In February of my college senior year, I went on a solo road trip to Boston. I was living in Atlanta. I was a student of electrical engineering at Georgia Tech. I enjoyed taking road trips to the northeast to New York where I used to live and to other cities like Washington D.C. and Boston. This particular February when I drove up to Boston, I visited the Berklee College of Music and stayed at a Youth Hostel, where I made friends with some students from Germany. We kept in touch by letter over the next weeks and months, and by summer I decided to bike Germany to pay a visit..

In preparation for the trip, I stopped by the Georgia Tech YMCA to obtain an international student ID. The young man at the YMCA said, “Yes, we issue international student IDs here. Where are you headed?” I answered that I was taking a bike trip to Germany. “Oh yes, I was an exchange student in Germany for a year through this office.”

On the day of my flight out of Atlanta, I attached the four side bags to my touring bicycle and biked down to the airport. I detached the wheels and the pedals of my bicycle, packed everything into the airline-provided bicycle box, taped it up, and checked it in as my luggage. In the early afternoon of the next day when I arrived in Hamburg, they delivered my bicycle box through the oversized luggage door. I carted my bicycle box towards the airport exit and found a corner where I opened the box, reassembled my bicycle, attached the side bags, and rode out of the airport towards the city center.

“Da liegt Glas,” said one bicyclist headed in the opposite direction. There was glass on the bike path he helped me avoid. I found my way to the Hamburg Youth Hostel, where I brought in my side bags and locked up my bike. I teamed up with a fellow traveler, and we went out that evening to get something to drink and to marvel at the people eating ice cream in such cold weather.

The next morning I strapped my side bags back on the bike and rode off to visit one of my Boston acquaintances. Wittmund is a small town in the north of Germany near the North Sea. I spent a few days with my friend, practiced my German and got acquainted with her circle of student friends. During the day I took excursions nearby, one day biking to the beach of the North Sea.

Another day I biked to the west to the Dutch border, or at least as far as I could get to the Dutch border. I took a turn onto one particular road, and as I was biking down that road towards the Dutch border, a police car stopped me and tried to explain something in German which I didn’t understand. After repeating himself several times in German, he paused, mustered his courage, and explained in English, “Not this road!” That’s when I understood that I was riding my bicycle on a German highway.

When I left my friend in Wittmund, I headed east by bike stopping in small towns, and riding about 100 kilometers every day until I reached the border with communist East Germany. The road was blocked and I stayed just long enough to wonder at the colossal radio dish antenna installation on the East German side that pointed very strangely horizontally into the West.

From there I continued my cycling trek westward, taking a train two weeks later to cover the last couple 100 kilometers to Duisburg. I visited relatives from my grandmother’s side of the family. Her parents emigrated from Germany in the 1920s to the United states, and though she was born in the US, she grew up the first few years of her life speaking only German. I sometimes spoke German with my German-born great-grandmother. I recall in one conversation, she stumbled on the word for “airport” in German. It’s not that she had forgotten the word, it’s that when she left Germany in the 1920’s, commercial airports had hardly been invented. My great uncle is still living, and at 95 years old lives in a suburb of Washington DC near where he grew up. One of his aunts, Tanta Olga, had a condominium in the famous Watergate complex.