Beobachter: Warum sind wir Hier?

Beobachter in English translates to “Observer”. In this series, I explore the momentous move I made in the beginning of 2022, coming from sunny California, to the industrial powerhouse of Europe: Germany.

“You should go. When I went, it was one of the best times of my life.”

So I was told on that summer day in the office of my dad’s dealer friend’s small used car dealership on the corner of two streets in Oakland, California. We [my dad and I] were there to drop one of his friend’s cars – a BMW Z3, actually – off at a shop where we were friends with the owner. A few minutes prior, the three of us were in said Z3 – my dad in the passenger seat, his friend in the driver’s seat, and me awkwardly smushed in the middle – legal, this was not, but it did work.

That, however, is besides the point. My dad and his mates – all from Iran, had spent time in Europe during their youth, and one of the the things my dad wanted for me to do is to go to Europe, learn a new language (I’m really not very sure how he thought I or anyone could learn a new language in a few short months, especially considering English is his second language, but I digress), and get exposed to culture. Culture, mind you, is just not really something the Bay Area has…well, it has a culture, yes, but not….how can I put this nicely? A classical type of culture. The idea really is to be exposed to new ideas and culture before coming back to start on a Master’s degree.

Does this all sound familiar? In effect, the whole idea is basically a Grand Tour – a practice that well off Europeans, mainly men, performed when they came of age at around 21. They would travel, usually accompanied by a guide, to places like Italy to experience classical culture – especially since this was the only way to see certain artworks and hear certain music.

Originally, I was not exactly keen on the idea. Back in California, I have my many automobiles, my girlfriend at the time, a job, and just an unwillingness to leave. The outside world was scary, and the thought of being away from my girlfriend and cars for months at a time wasn’t a very pleasant one – not to mention there would be no way to take off months at a time from work.

As fate would have it, those problems more or less sorted themselves out. I got fired from my job, I broke up with my ex, and know my cars would be safe and sound at home. With the stage set, the tickets were booked in November, 2021.

The original plan was from the beginning of February until late August; I (with my sister, who lives with me – I’m somewhat convinced that bringing her along was partially my parents just wanting to be rid of us) would sign up for a language school, learn German for a few months, and then travel Europe for the rest before coming back to the US. While Hannover has the best High German, I chose Stuttgart as the place to go – if only because of my fascination and love with Porsche. Rent costs on foreigner targeted websites such as wunderflats.com seemed rather high, so we would get a small AirBNB for a week and sort out where we would want to live soon after getting there.

I remember the last day I was in California pretty well. I woke up, and after having carefully packed my bags the days before, which involved deciding what to wear and making sure the suitcases weighed less than 50 lbs (21 kgs), had breakfast, loaded the car (my E46 325i), and with my mom, dad, sister, and grandmother, set off towards San Francisco International Airport. I would have loved to use my 7 Series for this task, but after an incident there where my car was hit at the airport by an old man in a Honda SUV, decided to play it safe with the smaller, more disposable four door. Fitting everything in the back was a challenge, but I did make it work.

Douglas, 8th Duke of Hamilton, on his Grand Tour with Dr. John Moore and his son, John. Painted by Jean Preudhomme in 1774.

Not that any of that mattered. The drive there was as dull as could be, but getting through the first hurdle (check in) could be anything but. Lufthansa was nice enough to not warn us that in order to actually check in, you had to perform a COVID survey with the German government. Doing that on our phones, with our luggage in hand, was…stressful, to put it in one word.

No matter, for we did get past that hurdle, and then the teary-eyed goodbyes with my parents came. This was the first time in my life that I was going to be without them for a significant period of time, and…well, everyone has a different experience, but to go from living with two people all of your life to being a world away from them was quite the shock to me.

I do not really need to describe the pain in the ass that is the TSA, nor lugging yourself with your bags throughout the terminal to find the right gate, do I? I found a nice place by the gate – Joe’s Juice Bar – and bought an overpriced coffee, sat down with my M1 Pro 16″ Macbook Pro and killed time on the internet before it was time to board.

Up until now, things have been more or less going to plan. After this point, things get…weird. But, that’s for next time. Until then.

Me, at the airport. I do appreciate the iPhone 12 Pro’s front camera!

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