Zak Ferguson ✍Germany made me cry.
Germany made me cry – first, out in frustration, as most travelling induces a smorgasbord of pungent cheese/emotions that you source, and mix with a certain wine (the wine in this instance being what situation you end up in), and the second time wasn’t so extreme that the first night in our rented Deluxe uber-lovely apartment we had to fork out Euros for replacement pillow cases and pillows. No, it was a tear, of sorts; a phantom tear. I was much too exhausted to cry; it was like that scene in Quantum of Solace (2008), where Daniel Craig’s Bond is holding onto a dying “friend” – finally revealing Bond soul and inner cry-baby, only for the light to adjust to show it was actually a bead of sweat running down from his creased, tanned, forehead, and not a indeed a shaken, not stirred teardrop from the teardrop annihilators eyes. I sweat enough to at least assign a few of those droplets to be salty tear drops.
Why did I feel like crying? A mixture of exhaustion, anxiety and that dear feeling of being the hated Other.
On Mainz Street:
We ended up in an ibis Budget Hotel after the first day of travel, something I neglected to mention before, in the previous segment. Please bear with me, I am an extremely scatological individual, and I don’t allocate things to dates, or times, but to the emotions that are biting at the inside of my skull, that need to be released or given some attention.
We entered with our night bag, faced a welcome self-service machine - a machine that encourages the most antisocial to once again not break out from their comfort zone and continue living their unacclimatised social-hating lives; only for said machine to not work.
Laura is much like me, we hate approaching strangers and starting conversation, asking for directions, or for advice, it is not in our DNA to make small talk. If pushed we can make do, but we have often bickered amongst ourselves over who goes up to this store worker or that person, getting into a heated argument over who was more antisocial than the other. And this is not because we don’t want to ask and get given the answer to our query, it is just, the slog, the monotony and faux-passe/the ceremony of small talk, is something which we both abhor.
Laura piped up loudly, “My German is shit!” - loud enough for the receptionist and big chunky German to add when we got closer to the reception desk, “I hear your German is shit,” at this point me and Laura burst into hysterics, both out of shock and out of relief, “And,” the German man continued, “my English is good!” and from there it was an easy transition.
The conversation wasn’t forced. If I can be so bold, I like to think that he seemed charmed by us open, declaratively non-speaking-German Brits. We both appreciated that he found this statement and this public cry for help reason enough to break out his English lessons and charm, which he was. That and also lazy. He was blasé, very blasé, so blasé he shrugged when we were enquiring as to if/when we needed to fill out, at that point, what felt like a pile of unnecessary load of paperwork. We just wanted to sleep. He shrugged and threw his left hand in the air, waving away this paperwork he set before us. Wafting away its antecedence/importance. Then why slam it in front of us?
We were expected to write out what felt like a whole stack of papers, all in German, to cover the ibis hotels ass; paperwork for legal issues, etc.. - meaning that if anything is damaged or ID isn’t provided, maybe, just maybe, later down the years, or it could be shorter than that, a month or a few weeks, they have reason to kick up some form of stink, which wouldn’t be hard, considering the state of the room we were put in.
I feel that the paperwork was a con, a weird trap, covering the bases of if anything was broken, all so’s they could blame the foreigners had indeed made the room the way it was presented to them – all so they could recoup and get the money back to finally redecorate their abysmal little budget hotel.
Budget in the name, and sadly budget in its execution and nature.
What a weird setup, but luckily one this German didn’t feel he needed to impose on us stupid British tourists.
As we later discovered the place was a bit of a shit-hole, and in my mind’s eye, this paperwork seemed to be a ways to easily sue people - the exhausted, the untamed, those who just wanted to stop off and snore their lives away and regain their faculties; only to get a letter years down the line for a room they hardly can recall, stating they were suing for damages, all because they filled out the forms and the higher management were in a pickle to get funding to rejuvenate their budget hotel in Mainz and happened across a form that was actually (naively filled out). In so many ways they would/could be using these tourists as a scapegoat as to the reasons why the budget versions of a ibis hotel was so shockingly poor - we were the reasons for their generally unkempt premises, all in a way to get money to do something and to at least get one ibis budgeted room sorted out. Anyway to make a buck from the not so happy customer. I know this is mere paranoia, but it seems fitting. I can imagine the manager of ibis doing this, and no, not because he was German.
The room looked clean. It was just bare, white and, obviously had been cleaned. But, as much as you clean a room, the taint is still there. Also add insult to injury, the room that stunk of egg and meaty farts. We both slept relatively poorly.
After our bad night’s sleep in this shitty little budget hotel, with one pillow each, something I will never in my life stop harking on about, you crazy Europeans, we decided to head for a shop; luckily, this was a short trip, a trip to a neighbouring Aldi, just around the corner and opposite the budget hotel - to get a loads worth of shopping, so not to burn ourselves out before we even got to our accommodation/German homestead (which was what the place ended up becoming) and then we headed off.
We Are On Our Way
The trip was similar to our first day of travelling … but, oh yes, there is a but … only until we entered the real Germany. Oh man, the revelatory moment is lost on me, but there was a certain point where Laura kept diverting my attention from my phone, to what was around us. Alps, misted, clouds comingling with the treeline, blurring spatial realties. Though we were on smooth autobahn tar and concrete, it heightened the mood, sometimes higher, from afar, than the alps themselves, passing through cloud formations. It was, though wanky as it is to type up, rather magical. This was the Germany we had been promised in dreams, films and popular culture – the express sense of the German way of life, their living, their history, it was all there for us to zoom into; epiphanies and the brochures we have scoured over, whether online or in physical reality, the Germany I thought wasn’t ever forthcoming, was there. Handed to us. No, it wasn’t handed, it was earned, by Laura’s determination, driving and passion. To do things I never thought I’d be able to do. Germany in those moments was given to us and us alone.
We got a sense of, oh yeah, we are on holiday now, and probably factoring in the reality that we were close to our destination, this was why it felt so heightened and more real and exciting. We had entered into the Germany we had anticipated, and had pitched and sold to us by years’ worth of materials provided by film, television and pop culture.
It was expansive. The scenery specifically familiar, like a location one sees in modern media, only, it is real, tangible, within reach. You can smell and touch and are marvellously existing within it. We drove past various different German climes. These German specific expanses, in the forms of ravines, and beautiful lakes, alps, forests, some that the autobahn weaved up into or we spotted from afar, was a sure sign that Germany was the place to be. The vast expanses of just amazing natural spaces still bowls me over.
It was the foreplay before the holiday cherry was popped!
Then, before you know it, you are there.
We had arrived at our destination.
Bad Griesbach. We had arrived. Bad Griesbach im Rottal, or just Bad Griesbach, is a town in the district of Passau in Bavaria in Germany. A small little country village, with various other villages stretching off from each other, going up steep hilly inclines, or going down, down, down. The place was fittingly equidistant, yet close to the other properties. It was just a total reality check. Meaning, this is my home for the next ten days or so.
This is where I want to live from now on (only later overruled by my utter adoration and love for Praha). Still, to this day, I want a German apartment in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by fields, harvests, and other equally beautifully built and designed homes/apartments.
It was safe. Secluded. Far enough away, but not too far from civilisation (meaning, stores, me and my Laura love ourselves stores/shops).
Homely. Quiet. Soothing. And inherently un-Britian like. And our host, the owner of such a grand, beautiful three storey apartment complex came out, but only after Laura and I were finished dithering, undecided what to do, expecting strangely enough a red-carpet welcomes (or a union jack carpet welcome?) and opting for Laura to go pressing down on her door bell.
Laura was there, hands in front, clasped together, humble and I headed out from the doorway, letting her take the lead, and she started hissing “Get here, say hello!” - I didn’t realise that I had backed up to the car and had my hand on the passenger door handle as if to throw myself in at any sign of German hostility; as if the German lady might come out with a pistol to shoot these darn kids from her gravel lawn/parking lot. And then it dawned on us, oh shit, does she speak English?
Laura asked her this and our host wavered her hand, indicating, so-so; I believe liking to think she could, and then she was less certain, and within macro seconds, whipping said hand away, waving that nod of hers, away and off into obscurity/non-existence, as if she had never done it, and replied with an affirmative, “Nein!”.
She didn’t speak a lick of English, but it didn’t daunt her from trying to convey to us the important rules of the place – the bins being the first thing she threw her little self into showing us, and then onto the room where we were expected to adhere to her systemised recycling habit – pointing at the boxes, that were indeed all labelled in German, but, luckily there was enough cans, bottles, cardboard pieces in their designated spots to tell us what went where. It was sweet, witnessing this elder ladies strategically and OCD system.
Initially me and Laura froze, upon introduction. Luckily Laura was quick to go onto her phone and make this an easy transition, that of us signing papers, and the host seemingly very concerned to show us how the oven worked, much like she did with the bins and recyclable alcove and thereafter. Her concerns dissipated, I think she realised, oh, they don’t speak the language, but they aren’t stupid. She threw her hands and blew air as if to say, Oh stop Rosie, they know this and if they can’t figure it out, they’ll come ask me in their broken, mangled German with their digital devices.
She was tiny. Diminutive, but still possessed a weight and possession of an assured gravity, of a determined strength hard-won by hard work; her skin had a natural tan and healthy complexion; her freckles shining like divine red star streaks on her cheeks and most specifically under her eyes and nose – she also had a gleam in her eye and a lovely welcoming presence and a killer smile.
She was patient, sweet, cordial, and fascinated. All of a sudden all my previous attitudes and darkened oppressive and distorted opinions on all Germans was revealed to be what they actually were; of a reactionary scared boy not used to going abroad and forced to try and cater to somebody else’s language. Our host was called Rosie, not that she shared this, we only gleaned his from her Book In paperwork, bless her, she probably was as confounded as we were and as unprepared, and still didn’t get our names.
It was all a rush, wanting to get introductions, though extremely difficult introductions, out of the way, to allow the host to have her “say” – knowing that the both of us were wanting to settle – Rosie obviously was in this business long enough to know the signs to leave us be, and I can’t blame her, when both are at some form of impasse, clueless how to best approach and attempt communications with each other; we were left feeling comfortable but also simultaneously uncomfortable, the silences longer than they should be, me standing their like Der Golem and Laura typing erratically on her Google Translate, the German lady looking up at us tall folk expectantly. Rosie wasn’t on her own, she had a husband, a man I met over briefly over the balcony, giving him a rather pathetic smile and thumbs up combo, which got a hearty chuckle, one I read as, “Hahaha stupid boy!” – which is fine by me, I cannot disagree. Her husband Helmut. Helmut was smiling, much like Rosie, when they came together, towing with them a neighbour four days later, to enquire as to how we were - the neighbour speaking English, who began by heralding us with a hearty “Hello United Kingdom!” – it is a fond memory, imprinted in my mind forever; what an entrance and way to get our attention; in that moment I was rather hoping the four days when he hadn’t seen saw Rosie she had been practicing such a herald. They both seemed fascinated by us, and we by them, and the most important thing was, they left us to it, and were also very warm. Their whole aura and tact was appreciated.
It seems like the urban sprawl of Germany is where the fucking assholes live and the sweet, kind, fair folk - the kinds that are naturally inquisitive and open – were the one’s that lived in the “so-called” sticks.
Rosie she was small, seemingly a country girl, burnished a gorgeous golden colour, whether from the recent heatwave and sunshine of Germany that we entered in, thirty-nine degrees (fuck we suffered when we had to exit the confines of the air conned car) I cannot figure out, or that’s her natural German sunshine complexion. I took to her straight away, as did Laura. You just wanted to give her a hug. Which we didn’t do. Big regret, as I have never hugged a German person before. She was a humble, kind, retiree, happy for the custom and I feel to have guests that weren’t using her place as just a quick romantic stay away weekender, she enjoyed immensely. Proof attesting to that we were the only English to have settled in her apartment was the that in the guest book was no sign of English writing, as it was 100% written only in German by German guests.
Ah, it had happened. My faith in body language prevailed. The universal language of body was being used, and even though she prattled and spoke to us in Germany, this allowed us to feel accepted, and also helped her to gesticulate and express better.
Once we had settled, me and Laura were just taken by the location, the sun, the expanse of this far too cheap accommodation, considering what it was providing. We felt at home. Instantly. The holiday was starting here and now, in that moment.
I felt like crying the first night. The distance between me and a bed I knew I'd much rather be staying in, hit me like a ton of frankfurters with some sour kraut added as an extra payload. I wanted my home, though relatively a new homestead - it spoke volumes as to how much I adored our recently acquired flat - not a week before venturing abroad.
I tried to imagine myself in Australia or America to hammer in how far out were actually weren't from home, in comparison to other further and distant lands. We are in Europe, which in comparison to America or New Zealand is a stone’s throw away. Still, the distance hit me.
Woes of old, irrational, yet now adult worries popped up like an unwanted zombies from the corners of my mind: thoughts on death, that of my own, or of an unexpected or anticipated death; these thoughts slammed into me.
What if a relative hurt themselves enough to warrant an emergency Pull out of he holiday manoeuvre?
Would it be worth it?
If it was touch and go, would we enter the UK or just about be pulling away from Dunkirk to get that message, They didn't make it?- to indicate, you were too late, and you can't go back on yourself and resume said holiday.
Irrational but also something one has to factor into one’s plans abroad.
Which I didn’t.
I stupidly enough leave all the adult stuff to Laura.
She is such an inspiration. I truly sometimes wonder what she sees in me.
She will get ahead of the eventuality, even if fate hasn't got anything of the sort lined up for us, Laura will know what to do.
I was left worrying about, what is on the cards for yourself and your loved ones, and for us both on this holiday?
Always worried that the good things won’t last and if it is a good thing, maybe fate will see to it that it ends.
I did not cry, because feeling Laura’s warmth beside me settled me.
As long as I had her by my side, I was safe.
Safer than safe.
The love of my life was there.
All I needed was her.
🕮 Zak Ferguson is a co-founder of Sweat Drenched Press and the author of books like Soft Tissues, Dimension Whores and One Of These Days.