In 2005 I went to World Youth Day in Germany. I took a couple students from the Orlando Diocese with me. This was their first trips overseas so I gave them the sage advice to keep one day's worth of stuff in the carry-on. It turned out to have been a good idea since the baggage handlers were going on strike at the Heathrow airport in England. This wouldn't have been an issue if that wasn't one of our connecting airports. We realized that our luggage was held hostage in England for at least another day. Lufthansa airlines gave us each a lovely overnight bag with an XL white shirt, toothbrush/paste, and hairbrush. With our carry-ons and supplies from the airline we headed to the train station to catch a ride into Cologne.
We arrived in Cologne after a short train ride. Our next destination was the check-in building at the World Youth Day headquarters. After a long wait in line, we got ourselves registered and collected all the necessary paperwork. They told us the name and location of our sponsoring parish and sent us on our way. We navigated the public transit as well as could be expected for our first tour around town. And after a few wrong turns we found our parish. This is where we ran into our first problem. The church appeared to be locked. I remember when I went to WYD in Toronto a few years prior, they had a welcoming committee at the church. Finding this one closed was a bit of a shock.
We walked around the church for about 10 minutes. We tried all the doors and knocked on the windows. Finally a priest came to one of the doors. Oh good, we aren't going to have to sleep outside tonight! After introductions, I explained who we were and that this was supposed to be our host parish. The priest gave a quizzical look and explained that the WYD committee never gave him names of people who were coming, so he assumed they were not getting any pilgrims. He had also sent back all the backpacks that were sent to the church. This was a problem since the backpacks contained much needed maps, our public transit access cards, and schedules among other things. Also because they didn't think they were getting any pilgrims, there were no families waiting for people.
He said they had people volunteer to help house pilgrims, so he was going to call a couple of those houses to see if he could find us a place to stay. While he was doing that we decided to take the subway back to the check-in to get ourselves WYD backpacks. That was a chore. The volunteers were having a hard time understanding our predicament. After explaining myself to about five different people, we were finally given backpacks. We took our backpacks and headed back to the parish to see if we had a place to sleep that night.
***I can't remember when this happened sequentially, but at some point we were told to look for a place to stay at the volunteer housing. When we got there we were informed that we couldn't stay there because we weren't volunteers and they didn't have any more room. Great. Homeless in Germany.***
The priest had gotten a hold of two families in the parish. He found one house for the guy in our group, and one house for us ladies. The guy was going to a house that apparently didn't speak any English. The other two of us followed a very nice German lady, a professor, back to her house. I had a "why yes, I am an American" moment. We left the church and the lady said, "It's only five minutes to the house." My brain automatically thought in terms of a five minute drive. I quickly realized as we walked a few blocks that there was no car involved in this five minute trip.
Shortly after we got settled into the house there was a phone call from the guy in our group. "Sarah, I can't stay here. These people don't speak English and they are just starring at me! It's really weird." I talked with our hostess and explained the situation, that it was ok if we all stayed in the same house, and that he really didn't feel comfortable where he was staying. She called the family and then explain that to them. I'm not sure any of them, our hostess or the other family, really understood what the problem was, but he came to our house and stayed there the rest of the week.
Oh, and the luggage, we got that the next day.
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