I didn’t think it would take that long or the moment would be so dramatic. I didn’t realise that I had been waiting 10 months for it to happen or that I would be able to pinpoint the exact spot where it did. I finally fell in love with Köln. I look now not only at souvenirs of the Dom in pride but also ones about the typical ‘Kölsche Tag’ with Halber Hahn, der FC and Karneval. Living, working and studying far away from the city centre, nestled in my own bubble of sports and dorm-mates, it had so far been a SpoHo experience and a German one, but not one to make me appreciate the light, slightly lazy Kölsch. What Kölsch did not manage on its own, that summer evening, in combination with “internationalised” Germans at Brüsseler Platz I was easy prey. Grabbing a beer at Le Kiosk with friends, and friends of friends, carrying out conversations in a drunken combination of Deutsch and English, the sudden summer showers and rushing into a pub just like the ones in Bangalore – I finally realised how special Köln is. An open city that welcomes all cultures yet retains its own original flair – a little bit like Pune or Bangalore, and yet another city that’s stolen a piece of my heart – progressively and steadily eroding my indifference until I finally know I’ll always miss it when I leave.
The European summer can do that to even the most hardened cynic (which I’m not!). I wouldn’t say I’m resistant to change, I’m only apathetic to it. But when I’ve decided to switch on 1live.de the local radio station, I do it whole heartedly. I watched some movies in German (lets thank my lack of technical skills for that one), I realised for the most part I can follow the plot. Except that one movie in the end where I’m not quite sure whether the couple called it quits in the last scene or decided to marry. Ah well, can’t win them all!
The summer has been magical. Apart from hosting my parents and sharing my life here with them, I also got to see my best friend for a day. Back in daily life, I’ve enjoyed soaking up the warmth and sun just lying outside, studying outdoors or having picnic dinners at “the log”. I've hidden under my blanket from giant wasps and in my bathroom from marauding dragonflies the size of Drogon. Work days and library nights, trying to balance and juggle a full plate. While writing my essays for school I know just how much I have learnt and gained by taking this risky step of leaving behind everything to come start afresh here. And when school gets too much, I can always escape to the banks of the Rhein. I enjoy cooking alone now, and I love salad and wine for dinner! After grilling and eating sausages on a warm summer evening, with some boiled potatoes and beer as sides, I feel like I'm ready to take on Merkel for her job. I like cycling around the city – looking at different types of houses and guessing the details of the lives of their occupants.
I’ve been exposed to a whole new world out there. K-pop – the band Big Bang and their song Bang Bang. Just when I thought nothing gets worse than Bollywood songs. Speaking of, I’ve also been quizzed about Shahrukh, ‘Haule Haule’ and numerous Bollywood movies by everyone from Syrian dorm-mates to Afghani pool staff. I’ve been mostly bored by American pop culture, or how little I know of it. A little more about Hungarian and Slovak family bonds and culture – a visit to the beautiful, exotic castles and palaces in Budapest and Vienna.
I’ve prayed in the back seat of a crazy Blabla car driver and fought about bed bug infestations with nutty hotel owners. Been lucky enough to explore pubs and beers in Düsseldorf that are over 200 years old! Italian pasta, love for olive oil and appreciation for good Parmesan are going to haunt me for a long while. Playing chess with a Portuguese guy and talking architecture, religion and movies with an Australian professor. At Frankfurt I met desis from Chennai and Luru, speaking with the same accents and using the same idiosyncratic phrases from my past. While endearing and nostalgic for half a day, I realised I’ve grown to need so much more than that to feel at home. The roars and cheers from the stadium at the beginning of the football season made me feel more at peace.
And sure, we are all so different and strange to each other. The German society is more individualistic and to an Indian that can be rude or cold. But at my lowest moments I've looked up to see my new friends standing by me. Crossing the language barrier and trying harder to speak German seems to make such a big difference, that it’s worth the embarrassment of wrong grammar or missing vocabulary. I’m counting days now to go home in a few weeks, to my lovely house and to the embrace of friends and family. My friends warn me to not expect things back home to be the same as how I left them. Or that I would have changed, and things wouldn’t seem the same to me anymore. That’s a scary thought, that all that is changing. Because it’s supposed to be home, right? Yes, fundamentally I’m the same person. But it’s our daily choices that determine most things in life, not ideals. Since I am an “alien” here, and have to process paperwork to be here, it must mean this summer dream isn’t home, it’s not real or lasting. Then what is? Are we even meant to have a home and stay in one place, with the same people forever? There is always so much more to see, explore, feel, and smell. But if you leave a piece of yourself behind at every place you go, then what’s left for yourself? Do you really grow or just go to bed lost? Missing and hurting for all that’s been seen and experienced? Do you keep looking ahead to the next adventure? Or looking back to the special memories?