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A Person Named Paul

This past weekend, I decided to visit Munich with a small group of IES Abroad students.  There was a lot of excitement leading up to the trip, as this was our first venture outside of the Freiburg area since we’d been here.  Not even the reality of a five-hour bus ride could deter our excitement.

We boarded the bus on Friday with a walking tour in hand and a list of places we wanted to see.  We talked the whole way there about plans for that night and looking up the best places for bratwurst.

The weekend was a whirlwind of activity.  Filled with museums, churches, and the English Beer Garden, we packed as much as we could into two days.  As someone interested in photography, this city was a dream.  I filled my camera with hundreds of shots.

As the bus drove away from the station and we settled in for a long ride back, it gave me time to reflect on what my highlights for the weekend were.  I thought of the incredible architecture we have seen – some older than the entirety of the United States.  I thought of the traditional German music playing in the park as we sat and ate giant pretzels in the afternoon sun.  But one memory stood out to me and immediately made me smile.

On late Saturday afternoon, we decided to stop for some coffee.  It had been a long day and we knew we wanted something to warm our fingers and the sun started to lower.  On a little side street, we stopped at a small café.  As a plain, white, little building, there was nothing inherently special about the place.  But we were getting chilly and decided to see what they had.

We were in for a real treat.  We purchased our drinks and sat outside in the small courtyard of the coffee shop.  There were people milling about, eager to be out in the sun after a week of rain.

We needed an extra chair for our table and asked an elderly man alone at the table next to us if he needed his chair.  He smiled and said we could take it.  Although we began speaking in German, he could tell from our accents and side conversations that we were American.

A simply gesture of letting us borrow his chair turned into over an hour of conversation.  His name was Paul and he had lived in Munich for almost his entire life.  He began telling us stories, all very interesting.  He shared with us his family – three sons and their wives.  He said he was proud of them, and you could tell by the way he spoke that he loved them very much.  He told us about his father, who moved to Germany from Mexico.  He had planned to return until meeting his future wife, a German woman in the city of Munich.  In order to become a citizen and be allowed to marry, Paul’s father had to fight in the German army under Hitler.

He talked about being an American in Germany and how different presidents over the decades had both harmed and improved the relationship between the two nations.  He was a diplomat from Germany to Ghana and was very informed on global politics.  He told stories of how he helped build bridges and other infrastructure in Ghana, even helping young people get to Germany to work.

He was someone who had clearly lived a very full life, yet still took the time to talk to us in this café.  People like Paul are special and can put perspective on an entire day.  Despite the buildings and the beer, it’s the people that can really make you fall in love with a city.  Paul is an example of the type of person you can meet when you get off the tourist path and ask to hear a story.