We are on our way back to Köln, after the Borussia Mönchengladbach soccer game. The bus that took us from the stadium to the train station was a happy party. Packed full of fans that just watched their team win, the bus literally swayed side to side as it made its way back to the center of town. But now, on the train that will take us to Düsseldorf before we switch trains, the party is over.
Everyone is too drunk, too tired, too sloppy. The aisles are full of empty bottles and trash. I don’t think too hard about what the occasional mystery puddle might be. I don’t want to know. The passengers mostly sleep or have fuzzy conversations with their friends. We sit down in the only seats left – jump seats that face the aisle. A man stumbles onto the train behind us and asks if the seat next to Travis is available. Travis tells him that it is.
We ride in silence for a few moments before the man says something to Travis that we don’t understand. Travis tells him, “I don’t speak much German.” The man blinks a few times. He asks us where we’re from. We tell him and he admits that he doesn’t know much English. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to converse. The Soccer Fan continues in a mix of English and German, and we recognize enough of each to answer back in a similar mix. He asks us what we’re doing on this train, in the middle of the night, away from anything even remotely tourist-y. We tell him we went to the soccer game, but he doesn’t believe us. We argue that we did, but he refuses the notion. Why would Americans travel to Mönchengladbach? No, that is not why you are here. Why are you really here? Travis shows him our used ticket stubs, and the look of disbelief morphs into excitement.
“You don’t understand what this means to me,” he says. He tells us that his family has lived in the area forever, and they have supported the soccer team for as long. Generations of his family have cheered for generations of players. Every win, every loss, every game — since before he was born. “And you came here, from America, to see my team,” he says in awe. “I am honored.” He says honored in English. “Is that the word? Honored?” We shake our heads, yes, probably so. He continues talking, asking us where in the U.S. we’re from, and that he went to the U.S. once, although he’s fuzzy on where. He thinks Oklahoma is full of cowboys and Native Americans. You can’t blame him, when half of our own country thinks the same thing. Occasionally he pauses and says again, “You came to see my team.”
He talks so much that he thinks for a second he might have missed his stop at Neuss. He hasn’t, but it’s coming up next. He thanks us. He tells us again that he’s honored, repeating the word over and over for emphasis, so that we understand what our presence has meant to him. He’s drunk, and dramatic, but his excitement makes us excited. It feels as if we’ve planned it – to grace him and his team with our American presence. The train stops and he steps off. He waves one last time before the doors shut and we ride the last 15 minutes to Düsseldorf without him. We are no longer sad that we failed to get tickets to FC Köln.