Rain slithers down the window as my husband and I pass slowly through the picturesque countryside. The click, clack of the train combined with snores from a fellow passenger make for a strange syncopation of rhythm.
A little black boy prances down the aisle, stopping to talk to everyone. It’s my turn, and he speaks rapidly to me in a foreign language. Suddenly his mother (I assume) looms large in the picture, and from the sound of things, he’s in big trouble.
Josef, a man we’ve just met, leans across the aisle and says, “You have just entered Germany.”
At the next town, the train pulls to a stop and shuts down. Josef, who has become our temporary tour guide, explains. “The engines must be turned off so we can change the electric systems to German power.”
The train jerks to life and we head for Cologne where we need to change trains to reach our final destination … Dusseldorf … where my husband is attending a meeting.
At the Cologne ticket counter my husband asks, “Sproicken de English?”
“Nien” is the response and they point to the next window.
Tickets purchased, we climb aboard a packed train, finding two seats across from two middle-aged men.
“Sproicken de English?”
The men respond with words we don’t understand but the heads are nodding in the right direction. This must be the correct train.
At the ticket counter we were told the trip would take about 30 minutes. I keep an eye on my watch. About 27 minutes later we hear the word “Dusseldorf” in the announcement. We start to get up.
In chorus, the two men say, “Nien.”
Apparently we don’t get off here, so we sit back down. One man holds up three fingers and says, “minutae.” OK, we’ll wait three minutes.
The train slows again, we rise, and our protectors allow us to get off.
We spy a taxi and say “Queens Hotel.” As the driver throws our luggage in the trunk, he is muttering about 100 metres. He probably also included some words about crazy Americans. He drives out of the train station, turns the corner and comes to a stop … in front of the Queens Hotel.
Our room number is 219. But just to keep us on our toes, the main floor is 0. So room 219 is really on the third floor. This will be our home for almost a week.
After a book, bath and apple pie with ice cream, we enjoy a wonderful night’s sleep. Breakfast comes with the room: cold juices, hot drinks, eggs, sausage, breads, potatoes and fruit.
My husband leaves for his meeting. The lady at the front desk (who speaks a little English) shows me how to get to the shopping strip called Konigsallee, which means street of kings. I pass shops, restaurants and sex shops before I arrive at Konigsallee.
I receive a surprise when I follow the signs to the toilette. At the doorway sits a lady, her hand out, expecting money. I hold out my handful of Deustche Marks, she flicks through them, shakes her head and motions for me to go on in.
Back at the hotel that night, my husband decides to try the hot tub. He doesn’t stay long. The hot tub contains two couples in only their “skivvies.”
The next evening the Rhine River provides the backdrop for us as we dine. I have creamed chicken with corn and beans over a baked potato. Delicious.
His meeting over, my husband and I take a little side trip to the town of Wuppertal to visit Helmut, a friend of a friend. He meets us at the train and gives us a running commentary on everything as we pass. He points out a monorail system, the only system like that in the world, called a people mover. Each day, 70,000 people use it to go back and forth to work. It has been in operation for almost 100 years and never had an accident until the week before we came. Now it’s closed.
When our visit is over, Helmut offers to take us back to Dusseldorf, so we pile in his van. On the highway, Helmut drives faster and faster (and we have no seat belts). I can see the speedometer. We are going 180 kilometers, flying down the autobahn.
“How fast is that?”
He grins. “Over 100 mph.”
So little time … so many memories … all over way too soon.
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