Bremen: Driving across 4 countries with a total stranger and getting a haircut in German
After two weeks of observing classes and working for only about three hours, we had two weeks of break for the Toussaint holidays. I decided that I wanted to go somewhere that was a bit further away and wouldn’t be feasible for a weekend trip later on, so I ended up booking myself a covoiturage (carpool) to Bremen, Germany through Blablacar, a website that lets you find other people to carpool with across Europe.
I’d never used it before and was frankly a bit worried about the idea of getting in a car with a total stranger to drive for six hours to Germany; it pretty much seemed like formalized hitchhiking and I’d be traveling solo this time. I took the train into Lille and found the hotel that I thought I was supposed to be meeting my ride at, but naturally it turned out that there was another one that I was actually supposed to go to. After a few phone calls that I really could not understand, she finally found me and was super nice about the whole thing.
We set off to drive through 4 countries (it took only 3 hours to cross the borders of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany!). My French was decent enough to be able to sustain a conversation much of the way, and I watched out the window as the languages on all the signs changed and we drove past countless windmills. We stopped for lunch in Duisberg, where I got a delicious saladbaguette and we sat on a bench in town, people-watching and trying to memorize a few German phrases.
We set off again and ended up getting stuck in traffic, so that by the time we arrived in Bremen it was almost dark. I’d been hoping to explore a bit, so after dropping everything in the hostel, I starting wandering around the neighborhood I was in. It was starting to hit me that I was totally alone in a country where I really didn’t know the language and I was starting to miss Bethune. I considered just taking a bus the next day to Amsterdam instead of staying in Bremen for another night.
I found a cafe and ordered a soft, delicious sunflower seed bagel and read through some articles, which was just what I needed. I kept passing by a salon and a bunch of thrift stores and started thinking that I could just stick around for another day and finally get that haircut I’d been wanting since before coming to France and buy the coat that had become necessary weeks earlier. After closing out a book shop and getting some falafel, I headed back to the hostel and hung out with some of the other travellers there. I decided to give Bremen another chance and stay an extra night.
The next day, I was woken up to a sledgehammer outside the window and the giggles of the others in my room. I booked myself a bed for another night and headed out to the salon down the street.
I went in and asked if anyone spoke English. One of the hairdressers came up and spoke with me, but the one who ended up actually cutting my hair mostly spoke German. I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my hair was at her mercy at this point.
After leaving with my head a whole lot lighter, I headed downtown. I hadn’t read up too much on Bremen before coming, but I had seen someone mention Böttcherstrasse, so I happened to find it close to the town square and wandered around:
It’s this alleyway with a lot of quirky details all along it and felt like a completely different world.
I then made my way back to the main square, where there was a small fair, part of the much larger festival going on in Bremen at the time:
I was originally not going to go into the church, but decided that I might as well check it out and I’m so glad I did. It might actually be my favorite church that I’ve ever visited. I loved the color scheme inside, and the lighting was beautiful:
There weren’t too many people around, and photography was allowed, so I took tons of photos and took some time to just sit and take it all in:
After a while, I finally made my way out of the exit, which led into a small courtyard:
I also stumbled on the windmill on the way back from the Freimarkt:
I ended up being really happy that I went to Bremen. It was a great chance to play around with photography again, which I hadn’t done in a while, and to explore on my own. At the same time, it made me realize that even though it’s only been a few weeks, Bethune feels like home and I was excited to get back. It ended up being weirdly productive and also made me appreciate how nice it was to actually know some French while living in France; even though most of the people I met in Germany spoke at least some English, most signs were still in German and I felt as if I was missing out on quite a bit. It was pretty neat, however, to see that it was possible to get a lot of things done even without knowing German as long as I was willing to accept the possibility of some terrible hair.