As my bus pulled into Nuremburg, excitement slowly crept down my spine. I was in Germany at last. Sure I still had a few hours to go until I reached Munich, but I was in the land of my favorite futbol team, great beer, and arguably the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Sure, there are plenty of pretty girls in the world – I’ve fallen in love with thousands of them, so has most men. There is probably a correlated effect that makes German girls more attractive to me – they live where I want to live.
I boarded my train and headed to the dining car. I knew eating was probably the smartest thing to do, despite the cost, as I’d be pulling into Munich near midnight. So I ordered the only thing that looked palatable; stuffed chicken with a side of steamed zucchini – stuffed with what is a question I may never know. Thankfully I was able to secure a ten year repayment plan with only a five-percent annual interest rate to cover dinner, no interest that first year of course.
As our train pulled into Munich I had remembered to turn my phone. I knew I’d have no signal in Austria and Prague, but I have T-Mobile – and they’re a German telecommunications company. Checking my phone’s settings to hopefully prevent myself from acquiring another mortgage-ladened bill, I held my breath and disabled airplane mode.
Three seconds went by, and then, signal. Only a moment had passed from me seeing signal in the display and my brain registering that it connected to something that I got a system-message from T-Mobile. Welcoming me to Germany, T-Mobile wanted to inform me that with my plan I would be allowed unlimited text-messages, .20-cent a minute phone calls back to the States, and unlimited low-speed data. Low-speed indeed, everything took noticeably long to load, but it was good enough. Hello civilization, hello connectivity my old friend.
Walking out of Munich Central, I crossed the street and headed to my hotel. It was nearby thankfully as I didn’t want to be crossing the city, either on foot or in taxi, in the middle of the night. Deep in conversation, or standing around in-between coming and going, people of all types were still out and about – and most importantly a Kabap shop was still open. So it goes, though my digestive track was probably thankful it wasn’t about to receive more of that delicious, meaty, sandwich-thing.
I had been walking for possibly five minutes before realizing I should have reached the hotel by now. Stopping in an almost empty street with questionable lighting, I pulled out my phone. The overly eager navigator didn’t get his bearings right before leaving the station and had headed almost three blocks in the wrong direction.
Careful, Mehdi. Subconsciously you may want to get yourself stuck here, but that would be a very unwise – and illegal – thing to do. The wiser part of my conscious was chirping up, wanting to voice what I already knew – thank you very much.
Ten minutes and a course correction later, I stepped into the lobby of my hotel. I was able to still check in, and I found myself up three floors up in a room no bigger than my parent’s bathroom. Still, there was a bed. An actual bed with pillows and blankets. I opened the bathroom and was grateful to see a clean and oversized shower. I half-hoped to see a bathtub, as I’ve been dying to sit in a tub for a week now, but after the long hot day and distance travelled, any hot running water poured over me would be gratefully received.
After quickly unpacking the essentials, I headed to the bathroom, but stopped short to turn on the television.
Three things about what made this a very odd choice:
- I really don’t watch television in the States, I find it a monumental waste of time.
- I was in Germany, this was a German hotel room, the programming was almost guaranteed to be in German.
- It was now past midnight. What could I hope to expect to be on? The German version of QVC? Or was I about to get German reruns of Friends? The latter wouldn’t be a bad thing, though I really don’t know enough of Friends to be able to reminisce past the language barrier. Don’t get angry, see point 1.
So I was a bit shocked that the first thing that came on was the last thing I’d expect to see. The woman’s World Cup was playing – and more oddly coincidental – the United States was just about to start to face off against Germany. The men’s national team had just won the last World Cup in a historically crushing domination over Brazil, one of the world’s greatest futbol teams, so having this to watch the night before my big day in Germany was just icing on the cake.
A quick shower later I was in bed watching the match. While I watched a lot of it, sleep ended up being the unexpected victor of that match. Only a short time later I perked back up to use the restroom and saw that the USA women’s team clinched the win 2-0, and would be moving on. As an American I was happy to see one of our teams keep going, as a German at heart – next time.
The Munich morning came quickly, not because of any alarm, but because of my eastern facing room and the lack of any airflow to keep it cool. As soon as that sun broke over the horizon my room slowly rose in temperature until it was unbearable to remain unconscious. So I packed up and headed down for some breakfast, then finally to the lobby to check out.
Much to my luck the office was willing to hang onto my bag until my train would depart so I didn’t have to lug it around the entire day. This ended up being a godsent as the temperature in Europe had continually gotten warmer since I left Vienna, and I was expecting Munich to be a little hotter than Prague. So I took a map, set my watch up, and headed to the center of Munich. For anyone wondering, Munich has a lot to see. It was the host of the winter Olympics a few decades ago. There are some excellent museums, including some very important historical collections of German culture.
I didn’t have a set plan. I didn’t have a list of to-do items. After Prague I figured I would just find where my feet would go, and follow them to the end of the line. The first stop was a church, which isn’t something I would see of my own choosing, but my mom would have appreciated it, and so I thought I’d be her eyes this trip and hopefully take enough pictures to convince her she’ll have to make the trip sometime.
The interior was similar to Vienna’s Saint Stephens Church, but not as opulent as Melk, and certainly different than anything I saw in Prague. As I left the church I decided I would listen to some music for some part of the day. I had some playlists and saved albums ready to go in offline mode, Clearance Clearwater Revival, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones. Though I wanted something else. Something different. Something I didn’t expect. I turned to my private playlist.
I have a playlist of tracks unlike the plethora of playlists I’ve assembled over the years, it contains songs that I think are important to my life. One of the main purposes of it’s existence is to be able to use as triggers to revisit a memory or a moment. To relive lost love. To reignite joy. To taste the days past and sip on delight and disappointment mixed into one. I believe there are over 900 tracks on that playlist so far, and that isn’t even my biggest playlist, it should just say something about the collection I’ve cultivated in that playlist.
As I put in my earbuds the background of Munich faded away. I pressed shuffle, and let the universe take care of the rest. When it comes to music, especially music I’ve heard before, I can usually identify an artist, band, or track, within the first few seconds of the track. What came on first was unrecognizable, and then the lyrics kicked in.
All the pretty girls like Samuel,
oh he really doesn’t share.
Though it’s more than he can handle,
life is anything but fair…
life is anything but fair.
I stopped just before leaving the church. A feeling like cold water spread from my shoulders to my fingers, my knees to my toes. I closed my eyes as the first chorus ended and stepped out into the sunlight.
All alone, alone again.
No one lends a helping hand.
I have waited, I have waited.
The blur of the people and colors of Munich sped by me as I walked closer and closer to the city center. Time and again a face of a pretty girl would stand out of the crowd. Most with hair that fell down to, or past, their shoulders. some wearing a summer dress and others wearing shorts. All just passing me by. By this point I had set the song to repeat. Something more than the lyrics and more than the melody had me wanting it to keep playing. Something in me wanted more from this song that the last measure wasn’t giving me. Something in me wanted to believe going over it time and again would somehow change the ending. Funny how we do that.
Takes a toll, one’s foolish pride,
how long before I see the light?
I have waited, I have waited,
for you to lay me down.
I made it to the Rotthouse, which I believe is the city office, or government building. I was able to go inside and take pictures, though I couldn’t give you any particular reason why. I headed back into the city center, and a few turns later found myself going the general direction of a group of people, young and old, into what I soon discovered was the Bolivian Palace. I decided to tour the whole thing – I had time to kill and thoughts to walk alone with.
Sail on by, sail on by for now.
They play naked in the water.
You know it’s hard, heaven knows I’ve tried.
But it keeps getting harder.
The first was the treasury, a collection of important artifacts from Austria and Germany. Several of which supposedly housed fragments of the actual Cross of Jesus Christ. How this was confirmed or authenticated is probably more bothersome to worry about than the thought was worth. Rooms of crosses made of gold and precious jewels were all around. Historically I knew that these items were assembled and forged for good reason, to be used as part of the ceremonies of worship. Though I always thought it was a bit odd to celebrate and worship a God who made man and all things with items made of materials deemed only valuable to men. By this point the song had been repeating over a dozen times.
So won’t you lay me, won’t you lay me down.
Won’t you lay me, won’t you lay me down.
I started touring the residence part of the palace. I underestimated the size of this place. Room after room opened to magnificently high ceilings embroidered in gold and stitched designs, many were scarlet or deep hues of blue. While the audio narration never explicitly said it, subtle hints of rooms having to be reconstructed, or being lost, had me realize that the place was a target by allied forces during World War II. Shame. Shame that we so often have to resort to violence, shame that we use violence as our primary means to combat evil.
I’ll wait, I’ll wait, I’ll wait for you.
I’ll wait, I’ll wait, I’ll wait for you.
Time passed in an indefinable rate. Thankfully I didn’t get lost in the palace, though there were times I felt my fate was doomed to those endless halls of people with silly looking wigs. One thing was for certain, if those portraits were in any way accurate, then most of European royalty were extremely deficient in vitamin D. Maybe that was a contributing factor to the way they ruled, and how history remembered them.
I made it out of the residence and proceeded to grind through the opera house, but after three wrong turns I gave up. Two out of three isn’t bad, after all it gives me a reason to come back and finish the tour. My stomach was now hungrier than my eyes were for Munich. I wanted to eat somewhere memorable, so to do that I headed to Starbucks.
With a little extra boost from the quickness of wifi, I was able to find out that ten minutes down the road was a fairly popular and wellknown beerhouse. Not yet having an actual German beer in Germany, my pace quickened at the thought of being served a drink in a stein. How do I describe Hofbraeuhaus? The huge tables covered almost all the floor room making it hard to navigate. Locals and tourists was indistinguishable in overhearing their conversations due to the sheer number of conversations taking place. And the beer. Massive oversized mugs of frothy beer was being poured out and placed in front of everybody, at every table. The beer wasn’t the only thing frothing at this point.
I worked my way around the room trying to find an open table. Dishes of meat and potatoes were in states of devourment all around me. A lady in what was probably traditional German clothing was carrying around a basket full of freshly baked breads and oversized fresh pretzels. I panicked at the thought of not getting to get one of those pretzels and I’m pretty confident I never was a fan of pretzels.
Finally I found a table, but as I got settled I was told to leave as it was reserved. As if I could read German. Right. So I moved one table over to my right, just as another family was coming down the aisle, no doubt hoping to make the land grab before I claim jumped. As the table could easily fit ten Europeans, or four Americans, I told them they could stay as I had no one else joining me. Much to my surprise and delightment, they spoke english! Not half english, not mixed english, good old American english.
The family of three was from Eastern Washington! Pacific natives! Best of all, Mom could read and speak German fairly well, so I didn’t have to fight Google Translator to make sure I didn’t get gizzards and grease for dinner. The three of us started to talking about Germany and about life. They had just picked their daughter up from Florence, as she was studying abroad there for the last six weeks – her major was Accounting – go figure. Mom and Dad both met in Germany, where they were stationed for the military – Army, I believe. Furthermore, it was a celebration of sorts as Dad has just retired from the Army Corps of Engineers.
He showed me a picture of their bikes, both choppers, or Harley’s, I’m not one for names honestly. I then showed them a picture of mine, and then of course, I showed them my arm. Mom was a lot like my Mom, as she was sharp witted, intuitive, and didn’t sharp away from the fact that I am quite hazard prone. When it came to for food, Mom helped me place an order for half a roast chicken, one of those massive pretzels, and a liter of the house original beer.
Then the attention turned to me, and why I’m in Europe. I have no reason to lie to people. While I have my own set of ghosts that haunt me, I’m not afraid to share about what keeps me up at night. While I mainly addressed Mom, I shared it with the three of them.
“I’m having a quarter-life crisis, a lot has happened this past year and last minute I decided that I’d visit my family in Europe – but then take off to find out what Europe is like, maybe along the way I might find myself.”
I talked about work, and I talked about what might come next. I told them I wasn’t sure about the direction the ship is sailing and was thinking about changing course, head up to Oregon or Washington. Somewhere a little cooler, somewhere a little greener. We talked about Triathlon, I talked about how I got into racing, about Ironman, about the accident. I shared with them the cold hard truth, that I might not be able to race again – but most importantly, what once drove me is no longer there. Maybe it was the accident, I think it was more about enlightenment. Triathlon is fun, I love it, I love to see the extent my body can endure.
While I didn’t mention this, I certainly did think about it while carrying on a different conversation. Triathlon is very different than being a bodybuilder or weightlifter. Not to insult anyone specifically, but I consider those people to be the most superficial people alive. There is truly no reason to ‘hulk out’ like they do – and the fact there is competitions for these people is something I find even more deplorable. Triathlon is nothing like that. Triathlon is a race. It is to see how far you can go and how much you can endure, while mastering three disciplines, and competing against the clock and your peers. Where bodybuilding is about discipline and routine, protein eating and moving heavy things, triathlon is almost all mental.
Your body will want you to quit. Your body will tell you enough is enough, and that there is no possible way it can run another mile. That it can’t handle one more hill on the bike. You aren’t listening to your iPod and texting on your phone. You are sweating and pushing and trying to stay up right while eating and drinking on the go. You become a machine with the only purpose of pushing from the starting line to the finish line.
My inner monologue ended and I came back to reality. I explained to them that sometime before the accident it had occurred to me that while I loved Triathlon I was using it as a means to an end, I was using it as a supplement for purpose in my life. The enlightenment that came before my accident was simple: there has to be more to life, my life, than just recreation.