Why did I go backpacking to Germany? Solo?
Because you don’t always get to celebrate Easter with a German couple and a Syrian refugee with an easy going dog listening on patiently to your conversations about religion and world peace!
Or have an animated conversation with a young German guy on the flight who spent a year in India learning healing techniques at Varanasi and Hariharpura!
Or bask in the sun with another Indian solo traveler and hundreds of others in one of the many beer gardens at Munich!
Or get lost in the by lanes of Berlin not worrying a dime about where you are!
Or control your tears when listening about the World War II stories at the Jewish museum and Dachau concentration camp!
Or climb the church tower at Rothenberg ob der Tauber to catch a glimpse of the old city hoping not to get blown away by the wind!
Or travel with an unreserved open ticket in a city to city train sitting at the corridors and enjoying the pristine views of the countryside!
Or explain to an Italian – Peruvian couple over dinner that you don’t find elephants walking in the middle of the street in India!
I am not a rebel or a loner. I travel solo for the experiences. And Germany, to be honest, is because I am biased. I wanted to visit the country ever since I had learnt german in college.
“Ab hier nudebaden” or something similar was the welcome sign at Hermann and Dorothea’s (my AirBnb host) house at Munich where I spent the first 4 days of my trip. My German skills were not good enough to understand what it meant and I soon forgot about it. But when Hermann pointed out to it during one of our umpteen conversations about German culture, I cracked up having realized that he had stolen the signboard in his younger years from the English garden, the largest park in Munich (Trivia : English Garden is bigger than Central Park, New York). It meant “Here onwards is the nude bathing area”. We had a hearty laugh over it but I cannot imagine a signboard like that being funny back in India.
There were so many such small moments not just with people but with the country itself that made my trip all the more memorable. Like the few hours I spent at the Dachau concentration camp being intrigued by history like never before. I had goosebumps as I listened to my American tour guide talking about the prisoners of the camp and atrocities of Hitler. Not to hurt anybody’s sentiments, but after spending 9 days absorbing tons of german history, I’ve realized that Germany has had a history of unpopular rulers. The King Ludwig I, whose marriage anniversary is celebrated as Oktoberfest every year, had more relationships outside his marriage than one can imagine. Then came King Ludwig II, who probably thought being a king sucked and went across building castles he never lived in; Neuschwanstein castle being the most famous one. He eventually committed suicide (the germans still believe that he was killed by his own family members). And ofcourse there was Hitler. My tour guide at Dachau left me with this question, “Nikita, what have we learnt from history?”. That evening, when I met a Syrian refugee (Hermann and Dorothea were volunteering at refugee camp which is how I met him), I realized it was one thing to read about Syrian refugee stories on “Humans of New York” but when you actually meet one struggling to settle himself in a new country, with tragic memories of his own country, you know that we haven’t really learned from our history.
History apart and keeping aside the fact that I wasn’t fond of the Ludwigs, I absolutely loved the beer garden tradition in Germany that they started. The cherry on the cake is when you find another solo Indian traveller to sit with in one of those many beer gardens after a long day in the city. English garden felt like home that evening.
Traveling alone had its own set of challenges as well. I remember walking for hours in the lanes of Berlin and then having forgotten the name of the train station I had started from. Or the time when I almost missed my connecting flight from Istanbul. And then sometimes you just wish you could share your huge burger or that walk in the park with someone. Compared to Indian standards, 8 euros (INR 560) is a huge deal for a Mcdonald burger especially for someone who is on a budget trip. I did survive on Maggi noodles and theplas (Yes, Gujju genes at play) for the first few days!
Backpacking solo to a new country was always on my bucket list. But this trip was so much more than the tick on my list! The so much more I am not good enough to put in words. I wouldn’t do justice to it. But then as Mary Radmacher said “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world”. Cliché but true!