I’ve got three minutes to find my train platform. The itineraries I was given when I bought my replacement ticket don’t match, so I have to pick one and hope. My backpack bounces against my spine as I dash for platform 4, taking the stairs two at a time. When I see the sign for Strasbourg with no accompanying train, I feel my stomach drop. It’s not possible I’ve done this twice in one day? The train was supposed to leave at 14:00, and its 14:02. I’m in a town I’ve never heard of somewhere in Germany and I spent the last of my money on a ticket for a train I can’t find. I guess it’s not a real European adventure until your stranded in a train station with nothing but a backpack and a passport.
The trip out of Paris was far less eventful. I arrived in the bustling Stuttgart train station on Friday morning and marvelled at the difference a few hundred miles makes. The fluidity of the French language is replaced by heavy German. My black boots didn’t seem out-of-place this morning in Paris, but now they seem at odds with the casual dress (not to mention my backpack). It’s only a few minutes before I see a familiar pair of Aqua blue eyes. J-Mo and I greet each other in the hugging-high pitched way girls tend to greet one another after a long separation.
Though originally from the Midwest, J-Mo has moved to Germany to be with her long-time boyfriend. They live together in his hometown Ellwagen, an hour train ride outside of Stuttgart. Its been two months since her move and I am the first friend to visit.
We walk around Stuttgart and chat about the old days in college. I recall with fondness how we used to get ready together on Friday nights, build forts in her living room during snow days and spent one entire Sunday watching a marathon of Hoarders. Old jokes come back and we are both glad to see someone from home. It’s marvelous to have the experience of picking up and old friendship as if no time has gone by.
We have a low-key Friday. Shopping in Stuttgart, a quick tour of Ellwagen. We visit Tobi’s family farm, home to 700 cows, several cats, and a Schnaps brewery in the basement. Tobi’s friends and family greet me with wide inviting smiles, and even lend me a Dirndl to wear to the festival on Saturday. The three of us cook a delicious dinner before walking into town for a Radler (lager beer mixed with sprite, very popular in Germany).
Being in the company of such happy couple fills me with joy and optimism. It is daunting to move to another country and learn a new language, but when I see how Tobi’s family has embraced J-Mo I understand why she made the move. It is abundantly clear how deeply he cares for her and wants her to be happy. Tobi also takes great care to make sure I am comfortable and welcome in his home town. His slap stick humor is at odds with his dry German accent, so his jokes often catch me off guard making them that much funnier. Tobi is the kind of guy who not only makes a great partner for your girlfriend, but also gives you hope that someone as wonderful could be out there for you. (Also in this category Zach, Sean, Craig, Ben and Luke!)
On Saturday morning I can barely contain my excitement. I have an excuse to do two of my favorite things; wear a costume and drink lots of beer. As we dress, J-Mo assures me that my Dirndl is not too low-cut. I’ll admit some feminine smoke and mirrors were used to enhance my charms, but I was pleased with the end result. She insists that ALL the women in Dirndls wear them in this bawdy fashion. I hear a voice in my head ask “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” On this particular Saturday morning I think to myself “Depends, would I get to wear an awesome Dirndl that makes my boobs look huge? Then yes.”
The festival we are attending is called Volksfest and takes places in Stuttgart. J-Mo and I want to get the full experience, so we decide to take an early train. Tobi warns us that we would be on the same train as those attending the soccer match, and being American we had NO IDEA how much that would matter. It wasn’t until we were standing on the platform and heard the roar of the soccer fans as they approached that we started to understand. Strutting around the corner are a dozen or so young men. They are wearing soccer jerseys and Lederhosen, and carrying about sixty beers on cardboard flats. They are shouting a cheer in German as they greet Tobi and Jamie. One of them is introduced to me and asks “Have you seen the movie Beerfest? This is a documentary about Germany.” He is joking, but as I eye the beer and lederhosen, I think it may be closer to the truth than I thought.
The train from Ellwagen to Stuttgart is about 1:25 minutes. Please don’t think I am exaggerating when I say these guys cheered the entire time. When they ran out of cheers they started singing BackStreetBoy Songs. The other passengers joined in occasionally. We stomped our feet and clapped our hands and shouted back in broken German. Click to my instagram if you’d like to see some video from what I will always remember as the most fun train ride of my entire life. By the time we arrive in Stuttgart Jamie and I are two beers in, and positively giddy.
Volksfest is something of a cross between Great America and Milwaukee Irish Fest. There are roller coasters, games, festival food and music. The majority of people present are in either Dirndls or Lederhosen. I am amazed that the two story wooden tents and rides are only temporary. We pass the afternoon in one of the tents sipping beer from massive steins, eating pretzels and enjoying the live music. Before we find a seat we pass through rows of long tables and benches. We make for a small opening where it seems we’ll be able to get a seat but stop when we see why no one is standing there- fresh red blood is splattered over the table, bench and floor. I don’t know if someone fell or there was a fight but we avoided it anyway.
In the evening we join our friends in the beer garden where Tobi cleverly manages to snag us a table. We spend the time chatting with strangers, drinking raddlers and enjoying the atmosphere. The sun sets and we make our way back to Ellwagen. After a full day and a long train ride, we stop at the hotel for a meal. No one bats an eye at our apparel, its not out of the ordinary for them. For the first time in my life I eat Schnitzel, which to my delight is both delicious and satisfying.
On Sunday morning Tobi goes to work for a few hours at the farm, while Jamie and I see the sights in town and enjoy each others company. We visit the Ellwagen Basilica and Castle (See instagram for photos!). J-Mo tells me she is still not used to the German “drop in” as we arrive unannounced at Tobi’s friend’s home. To my surprise we find the house full of Sunday callers. Again, I am touched by how warmly Jamie is accepted by everyone. She is far from home, but she is well-loved. What more could you want for a friend?
In the afternoon the three of us drive to neighboring Bavaria to see a town called Dinkelsbühl. It was spared from bombing during WWII and retains its quaint charm and beauty. We eat at a pub where weather old German men gather to solve the worlds problems over Pils every Sunday. I enjoy listening to them argue though I don’t understand the words. Strolling around the perimeter of the town, my head is full of stories. I imagine the people who have walked this path, what their lives were like, who they loved? What would it be like to come across someone in these woods from 100 years ago? What would they think of us?
That night J-Mo and I, exhausted from the weekends activities, indulge in one of our favorite guilty pleasures. Bad reality TV. Let me tell you, you haven’t watched “I Wanna Marry Harry” until you’ve watched it in German. That night we take care of some business at the farm, and Tobi gives me a sample of the Schnaps. His Mother even gives me a bottle to take back for my host-family. We purchase my train ticket back to Stuttgart in the evening so there is little chance anything can go wrong.
And then the next morning everything goes wrong.
The train to Stuttgart has one transfer. Over the weekend we simply walked across the platform to the next train, but this morning I had to walk from platform 5 to 2. I walked just a little too far and came up on 1. When I dashed for the next platform, I made it just in time to see my train pull away. I tried to swallow the sickening feeling, but I know that theres no way I’ll catch my train to Paris now. Once I reach Stuttgart, I use the last of my money to purchase a ticket home. I have four connections with just minutes in between, and I won’t get back until two hours after I am supposed to be at work.
So there I was, standing on a train platform in Offenburg at 14:02 when I see my salvation. The train is running uncharacteristically behind schedule, (by a whole five minutes) and it hasn’t arrived yet. I thank every deity I can think of for my luck. On Monday I travelled from Ellwagen to Suttgart to Karlsruhe to Offenburg to Strasbourg to Paris. (And then the M4 to the M10). When the announcements change from German to French, I feel a wave of relief. Not for the first time I muse that if there is such a place as heaven, surely the angels speak French.
Monday was an expensive and stressful nightmare, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. My weekend in Germany was some of the most fun, enlightening and enjoyable time I’ve had in recent memory. And my boobs looked good. Thank you to Jamie and Tobi for being such excellent hosts. I promise to return the favor when they visit Paris!