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Das Letzte Wochenende

July 10th, 2011 No comments

Klettern

In less than a week my life here will be over, I’ll be back in America and the entire 3-year-long experience will be nothing more than a memory (and nearly a thousand pages’ worth of journal entries). I’ve been going about my life as though diagnosed with a terminal illness, thinking “is this the last time I’ll ever…?” for just about everything I do. I knew that this past Friday night was officially my last Friday night in Germany, and now every single day is the last [x]day I’ll have here.

Thankfully, my last Friday and last Saturday were excellent, full of experiences perfectly appropriate to be among my last in Germany. On Friday afternoon, Lena picked me up and drove me to Celle where she, Oliver, and I spent the evening in the backyard, playing with the dog, making a bonfire, and, naturally, drinking lots of beer. It was the first time I’d hung out with both of them together in at least a month and it was a lovely time as usual, made a little more emotional by knowing it would be my last night there in Celle. We talked about lots of things, none of which are as important as the fact that we had nice conversations in the first place. I remember them asking me what I’ll miss most about Germany, and while they said “other than the people” the honest answer is that it will be the two of them.

I may never spend the night in Celle again (when I come back to visit they might have moved on by then), but I’ll at least see Oliver and Lena one more time each. Oliver will be taking me to the airport on Friday (we’ll be leaving Hannover on Thursday to get closer to Düsseldorf to be there in the morning of the flight) and Lena will come too unless she has to do something for her studies. If she can’t join us though, she said she’d meet me one afternoon in Hannover to say goodbye. I don’t even want to think about that right now.

On Saturday we had to get up relatively early (9:00) to get ready to go on a climbing-trip that Lena’s friend Simone had organized over a month before. Simone is the same woman who organized the two “Grünkohlwanderung”s I went on, but this time she wanted to try something different and set up a time-slot for us to go to one of these giant climbing things that look like oversized jungle-gyms. It’s where a lot of businesses send their employees to have these “team-building exercises” and that’s what our group of about 12 people would be doing in spite of the fact that we’re not a “team” of any kind and all that binds us together is that we all know Simone or someone who knows Simone.

Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. When I got up at 9:00 after a night of many beers, I went out to walk Oliver’s dog (also very sad to think that was the last time I’d do that) and all I could think was how the last thing I felt like doing was climbing up a giant wall with a big group of people.

We drove into Hannover to pick up a couple of other girls who decided to join, and then another half-hour or so to the southwest of Hannover in a region called the “Deister” which in comparison to the extreme flatness Hannover could be called “mountainous” but really it’s just a lot of hills. It was a very nice area though, and we were hoping for good weather. The morning was nice and sunny but the clouds had rolled in by the time we got there and the forecast called for a chance of rain or even thunderstorms.

Some navigational difficulties made us the last to arrive, but when we got there I immediately recognized a few faces from the Grünkohlwanderungs. In addition to Simone were the lovely Inge and her boyfriend-recently-turned-husband Matthias, and four or five others whose faces I remember but whose names I’ve forgotten. There was going to be a BBQ at Simone’s place after the climbing, and I was looking forward to that more than the climbing itself, so my attitude at the very beginning was very much along the lines of “let’s just get this over with.”

Before we did any actual climbing, there was about an hour of team-building exercises. There was one girl who worked there named Sybille who was in charge of our group (there were a few other people there but no other big groups) and she led us to a big wooden log on the grass and told us to line up on it. She then instructed us to rearrange ourselves in alphabetical order by first name, but we couldn’t get off the log because the grass was water in the Amazon, infested with crocodiles and other nasty things that would eat you if you fell in.

Right to left: Ana, Inge, me, Lena, Matthias, Moni, Oliver, um...

We managed to rearrange ourselves without too much trouble, but as we did she kept moving a pair of ropes on the edge of the log closer to each other (the log was sinking, you see) so we had to squeeze in closer and closer to each other. I’m sure this is highly effective team-building psychology: forcing the people to stand in uncomfortably close proximity to one another must help to create synergy.

Next we had to cross the treacherous Amazon waters to a wooden platform several meters away using only plastic beer crates, but Sybille kept kicking the crates away from us if we used them and then let go. Inge was the first to step out on the crates, and she brought one back over to the log. I’d been standing next to her on the log so I stepped out onto the one she brought, but I lost my balance and “fell in the water”. Sybille didn’t see, and while I was perfectly willing to be “dead” and just watch the rest of the exercise from the side-lines, there was another girl there to assist and she told me to just get back on the crate and pretend it didn’t happen. Then Sybille decided to make things even more difficult and she tied a bandana around Simone’s legs and around mine. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, figuring there was no way I could possibly get across now, but Inge figured out that by keeping two crates right next to each other and both of us moving to one at the same time, she could slowly but surely get me to the platform before going back to help the others.

Getting there... Hmmm...

Eventually we all got to the platform, which was teetering on another wooden log, our objective being to shift our balance of weight so that the platform wouldn’t hit the ground on either side for fifteen seconds. We had a very difficult time with this until I suggested we all stand as close to the middle as possible, at which point we made it for about twelve seconds but apparently that was enough.

Then we had to get across the crates again to a patch of dirt which was also safe-ground, and there was a wall of ropes resembling a spider’s web. Our next task was to get everyone through the ropes without touching them or re-using any of the openings. The group just kind of stood there dumbfounded for a moment, not having any idea how this could be done, but I think I’ve done something like this before (I can’t for the life of me remember where—possibly a Boy Scout trip when I was young) but I seemed to intuitively know what to do. We first had to get a couple of people through the ropes at the bottom with them crawling on their hands and some of us lifting the rest of their bodies up from the back, at which point they could then help others by lifting them from the front. We did this quite successfully, but of course the last two people through had to be blind-folded to make it more interesting.

With that finished I was finally able to un-bind my legs, but now all of us except for Oliver had to be blind-folded and standing in a line with our hands on the person’s shoulders in front of us, and Oliver had to lead us from behind only by tapping on the person’s shoulders in front of him to signal which way we had to turn, and that person would tap the person in front of them and so on until the signal reached the front and the whole group turned accordingly. That was a rather annoying task, but we eventually got to where we were going: a solid wooden wall that we all had to get over.

Once again, I knew exactly what to do because I’d done this sort of thing before, either in Boy Scouts or for high school gym class. I asked someone else to help me lift a guy up by the legs so he could get over the wall, and then he could help raise everyone else up while we continued lifting them by the legs. We got over in an extremely short amount of time, the girl who was in charge seemed quite impressed, and then it was finally time for the last exercise which involved getting us all across a couple of tightropes arranged in the shape of a triangle. I’d done this before as well so I went first to show others what to do (you just hold the hands of a person on the other rope and the next people hold onto you and so on) and we again finished in a very short amount of time.

By then I was already enjoying myself more than I thought I’d be, and after a fifteen-minute break I was ready for the actual climbing. Sybille equipped us all with the proper gear, showed us how to put it on and checked that we had it right, then brought us over and gave a little run-down of the proper safety procedures. She knew I spoke English so she’d occasionally translate for me, but during that part Inge translated for me, revealing for the first time to me that her English is actually quite superb.

Sybille preparing Oliver. Strapping myself in. Do I really want to go up there?Inge's not so sure either. 

Everyone needs a partner for the climbing, so Oliver and I paired up. We first had to climb a fifteen-meter wall with little color-coded climbing-nubs arranged in three rows: yellow was easy, blue was moderate and red was difficult. With me spotting him from the ground, Oliver first attempted the red path but it proved too difficult (you have to actually lift yourself up by the fingertips) so he switched to the blue wall and went the rest of the way up that path. Oliver mentioned before we went that he’s a little afraid of heights, so I was quite impressed by him for making it up there, as well as everything he did at the top. Another girl spotted me while I climbed up the blue path, and while I’ve never climbed up one of these sorts of walls before it all came perfectly naturally. I used to love climbing trees and monkey-bars when I was a kid, and this whole apparatus was like a mega-sized monkey-bars for adults.

                      Inge on the easy path.    Oliver attempting the difficult path.

But on those jungle-gyms as a kid you’d play by using your imagination. Up on this beast you didn’t need your imagination. It was enough of an adrenaline rush to be up so high and walking across various sorts of obstacles. We all had ropes with hooks that we had to carefully attach to the wires that ran above every obstacle, so there was no danger of falling to your death but it was still a rather nerve-wracking experience.

There were enough obstacles so that our whole group could be up there at once and still not have to wait too often for others to finish, but watching others get across was almost as fun as getting across yourself. Describing what these obstacles were like would be tedious and pointless.

Oliver on the trickiest obstacle.  Simone walking on air. Flying high. Look mom, no hands!

The most nerve-wracking obstacle though was simply a gap of about one meter between one little platform and another. Sybille kept egging me on to do the most difficult challenges, and when I got to that one she insisted I jump across without relying on my safety ropes (which people could easily cheat by holding on to while making the jump). “Just imagine there’s a beautiful woman on the other side” she said. I had no choice but not to chicken-out, and I figured if these platforms were a meter apart but right on the ground I wouldn’t think twice about it. The only different between them being one meter above the ground and fifteen meters was psychological. I hopped across successfully, and even convinced Oliver to do the same.

We spent maybe an hour and a half up there altogether, and the weather was very weird the whole time. The sun shined for a few minutes, then the clouds came back, sometimes it started raining a little, then the sun would come out again, and on and on. It was actually quite cool for being up there, to have wind, sun, and a little rain all mixed together. Though there were thunderstorms happening in the distance, luckily none of them hit us directly.

The final thing to do was climb a post up to a platform 25 meters high and slide down a long rope to the bottom. Sybille was waiting for us up there to get us connected right and send us on our way. Leaping off that platform and just letting gravity take you down was quite a thrill, and I’m glad one of Lena’s friends was there with her camera to take pictures of the people sliding down. I ended up being the last one off, and then Sybille slid down after me.

View from the bottom.Lena on her way down. Oliver on his way down. Me on my way down.

We still had about an hour left by the time we were all on the ground, and we used it to give everyone a turn on this big swing-thing where your friends pull on a rope to lift you up, then the rope detaches when you’re at the top and sends you swinging back-and-forth. A big thrill for the first few seconds, and then surprisingly relaxing as you rock gently back and forth.

Eventually it was time to go, and all of us were clearly in great spirits after that experience. Oliver also remarked that it had been way more enjoyable than he expected. I certainly had a much better time than I thought I would, which looking back I think is rather silly. Of course it was going to be a great time—it’s just a bunch of frequent doses of adrenaline pumped you’re your brain over and over again. The thrill of conquering fear, of making it across the obstacle, of jumping off the super-tall platform, and so on. When it’s over, you feel like you can conquer anything.

The wind-up. The swinging.

The relaxing. Moo

Sybille told us when it was over that we were one of the best groups she’s had. And just as we were all thinking, “she probably says that to every group” she insisted that she really meant it with this group and then explained how we were different than most groups. I could imagine if most of the groups she does are business-teams, this loose collection of friends and acquaintances who were only there for a good time might have been better.

So after that great experience it was time to go to the BBQ at Simone’s which after a bit of a round-about trip to drop off the girls from Hannover at the train station and check out a nearby location from Oliver’s past, we got there and found everyone from the climbing-trip as well as a few others at Simone’s place. I’d expected to enjoy the BBQ more than the climbing, but I was so dehydrated and so sick of beer from the night before that I just started off drinking water and only had two beers the whole evening. As such I didn’t get as outgoing as I’m capable of and mostly talked only to Oliver and Lena. But being in a big group they were mostly talking to others, always in German, and I found my mind wandering quite often.

Real-life German BBQ!

During dinner I was sitting next to a couple of guys whom I eventually realized were gay once they started kissing each other in front of everyone. I thought that was fantastic—not so much for them but for the group. It’s my understanding that most Germans are pretty intolerant about that sort of thing, but here was a group of about fifteen Germans and the gay guys could be openly gay in front of everyone without anyone seeming to have a problem with it.

 Simone's man talking at length about watermelon.There are literally over ten pictures of this. Boyfriends :) Simone and Inge sipping schnapps.

At one point, one of the guys there got us all in a circle for a little game he invented (or stole from somebody else) to test our “social competence”. He handed us all a piece of paper with a number that had to be kept secret. When he called out our number we’d have to fall and the people standing next to us would have to catch us—typical trust-building exercise. He called 6 and Simone went down and I and the person to the other side of her had to catch her. Then he called 5 and Oliver went down. Then he called 8 and everyone else went down, because everyone else had the number 8. That was pretty clever and we all had a good laugh.

After that Oliver and Lena decided it was time to go. I said goodbye to a few people there including Simone, making sure to thank her for the great time. She said the next time we see each other will probably be the next Grünkohlwanderung, but alas it’s highly unlikely I’ll be around for any more of those.

Oliver and Lena were heading back to Celle but they didn’t want to drop me off at my flat because you need a special ticket to drive in the city of Hannover and they were worried about getting caught without one. We had to drive by the E.ON building in Mühlenberg so I said they could drop me off there and I’d take the same tram home that I used to take several times a week.

They pulled into the parking lot near the station and got out to wish me goodbye. I wasn’t sure if this was the last time I’d see Lena, but she assured me that if she can’t help take me to the airport this week she’ll definitely meet up with me before then. Still, we hugged each other tightly and even got a little teary. The real goodbye is going to be very difficult.

So I said goodbye and took the tram back from Mühlenberg to Waterloo station near my flat, which was weird because I’d thought the previous Thursday—my last day of work—would be the last time I’d see that E.ON building or ride that tram. But I knew last night that it really would be the last time I rode the tram in Hannover.

Not wanting to sink straight back into my couch after such a big day, I did a little cycling as twilight turned to night, and went to bed relatively early to recharge more of the energy I’ve been expending. Now it’s my last Sunday in Germany, and once I get this blog entry done I intend to enjoy it to the fullest.

I always try to live for the moment, but in these “final-stretch” periods of my life it becomes downright necessary to appreciate every last second to the fullest, and knowing the end is near makes it easier.