i arrived in bremen, germany at 5:30am with a start. i hadn’t been able to sleep for most of the overnight trip on the bus, so i elected to furiously write as much as I could throughout the night. but eventually exhaustion caught up with me and i was able to collect a couple hours of slumber during the back end of the ride. when i exited the bus, the streets were empty, and the only inhabitants were small, roaming groups of drunk teenagers stumbling their way back to the train stations after their debaucherous night at the clubs. i quickly located the train station, or “hauptbanhof,” and boarded a train.
as my connection pulled into oldenburg, i began searching for the mcdonald’s I was supposed to be meeting my friend daniela at (sarcasm aside, meeting at mcdonald’s is actually pretty practical. you can always find that golden arch when you need to). in my sleep-deprived morning blindness, I somehow walked right by the mcdonald’s and out onto the street. daniela’s directions had been perfect up until now regarding the bus and the train connections, so after walking around for 10 minutes before figuring out that it was indeed my error, i was now worried that daniela had gotten tired of waiting for me and returned home. the obnoxiously drunk students wandering aimlessly around the station weren’t helping my growing anxiety either. eventually however, daniela turned up and found me. she’d had a late night with her friends as well (it apparently was a holiday in Germany that granted most people a free friday), so she was a little late. i didn’t care at all, i was just happy to see her.
daniela and i went to school together at john brown university for our undergraduate degrees long ago, and she was always a joy to spend time with. daniela was an international scholarship student from panama who had earned a generous scholarship and decided to study in arkansas, of all places. her english hadn’t been great when she arrived in the US, so not only was she faced with the adversity of studying abroad, she also had to learn the language while she learned the subject matter. nevertheless, daniela’s magnetic personality wouldn’t let that get the best of her, as she had no problem making friends at a modest place like jbu. daniela stands a commanding 5’2” (at most) and is an infectious ball of comical energy. she has dark features and deep brown eyes that many a helpless man have gotten lost in, and when she speaks she has that intoxicating latin american rhythm to her speech that just draws you in and reminds you how fun life can be. when she finished school in the US, she returned home to panama for a couple years and then took an opportunity to go work and study further in the northern german town of oldenburg. She’s been there for the last 3 years.
daniela had graciously allowed me to set up camp in her guest bedroom. she lives in a modest 4 bedroom house with 2 other roommates, 1 of whom i got to meet whose name is nikky.
having both been up late all night, daniela and i agreed it would be best to catch up on a little sleep before we headed to a friend’s birthday party that she had invited me to. i retreated to my guest bedroom and disappeared from consciousness for a few hours. when I awoke we made way to the party on bicycle.
after getting briefly lost on barely lit streets, we eventually found the place, and the party was lively. There was about 30 people in attendance and a mountain of german beer to consume, along with 2 tables loaded potluck-style with german food. wasting no time, i grabbed one of everything so i could sample all these new flavors. i also swiped a beer and sat down somewhat nervously, aware that i was sticking out a little bit and no one knew me.
as daniela made her rounds and exchanged pleasantries with her colleagues and friends, a guy named jan eventually rescued me from my exhile. he introduced himself and we quickly got to talking about all the usual subjects that come up with travelers, your differences in this, similarities in that, etc. jan was a funny guy, i really enjoyed talking with him, and apparently other people did too, because it was only a matter of time until half of the party had gathered around, some participating in conversation, but mostly just listening and laughing at the ridiculousness of the comical back-and-forth between jan and i. I’m sure the beck’s beers we were eliminating probably added to care-free manner with which we were exchanging stories, so thanks to germany’s finest for that.
eventually the beer ran out and the clock ran late, causing the party to dwindle. we returned home. the next morning daniela and i changed our plans to travel to hamburg, and elected for a quiet day in, allowing me to catch up on some photo-editing and laundry. that afternoon I met daniela’s roommate, nikky. nikky towers over people at around 6’4” (at 5’9” all i can do is guess how tall mountains are) and wears thicker glasses that give him a very intelligent look, and this look is deserved, as nikky is definitely very intelligent. he studied linguistics for his undergraduate degree and is now in a postgraduate program and working as a professor at the university in oldenburg. nikky has a very meticulous nature about him, and he commits himself completely to whatever it is that he is learning or doing, relentless in his task until he achieves a perfect result (something I’ve begun to notice about the germans in general. They don’t half-ass anything. it’s pretty inspiring, actually).
i found nikky to be profoundly interesting. very well educated and well informed, i could tell that he didn’t arrive at opinions without thoroughly researching things to make sure he had all the facts, ensuring that he could make balanced, logical decisions. we talked for hours before eventually we discovered a mutual love for music. but not just in listening. also in creating.
nikky had previously been the guitarist in a band, and he enthusiastically shared some of the tracks that they had recorded. the audio quality was outstanding and the songwriting clever, i really enjoyed it. it was only a matter of time before i was sharing some of my old recordings, and before long we had grabbed a couple of his guitars and turned the living room in to a practice studio. we played for a couple hours, figuring out how to play a couple old weezer tunes and some coldplay throwbacks and then performed them for daniela when she wandered downstairs to hear where the noise was coming from. even threw a little tom petty in the mix before improvising and making up a couple of our own blues jams. It was so fun, and nicky was a surgeon on his guitar. any time i gave him the nod to take a turn at improvisation his fingers would fly into an incendiary flurry of musical activity. fitting with his personality, he was almost perfect, never missing a note and always knowing just how long to go before throwing it back over to me. I was playing a 12-string guitar of nikky’s that hadn’t been getting much use lately, so needless to say my lead improv attempts were somewhat limited by the burden of having twice as many strings to manage, so I typically focused on rhythm and vocals. it didn’t sound particularly amazing, but it was a blast.
eventually we got hungry and started preparing our feast for the evening. we bought steaks, vegetables, bread (always bread with germans. Never take their bread, lest they start a revolution) and wine. nikky handled the steaks, electing to slow cook them over the stove, while daniela and i handled the chopping and cutting of the vegetables and salad and bread. When the food was ready, we ate like royalty.
at the end of the evening we retired well-fed and well entertained by a quiet day in oldenburg, germany.
the next day was a quick one, daniela and i boarded an afternoon train bound for hamburg. during the train ride we caught up on life, what we’d both been doing the last 8 years since we’d last seen each other, we talked about the future, what she plans to do long term, if she’d be staying in Germany, etc. she tried to teach me some german, which I hilariously could not get a grip on for the life of me. it’s not an easy language.
eventually we got to hamburg, but it was already getting dark and it was a sunday night, so there wasn’t really much going on. one problem i had realized with our friendship is that we both like to sleep in, so all 3 days i had spent with daniela had gotten extremely late starts because neither of us was in a rush to get up at any point. and if someone lets me sleep… I’ll sleep. and sleep. and sleep.
anyway, we wandered the streets, searching for the neighborhood where the beatles cut their teeth before they changed the world with their well-honed signature sound. we poked our heads into a couple bars but were disappointed to find them basically empty. nevertheless, it was a fun city to walk around in, and one that is also well known for having rather loose laws as it relates to vices. we walked by the sex shops and strip clubs, snickering at the creepy old men who would linger by the front doors, then glance around furtively to make sure no one familiar was watching, and then dart inside, in search of something unholy and carnal. eventually we found an old pub with a female bartender and a security guy who were laughing loudly, careless that there was absolutely no one in their bar. we decided to be keep them some company.
after a couple rounds, the bartender sent a couple more drinks our way, courtesy of the bar. people started to filter in and then a local acoustic act set up shop in the corner and began playing music for the small crowd that had gathered. It was decent music, but the volume was way too loud, so eventually we left. it had gotten late, and i was headed to berlin the next morning. time to go.
i thanked daniela for the hospitality and the fun, it had been a truly enjoyable weekend, and she had helped set the foundation for what would prove to be a very fun time in germany
this episode’s music selection is a little different. i had mentioned in the beginning of this blog that i would be getting back in touch with my creative side, and i didn’t just mean writing prose. before i left on this journey, i had a sudden surge of inspiration and started writing some music again for the first time in 5 years. i then did my best to record as much as i could before i left for iceland. the following is a rough recording i put together using my own instruments and cheap recording equipment at home over the course of about a week. it is far from professional, but very personal, so i want to share it with anyone whom is following me on this journey these past few months. feel free to offer feedback if you choose or pass along to others if you enjoy it or think someone else might enjoy the message. or if they just like a good song with harmonica in it…