Today’s the longest day of the year and it always reminds me of an earlier summer solstice I spent in Germany five years ago. You may recall that the 2006 World Cup was taking place at the time and some of my German friends had invited me over to check out the atmosphere. I even managed to convince my brother to tag along as I knew he’d get a kick out of it. Our flight was in the early hours of the tournament’s first Wednesday of football and Jack and I started out as we meant to go along. On the eve of our departure we went out in Limerick for a few pints and ended up playing poker at a friend’s house until a little later than expected. We got a taxi back to my place where we just had enough time to pick up our bags and head out to Shannon. A few hours later we arrived at sunny Frankfurt-Hahn where we had the first of many fine beers before getting a bus and a train to Bamberg, the beautiful Bavarian town where we would be based for the week. My friend Anja took great care of us and I also got to introduce Jack to some more of my friends, including a late visit for breakfast on the Sunday. Sorry about that, Katrin.
We spent the rest of the week enjoying the fantastic weather and the even more fantastic beer as we travelled on the always reliable train system. We mainly travelled around Bavaria where we mingled with people from all over the world whose teams were actually taking part in the competition. On the first night, Jack and I went to a field in Bamberg where Germany’s game against Poland was being shown on a big screen. Not for the first time, the two of us got separated as the aforementioned Katrin arrived when the field was over capacity and wasn’t allowed in. I joined her downtown while Jack got to know a couple of my friends a bit better. He told me he didn’t feel too out of place as he was one of the first people jumping around the place when Germany scored the only goal of the game right at the end.
Over the next few days we watched England in a pub in Nuremberg and made our first trip outside of Bavaria. We joined up with a neighbour from back home at a massive and colourful street party in Stuttgart where Holland and the Ivory Coast were playing at the local stadium. Later that night we ended up in an Irish pub singing songs from Liverpool, Holland and Mexico with Liverpudlian, Dutch and Mexican football fans. A few days later we made it to Munich and then onto Innsbruck in Austria to meet my Italian friend Manuela. She took us for lunch the next day at her family home in northern Italy before we made our way without too much difficulty to Augsburg and another Irish bar. This time we met two schoolteacher friends of mine named Sabine and Isa who we helped to victory in the weekly Monday night pub quiz. The next morning I gave an early morning talk to Sabine’s pupils and Jack about Limerick and Ireland. I think they were all a little wiser by the end. Especially Jack. This was to have been the last day of our whirlwind trip around Germany and its environs. However, there was still one more friend I had to meet.
I got to know Christian when the two of us shared a dorm in north Kentucky when we studied abroad about a decade ago. We soon became good friends as we discovered that we both shared similar interests in cold beverages, rock & roll, and discussing our American colleagues while drinking cold beverages and listening to rock & roll. We’ve stayed in touch ever since and our brief encounter five years ago was just one of numerous occasions that we’ve met in Germany or Ireland since leaving the States. Christian had been otherwise occupied during my World Cup visit, but we had arranged to meet on the train from Munich to Bamberg on the morning of our final day. He told us he’d have to get the train back when we arrived at Bamberg as he had stuff to do. Nevertheless, Christian took out a few bottles of beer from his backpack and we wasted no time in catching up as the train moved efficiently towards Bamberg.
Anway, to make a long story less interesting we managed to persuade Christian to come with us for a drink in Bamberg, and then another, and then to a house party to watch Germany’s final group game against Ecuador. Not only had Christian not wanted to spend the whole day drinking, but neither had myself or Jack. We had to get two trains and a bus back to Frankfurt-Hahn later that night and we wanted to be at least partially in control of our senses at the time. Of course, things didn’t quite turn out that way. The three of us stayed out drinking the whole night and even managed to gather a few more unwilling souls to join us. Reluctantly, and, no doubt, incoherntly, we said our goodbyes to Christian and the other fellas and Jack and myself yet again managed to get our bags just in time to make it to the train station with a little help from our friends. Sorry about that, Katrin.
It was just before midnight and we were on the train to Nuremberg. Once there, we had half an hour to kill before getting our connection to Frankfurt. And it all went to plan. We didn’t get lost or get on the wrong train or go to a bar. We made the train and were finally able to relax. Over the previous week we noticed we were spending a lot of time on trains and we also found it was a good place to catch up on the sleep we’d missed from the night before. We also knew we couldn’t afford to fall asleep this time as it might mean we’d miss our stop in Frankfurt. So, whatever happened for the next few hours and no matter how tired and inebriated we were, we knew that under no circumstances whatsoever could we afford to fall asleep.
We fell asleep.
I guess our recent lack of rest and the excessive amount of alcohol in our systems combined to knock us out. It wasn’t as if we could’ve relied on our phone alarms to wake us as they’d both run out of juice a few days earlier. All I remember is waking up when I thought I heard the train driver announce our arrival in Cologne. I knew this was a bad sign. I was pretty sure that Cologne was on the other side of Frankfurt-Hahn airport. I asked a man of Turkish extraction sitting beside me if we were in Cologne. He didn’t reply but the nod of his head and the smile on his face told me we were. Jack was still asleep and I managed to wake him and convince him we had to get off the train because we’d gone past the airport. He didn’t believe me at first, but eventually he agreed with me and we took our bags and waited on the platform wondering what to do next.
It was now around 7.00am and our flight was going to be leaving in a couple of hours from Frankfurt-Hahn airport. I felt we might have a chance if there was a train going back to Frankfurt straight away. There wasn’t. Apart from one incident, the two of us had been getting along fine during the trip. In fact, we had been having a ball. However, at this moment things were a little tense between us. We were both still half asleep, hungover and miles away from where we should be. Surely, I thought, things couldn’t get any worse.
Things got worse. I’m sure Cologne is a lovely city. I’ve heard great things about it and perhaps I’ll visit it properly one day. But that morning I didn’t want to be there. And I could tell that Jack wanted to be there even less than I did. We began to notice that it was quite busy for the time of morning and when we made it out of the station we saw why. England and Sweden had been playing the night before and there was what seemed like hundreds of English and Swedish football fans milling about the train station and even more outside. There were queues everywhere and it took ages to go to the toilet or get a cup of coffee. I’m a little bit hazy on the next few hours as I was busy not talking to Jack and he was even busier not talking to me. We were both concerned about how long we’d be stuck in Germany and were worried about how much we’d have to pay to get back to Ireland. Or somewhere near Ireland. We thought about getting a plane from Cologne, but that wasn’t a possibility. Eventually, we found out there was a bus going to Frankfurt-Hahn. We decided to take our chances and see if we could sort something when we got there. Did I mention we were flying with Ryanair?
We got on the bus to the airport and spent the next two hours not talking to each other. Around midday, we arrived at Frankfurt-Hahn airport just as our flight was touching down in Shannon. We approached the lady at the Ryanair desk and explained that we’d missed our flight. She took this news as if it was a regular occurrence and started tapping on the keyboard in front of her. She told us there were seats available on a flight to Dublin just before midnight. That would mean we’d have to wait at one of Europe’s smallest airports for 12 hours, sleep at Dublin airport for a few hours and get a less-than-reliable bus back to Limerick the following morning. Naturally, we took the seats. Things were looking up. Not only would we be spending another day in Germany, but the cost of changing our flights would be only €50 each. We forgot all about our lack of sleep and hangovers and started talking to each other again. Jack said he was going out for a smoke and I joined him to get some fresh air.
We were both a lot happier and feeling quite relieved. Things hadn’t turned out so bad after all. In fact, after the hectic week we’d just had it was going to be a joy to sit back and chill for a few hours. Jack took a drag on his cigarette.
“What date is it? ” he asked.
I had to look at my ticket. I didn’t even sure what day it was.
“The 21st of June,” I said.
Jack looked out across the airport, took another puff and smiled before he spoke.
“The longest day of the year.”