I´m nervous as the engines of the Boeing A346 howl louder and louder and as the plane accelerates on the runway. Soon the machine is fast enough and the wheels lose contact with the earth. My stomach tingles as I look out the window and the familiar ground becomes smaller and smaller until clouds eventually obscure the view. I have no fear of flying, it is rather the nervousness of what comes next. Eleven hours is the flight time between Quito and Madrid. About 8700 km. How small the earth is, viewed from the plane. For a similar distance on the bike I would need months. Like the eight months for the route from Germany to India. It all started with that idea. Never in my life would I have thought that it would become six and a half years. And that’s why I’m nervous. What´s going to await me in Germany after such a long time? Shouldn´t I have gone back much earlier? What happened to my friends, who eventually stopped asking when I would come back? Who have finally stopped asking and communicating at all. How will my parents react? After all, I saw them briefly three years ago. And how will I react and also interact with that world I ran away from six years ago?
The eleven hours unfortunately don´t pass by like flying. The roar of the engines and the uncomfortable sitting position unfortunatly prevent me from falling asleep. I zap through the film program and try to find pleasure in the served strange airplane meals until finally the plane touch solid ground again. Madrid airport. They speak a funny spanish here. Automatic passport control. A look into the camera, a photo for safety. I’m allowed to come in. Welcome to Europe! Of course no one says that neither it´s written somewhere, it´s just the voice in my head.
Connecting flight to Dusseldorf, my brother picks me up. I´m completely tired, it feels like I´m in a movie. “Auf Gleis drei, Vorsicht bei der Einfahrt”! the speaker rattles. Regional express of the Deutsche Bahn, German railway, here nothing has changed. “Zugestiegene, die Fahrscheine bitte!” How many times have I heard these sentences in my life. But it’s been so long, it seems like a dream. Anyway, all those tall people here. Blue eyes and blond hair are not uncommon at all. And everybody speaks German. I can suddenly understand everything. The girl who is on the phone. The two gentlemen talking. From all directions sentences, conversations and fragments of words fly into my ears. To not to listen isn´t possible anymore, I can´t just ignore it. Oh, I remember, I can speak german as well.
Back at home – or maybe not?
Two days later I´m with my parents. Actually, everything feels totally normal to have dinner in the kitchen where I have spent many, many evenings of my life. On the outside, not much has changed. But I have changed. A lot. My experiences and developments of the recent years give me a different perspective on things: All the different food on the table. Grain bread or white bread? Toasted or untoasted? Or would you prefer pumpernickel? How about crispbread? Ten different things that you can put on it. Gouda or Eddamer? Cream cheese? Salami or Leberwurst? Or maybe vegan spread? The jams are reserved for breakfast. I’ll start with the salad. Or rather saure gürkchen?
The variety of food in the pantry, the dishwasher, kettle, blender and fridge, hot water and light at the touch of a button, everything that used to be natural and normal for me, now seems like luxury. This standard of living is very different from the one I have lived in recent years. Instead of appreciating these things more, first it doesn´t feel so good for me to live like this again. Because today I know what a privilege it is to live in such abundance, and I also know that this prosperity is no coincidence: On the global scale we are the winners, we have everything that others only dream of, we can afford everything and actually don´t have to worry. But of course there is also the loser side – those people who are not allowed to participate in the wealth, who get exploited and at whose expense we live in Europe. And then, of course, the planet, Mother Earth, which we ruthlessly and rapidly destroy just so we can maintain our lifestyles. Of course this is nothing new for me. But back in Germany, I´am once again very aware of this and it is bothering me.
It is also a journey to my origins, to my roots. You have to be gone first to see where you actually come from.
It’s Christmas. How great does it feel to see my siblings, to meet my niece Amaia. We are sitting around the Christmas tree with presents underneath. For me too. I didn´t wish for anything. I don´t really need anything. And shouldn´t the tree better have grown outside? How many christmas trees are there in Germany every year? Such a waste.
I have my own room. That’s amazing! I close the door and can have my solitude, my own space. Turn off the heating, it’s too hot. Here I try to process what is happening. Culture shock the other way round. How can people live so unconsciously here? Even my own family? Don´t they understand anything? Or do I understand nothing? These reproachful thoughts, the weltschmerz in me, I fall into a negative hole. I feel like nobody can understand me. My experiences and inputs are so different from the life experiences of the people here, even if I could express it in words, they would not understand me.
Other long-term travelers might get me better, because they have undergone the same. Heike Pirngruber writes me: “It’s getting better – but it takes time!” Alexandros has the following advice for me: “Stay away from everything that has a negative affect my friend. focus on your life, on your way and go ahead – do not look back, not left and right.”
I meet some friends from before. I was looking forward to be surrounded by people I have known since my youth or even longer, and who has known me for so long. Such intimate and deep relationships are not so common when traveling. It is also great to see how people evolve, because you always change, regardless of whether you are traveling or staying in Germany most of the time. The most obvious changes are probably all the babys who determine the life of many of my friends now.
Slowly I escape this negative mood and feel ready to discover Germany. My friends are spread all over the country and it takes a lot of planning to get everything sorted out. I’m relatively flexible, but my friends are stuck in a normal life with full-time jobs and babies, so I can´t just stop by spontaneously. They all have fancy apartments with nice furnitures, the times of small shared rooms in dirty student flat shares are over, the demands and also the financial possibilities have increased. Everywhere I´m welcomed and I´m glad to be brought up to date. Many people know about my life through my blog, but I hardly know anything about my friends.
I find myself in conversations about topics that I havn´t even had in mind once in recent years. Rental prices, taxes, bureaucracy, parking situations, vacation entitlement, Bausparverträge, german politics, cloth diapers, baby food, Kitaplatzanspruch, inheritances and cemetery using fees.
But it can also be about sustainability, meat consumption, freedom, happiness, lifestyles, travel, fear, feelings, democracy, god and cycling. These experienes and exchanges are quite important for me.
But even though I come from this world, I feel strange here. I can´t imagine such a life anymore. Clearly I see the good sides, the conveniences, the comfort which it brings. But the price is too high for me. Spending so much of my precious lifetime for a job. gives you little time for the important things in life. I’m not (yet) ready for those compromises, as many of my friends are. And a compromise it is always, sometimes smaller sometimes bigger, only very few really find fulfillment in their job.
People like to talk about what they own or what they want to buy, but don´t like to talk about what they earn. Especially those who earn better seem to feel bad about it. Maybe because they with see how little I get along? And how happy I´m with it? I don´t want to blame anyone or that somebody feels mad about me, but I believe it happens from time to time. For some, I feel like a mirror.
I notice that it’s always about a German perspective. To the situation in Germany, the politics in Germany, about the Germans. Me, since I no longer see myself first as a German but as a human, that seems strange. Having a global view of things, a global perspective of looking at humanity as a whole, is not at all as abstract to me as it is to someone who has lived in Germany most of the time. But having a global perspective also means recognizing some awkward truths, which means the lifestyle and responsibility of each individual for the state of the world. Whereby we would be back at the beginning, welcome negativity, hello weltschmerz!
It is much more about developing a positive vision. Not just for each individual, or just us as Germans, but for all people. That this is not so easy when you are in such a life, which seems to be dictated by the society and life experiences in Germany, that I now understand more. And also that in such an elbow-ego culture, the sense for the essential is lost. Who has the time (or even sees the need) to pause and ask, “What am I doing here anyway? And why?“
And I also understand that it often seems like you can´t change anything. Or as if it wouldn´t make sense anyway. But that’s all just a question of perspective.
I realize what influence I could have in Germany. Not by going the normal way, but to be different, to live differently. To be actively involved in the transformation of society and humanity. Because this transformation is urgently needed for a better life for all and in terms of climate change even for the preservation of the earth for future generations. As a traveler, however, who is always limited in time, these possibilities are limited.
Anecdotes from Germany
The german winter really sucks. Gray, cold and wet it comes along. Sometimes you don´t see the sun for days, the nights are long and dark. Life takes place inside, and me too don´t feel like going outside and prefer to hide behind double-glazed windows and in heated rooms. There are a few nice days: a thick white blanket of snow, which covers the gray concrete of the cities, combined with a bright blue sky and crisp fresh air, such a winter I like! Or the sunny days in late February, when the thermometer reaches almost 20! degree! Thank you climate change!
I travel by train through the Ruhrpot. 10.71 Euros for a ride from Wuppertal to Cologne. I try to enjoy the sight of the power plants and factories. Chimneys, cooling towers, warehouses. Then the cities. Huge buildings of stone, steel and concrete. Glass decorated skyscrapers, the streets clean and tidy. The garbage is invisible in Germany. In the bin – out of mind. Small islands of green, the parks in the cities, pervaded by the eternal background noise of traffic. Nature still exists, even in the Ruhrgebiet. But most of it is agricultural land. Green meadows and brown fields. Or forests, all used for wood production. There are hardly any old and thick trees. Real wilderness? Nowhere! Felt victim to our hunger for growth and consumption. After all, the train is running on Ökostrom, green electricity.
My first time in a German supermarket: The fruit and vegetable selection is impressive. How much of it is growing here? The number of other products overwhelmed me. That’s crazy. Who really needs that? The low prices are also frightening. How can it be produced so cheaply? It means someone else does pay for it. After all, organic food is now even available at discount stores, and entire organic supermarkets are everywhere in the big cities. But I would rather buy sprayed apples from Germany than organic bananas from Costa Rica. CO2 footprint, virtual water, production conditions – organic is not everything.
Cologne: As always the Kölner Dom, the cathedral, towers high into the sky as I step out of the central station. Everything as before. But that so many people are on bikes in winter, that is something new. Slowly, the infrastructure also seems to be developed. Even if car-free inner cities or big bike highways across the city still remain dreams, there are bike shops on every corner. The number of high-quality bicycles seems to be increased and thus the thickness of the locks. Also, that employers pay for company bikess and that there are subsidies for cargo bikes is a new development.
People are friendly, even in Germany. You just have to ask and someone helps you. Exception is a service employee of the Deutsche Bahn in Hamburg, which grants me only reluctantly to take another train the next morning, because my night train was cancelled. She would much rather send me to Freiburg tonight, but not with a continuous connection as planned, but with two longer stays in Cologne and Frankfurt. No, thanks! Then she insists that I travel at least to Frankfurt, stay there in a hotel and continue the next day from there to Freiburg. I would much rather spend the night in Hamburg and see another friend. And then take the six-hour ICE on the next morning. I insist on it friendly but the woman gets really angry. Finally she hands me out a paper so that I can use any train I like. See, why not like that!
The next morning, the conductor in the ICE tells me that I would get back 50 percent of the ticket price. Nice, there was no such thing in the past.
S-Bahn station Hamburg Altona, 7 o’clock in the morning:
Half asleeep I stumble to the metro. I have to go to the main station. It is just dawning, I was rarely awake so early in Germany. People are moving directly through the station, looking straight ahead. On the platform they keep as much distance as possible and pay attention to nobody. They stare at the huge billboards as if there’s nothing else to see. It’s better not to look at other people, and you certainly do not smile. That would be strange. When the train arrives, you get in and pull out your phone. There is no eye contact. Good that I only have to go three stations with this zombie train.
Track 12, ICE to Freiburg. When crossing the station I am asked by three people for money. Sure, there is poverty here as well. Even in the inner cities I notice the large number of beggars. Was that already the case in the past?
You can be sure in Germany that the cars stop as soon as you enter a zebra crossing, even if you are still a few steps away, the motorists already hold. But you can also be sure that no one crosses the street at a red traffic light, even if there is no car nearby.
Freiburg im Breisgau: I visit friends from my journey. Celine and Sam with little Layla live in Breisach. Finally good weather. We walk in the vineyards. A few degrees warmer than in the rest of Germany. Here you can bear it. On the other side of the Rhine is France.
Weil am Rhein: Next night, next baby. Karlotta. Switzerland is around the corner, you can even walk there. Just through a park and over a bridge and you’re in Basel. No border controls, nothing. Thansk to the EU, whose walls, fences and border guards at the outer borders allow us this freedom of travel at the inside.
Dusseldorf, Rosenmontag: Too early for the Karnevalsjecken I am on the way to the airport. Nervous I’m not so much this time, but rather tired. The last few days were stressful, there were various things to do and say goodbye to friends. No time for sleeping. Maybe this time that works better in the plane.
For this time it was only a visit to Germany. Luckily! But I’m already thinking about how I could imagine a life in Germany. When I left six years ago, I assumed I never want to live in Germany. Now thats changing. It’s just a kind of home, your own culture, your mother tongue and all the privileges who comes with it. Anyway, life is always a compromise. But next time I come for the summer. That’s for sure!