A year ago today was an extremely hot day. In light summer clothes and with large wicker baskets or cotton bags, people strolled over cobblestones on the Bornheim weekly market, looking at the display of freshly pricked asparagus and juicy, bright red strawberries. The saleswoman at the bread stand was filling up my favorite chocolate rolls. A little further up, someone impatiently and loudly walked between a stroller and a walker while talking on the phone. And as always, coffee lovers stood together with espresso and cigarette in front of the café. “I’ll miss that,” I thought.
With my big hiking boots on my feet, a big backpack on my back and a daypack in front of me, I made my way to the subway exactly one year ago today. Destination: Frankfurt airport. And from there out into the world. After a good eight hours of flight time, I got off the plane in Toronto, somehow managed to get to my accommodation, a university dormitory, completely tired and wet from the rain, and was happiest that I could finally take off my heavy backpack. That was the beginning of my great adventure.
Today, a year later, with many international friendships, travel experiences, and insights, I’m back on the square in Bornheim Mitte. Carrying a shopping bag instead of a backpack. With a cloudy sky instead of sun. There hasn’t been a farmer’s market here for weeks. Due to Corona, it’s moved to a place with more space. Today, people are sitting far apart at the outside restaurant tables, there is a line in front of the drugstore because the number of customers allowed inside is limited, and air travel will not be possible in the near future. Frankfurt is no longer Frankfurt like I left a year ago.
Is Machu Picchu currently empty?
As I stand there, a memory of the market hall in Cuzco, Peru, is crossing my mind. Long, narrow aisles, small stalls with handicrafts on one side, cheese, meat and vegetables in the middle, and freshly cooked dishes on the other. In my mind, I see people sitting close to each other while sipping chicken soup with vegetables.
Machu Picchu comes to my mind. A long line of tourists, in which many people kick the heels of the person in front because they can’t wait to get a selfie from the observation deck of the old Inca city.
I’m thinking of San Pedro in Chile’s Atacama Desert, where tourists walk through the dusty streets and the most important note from the ho(s)tel operator is: “Always, always take enough water with you.”
I’m thinking of the young women and men who sell artfully hand-embroidered and hand-woven goods in Antigua, Guatemala, and who love to hear stories from tourists’ home countries and look at their photos.
Liveliness, hustle and bustle and a tangle of foreign languages
I’m thinking of the floating and train market near Bangkok, the small, local morning market in Fang, where the monks from the nearby monastery always collect alms, the Chinese market in Chiang Mai, the street with the many shops in Rishikesh.
I associate all these impressions with liveliness, hustle and bustle, a tangle of languages and people, an infinite number of photo opportunities. And then I wonder what it looks like in all these places – without tourists, with curfews. Is Machu Picchu now empty? Who do all the merchants sell their goods to when there are no tourists? What do they currently live on? And how, in the context of physical distancing and complete curfews in some countries? How do all the social projects manage things that rely on volunteers and that can’t come now? I have to ask, I decide.
And then I think how lucky I was that I left last year and not this one. The entire trip would have been lost in a large corona swamp. Machu Picchu, Atacama Desert, volcanoes, rainforests – I wouldn’t have seen all of this, I wouldn’t have met all the people and stories I associate with these places. At least not for now. The universe really meant well for me.
I startle when suddenly a glass breaks with loud jingling, come back from my daydreaming, look over the cobblestone square and realize: I still miss the hustle and bustle at the Bornheim farmer’s market.