The day started with another bracing walk on a fresh German morning to our favourite local bakers. I can’t remember exactly what I ordered but I think it was a hot chocolate and a large bowl full of sugar. I also remember going back for a second helping of sugar. Life is good.
It gave us half an hour to take part in one of my favourite pastimes, people watching. It must have been around 8.15am when we sat down to consume our pastries and as we chatted, a group of 16-18 year old school kids began to gather at the tables outside. It could have been any one of a million places around the world that day and the scene would have been pretty much the same.
Heavy backpacks filled with knowledge to come later that day, carried without burden. Smiles as new friends joined the table and happy sips of coffee taken while stories and jokes were shared. It is such a shame that this virus has stolen such opportunities to network and just ‘be human’ for the best part of two years or more.
Like all travel, 90% of things are exactly the same but it’s that 10% difference that makes things so exciting and interesting to me. The one thing I spotted that I had never seen before was that after the kids had finished their breakfast and were setting off to school, they marched in with a toothbrush and toothpaste at the ready to brush their teeth.
Our final day at the conference passed without too much to talk about that wasn’t fantastically dull so I won’t dwell. But that was the event over and we had worked hard, walked over 50,000 steps in the previous three days, and had made a load of friends and connections. We decided to reward ourselves with a trip into town to visit the Christmas markets that were opening that night.
We met at the tram stop and stood for the first few stops before noticing two spare seats at the end of the carriage. We walked down in that way you only do on any form of transport, like a drunk trying to get from the bar to his seat in the pub without spilling a drop of his precious cargo. We flumped into the seats and were delighted to spot that the lady in the seat opposite and facing us was cuddling a small bedraggled dog on her lap.
I couldn’t help myself and immediately asked if I could say ‘hello’ to the dog. The owner said ‘Yes, of course’ but by the time the words had popped out of her mouth, I was already giving it tickles under the chin. Her tail wagged and her ears pricked up and she was loving the attention; a happier dog you would not find.
I was 100% focused on the dog, so when I looked up and saw the owner crying, I got quite the shock. My colleague and I both felt terrible and asked if everything was alright and she proceeded to break our hearts. She explained that she was on the way home from the vets and had just been told that her dog, Baby, had a month to live as she had incurable stomach tumours.
She had come over to Germany from Iran and had brought Baby with her and she has been with her every step of the way. Well, there wasn’t a dry eye on the tram. We didn’t know where to put ourselves and we couldn’t believe that this little gentle dog was terminally ill.
Just then, Baby spotted a pretty decent sized cockapoo walking down the street and through the tram window, suddenly turned into a snarling monster. Yapping and barking like possessed fur ball, she was determined to let everyone know she fancied a scrap. The cockapoo was totally oblivious, but if it had heard the commotion, it would have been running up a tree to avoid a confrontation.
This lightened the mood, the whole tram was laughing at this tiny dog thinking it was Rambo and the poor owner was desperately trying to calm her down while fighting back the tears. I don’t recall exactly what we said to try and comfort her, what can you say? But we did our best and left as good friends, unsure if we were incredibly happy and uplifted or morbidly depressed at how tough and finite life is.
When we got off the tram we were in the centre of Dusseldorf and it felt like a totally different place to the one we had visited just the night before. It was as if everyone had woken from hibernation and were excited to be out in the real world again.
The Christmas market was in full flow and seemed to stretch around three different markets that merged into one across the city, like someone had dropped melted Christmas into the streets. There were funfair rides, an ice rink, music, food stall, Glühwein and stalls selling all sorts of Christmas related shenanigans. I wanted to use the word ‘tat’ but it was all too expensive to be tat I think.
We were both particularly excited by a stall selling trays of deep fried grated potato, mashed into a flat disk shape and served with a dollop of apple sauce. Imagine a huge stroopwafel but made of hash brown mix….you’re getting close. As you bit into it, the grease dribbled down your chin and you could feel life expectancy dropping off you, but you didn’t care.
Wiping the excess grease out of my beard and watching the smiling faces prepping for Santa Clause and all of his excesses, there was one person in Dusseldorf that I focused on. One person that wasn’t in the crowd, he was sitting in the 10th floor of an office block working away at his computer with his little crisp shirt on at nine o’clock at night. I felt sorry for him. I wanted to explain that whatever it was, it wasn’t worth it. Knock off, come down and join the fun, as no one would be thanking you for whatever it was you were doing.
Dusseldorf had some incredibly nice shops. I didn’t see an equivalent of B&M Bargains or a single €1.20 shop. Very high end and fancy, it was a well to do place and there was no shortage of people spending.
The vibrancy, light and noise all made me appreciate how lucky I was to be there and how much we had missed out on by being stopped from travelling for the previous two years. It felt good to be there and I just missed Titchy being there alongside me.
As we walked around, I spotted a bus heading to Ratingen. I knew I recognisedthat placename from somewhere and then recalled that it was the twinned town with Cramlington and Blyth Valley, just 15 minutes from my home town and a name that I see often on street signs as I drive around locally. Sometimes it’s a small world.
We had a wonderful meal in a wonderful restaurant in the centre of town. The only problem was the waiter’s face when I asked for a rum and cranberry juice. That was a level of exoticism that he was just not prepared for at all. I ended up with a large beer that confused him just as much to be fair.
This pretty much brought an end to the German trip. I won’t bore you with me arriving at the airport the next morning three hours early after I had spent an hour walking there through a building site;it just gets embarrassing after a while. Mind, not as embarrassing as the half dozen or so people walking around the airport with their event lanyards around their necks the day after it had finished, weirdos.