In the first year of my career, working on my birthday didn’t turn out pleasant. Learning a lesson, I pledged to never work again on my birthday. Since then, every birthday is a holiday. This year’s Birth-Holiday, I wanted to do something different, out of my comfort zone. A solo vacation. Thanks to Dhruv Rathee’s video with Deutsche Welle, I decided upon Freiburg, a city in south Germany.
Train tickets booked, hostel booked, rough itinerary done. Packing was a bit tricky, courtesy German wechselhaft Wetter. But I did good. I took the 6:20 AM train from Düsseldorf. It was not difficult to wake up early as the excitement didn’t let me fall into slumber. I reached Freiburg MainStation at 10:30AM and chose to walk through the city to my Hostel. The pleasant morning weather was welcoming. I checked into my hostel, chose my dorm bed, put my luggage in the locker and went straight to sleep. I had 2 hours of peaceful sleep in the middle of the day. There’s something about sleeping after a tiring journey, in the middle of the day in a different city.
My growling stomach woke me up. It was time to figure out food options. Usually when I have such hunger, my resort is either a Falafel or a Dönner. But this time I decided otherwise. Pizza it is. I don’t remember when I got a pizza just for myself. It always has been either with friends or colleagues. So, I would consider this my first.
After food, I wandered the tiny alleyways of the city, admiring the cute houses, old architecture, the cobblestone roads and the small cafés. The people in the city were soaking in the weekend vibes.
Freiburg has these small water-filled runnels, running along the streets and alleyways in the city. They are called “Bächle”. The word Bächle comes from the German Bach, meaning brook. It is a local superstition that if you accidentally step in the Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger.Kids are often seen playing in the Bächle, sometimes riding their small toy boats. It reminded me of my childhood, when we would make paper boats and set them on sail in the rain streams.
In the city, along the streets, you will find many local music artists performing, may it be a guitar, a violin, a cello or a hang drum. It was a treat to watch them play.
I spent my evening admiring the Freiburg Minster, the cathedral, a medieval structure and an amazing piece of architecture. With the sun down, I walked back to my hostel. At the reception I met Eva, I was in contact with her over emails for my hostel booking. She was a beautiful young girl working at the hostel and I wondered if I would think of working here and how would life be then. I let my thoughts wander while I walked into my bed and started reading a book by Murakami.
I was lost in the book when a girl walked in. She was staying on the opposite bed in my dorm. I was glad she spoke English and we ended up having a nice conversation. She was a student from Frankfurt doing her Bachelors in Psychology and was in Freiburg for a seminar on hypnotherapy. No doubt she got all my attention. Whenever I hear hypnotherapy, I remember my school lesson on Abbé Faria and his iconic statue in Panjim, Goa. He was my first memory of Hypnotism. She explained how Hypnotherapy is not exactly what Hollywood shows us but much on the surface-level sometimes and it’s used to heal people from their illness and not just about taking advantage or robbing banks.
I spoke about my interest in psychology, which was triggered by the first book I read on the topic, “The Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck. She noted the book for her to read. She was to go to the Freiburg Münster, Sunday morning prayer service, at 8 AM and I was tired as well so we said good night to each other.
The next morning when I woke up she was back from the church and was wrapping up to check out. She was to have breakfast in the city and so did I. I don’t remember who asked first but we decided to have breakfast together. We started walking towards the city. She had this huge backpack, with her sleeping bag rolled on top, which gave her a look of a hiker. Her sleeping bag and sack were from “Deuter”. She recommended buying the sleeping bag of this brand if I think of getting one. “Deuter” is durable, of good quality and a German brand, she said with a wink.
Into the city then, we chose a café which wasn’t so expensive and not so crowded. It was a laid-back Sunday morning, pleasant weather, cool breeze. We chose a table facing the cathedral and the water fountain. Building on the point that she went to the church that morning, we had a long conversation about religion. We spoke about how we relate to it, how our childhood was shaped by the culture & traditions. In the world back then without social media and PlayStation how our days were spent watching the clouds, running around in the backyard, for her attending the church choir, learning to play musical instruments. How religion and culture give us something to bond with the community and build social ties. She had already finished eating so I focused on wrapping up mine. Pulling out a mitten from her bag, she started knitting. I was amazed by this girl, sitting in a café with me knitting meticulously with the four needles. I wish someone had made a picture of us in that set up at the café table. After our breakfast we went to a souvenir shop. I was looking at the fridge magnets (Something that has become a tradition, to bring back fridge magnets from every vacation and put them on the fridge in Goa home). She pointed me to the postcards which had some scenic and also highly edited photos of Freiburg. I picked a few which I liked. When we left the shop she asked me who I sent it to. I just answered I’m not sure. I honestly didn’t think of posting them. But I noted it to think about later. (After I got back home, I researched how to send a postcard to India. It was easy and not at all expensive. Out of experimenting and excitement I posted two postcards to my friends in India one of which arrived yesterday in three weeks. I was glad that it made it to my friend and also that she was overjoyed to receive it. waiting for the second one to reach now.)
We sat at the fountain and she continued her knitting and I was watching the two hippie guys playing the Hangdrum. With more time at our disposal and good weather I asked her if she would like to join me for a walk to Martin’s Tür. Yes was her response and we got on our feet. We strolled along admiring the architecture of the houses, the galleries, and imagined how wonderful it would be to sit there having coffee. Thinking about coffee we then looked for one. With our coffee-to-go in hand we sat outside one building, sipping on it while just staying silent and feeling the gaps within the conversation. The silence was broken when she started whistling to a song, she did pretty well. We started talking again about life, psychology, philosophy, meeting new people, connection, nervousness of speaking a new language. She was learning French as she wanted to go for an exchange semester to a French University. She told me about an incident where she prepared herself to call the University and speak in French. She started well but missed a word in between, was flustered and then switched to English. I could undoubtedly relate. However she is still trying her best to build fluency. I also got some advice and courage for trying to speak the language even if I make mistakes. It was 13:00 and she had to leave for the train station. We hugged each other saying our goodbyes and expressing our gratitude and joy of the time spent together. One thing she vocalised was the silence between us which felt more pleasant than awkward, which is the usual case with new people. I was glad she felt it the way I did. I didn’t ask for her phone number. I thought of letting this day and her just to live in my memory. After she left I wandered in the city aimlessly before heading back to the hostel.
The next day I traveled to Titisee Lake. The train ride to the lake was picturesque. Several points to click pictures but I chose to film them in my mind. The day was cold and rainy. I took a boat ride which took us along Schwarzwald trees, huge landscapes and cloudy hills. it was a view to be captured. After the boat ride I tried the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) in a nearby café and then walked a bit into the forest trail. With the storm clouding up I decided to make my way back to the Hostel.
At the hostel there was a new girl in my dorm, Katharine. We had a small talk. She just finished her high school and wants to start with medicine in Freiburg university. While on the lookout for an apartment she will stay in the hostel. I told that I have been living in Germany for 3 years to which she said that we could converse in German then! Usually I would say a big no, but I said I will try. She has an Australian boyfriend who is learning the German so she knows the struggle. Possibly that gave me the courage and comfort of speaking in my broken Deutsch with her. I asked if she would like to join me for a walk to the city and also get some food to which she promptly said yes.
She was out on her own for the first time, without friends and family. She is 17 and it was her time to navigate her life on her own. This is one aspect of western culture that I admire a lot. Being an adult you step into the waters to swim and learn to live life, make decisions, explore the possibilities and grow. Something that I would really like for my 18 years old self, breaking out of the shell earlier to be confident, mature. Nevertheless, better late than never.
We sat at the same water fountain, eating our Falafel, watching a musical artist play the cello across the street. It was a perfect treat. After our food, we climbed SchlossBerg, from where we could see the panoramic view of the city. During the whole time, our conversation ranged from our families, friends,food (German & Indian), how she liked Indian food (of course!!), how we both wished to be taller than we are now, how she didn’t like her younger sister growing taller than her, how her parents met, why I moved to Germany, what makes me stay here. She was fascinated by my skin, how lovely my hair is, how I look so young and I was amazed at how mature and confident this girl was, that I was having a grown-up conversation with the girl half of my age. We spent a good long time at Schlossberg. With the sun down we went back to the hostel to rest for the night.
It was the next day, 6th of July. I started the day by reading my birthday text from my Bestie, the third time. I had to check out so I wrapped up and headed for the reception. I decided on having my breakfast first in the kitchen where I met Katharine. I asked her what her plans were for the day. She didn’t have much to do so I invited her to join me for a stroll in the city. She jumped at the idea. This time we went to the west side of the city which I had not explored. We walked along the river. It was a mix of conversation and silence which I was coming to appreciate more and more. She told stories of how she enjoyed learning MartialArts and having the realisations that she is capable of breaking someone’s leg and protecting herself if there be any need. I was growing really proud of this little girl and also the fact that she didn’t take out her phone even once. We had 50% of our conversation in German 50%. She corrected me whenever I made mistakes. In a cafe in the city park, we bought coffee and sat at a bench facing a small pond. We just sit there in silence. I was looking at the trees, butterflies, ducks in the pond, cute dogs passing by, looking at the reflection of the trees and clouds in the water. After a while of silence we decided to head back to the hostel to pick my luggage.
At the hostel later we said our goodbyes, I wished her luck with her University & Freiburg life. We hugged and I said “Bye, See you!” out of habit. I am not sure if I would see her again but I think the possibility of saying “See you” is still beautiful. She hugged me like how a small kid would hug a tall adult and I felt like a younger sister-relation to her. I said goodbye to Eva at the reception and stepped out of the hostel making my journey back home.