Total Miles: 2,947.8
Near Schaumburg – November 23, 2016
“Do you speak English?” the man behind me said.
The bakery counter was crowded and I was trying to order bread, pointing and butchering the German name of the loaf, remembering to hold out my thumb instead of my finger to show I only wanted one and saying “ein.”
“Yes,” I said, a bit embarrassed.
The woman behind the counter pulled out my loaf and asked me if I wanted it sliced. At least I think that’s what she asked.
“No,” I said.
She looked a bit confused. I guessed she couldn’t tell if I meant I didn’t want it sliced or it was the wrong loaf.
The man behind me intervened and solved everything. A moment later, I had my unsliced loaf.
“So where are you from?” the man behind me asked.
“The United States,” I said.
He looked at my backpack.
“Are you traveling?” he asked.
“Yea,” I said.
And that is how I met Udo, the mayor of Nassau.
I’ve passed through so many towns in Germany, some barely villages, others almost cities, two or three a day at least. They blur in my mine, melting into each other until they become something like a single, unified German village that I keep passing through over and over again, charming but indistinguishable.
But not Nassau. You may recognize the name. A member of the Dutch royalty came from the town and Dutch explorers carried the name to the Bahamas in their honor. In WWII, American bombers destroyed almost every building in the city except one, a beautiful, wood-beamed structure pulled out of the pages of a fairytale. It still stands today, looking over the rebuilt city and holding the mayor’s office. We took a picture outside, Udo and I, then he gave me a bottle of wine from the vineyards near Nassau.
“We produce a lot of wine here,” he said, proud of his city. “It’s very good.”
He shook my hand and wished me luck. He had to get to work and I had to keep walking, but I found a place for his bottle of wine in my backpack next to the loaf of bread.
I could feel the weight of it as I walked out of town, heavy liquid and glass, but the story of it made me happy even as I realized I had no bottle opener. I looked back as I climbed away from Nassau and thought of the Dutch explorers carrying the town’s name across the seas, of the American bombs falling from the sky, of all the history stretched out below me.
Then I thought of all the villages I’ve walked through, the way they’ve blurred in my mind because I never stopped to learn their stories.
“I can’t walk backwards,” I told myself. “But I can do better tomorrow.”