The sun is setting in Quedlinburg as I step out of my hotel in search of an ATM and food. The ATM is easy. I have a clearly marked map and even in the fading light, the streets are easy to follow.
I turn toward where I think the city center is an start walking, figuring I find somewhere to eat along the way. It’s a tiny town after all.
A shouting, laugh conglomeration of teenagers ambles down the street. Two ride rattling skateboards on the sidewalk.
A man sags past alone and lonely.
Then, a family of three generations, grand parents, youths, children rolling forward in strollers.
Other than these few encounters, the streets are quiet. Empty. The cobblestone are black and shiny with reflected streetlights. I am beginning to think every shop and restaurant is closed in the entire tiny town, when the image of Frida Kahlo in a window stops me. I adore Frida and feel a warm glow at the sight of her.
The dimly lit café is called The Frida K. It features warm colors, Dia de los Muertos figures, plush chairs around round tables. A book shelf houses biographies, travelogues from Mexico, and stacks of board games. It feels homey.
I order a quesedilla and a latte from the woman behind the counter, whom I take to be the owner. I tell her of my love for Frida and she offers me a thumbs up. I tell her I once visited Frida’s Blue House in Mexico City and she sighs with a smile.
“This is my dream. To go,” she says, then smiles. “One day.”
Sitting comfortable in that little café, waiting for my latte, I find myself inspired to write a poem. As I write, the owner frosts a cake in smooth black, chocolate frosting.
The tiramisu I order is semi-sweet, creamy perfection. I am happy as I walk back to my hotel, offering a prayer that this lover of Frida Kahlo finds her way to Mexico.
The morning is cool as I walk through Quedlinburg’s crooked, medieval, cobble-stoned streets. Half timber houses with clay-colored roofs line the streets. The town is small enough to choose streets at random and get conformable lost, as the circular center of town is punctuated with a small castle atop a hill. I’ve read that this was a city ruled by women. The bad-ass abbesses ruled for some 900 years, right up until Napoleon took over and disbanded the abbey.
As I walk around the hill, trying to find the path up to the castle, I discover giant stones through which a path as been cut. The stones are large and smoothed by many winters, miniature canals reveal the pathways of snow melt from many, many past winters.
Large stones are soothing to my soul. Their presence is grounding and I feel calmed, anchored at the sight of them.
I seek out footholds and climb to the top, take some long, slow moments to just sit, be still, and commune.
The hotel in Ratingen is in a lonely suburb outside of Dusseldorf, no where near the U-Bahn subway stations and it’s unclear where any bus stations might be. The only restaurants within a mile are U.S. fast food chains and the hotel restaurant, which I’m avoiding because I can’t deal with the waiter who would not stop hitting on me.
The only thing that makes me happy are the trails, dozens nearby intersecting parks and winding alongside creekbeds. As I run through the greenery and relax into my stride, I let go of every insignificant annoyance like brushing away dozens of tiny gnats.
After an hour-long bus ride and a 45 minute train ride from Ratingen to Dusseldorf and Dusseldorf to Köln (Cologne), I arrive at the train station feeling a bit untethered and unsure. I have failed to plan ahead and this failure has resulted in delays and frustrations and sensation of being lost. I’m not sure how to get to the cathedral. I ask a passerby who sends me to an information desk who sends me to a bookstore, where I buy a city map on which I can’t locate the train station I’m currently in.
I head outside to look for a street name and look up to discover the ornate spires of the very cathedral I’m looking for. Crowds of people wander up and down the steps. I follow the crowd around the corner to the cathedral entrance and stand in line to enter, where I find a thicket people gawking up at the architecture.
And it is beautiful. If I remembered enough from art studies I’d name it, but I’ve long forgotten. So, I just weave through the crowds and looks for Our Ladies and angels and other bits of beauty, of which there are many.
I have fallen in love with Andrea Fraser. I first heard her voice from another room among the Wolfgang Hahn Prize exhibitions at Museum Ludwig in Köln. Turning a corner I see a video of her performance art piece projected over top an abstract art piece. In it she’s speaking German, telling an obscure, obscene joke.
I learn from the placard that the performance is called “Kunst muss hängen / Art Must Hang” in which she explores the way artists choose to represent themselves by memorizing and mimicking every word and gesture of an impromptu speech made by Martin Kippenberger at an exhibition opening in 1995. There is something compelling about the careful, accurate, and precise rehearsal and quotation of an unrehearsed speech, especially knowing that Fraser speaks not a word of German. I find myself sitting and watching her for nearly half an hour.
In another small side room, more of her performances are projected on a small old-fashioned television. I linger and watch those as well.
As I walk through the rest of the museum, gazing at the multiple Picassos and Lichtensteins and Andy Warhols and other great pieces of modern art, my thoughts return to Andrea Fraser and I fight the desire to return and watch her performances some more.
Endnote: Presented here are the highlights of a trip that involved oodles of work over the course of two weeks. It was an exhausting trip and I am thrilled to be home.