This may sound familiar if you read my post about the time I was couchsurfing through Germany, but I felt it deserved some elaboration.
After an incident with meeting a creep through Couchsurfing Hangouts and sleeping in a train station, I arrived in Cologne the next day feeling exhausted and battered. The lack of rest from the prior night left me stale in spirit and body. It didn’t help that all of the hostels in Cologne were severely out of budget. And thus, I went on Couchsurfing Hangouts as “looking for an emergency couch.” No fish were biting, except for one. Salvo from Amsterdam, who couldn’t offer a place to stay but he still wanted to meet-up. What else was I going to do? So I walked 2 kilometers with all my crap on my back to meet up with a stranger.
We hung out for a bit on the patio of a restaurant, him sipping on a beer while I opted for water. I vented about the prior night and difficulties finding a host, and he in turn told me about being a musician and working in a hostel as he puffed on a few of his hand rolled cigarettes. He ended up inviting me to a concert he was playing at later on. I wasn’t entirely convinced I could go, but I said I would (I know, I’m baaad) and we parted ways after he graciously payed for my drink.
I ended up wandering to a few hostels to do some price checking. The cheapest one was around 30 euros per night. I asked if I could use their Wi-Fi to check my bank account and low key hunched over an outlet as I kept searching for hosts. It wasn’t just the price. There was a bunch of drunk middle aged men occupying the lobby, their beer breath leaving an unsettling stench in the air and raucous laughter unapologetically disturbing the peace. Hostel staff didn’t seem to care. There was no way I was staying here.
Then finally, someone agreed to host me, but only for that night and he wasn’t able to meet up until 10 pm. Fine by me! Peace out you smelly old drunk dudes! The concert was at 8, so I made my way over to the venue. Still a little weary, but with a renewed spirit.
The concert wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be a band at a bar type of deal, but it was a sit down concert with a stage. I ended up being a little late, so I snuck into the back of the dimly lit auditorium with my obnoxious backpack. Experimental music drifted through the room leaving everyone in quiet curiosity of what the next note would be. The musicians consisted of two people: Salvo on the trombone, while the other man alternated between clarinet, saxophone, and electronics. I’m not entirely sure what I was listening to, but it was certainly an interesting and off-beat performance.
After the concert, I was itching to head over to my couchsurfing hosts place because I didn’t want to inconvenience him by being late. However, I also didn’t want to be rude, so I went to say hello to Salvo and tell him he killed it on the trombone.
He was standing with a few other people, so I approached quietly. During a break in the conversation, Salvo greeted me and asked if I found a place to stay. One of the other fellows in the group, Felix, immediately offered to host me before I had a chance to respond. Even with no prior knowledge or info on who I was, he offered nonetheless. I was taken aback by his willingness to help a stranger (I was a newbie backpacker at the time).
Felix, only two years older than myself, was a university student nearby. His skin was more tan than your typical German, indicating a possible love for the outdoors. This was revealed to be true after chatting with him for a few minutes. He told me he had done a backpacking trip in New Zealand where he often hitchhiked and used couchsurfing, so he sympathized with my predicament.
I’m a pretty good judge of character – I can tell quickly if someone has freaky intentions or not. I could easily realize that he was just a decent human with a capacity for understanding. Not only did Felix offer to host me, but his friend with him, Philip mentioned he had space as well.
Looking at Philip, I would have thought he was from California. Contrary to Felix’s dark brown hair, Philip had shaggy blonde surfer hair underneath a baseball hat. The sharp contours of his face were alike to those of my oldest brother, subconsciously making me feel more at ease to be around someone who felt familiar. He also mentioned his past travels including Ireland, Canary Islands, and Spain among others.
The additional offer was not necessary, but the fact that not one, but two people offered to help a total stranger was heartwarming.
Now, I already had a couchsurfing host for that night and I felt bad declining, so I asked for Felix’s number to stay with him the next night instead. He happily agreed, so I took it down and headed out the door. Halfway down the stairs of the venue, I stopped. What if somehow, I’m not able to get in contact with him and I’m left SOL? Any number of things could happen that deter me from meeting up with him again. Maybe I was also just a little lazy and didn’t want to transfer hosts twice. Either way, it was a big risk to keep going down those stairs.
Nope, not gonna do it.
I turned around and ran back up. I’m a very timid person, and I don’t like changing my mind on someone for fear of being a nuisance, but luckily Felix was a very approachable guy.
“Actually, is it cool if I stay with you tonight?”
And boom, I had a host! We made our way outside on the patio of the building enjoying the crisp night air accompanied by the complimentary wine provided by the venue. Philip even let me use his hotspot to thank my prior host and tell him I found somewhere for the entirety of my trip.
Sounds like it ends there, right? Nope! Stick around, because the human kindness just goes deeper.
The three of them (including my other new pal Salvo) had mentioned going out later on, so Felix took me back to his apartment to drop off my stuff. It was already late, so Felix sorted out the sleeping arrangements to be ready for our return. He had two other roommates, and one of them was out of town. He told me he would sleep in his absent roommates bed, and insisted I take his bed.
Da. Heck? This dude just kept surprising me, and I’m still not done. We were heading out to meet up with Philip and Salvo, so we jumped on bikes and headed out. Yep. He even had a spare bike with a light for me to use during my stay. And keys.
My own bed.
My own bike.
My own set of keys.
Even as I’m writing this almost a year later, I’m shaking my head and smiling at how gracious he was. It wasn’t the fact that I had these things – it was the fact that he was willing to let me, someone he met an hour ago, use them freely. The more I use couchsurfing, the more I see that this is fairly common and it makes me melt every time.
At last, the final thing! There’s a lot and I’m sorry, but bear with me. Where were we? Ah yeah, going out. It took a bike ride, subway, and another bike ride to get to our destination. From the station, the four of us biked through the refreshing breeze, our path lit by a few street lights and the shimmering moon. There were a few others we met along the way with the same destination, and we had a makeshift bike gang with innocent intentions.
We ended up in the middle of the woods on the outskirts of the city. There was a DJ set up playing electronic music, framed by overhanging branches. The trees and bushes were strung with colorful lights, illuminating the forest with the neon colors of magenta, blue, green, and purple.
It was one of the most perfect nights I’ve ever had. Dancing freely surrounded by good company and good music. This was the kind of gathering you can’t find on facebook, and maybe even couchsurfing. Apparently, these underground raves happen often in Cologne during the summer, but not everyone knows about them or how to find them. This was a true insider look at the local life that I would never have found otherwise.
Time flew by, and I hardly realized how late it was getting. By the time we got back to the apartment, the sun was making its daily cameo on the horizon; the colors evolving from navy to the classic sky blue, brought to life with streaks of pink dancing around the horizon as it rose. I went to sleep that night with the biggest smile on my face, still astounded at the events of the day.