I saw it, I said to myself. I am here. After being held up in Louisville due to mechanical issues and missing my flight in DC, I finally was here.
The afternoon I left for Europe, it was an easy-going day: I talked with Greg and the team before leaving at roughly noon. The talk was nice and it was about the lighter things.
I arrived at the airport early like a good traveler. The shuttle plane arrived late. The delay in Louisville caused me to miss my flight to Zurich. I was able to get to Washington DC a bit later in eventuality. In DC, I was booked on a flight, which I thought was to Frankfurt, but when I arrived at the gate, the flight was bound for Munich. How strange the situation it was.
I was already off target for my plans in Cologne.
Having survived my first trans-Atlantic, I arrived in the City of Monks (Munich). The old city’s airport gave me a glimpse of German industriousness with their sleek modern design exhibiting every surface of their airport. Everything smelled, felt, showed, and softly whispered: Europe. Or Germany in this case.
Though it was the only airport I was already getting acquainted with German ways. The workers at the airport shops were some quite different. They immediately spoke German, but were rather quick to change to a number of languages. Very stern and direct in their approach I felt a lesson on my shoulder creeping into me. The woman at the register barely looked at me and not a hint of a smile she asked me for a euro and a half. After a split second of hesitation to respond, she re-instructed in English. I poured out a bill of some amount of euros from my hand and wallet. The change came swift.
The flight to Cologne was quick but not quick enough. My anxiety was now becoming somewhat apparent. We touched down and all passengers shuffled down to the baggage claim. Cologne-Bonn Airport was a rather small airport no bigger than Louisville’s. It had a rustic nature to it, but charming with a less refined nature to it. At one time this airport must have been on the map for being the capital airport as Bonn was the former capital of the Federal Republic. Yet it was not as polished as Munich in its stature. It had a lot of charm and grit to it.
I followed everyone through the customs gate and came out looking for the train. I found it. I went down trying not to look as confused as the foreigner I was. There were many others using the set of automated ticket dispensers. Fathoming the instructions in English was difficult and my German was just not up to par to get through the instructions. I finally succeeded in figuring the fare out with sweat on my brow and a little embarrassment, which I self-contained.
The platform was down a long escalator from the airport terminal. It was a like a bunker hidden beneath the airport as if there was some need for it to be protected. The concrete channel was rather intimating and it gave me a feeling of claustrophobia. I looked around at other people, and then turned my attention to the signs. Some in English with no meaning that I can find and most in German with no more meaning than anything I knew thus far.
A man I assumed that was probably from Africa was along the platform trying to understand how to get somewhere by asking in a rather attention seeking manner. I looked around for reactions, but there were not many at all. Many looked like they had not noticed. A few people helped to explain to this man, but the man’s somewhat attention-seeking method may have been giving the locals some ire. I think he eventually got an explanation. Of course, I would have liked to help him but I was not in troubleshooting mood after the long and confusing travel I experienced.
I boarded the train. Hasty and a little awkward I found a spot near the door and nestled in.
I felt strange in the train. I was looking around and watching all the scenes pass me by. The first thing I noticed was the graffiti on many of the flat vertical surfaces. Even on the somewhat old walls and structures there was hardly a surface not kissed by the artificial colors of a spray can. Rather different than in the US where we find that only these art forms on inner city areas abandoned and left for no one else to see. The art was in full view of everyone and it was in the most obvious places.
Then, the train came to slow and began a slow stride with a jerk. I had a qualm come across me that I had not felt in a while. Something climatic was about to happen: we crossed the Rhine.
The bridge showed the historic rust of brown and rouge with the addition of the graffiti. I saw the locks of lovers hung along the pedestrian walkway’s fence on the bridge as I had read somewhere one would see this. The water beyond all this was blue with a little tainting from modernity of brown. It was a river, but not a strong or weak one: I felt like it was saying something. If I imagined what it would say, I think she would say: “I am here, and so are you. You are not the first nor the last to cross me.” I crossed the Rhine with the least amount of attention, but there was something special here now in me.
Rivers and large bodies of water affected me somehow. The Ohio River seemed so magical every time I crossed it. Crossing the Pacific Ocean had a similar effect, but not since traversing the Shikoku inlet to Osaka on the ferry had I felt this way before. The ferry ride on the Himawari (or Sunflower) was epic every time: the bridges and the lights along the channel were amazing on a giant ferry. Seeing the fishing boats and other vessels traversing next to the giant machine was belittling with the wind and spray off the ocean. This strange feeling was the reminder of how small I am compared to the world and the universe. The World was moving and its machinations were constant and not receptive to the small trivial humans within it.
The Rhine is an old river and the history of her had been pivotal for European civilization. Why, of course, had Cologne existed at all without her? The Rhine has its place in history along with the Danube. The Western Civilization can find itself here. Perhaps this was part of my journey here and why I was pulled to come here. Germany (Deuschland in its people) has contributed – as well as continues – to world civilization. Weber, Freud, Kant, Marx, Hilbert, Wagoner, Nietzsche, Goethe and the others of Germanic descent gave things I think the world might not never had without those hard thinkers.
The platform of the Cologne Central Station was old but updated. Some photos I have seen from the older times still guide to the station’s originality. So down the tunnel of people I walked. I was confused; I went down a lesser-used exit. I found an exit and walked out to, a Starbucks. Then I walked further and before I could to search for it, the Dom (Cathedral) appeared before me.
Like seeing a dragon rising before me I saw 500 years of awe and antiquity before my eyes. I got goose bumps trying to fathom what was in my eyes. The towers were so high from my point of view that it was bewildering how humans could have possibly made this structure happen. The dark grey coloring on the walls spoke the time and its occurrence on this area. I stood and stared at this structure straining my neck just to see all of it. The thought reminded of seeing the giant wooden temple in Nara, Japan where the giant golden Buddha is held. The intricate designs and just the size does not allow words to explain properly.
The Dom was so distinctly large from what I had seen before that it took me back to the castles and dragons I remember fantasizing about when I was a child. The people around the area awing as I was, made the scale apparent: it was beyond large. I was accustomed to large, but this was different in its appearance and nature like seeing a dragon for the first time. For instance if a dragon was real, it would shock reality into anyone. Football stadiums and skyscrapers did not have the same effect on me.
People were everywhere in the square. They sat before the Cathedral on the steps from the train station. The variety of people standing and watching was stark: Muslims, Chinese, Caucasians, darker skinned people, and fairer skinned people. I had not quite the same feeling as I did when I was in college when I saw many different in a Japanese setting. Yet it caused me to pause and consider where I was: Europe. This was the Europe and nothing of it could prepare someone who had been living in small town outside a big city. I was treading waters that I had never felt before. Canada, nor California, nor Kansai were like this.
I decided to use Facebook to check-in. I did it passively; I did it to milestone this point in time. That did not matter so much I thought though.
I stood there thinking about being in the moment for a while before getting through my next task: finding the apartment I was to stay for the next two nights. I smoked my cigarette looking at the main entrance and all around. I remember watching Tageschau a few months previously and I watched a report on a sexual assaults (by immigrants and refugees of Middle Eastern origin) in the very area I was standing. This was winter when that happened, and now it is May. I was watching that newscast replay in my mind and listening without much understanding of sexual assault victims. I think those events were unfortunate and repulsive. Yet I find myself feeling like I was standing in a battle after all the blood was washed away. I kept those thoughts as well as the feeling of exhaustion and gladness for having arrived.
But I am here. That mattered to me in the moment.