Amazingly, I have nearly completed my last full week in Freiburg. The last few days have been quite eventful. On Friday I was walking over to Huber, one of my favorite restaurants, to get a take-out. On the way I crossed through the grassy area in front of the Herz-Jesu Kirche, which is a popular spot for people to lie in the sun, have a picnic, walk their dog, and play with their children. Apparently, however, this is also the area in Freiburg where most violent crimes occur; it is not uncommon to see the police here, even during the day. I was approached by a young Afro-European man; initially he spoke in German, but switched to English when I said, “Ich spreche nicht gut Deutsch” (my fall-back when I don’t understand what someone is saying). The man, named Paul, told me that I was cool and beautiful, and that the only thing that would make him happy would be to spend time with me, to tell me about himself and get to know me. I told him that I was married (which he refused to believe) and not interested in a relationship. He responded that he was from France, and that he had moved to Freiburg because of a romantic relationship gone sour. He said that his heart had been broken many times by bad girls (both German and French) and somehow he knew that I was not that kind of person. He was like, it’s okay if you don’t want a relationship, I just want to go with you to dinner and accompany you on your errands. I refused to let him come with me, or to give him my phone number, and told him that I wanted to be alone. I had no way of knowing what kind of person he was, since we had only known each other for five minutes, and that I was leaving Freiburg in just a few days. It was a very strange and extremely uncomfortable exchange. Even though we were in a public place, surrounded by people, in broad daylight, I felt–for the first time since I’ve been in Europe–actual fear for my own safety. It was possible that he was telling the truth: that he was just lonely and sad and wanted a friend to talk to. On the other had, he might have stopped me simply because I looked vulnerable, and wanted to manipulate me for his own gain. I kept wondering, am I being paranoid or prudent? Paul seemed to understand why I wouldn’t let him come with me, but also insisted repeatedly that he had to see me again. In the back of my mind I kept wondering how I could extract myself from this conversation, and finally managed, after talking around the issue for several more minutes, to convince him that I was a lost cause. When I had finished running my errands I was concerned that he might follow me back to the Guesthouse. Again, I had no meter against which to measure this interaction, since nothing like this has ever happened to me before. But I decided to err on the side of caution, so I avoided walking back though the park and instead walked to my room another way, in the vicinity of the police station. That night I barely slept at all, simply because the event was so upsetting to me. I started to feel angry at the person for making me anxious, afraid, and unsettled. I have not seen him since, but I am now leery of walking through the park unless someone else is with me.
Yesterday I went with a group of students from the Goethe Institut to Colmar, France. The city had a magical, dream-like quality, almost like the setting for a fairy tale. The weather was perfect, and the intense sunshine made the colors of the city even more brilliant. I felt like Dorothy landing for the first time in Munchin-land, in the Land of Oz. I had a change to shop, explore, take pictures, and visit the Musée Unterlinden, which was absolutely fantastic. The museum is housed in a 13th century convent and contains both archaeological artifacts and works of art from the 11th to the 21st century. I found it very strange to be surrounded by people speaking French (although I love the musical quality of spoken French); knowing that I could not speak to them in German was somehow unnerving. I must have underestimated how comfortable I have become with German.