I fly from Paris to Berlin and stay in the home of a relative's friend. Their son Nexo picks me up at the airport and I spend the rest of the morning having deep conversations with him at the dinner table over orange juice. It was from that day on that I knew him and I would become great friends.
I sleep in his sister's room. The furniture doesn't match and there are small trinkets in every corner of the room that holds something so memorable she doesn't throw it away. It reminds me so much of my own room and my first night here is one of the best sleeps.
I meet with Mai Linh again on the other side of town and we wander through graffiti laneways and take silly photos in a photobooth on the street. The last time I had seen her was the previous year and I still feel so blessed to have friends around the world.
We go to a party one night near a bridge that overlooks a large lake. The concrete wall next to the entrance is painted with a big graffiti mural of Mother Mary and loud music pulses from the window like openings above it. We don't leave until it's sunlight again.
One night we all crowd into a friend's apartment bedroom. Hans plays his guitar on a mattress on the floor while the other boys play console games on the TV. We look like zombies with dark bags underneath our eyes. Other nights we walk through the park, relying on the moonlight to guide us to the lake where we stay to chat, everyone giggling at me trying to pronounce German words. On my last night, we wander the empty streets for a döner kebap stand and eat our meals in the quiet train station underground to keep warm.
My time in Berlin is over and Nexo takes me to the train station where we say our goodbyes. I can't find my seat number through the crowded train so I sit on the floor in between the carriages, my luggage towering over me as I watch the view of the sky through the small window high above me.
I travel to Munich to see Oktoberfest. There are youths and families dressed in Bavarian clothes and I look so much out of place in my jeans and backpack that people take pictures with me. The grounds are loud with excited screams of children and catchy pop music, that often conflicted with the music from just across the way. There are rides with big, bright lights and loud colours for all ages and adventurers and it is now that I wish I had a companion with me to enjoy all this fun. The noise of loud, buzzing chatter hits me as soon as I walk into the beer tents. There are thousands of people singing, dancing, and celebrating away to litre mugs of beer. One lonely man with a thick moustache kneels on one knee and presents me with a small pretzel ring for my hand in marriage while others ask me to join them in dance.
Soon I am on a bus heading south and turn 21 in a little town called Freiburg im Breisgau. Here I stay with my relatives and for my birthday, they drive us an hour to Colmar, France where we eat fruit and pastries. The town is almost whimsical with charming cityscapes and quaint little buildings. The similarities to Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle are clear to see and I stand on a bridge overlooking the canal, pinching myself to make sure this wasn't some kind of ridiculously realistic painting. The people here are as sweet as the pastel-coloured houses. It is such a big and beautiful difference from the bustling city of Paris. I end my birthday back in Freiburg watching one of my favourite movies The Lord of the Rings (except this time it's Der Herr der Ringe) and eating my black forest birthday cake.
I spend another few days in Freiburg, riding bikes around town and finishing off my university assignments. On my last day, I eat my last serving of weisswurt for breakfast and make it to the nearest airport in Switzerland for lunch. After a few short hours, I am back in my cousin's home in London, eating dinner with my family.