Pre Germany Trip
The feeling I had prior to boarding an airplane to Germany was uncertainty. Will I be able to communicate properly without knowing the language fully? Will I be able to get from place to place without getting lost? Will I fit into the culture seamlessly? Many questions flowed through my mind and even though I wouldn’t describe the feeling as nervousness, I wasn’t exactly comfortable.
I had about 4 months to prepare for my European trip so I had ample time to get ready. A few major items that were helpful in advance planning were exchanging dollars for Euros, a European converter for their outlets, and obviously my passport. Clothes were like any other trip and I only traveled with one bag that weighed under 50 pounds and a small carry on. The night before I was already completely ready to go and had no last minute preparations.
It Begins – 2/18/14
On Tuesday morning Jeff drove me to the Philadelphia airport where I drank a Lager and had a cheese steak wrap at an overpriced airport bar. The flight to Dulles was on time and my flight to Frankfurt was also without delay. There were all sorts of nationalities on the flight to Frankfurt and the PA had already been mainly converted to German which gave the feeling like, “you’re really doing this.” The plane had plenty of new movie releases to choose from and I watched This Is The End and Blue Jasmine which I thought sucked. 8 hours in the air is a long time and I think I got an hour of sleep.
Willkommen Thomas – 2/19/14
Due to the time difference, I arrived in Frankfurt at 7am on Wednesday. I got off the plane and cleared German customs which was the simplest process I’ve ever been through. I had bought a train ticket ahead of time from Frankfurt to Cologne where I would be staying. I retrieved my bag and started a trip that had me following signs to the train station. I didn’t know where to go and ended up asking a DB info desk for some guidance. He pointed me in a direction and I then had to ask another info booth where to go and he gave me completely different directions than the first guy. They both spoke broken English. I found a train that was headed to Koln and asked an attendant if I was boarding the right train. She spoke practically no English and in German told me something. I had no idea what it was and boarded the train, hoping she’d stop me if I was wrong, with fingers crossed.
The train was fast paced and I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the short trip. I got off at the Koln train station with absolutely no idea where to go. I remember from an earlier conversation with one of my European buddies that I had to cross the Rhine river to get to the city of Koln. I was able to spot the Rhine and started wandering aimlessly across a bridge. Locks were attached to the fence to symbolize everlasting love. I saw a few where names were crossed out which was entertaining.
A huge cathedral like structure appeared and I gathered that this must be the Dom that everyone was talking about. I was expecting a DOME. I used my google maps to put my hotel location in and started walking towards it.
I found the hotel and wasn’t able to check in until 3pm and it was only 11am. My purpose of the trip was a roofing trade show and I took an educated guess that Messe meant expo so I headed back to the station which had signs for the show. At this point I have been awake for 24 hours straight.
I was starving when I got to the show and started my first experience with making a purchase. I chose a baguette that cost 5.90 Euro and I had a 10 Euro bill. It was a buffet type deal and I successfully exchanged a 10 Euro bill for 3 coins. This process is more nerve racking than you’d think if you’ve never done it before. For 7 USD the baguette had no meat and was a complete rip off from what I’m used to but these were convention prices.
I’m not going to go into the business nature of my trip but I will note that it’s difficult to communicate when people don’t speak your language. Everyone says that most people speak English but this is easier to say than the reality.
The show ended at 6pm and I trudged to my hotel room. The hotel receptionist spoke my language and checking in and getting to the room was no problem. My first impression of the hotel room is somewhat comical. First things first, you have to put your room card in the slot to turn on the electricity. The toilet has two buttons of which I wasn’t sure if one was going to shoot water up the chute. Neither did. Either way I was able to shower, unpack, turn on the TV and then fell asleep. It was about 7pm but I was completely drained from the day and slept like a baby.
Life in Germany – 2/20/14
I awoke at about 7am and got breakfast from the hotel buffet. Breakfast here was just like in the States and standards like eggs, bacon, sausage, cereal, and fruit existed. There was an orangish colored multi-juice that was fucking awesome and I had about 7 glasses. After breakfast I went for a run down a nice path along the Rhine river which was beautiful. There weren’t that many runners when compared to America but I did notice the Germans walk at a much faster pace. I’m a fast walker in casual setting by American standards but I got passed multiple times my locals.
The weather was 50 degrees and perfect for mid February. I was planning on wearing khakis to the show but remembered from the day before that I hadn’t seen many people wearing them. I ran a quick Google search and came up with a site that said wearing khakis is a huge American move and you’d stand out completely, just wear tightish jeans.
I spent another successful day at the trade show and you can see by the picture that it’s more or less a party with alcohol aplenty. Afterwards I had a conventional German dinner with the people who invited and took care of me in Germany. We had good conversation and I learned various details about the German culture and other interesting tidbits.
- American culture brings movies, TV, Coke, Google and Apple to Germany
- Germans are not into gambling like in the States
- Germans love their vehicles and leap at the chance to drive fast
- Not much crime and few guns
The food was pretty good and the picture is exactly what we ate. It was some beef, red cabbage, and potatoes. I was not a big fan of the schnitzel. The beer washes it down nicely. I know that Germany is known for it’s beer but unfortunately I didn’t get to try too many flavors. This was one of the few things that I didn’t get to experience that I would have liked to.
The beer in Koln is called Kolsch and it’s what everyone drinks. If you don’t order something else, you get Kolsch. Ein Bier, bitte! They also don’t stop bringing the Kolsch until you tell them to stop. Another interesting fact I learned about Koln is that they still find bombs that didn’t explode from the World Wars in their areas which is scary. Also Koln and Dusseldorf are rivals and locals says the best thing about Dusseldorf is the motorway back to Koln. After dinner I was pretty tired and hit the hay.
Fitting In – 2/21/14
At this point I was starting to feel more comfortable in my surroundings. I knew the layout of the city and almost started to fit in. I had a second attire issue when I wore a pair of jeans that were looser fitting than the style. People’s pants fit snugly around their bodies and I changed my jeans to another pair in order to fit in better. Also, these shoes weren’t exactly common which I was sporting.
At the trade show I met the daughter of one of our main vendors and we hadn’t seen each other for about 25 years. She remembers the most unsafe station wagon my parents used to own where the back seat would look out the rear and the window would slide down completely which you will never see anymore. She is very nice and we had good conversation in English which was appreciated. After the show I said my farewells and had a traditional German meal with some other colleagues. After dinner it was about 10pm and I had to catch an early train to make my way to Austria which is the second part of my journey and will be continued in part 2.