What It’s All About

Today was a great day. A great day. If you’d have asked me prior to my trip which days might be the ones that would stand out on this journey, I’m sure there’s no way I  would have told you that the day of a 35 kilometer mostly urban ride in which my destination was arguably the least “glamorous” of all 10 Euro 2024 host cities would be one of those days. But it was.

As I’m typing this, around midnight Wednesday night, from my bedroom of another Warm Showers host couple, the constant sound of car horns is ringing out throughout the city. The city is Gelsenkirchen. If you’re not a travel expert or an absolute aficionado of the country of Germany, tell me you’ve ever heard of this place. I hadn’t. Not before this trip. The car horns are from Turkish fans. Thousands of them, who came out tonight to cheer on their home country in the Euro 2024 football tournament. Germany has many, many Turkish immigrants, or second and third generation Turks whose families immigrated here 50 years ago or more. And the reason they’re celebrating is because their team, tonight, beat Czechia and therefore advanced out of the group stage and into the Round of 16, or the knockout stage, of the tournament. If you’re not a fan of international football, it’s a little difficult to explain why a night like this is such a monumental thing for the people of Turkiye, and those whose families immigrated from there. Football has that power. And winning in the Euros is a big deal, competing at the same level as world powers like France, Germany and England. It’s a source of national pride and something definitely to be celebrated. This is the beauty of the Euro 2024 tournament and the reason why I wanted to be here to be part of it.

The country of Georgia is also celebrating tonight, and there’s a large contingency of Georgians here as well. They, tonight, defeated mighty Portugal, and even though they’re finishing third in their group, they are also advancing to the next round due to the points they accrued in the group stage. This is Georgia’s first-ever appearance in a major, international football tournament, so for them to not just show up, but to beat one of the world’s top teams and therefore continue forward into the next round is a stunning, beautiful thing for this little known, and mostly overlooked, country. Georgia’s the home of peaches, Jimmy Carter and the Atlanta Braves, right? Nope. A different Georgia. One that, thanks to a great conversation with recent host Mariami in Dortmund who just happens to be from Georgia, I learned is dealing with a lot of political and governmental unrest with the push and pull of a country battling between whether to align itself with Europe and the West, or Russia and the East. The majority of the people want to be aligned with the West, while most in power are turning toward Putin and the East. This – Georgia kicking ass in the Euros – is a much needed respite and morale boost for the citizens who have been dealing with a lot of struggles and controversy back home.

Today was everything I was looking for when I planned this trip. Being part of the energy of the Euros, seeing fans embrace their team, their country, one another, is exactly why I love big international sporting events like this. Today was also a day of connection, another thing I was hoping to experience much of while in Germany. Monday night, after arriving in Dortmund, my host Marvin took me on a bicycle tour of the city. It was awesome. He’s a super cool guy and getting an insider’s view of Dortmund, seeing the sights, and enjoying some beers together was a highlight of my trip. There, however, was an incident. As we were riding along a path past a beautiful lake I couldn’t resist getting out my phone and videotaping what I was seeing. While riding, mind you. Stupid, I know, especially considering there were a lot of pedestrians and other cyclists on the path. Suddenly, with my eyes on the lake and not on the trail, I turned. A little girl on a scooter was speeding toward me, down a hill and directly into my path. I tried swerving to avoid her and braking to stop, but I was unable. She fell. I fell. We crashed. Luckily, neither of us was hurt so it could have been much worse than it was, but as Marvin and I continued riding that night I could tell there were a few things wrong with my bike. I’d walked away unharmed, but my bike hadn’t.

Flash forward to today, as I rode from Dortmund to Gelsenkirchen. My bike wasn’t in terrible shape, but I could tell it wasn’t operating like it should. There were some clicks and squeaks, and it would slip out of gear when I tried using some of the lower gears. Then I arrived to the apartment of my Warm Showers hosts, Thomas and Maja. They’d prepared a lunch for me which we enjoyed on the terrace of their apartment. During the conversation I mentioned my bike, and my accident. Maja right away told me that she belongs to a cycling club in the city and that she has a friend from the club who would probably be happy to take a look at my bike. She called him, and sure enough, he was willing to help.

So, later in the evening I met Kay (pronounced like Kai), on a pedestrian bridge at a lock and dam site of the canal that flows through the city. Kay had ridden his bright orange electric cargo bike, the cargo area filled with all the tools he might need to fix my bike. He lifted my bike onto the repair stand and went to work. Immediately he found the source of the problem – the front wheel had gone completely out of alignment. He worked his magic, and voila, a few minutes later my bike was as good as new.

I insisted he let me buy him a beer for his troubles so together we made our way over to the public viewing Fan Zone just a few hundred meters away. Kay actually said that helping me was no bother to him and that in his life he’s experienced many occasions where people have helped him with his bike or given him assistance during his travels. He felt like he was paying forward the kindness of others and that he was very happy to help me. One Bitburger beer turned into four as we spent the glorious summer night drinking, chatting with other football fans, and watching the teams from Turkiye and Georgia both do something extraordinary for their countries. Connection. A very serendipitous connection, one which would never have happened had I not collided with a little German girl on my bike back in Dortmund two days before. I guess that’s how life works. Don’t try to explain it. Don’t feel like you’re in complete control of it. Because you’re not. Sometimes things just happen.

As I get ready to go to sleep, the car horns are still blaring outside my window. This will be the music I fall asleep to, apparently. Thomas and Maja have been great hosts and I’ll join them for breakfast in the morning before heading off for Dusseldorf. It’s another relatively short ride, so I’ll be able to rest and relax a bit in the morning before I leave. I’ll be staying with Nicki, a friend I met while traveling in Croatia two summers ago. It will be great to see her. There’s a break now in the football tournament, which is probably a good thing for me. I could use a few nights of just enjoying Germany and the people I’m with, rather than being fully consumed by football. But then a few days from now the knockout round begins, with each match being a “win or go home” scenario. The stakes will be much higher, and I cannot wait to be part of it!

3 thoughts on “What It’s All About

  1. Karla Harriman

    Such opposite environments you are in when alone on the bike crossing the countryside and then all the noise cheering horns when in the mix of the celebratory futbol fans … Fun !

  2. Laura Guadalupe Carreon Jimenez

    Muy cierto es que hay cosas que parecieran momentos terribles, como chocar contra una pequeña, pero abren las puertas de algo nuevo e inesperado, conocer nuevas personas. Suele pasar, no siempre se tiene la fuerza mental para no desesperar y enojarse con uno mismo, siempre hay que ver que cambio positivo trae una mala pasada. Sigo leyendo la gran aventura y aprendiendo las lecciones que cada ciudad, cada familia o cada suceso van dejando.
    Le voy a España, los puedo ver como ganadores!


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