Margitta has lived in her house for all 57 years of her life. She has never hosted a stranger from couchsurfing.org before yet she sent me a message inviting me to stay in her spare room. When I arrived after 70 miles on my bike she shared the most delicious bottle of french cider with me whilst chatting in the evening sun. She then cooked up a feast and we continued chatting about her daughter now living in Sheffield and a pub familiar to us both, The Lescar. Her generosity continued next morning with a marvelous breakfast spread; a pot of tea, a loaf of bread, cheese, salami, honey and jam. She had also given me a German sausage, bananas and sandwich for my lunch as well as mineral water to take on my way. I felt compelled to turn down the chocolate, nuts and raisins she offered. I find this kind of abundant hospitality difficult to accept, it is humbling being unable to give something back. Receiving unconditional gifts can be uncomfortable but is somehow part of living properly, being able to give and receive without vested interest. I think loosing your pride is part of finding yourself, as is giving without counting the cost. As I tried to refuse various of Margitta’s gifts she would say “giving costs me nothing”.
My second German host canceled on me at short notice leaving me without a home in Cologne. All my hosts up to this point had been overflowing with generosity and as I put out the emergency message for a host in Cologne I knew I had to take whatever offer I got. Thankfully Paul got back to me, but Paul’s profile was particularly sparse, no pictures and no references. He gave no address just a rendezvous point, the Sulzgurtel tram stop at 7:30. Would he show up?
While I was thinking up contingency plans a massive German with a crew cut approached me. Paul is an offensive line guard for the Koln Falcons. Those who know American Football will know these people are some of the largest people on the planet. The best guards in the NFL are praised for their toughness and being nasty, punching opponents whenever they can get away with it. I don’t know what Paul is like on the field but off it he couldn’t be kinder. Paul did a school exchange to the US for 6 months when he was younger. He experienced a kind of hospitality from his host mum that is infectious. As he plied me with cold beers, one of which I spilt all over his flat, we chatted about our respective NFL teams. Paul has a gift for making you feel comfortable and I leave Cologne with an even greater trust in strangers than I had before.