I left Steinbach, Germany with ashes blowing in my face. There were the ashes of the past and what used to be, and there were the literal ashes from the cigarettes Sebastian and his girlfriend were smoking in the front seat as we careened down the autobahn toward Frankfurt at 120 mph. When you are travelling at such a speed, there isn’t much time to waste. Every time I was a passenger, I did my best thinking, not knowing if I would walk away alive. I have to say, I don’t like moving through the world that quickly. I would rather walk at a pace slow enough to notice the details. But, oddly enough, I worked through a lot of emotional details in my heart while sitting in the backseat on the autobahn.
Little white flakes floated on the wind to cling to my dark hair. I guess that’s what happens when you light a spark and let it burn. One way or another, you are left with the ashes, the memories. At the train station, we said goodbye and I shook out my hair. I glanced at my feet. Two white sneakers poking out from beneath my denim jeans, a big ‘N’ scrawled on the side of each shoe. My “Now shoes,” I thought to myself with a smile. Time to be here now and let go of the past.
In the days before, we went to one of the oldest cities in Germany that survived the war, Bamberg. We also went to a local county fair in Bavaria where everyone stood on the tables to dance and clap in unison to folk songs. There were teenagers in red converse shoes and the traditional Bavarian dress with the poofy sleeves and lace-up bodice. The young men wore leather trousers with suspenders. I tasted currywurst and local wine. we brought two of Sebastian’s friends home with us to extend the party into the early morning.
Driving home, I felt like my brain might explode. Blaring German punk music throbbed in my ears, while Sebastian drummed with his drumsticks on the front dashboard. We were zooming around curves with deathly cliff drops below at a speed i couldn’t decipher. The cigarette smoke soaked into my clothes and my hair. Matthias in the backseat kept trying to ask me questions, yelling over the music. The German and English language began to blur together into a confusing babble i couldnt understand. We had been going hard non-stop for days: hiking, exploring, driving, drinking, sight seeing. I was so exhausted, my eyelids felt like they were made of lead. At one point, i lost my cool. Sebastian kept asking me if i remembered historical facts and names of places and music artists we had discussed in the previous days, and i was so overstimulated and exhausted, i told him to stop asking me to remember things. I have a hard enough time remembering English names and facts, let alone names in another language i have never spoken. That’s when i realized, i was experiencing the side effects of culture shock. It was impossible to understand the conversation Sebastian and his friends were having. I couldnt communicate when i wanted to, unless the other person spoke English. There were other nuances and cultural differences I couldn’t fully grasp. Often, I didn’t know what we were doing. We would just pile into the car and I would surrender to trust, watching what everyone else did when we stopped somewhere. For example, are we stopping to grab something at someone’s house, or should I bring my bag in if we are staying? These misunderstandings happened constantly and I had to have a sense of humor to keep up a positive attitude.
On my last evening, we hopped a fence to cross a bridge over a wide section of river. It was closed for construction, but I followed the others, even though I knew it was a bad idea. Thankfully, they decided they didn’t want to have a “dead American tourist on their hands” and we turned back.
After Steinbach, I took a train to Berlin, where I fell in love with the world all over again. My next post will be about all I experienced there.