Decision Paralysis

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Dusseldorf, Germany

Decision paralysis

We got a few questions about our relocation to Germany; I thought I’d try to answer them here. Travel is different nowadays, to put it mildly.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I like a plan. I derive comfort and security and the ability to make reasoned decisions from knowing what’s next.

I’m working on being more footloose and fancy-free. It’s not going so well. I’m pretty good at making decisions if I have plenty of time to consider them, but when I have to decide in the moment, I freeze. Even choosing what to eat for lunch feels overwhelming. I find myself shrugging and staring out the window a lot.

But—the story. We were in London, and Covid cases were rocketing upward. During the six weeks that we were in the UK, the country dropped from the top ten of the global recovery index (we pay attention to this one, among others), to the bottom third. The numbers were still inconsequential compared to the US, but they were increasing quickly enough to make us uncomfortable. Turns out that pesky little word exponential actually means something very concrete.

So we started looking for an alternative. Germany, it turns out, is making immigration/visa decisions based on where you’re entering from, rather than where your passport was issued. Very sensible of them, in my opinion.

We actually bought the plane ticket three days ahead, which is (by our current standards) huge advance notice. So I had a little time to adjust to the idea, but because we’re never quite certain that things are going to go as expected, the plane was the only thing we booked.

Government policies, though, don’t always trickle down to the personnel responsible for enforcing them. When we arrived in Frankfurt, the first minor obstacle was the immigration agent. He hadn’t actually read the latest update to the rules. It was the tenth revision, he said apologetically, as he skimmed through, looking for the rule change that would allow us to enter. He found it, thank goodness, and stamped our passports. I was a little concerned, for a minute, that we’d be bundled onto the next flight back to the UK.

We retrieved our bags at about 8:30 in the evening, and as we stepped onto the escalator, heading toward the exit, Lee pulled out his phone and booked a room at an airport hotel. It just seems risky to prebook things these days. At least we had done a preliminary assessment and decided which airport hotel we’d go to, if everything worked out.

The next morning, we rented a car, loaded up our bags, and drove out of the airport parking lot. 

Lee, while adjusting the seat and the mirrors and merging into traffic: So where to?

Me, pulling out my phone and opening up Google Maps: Uh, beats me? We’re in Germany.

So we pulled over, into the bus lane, and sat there on the side of the road and randomly picked a city on the map—Koblenz—and drove to in that direction. When we arrived in Koblenz, we found a parking lot, failed to make sense of the payment machine (we didn’t have any euros), then walked around until we found a restaurant that had outdoor seating. I have no memory of what we ate. We spent the meal on our phones, researching nearby hotels. 

After lunch, we drove around looking at hotels. Because I can’t drive a manual (gotta solve that problem), I was tasked with going in and asking questions. By the third hotel, I couldn’t even remember what questions I was supposed to ask, so I just gave up, and we checked in.

We booked the room from the car, but when we went to check in, the guy at the front desk said we’d need to show a negative Covid test. Once again, we explained we were coming from the UK, which is exempt from the testing requirement, rather than from the US.

And that really kind of changed everything. He turned on a megawatt smile, checked us into our room, and welcomed us to Koblenz.

It turned out we were in Germany’s wine region, and the hotel was pretty full with people in town to enjoy the harvest season. Our room was quite spartan, but we didn’t have to sleep in a tiny little Fiat, so it was fine.

Everything has been pretty normal since then. We enjoyed Koblenz, which Lee had visited in 1987, on an equally random trip to Germany with his brother. At some point after we arrived, I looked at the map and realized we were not terribly far from Düsseldorf. It took me a couple of days to get my mental act together, but I finally did, so now we’re in Dusseldorf.

We’ve been hiking and walking and eating outside (German restaurants are well equipped for Covid—there’s always somewhere with an umbrella and heaters). The weather is turning cold, so we won’t last long here, but for now, it feels comfortably safe, and we don’t feel at all out of place or unwelcome.

Hopefully my brain will come back online soon.

From my writer’s notebook:

I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this as soon as we landed in Germany, but I’m glad I finally did: an entire section of the book I’m writing is set in Düsseldorf, at the city’s main art museum. The research that I would’ve done on Google Street View and Wikipedia is much easier, and a lot more vivid, in person. Hopefully I can translate the texture of this city (which is really lovely, for the record) into some compelling scenes that will make readers feel as if they’ve been here.

Take care,


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