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Aug232012

« Auf Wiedersehn, Deutschland +20 »

Some six weeks ago I wrote about the tearful departure on my first trip to Germany. This time, you get to read about the second trip, started a year and a day after the first trip concluded, and ending twenty years ago today, nearly six weeks after it started. This summer of 2012 has gone by pretty fast and in many ways has been an endless bummer, so even without my particular fondness for recalling some of these turning point experiences, I've found myself pining for what now seems like the best summer I ever had. Indulge me.

Six weeks can go by fast. And, after the emotional runup to the second trip to Germany—a period that essentially lasted the one year and one day between trips—six weeks seemed like a big ripoff. It proved to be enough though. Recall that most of my anticipatory time was spent with little on my mind but for this trip. I barely had a plan for what to do afterwards. But then all that focus was shattered by a girl. With Melissa appearing on the scene just two weeks prior to the trip, I found myself conflicted. Not about starting the trip. Not about being there. No, I'd say it was more that I had conditioned myself to not think much past August 23rd 1992, and here I was with a new girlfriend. My first girlfriend. And jeeze...that meant there was a reason to get homesick. A reason to come home. A reason to think of a future that consisted of more than taking three more classes at Mesa College and going out and wailing on the drums at odd hours in parking garages and other exotic locations. My plans sort of got spoiled with this girl stuff.

Of course, since Melissa was live and in the flesh, rather unlike the inaccessible and fickle Shelby, she at least served a functional role of being a girlfriend. She was young however and rather prone to the stuff of 16 year olds. I had no interest in the stuff of 16 year olds when I was that age, so that whole scene was not really anything of interest three years later when I was about to turn 19. However, since she did posess the body of a woman, I did take some interest. And with two weeks of a "taste test" before I left for Germany, I was of course now interested in returning to the exploratory prospects she offered. She proved something of a distraction from my great trip!

Oh, it got to be kind of an embarrassment when mail would be collected at the Rau haus in Garching. Melissa sent so much mail. One piece a day, I guess it was. Just halfway through the roadtrip, I got notice from Christoph that "[your] woman's crazy!" It was all that kind of coy, breathy, rose-hued kind of marshmallow fluff that 16 year old girls would write. Of course, it was totally welcome but I wish there was a way for it to not have reached the host mailbox. And then, you see, Steve and I hit the road for about half my time there and so the mail actually piled up for that time! I got the occasional phone notice that the pile was growing while we were gone. She may have timed some pieces such that I returned before they got to Germany. Jeeze. I wrote some stuff back to her but I can't imagine it being so prolific.

The Roadtrip


[View Ed in Germany, 1992 in a larger map.]

Steve and I did a road trip for just about two weeks. Originally my notes indicated we would have more of a crew going along, but it turned out to be he and I, which was probably as is should be. You can see the map here and if you follow from the cluster in the lower right, our trip headed westward from Garching (east of Munich) over to the French border via the towns of the Romantische Strasse (the Romantic Road, the charming and pretty well preserved Medieval towns that evoke old Germany) and then on up to Hildesheim and Celle, the northernmost point I have been to in Germany.

We mostly stayed in youth hostels while on the tour. That was an interesting thing because a lot of the hostellers were hikers, bikers, and other young itinerants from around the world who more or less arrived on foot and did larger leaps by bike or train. We arrived in Steve's dad's Mercedes Benz. Oh, it wasn't that the Raus were rich. They were comfortable, yes, but since Steve's dad Gerhard was a manager at a foundry just a few blocks from the house, he was willing to give up the car for two weeks (how cool is that?). If needed, Steve's brother Christoph was in town with the other car. Running around in the Benz of course meant I didn't get that quintessential Euro-touring experience, the Eurail trains, and the car's freedom did sort of cater to my American-ness. In some cases, at destinations along the Mosel River, there were some hostels placed in damn odd places, up the hills in old fortresses. I recall joking about that with fellow travellers and the ease of arrival thanks to the car. Hiking or biking some of those hills would have been a bear.

Other nights we camped or spent with a family friend or in the case of the few days in Hildesheim at the end of the roadtrip, Steve's aunt put us up in a gastehaus, a rather nice bed and breakfast kind of place. I think it was this one, just around the corner from his aunt's flat. In Saarlouis, close to the French border, we had a night at the house of a friend of Steve's father, who originated from that region. I don't remember our hostess but for the fact she entertained us for the day then drove us into town for the evening and gave us 100DM to spend on whatever, which must have been a bonus of about $70 of free money. Beers? Tasty dinner? Gelato? People watching? It was a steaming hot night and my notes recall it was a pretty good time before we caught a taxi back. That night was the last before it got so heavy it had to rain. For the weeks prior to that it was nearly unbearable. I remember sitting in the Benz, stopped at a parking space, just dripping while sitting still. Finally in Saarlouis, all that gave way overnight and the next day we awoke to the sweet sound of rain and a kind of permission to relax for a bit until we were ready to go.

I kept a notebook for the trip and it's actually of some use to me now, but there are plenty of Melissa distractions in there that I wish were piped down some. Not being a committed world traveller yet, I didn't have as much detail about the places I went. I wrote off a bunch of places as boring or tedious. Just recall I was there to see a good friend and to kill time. I couldn't really pretend to know or care much about the locations. Shallow American, I know. That said, while that is a failure of who I was in 1992, there is a lot of insight and understanding that even my shallow survey experience has added to my education that in the post 9/11 world has tempered my American blindness to the rest of the world.

Scattered throughout the journal book are some notes on the new food options that I tried: Greek (a little more than just a gyro sandwich from a mall food court, not to mention ouzo—an adventure for an 18 year old!), Yugoslavian, something more like authentic Italian, obviously several German dishes, including liver and onions, and a thing called leberkase (liver cheese). One night I broke off from Steve and had to suspend my Euro travels and do something familiar: eat Chinese.

Hildesheim

Hildesheim turned out to be a downer for me. Falling at the end of the roadtrip and close to the end of the six week trip, it naturally fell in that period of growing homesickness. Because it was not really a time of cafe-hopping and young person's fun times, instead spent with Steve's aunt Christina, with some family and social events (pretty completely in German, of course) during the time we were there, the fun went out of it in a big way. By that time in the tour my ankles and feet were complaining a lot. It also rained more and generally had a feeling of gloom over it all. Christina, a dentist and a socialite, did keep things happening with dinners, shopping (she bought Steve and I new dress shirts), and a day trip up to Celle a little farther north, but by this time in the tour my heart was already making its way home. This development alone startled me because of all the fervent anticipation that was building up before I landed in Germany. Melissa did her best to make me homesick, and I gather from reading my journal that Steve and I were getting a bit testy. He was probably impatient with me at points. It had that feeling that it went on about a week too long by the time we got to Hildesheim. It takes a distracted mind to do what I did then and consider all there was to see and do as "boring."

Last Days in Garching

On the 18th, we burned it on back across country from north to south in about six hours (the Benz on the autobahn was an asset here: my journal says we did some stretches at 120 miles per hour). All the sightseeing was done. No more stops but to take a piss and eat. Steve and I returned to our usual selves as we traversed the country and moved out of the area that was cloudy and gloomy. Once we were in familiar space and able to separate a bit, I retired to my domain there and read the stack of Melissa mail that had arrived while on the roadtrip. There were ten new pieces. I read all that and the ones I already had, twice through. My journal flowed with a couple pages of giddiness that today seems painful to review. We'd really only spent two weeks together and by this point, about five apart and I was dreaming of the future and looking for the great patterns of it all. Oy!

A couple days following our return were low key, amounting to time alone down near the Alz river behind their house, and making mix tapes from whatever I could gather from the Brothers Rau CD collection. (Steve had a quite cool tape deck that just seemed to mow down the stuff I had at home and those tapes are still in a box in the closet. Hearing them transports me back to this special period.) Little post trip duties like cleaning the car and tent and transitioning my pack to make ready to leave for San Diego were things that started to make the heart heavy as it was becoming apparent that the trip was indeed nearing its end.

On the 21st, just a couple days before landing in San Diego, there was one more trip out to Munich. This time it was the Brothers Rau and Steve's girl Ina who was along to see her brother in the hospital. We stopped in a huge music instrument store and Christoph bought a saxophone he'd been stalking. Steve bought a harmonica. For my part, I happened into a new line of Premier drums called Signia. It was a small jazz-fusion style kit with an 8, 10, 12, 14 set of toms that were some of the most amazing drums I'd heard to that point. I didn't realize that in just under two years, I'd end up owning a set of my own.

On the way back from Munich, we dropped Ina off at her home in Waldkraiburg. That was supposed to be the last I'd see of her. She was a lovely but timid creature who would write notes to me in English but hardly uttered a word in English. Later on that same day, the party at the church in Garching filled the evening. I doubt it was a party thrown in my honor but all the characters were there and I got a chance to see people who had brought some good times. Two girls, Simone and Pebbles (Baerbels), with whom a lot of fun was had that summer, were there. Simone had to leave a bit early but spent some time listening to tales from the trip. (I think she liked me. The pix all show her eyes set upon me in just such a way.) There was some free flowing drinks and a brewing thunderstorm that was quite the send off for this trip. Then, rather surprisingly, Ina appeared somewhat later on. Even more surprisingly, she spoke to me in English after not saying but a few words or sentences in all the number of times we'd seen each other that summer. She said that she felt the earlier farewell came up short so she got a ride over to Garching—about 16 miles—so she could say a nicer goodbye. No worries if she also planned to be with Steve too, but that was a sweet gesture. Once she did have to go, she offered a kiss too.

As the rest of the revelers were getting merry in their drink, there were fewer and fewer people to talk to. Fortunately, one fellow of about 16, Andreas, spent a couple hours from midnight till about 3 am talking about music and our novice philosophies on life. I seem to have enjoyed that talk as something of a substitute for talks that I'd hoped Steve and I would have had that summer. After Andreas left, everyone was making fools of themselves and that proved to be my recreation for the remainder of the party. I hesitate to report that the record indicates I dared do some karaoke singing once the crowd thinned. Even if it was just Dire Straits, that still makes me cringe, having some knowledge of what my vocal ability was in 1992!

The thunderstorm which was growing in intensity. I even naively tried to shoot pictures of it. While that was a silly pursuit, the thrill of waiting for the next burst of lightning was exciting. Not wanting to let the moment slip away so fast, in a lull moment, I had a chance to pull some pictures out and let my mind wander. Pictures of Melissa, Steve, and Shelby led me to wonder the ways the future would unfold, especially since now it would seem Steve would not be seen again—something that even these 20 years later has been proven true. At that time though, I was troubled by the distance that seemed to open up in the last week or so prior to this night of partying. It did feel that a period of history was closing and who knew what might come next. Eventually a very piss drunk Steve walked on home and finally at about 4:15 in the morning, Christoph and I sauntered on to the house too.

One Day Left in Germany

Saturday morning was low intensity. Eventually we all rose and got down to the church to clean up. On returning to the house, I packed up my stuff for real this time. The day had one of those quiet and reflective feelings about it. It was slower. The summer was still in force but since it was two months past solstice, the days were feeling shorter and of course the mixed feelings of impending departure and homecoming were heavy upon me. I milled around the yard. I went into the trees that lined the far reaches of the back yard. I visited the tree where I once carved EL+SD the year before. I updated it to reflect the current optimism embodied in the letters EL+MM. Christoph was playing his new sax in the back yard. Steve and I went a few streets over to where there were some horses. We took them a box of apples and fed them to the gentle beasts. The country feel of it felt welcoming and right. I was years and years from really feeling the rightness of it, but I got a glimpse of that slower pace, that more timeless world where even the technophilic Germans inhabit.

A further glimpse of that longer view on life was had while watching Steve's 90 year old grandfather Heinrich butter his bread that day. Or maybe it was that day that stuck most. I'd seen him do it over and over. A simple ritual repeated time and time again in his nine decades almost perfectly corresponding with those decades of the 20th century itself. I never got to talk to him directly, but his age suggests he might have been in World War One and of course deeply affected by the devastating Second World War. And all that rebuilding and change that followed. But I'll bet that as all that drama came and went, the task of preparing his breakfast didn't change all that much. I still think of what Steve's father Gerhard said to me about American bread: "You Americans have the best grain in the world but you make the worst bread ever!" In 2012, we Americans seek out "artisan" bread that tries to emulate the stuff Heinrich ate day in and day out for the better part of one century. We call those breads exceptional, but to the average German, bread is just a way of life. I can still see and taste the few of the endless varieties that I was able to sample while there. None of it is like the spongy and bland stuff we make here. To make it a bit more appealing, on the first trip I was shown the glorious goopy chocolate and hazelnut concoction, Nutella. A nice spread of full tilt butter and some good swipes of Nutella and even the most unusual dark grain bread was eagerly chomped up. For breakfasts, that and some of the best damned yogurt with fresh fruit mixed in, and full fat milk by the glassful was just like being in paradise. It was like that because back at home, all I knew was processed food. And, increasingly, food was more processed to remove fat and other bad stuff. But in Germany, I got a taste of real food, fat and all. It was glorious.

After dinner and some slide show of some pix Steve got, my night was real short. I got to bed close to midnight after saying all the requisite goodbyes to those who would not be seeing me off at 2:30 am. By that time in the summer, Christoph had taken a job at the foundry where his dad was a manager. (He had 3rd shift, starting at 10 pm, something that suited the insanely hot work around molten metal. Work like that was more a matter of financial independence and being responsible. He's since gone on to be a neurologist.) We left the house at 3:30 so we could get to the airport in Erding (northeast of Munich) by 5 am. This trip wound down in some ways like the first one. That is to say that the silence accompanied both of us all the way to Munich. But in some ways, this trip was far harder because there was really no idea of when we'd see each other again. It all seemed that maybe the trip had given us a week too much of each other. I had no visions for working at a place like Subway again so I could come back. This was it. If I was to travel, I'd probably want to see a different place for the simple reason that there are so many other places to see. It might be that we anticipated he'd come over to the USA for a trip eventually, but even these two decades later, that's not brought us together, even though he travels for work.

This send off at the Munich International Airport was brief and sorrowful, but for different reasons than the year before. This time words just failed us. Maybe silence would have been better than the poor attempts to cap the experience. "That's it." "Thanks." "Have a good life." "Keep in touch." "I can't come back next year." It led me to write thoughts on the plane trip back, thoughts that indicate some sense of a future I barely knew could exist when I was building up all that anticipation for the year prior. It seemed to me as I flew over the UK and the north Atlantic that Germany had filled the role it was to fill for me and that it was safe to move on, safe to get into whatever relationship would happen with Melissa. Even Shelby's departure for Alaska was something that made way for that.

The Return to San Diego

The fact was that as the sun was coming up in Germany on that Sunday morning of the 23rd, it was beginning the last day of summer for me before I'd have the cold water of a new school semester thrown upon my face. The very next day I was to sit in class, probably at 10 am. In fact, even that first day for me was everyone else's third day of class. I somehow got some pass to skip out since my trip was planned back in April and the semester dates weren't known. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There was still one day to live. Most of it was going to be a travel day, but back at home there would at least be one special someone for me to see, and it looked like we'd get a couple hours to be together.

Eleven hours on a plane or two finally got me to LAX where I passed through customs without a hitch. There was some cause to worry about that because I was carrying three bottles of wine in a cardboard poster tube. I wasn't sure if that would draw attention and get this 18 year old in trouble. But nothing happened. Then, upon leaving the giant LAX airport with my old man, the first stop was just outside the complex at a Subway. Okay, I got trained on eating good German food, but I missed Subway. Despite all the drama at the store where I once worked, I was still of the mind that I ate better there than at any other place and better still than at home where my old man could be called on to make stuff that curled my lip and wrinkled my brow. I greedily gobbled down whatever sandwich I got there. And then we burned it on home to San Diego. At least it was a Sunday afternoon.

When I got home around 6 pm, I checked the mail, showered, and scrambled out fast so I could go see Melissa at her aunt and cousin's apartment just about a block from where I used to work at Subway. I went to get my bike from the shed and in my haste, I inadvertently knocked over a hopper of sand for sandblasting. I raced on over to the apartment on the bike, and must have been a blur as I carried that bike up to the third floor apartment. I locked up the bike out of view, peered in and sized up that I could make my bold entrance in one swift move. Striking a tough guy's rugged voice, I waltzed right in saying, "Hey, do I have to knock or can I just barge right in???" In no time, Melissa was off the couch! A few minutes later when we peeled ourselves apart, she started to shower me with little artifacts of devotion during that prolonged absence, et cetera, et cetera. Just recall that I had been gone almost six of the not quite eight weeks we'd been going together.

We walked on over to the local park and playground and found a place where we sucked face for a couple hours to make up for lost time. Around 9 pm we headed back toward the apartment but ended up at the Mickey D's across the street (and just across the lot from my old Subway, where I was officially on restraining order until May of the next year). I saw that buddy Matt was over at Subway so I sent Melissa over to give him the news that I was back. He came over and gave me a few minutes' greeting and rather surprised me by his being sort of not himself. That is, where did the rather crude and impetuous Matt go? This was a Matt who seemed to have missed me some. After he left, I dared walk by Subway on the way to the Baskin Robbins for a bit of a treat. Then it started to sink in how tired I was. I'd been up for 30 hours by that point. I woke up at 2:30 in Germany, which was like being up at 6 pm on Saturday night in San Diego. And prior to that I had only about two or three hours' sleep anyway. It added up to most of 50 hours if I was to consider Saturday in Germany. I was ready to drop. Melissa and I went back to her aunt's place where I collected my new collection of knickknacks and after a shorter than usual farewell, I made my way home on the bike. It was quite a day.

The Day After

I got to bed maybe around 11 and at 6 am the next morning I had to get up and take the rental car back to the Enterprise yard by 9. (The old man would ordinarily have a truck or motorcycle to choose from.) But before that I fixed up my room a bit and blasted some music that I'd brought back home, and some mix tapes that Melissa gave me. I don't know how many nights she had to sit by the radio, listening to the soft rock station KYXY, to capture those songs to a couple 90 minute tapes, but she did. (Even to this day, some of those crude starts and stops are so imprinted in my memory that hearing the songs played as complete recordings or with different DJ talk still sounds odd to me. I still have a soft spot for Chicago's You Come To My Senses for blasting out of the speakers that morning with punch and clarity. Okay... I digress.) I drove the car over to the yard and was nearly late to school. I recall racing that thing around like crazy, even though it was an automatic. Part of it was still a bit of adrenaline about being home, but really, I think I was just trying to emulate the style of driving I experienced in Germany. While there, I had a few minutes re-learning how to drive stick and must have picked up a "wait to brake" idea. I recall driving like a madman as I returned that car.

While at school, I found I was dropped from one class already and could not get one or two others, and then settled on a couple that I was able to get. There wasn't much to school that day except maybe that as I went to the restroom I took off my clip on sunglasses that I got earlier in the year and had worn all around Germany. I set them down on the porcelain and then walked off and left them there. Upon returning, I could not find them. Dang. I could get all around a foreign country with them but then I lose them in my hometown!

I rode off to get lunch at Subway on the way home from school. Stopped to buy some singles of hitherto unheard Def Leppard tunes and filled out an application at that same music store. I hadn't worked since mid April, so the funds were feeling low and the morale was still at a place of acceptability. That wore away as the months went on and I got more and more depressed as winter set in. As it happened, it took until December 18 before I got a job at Jack in the Box. Interestingly, that was the ticket out of a mounting crisis of depression that only earlier that day was being discussed over breakfast with Jerry and Judy, my pastor and associate pastor/youth leader at church—a place I had not really gone to in about a year. As for the rest of the first whole day back, my grandmother came over and helped me to run some errands in the car, and I told her all about the trip. Shelby called from her dad's place in Hayward, CA and we reconnected after the two months since we saw each other.

Life was just about to start all over. School. Job search. Playing drums and creating the basis of rudimentary songs with Matt. A new girlfriend who was new and yet not new at once. We'd been "together" for almost two months. I was planning to take her out to dinner later in the week when we'd mark our two month anniversary. But it was more like our three week aniversary. (I anticipated maybe one bottle of wine would go to that, but that idea was soundly trounced early on by parental pressure. So I donated one bottle to her parents.) 

Germany was in my rearview mirror now. Auf wiedersehn, Deutschland.

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