This is my second summer living in Germany. For the few years before that I had always been based in Italy, which is lovely for my eating habits but maybe not so much for my six-pack. There is only so long an athlete can sustain themselves on pizza and gelato. I found the threshold and crossed it…many times. Before coming to Germany though, I was slightly apprehensive. Sure, I travel to a lot of different places, but I never actually spend much time in any one place. In my mind, Germans were a bit stoic and unfriendly, not to mention I was never a huge fan of schnitzel. Staying in Cologne last summer though changed my opinion drastically. The city was vibrant and full of life, and the people were friendly and open-minded.
Last year my apartment was smack dab in the middle of city centre, close to all the action and the hustle and bustle of everything. It was my kind of place. People spoke English, you could find any kind of food you desired, and Starbucks was just down the street. I didn’t have to pay rent for that apartment though so when it came time this year to find a place and the money was coming out of my own pocket, I opted for something a little more affordable, which translated to not staying in tourist central. For the first couple of weeks I absolutely hated it and complained to anyone who would listen. I think I actually claimed to be living in the ghetto. Of course, if you’ve ever been to the ghetto you’d laugh that I had the nerve to say that, but the graffiti all over the walls was my proof.
There are some people who like to immerse themselves in the local culture and there are others who like to have as many comforts of home as possible to make them feel at ease. I tend to be the latter. This neighborhood I was in was not for my type. None of the restaurants had menus I could read, hardly anyone spoke good English or even bothered to try, and there was NO STARBUCKS with free wifi in the vicinity. And I already mentioned the graffiti. It was everywhere.
Now that I am in my last week here though, I am realizing how much I grew to like this place. The restaurants in my neighborhood are some of the best I’ve experienced in Germany. I know people and they know me. There is the guy at the corner Kebab place who knows my order by heart. And the nice man at the phone shop who made it so that I could have internet on my laptop and doesn’t mind spending 15 minutes setting it up for me while I wait because I can never understand the German instructions. And the group of men at the Italian café who say ciao Bella every.single.time I walk by. Or my favorite…the owner of Felafel King just around the corner. He’s from Lebanon and his English isn’t that good so sometimes we try Spanish. I don’ speak Spanish but he knows I’m from California so he figures I know enough. I’ve seen pictures of his wife and kids. I pretty much know his whole life story, actually. And he always asks about my best friend that visited. He says she looks like Naomi Campbell and that’s true only in the sense that she’s black. But hey…if you are going to be compared to anyone, Naomi Campbell ain’t bad.
The graffiti no longer bothers me and I actually prefer not having Starbucks around the corner. Even with free wifi, 4 euros is just too much for a latte. I am SO ready to go home but I think I will be excited to come back next summer and say hello to my new friends.