

When we returned to Germany at the end of our trip, when we walked through the suburban streets outside Dusseldorf, when we drove – occasionally at hyper-speed – along its famous autobahns, even as we walked the smaller city of Osnabrück, with its lingering history and interesting details, I longed for the places we had already been.

By the end of our days in Germany, the urge to explore had dissipated to the extent that we skipped Cologne and even downtown Dusseldorf, where we were staying, and spent the last rainy day in the hotel and walking around a mall and in another hotel’s restaurant.

The places that stay with me are those that grab me at once or hold me long after we have parted. They are those places that are seen and heard and smelled and tasted and felt. There is a great deal of awe and surprise and laughter and tears and sometimes even fights in those places, because emotions run high and everything feels like more.

I was numb to Germany. I didn’t really feel anything. For me, the soul of the country seemed to be missing.

Maybe history has ripped it out.

Or, perhaps, we were just in the wrong places.

There are things I still want to see in Germany – namely Berlin and the Black Forest High Road – but the places I did see neither grabbed me nor held on. When I left, my heart came out intact.

That’s all right, though. You can’t have an unquenchable love for every place you visit, or you would want to be everywhere all the time. There are already enough places I long to be simultaneously, and I have yet to discover how to split my atoms and be in all of them at once.

There was that fountain, though, the one in Osnabrück with its depiction of the plague that gave me THAT feeling. You know that feeling, the one that crawls up your neck and lets you know you are seeing something unsurpassed in its depiction of suffering, something that will come back to haunt you some night when you least expect it.

And, of course, the pretzels.

Because all that hype about German pretzels? It’s deserved.

German pretzels for the fucking win.

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  1. You are a stupid brat! People like you will never understand europe or germany cause you are not cultured. You rant about germany with your blog, who are you to understand culture and history. You are a dumb ass brat who doesnt understand art, culture and history as you claim in your about page. Blöödy Arschloch!

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