The beautiful thing about travel is that it forces a person to reexamine the mundane.
Certainly the big, exciting things that always appear in guide books make travel interesting and fun, but what makes it beautiful are those little, unexpected moments that take you completely by surprise. Because even though you will never forget the way you felt the first time you caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, it’s the crazy moment in the bathtub when you realize that you have no idea how to take a French shower (kneeling or sitting, never standing), that will turn your world upside down, even if only for a second.
Those experiences that take us back to square one, to a childlike naiveté about how the world operates, are the experiences that force us to rethink the things we thought we understood so thoroughly. Take, for example, my recent experience at a German movie theater. Now, I have been to dozens of movies in many different theaters in my 24 years on this planet. I know the drill: walk in, buy ticket, buy popcorn, complain about prices, discuss seats, find seats, sit down, shut up, enjoy.
However, as soon as Kristin and I walked into the only English movie theater in Hamburg I knew that this was not going to be a typical experience. The theater itself is small, with only one screen that shows two movies each day. But being small by no means indicates that the theater was boring. In fact, it was striking. There was a bar and lounge area where cocktails and appetizers were being sold, the concessions stand offered beer and organic snacks in addition to staples like popcorn and candy, and the ticket counter had a seating map next to it where people could choose their assigned seats.
As Americans who are used to multi-screen theaters with crushed popcorn on the floors, Kristin and I were both instantly enamored with the atmosphere. As we sat down in the lounge area to wait for the theater doors to open we listened as a flood of German and English conversation flowed around us and I realized that, for the first time in nearly three months, I could safely assume that everyone in my vicinity understood my native language.
When the doors opened and we were able to go into the theater and find out seats I was once again amazed to find not only a balcony, but a beautifully lit stage with a curtain hiding the big screen. People talked and laughed loudly as we settled in and waited for the movie to begin, and I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about the hushed whispers Americans use as soon as they enter a theater, even if the movie isn’t set to start for another ten minutes.
The movie itself (a romantic comedy that premiered in the USA months ago) was so-so, but the experience was phenomenal. It was a completely new take on everything I thought I knew about movie theaters. And even though going to the movies in Germany didn’t leave me with any remarkable cultural insights or breakthrough moments of self-discovery, it did make me feel a little like a kid watching the first snowfall: surprised, delighted and just a little bit giddy.