Chased by rain and an icy wind off the North Sea we sped out of the lands of Nether at 200km an hour on the ICE train. Every click of track carried me deeper into the continent, deeper into what the hell am I doing here. Just when I wasn’t getting the hang of the Dutch it was on to being baffled by Germans. Luckily I had a German guide with me who handled train tickets, taxi, hotel check-in, joined me at dinner buffet, then left me to fend for myself. I slept well in an efficient and tiny German hotel bed.
I love saying Good Morning to people while running on the trail, sipping coffee, buying celery. So I was happy to make my way to breakfast exchanging “Guten Morgens” and then just “Morgens” as I got hip to the local ways.
I quickly got hip to the fact that it’s not a true German breakfast if you don’t end up with meat sweats afterward. I’ve never eaten so many different animals so many times over for breakfast. But it was good to eat beyond my fill, and write, and drink the one cup of coffee I was offered.
Tying the laces of your pilgrim boots is not a penultimate act. One does not train in seclusion until the grand ordination when the waxed cord bends and dives and draws fast, forever asserting the smooth step ahead as one leaps from the monastery heights. You tie again and again, and some days the knot is uneven as old cobblestones and other days smooth as rail and either way you’re free to strut or stumble on whatever pebbles or broken walls present themselves.
But in Germany I started to get the hang of my ties and the rhythm of the soles of my wingtips, even as the forecast called for more treacherous winter. I ate, I slept, I soaked in the waters my guide showed me. We drank Negronis at the water bar, sweated in the wood-fire saunas at the edge of barbarian woods, stood in cold showers as if rinsing off the blood of Romans.
And still the platform came too soon, as it must. Before arriving at the station we found the church from 822 AD locked just prior to our trying the great iron handle, so we knelt and conducted ritual of metal devotion in the baroque pomp next door.
I said goodbye to Guide and Germany as I boarded the train pointed toward Prague. I showed my savvy by accidentally sitting in first class – oh the horror of conductor and passenger alike! Back to my humble seat to watch as we passed through great cold landscapes, haunted castles on dark hills silhouetted by an ill-setting sun. Germany will never produce vampires who twinkle and equivocate about blood.
Prayer of Germany: Wind and snow, inspire high fires in the hearts and homes of all winter’s people; Blood of this land, drive dancing feet deeper into this world; Steel and stone, teach us to love fierce and heavy with time; Light, last long enough to show all travelers safe haven.