World Youth Day 2005
World Youth Day 2005
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Parish Festival
Friday, August 19, 2005, Leverkusen

ICE Ticket Leipzig-Cologne12:35, ICE 1548 Leipzig-Frankfurt: After following the events of the XX World Youth Day online for the past days, I'm now on my way to Cologne to attend the closing celebrations myself. Equipped with not much more than my sleeping bag and camping mat, coat and sweater, food and water, I don't know yet where I'm going to sleep tonight, where I'm going to leave all that heavy stuff tomorrow, and when I'll be back home on Sunday night, but I'm looking forward to meeting hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world. Even though I didn't have the time to volunteer in Cologne throughout the week, as I had originally planned, I still want to participate as an altar server in the concluding mass this weekend.

16:15, ICE 914 Frankfurt-Cologne: Apart from an unusually high number of people with backpacks and camping mats on the train, so far I haven't seen signs of the increased traffic that's been predicted for this weekend. But as the ICE Sprinter zooms out of Frankfurt Airport's long distance station and accelerates to 300 km/h (186 mph), the cars on the parallel autobahn seem to crawl and then come to a complete stop - the highways towards Cologne are congested even here!

17:12, Cologne Central Station: The train station is quite busy with young people carrying flags, banners, backpacks, guitars, red volunteer vests and of course the ubiquitous light-blue WYD pass lanyards. New arrivals can be easily spotted by their trekking backpacks, while people who've been here all week are just carrying light blue daypacks with the WYD logo. To get my own gear, I embark on a small registration marathon that begins with a trip to Kölnmesse (the Cologne Expo), where I need to check in as an altar server. Since train traffic still seems somewhat regular (even though some platforms are very crowded with groups of chanting pilgrims), I dare take a regional train to the expo grounds, even though they're just a stop away across the Rhine bridge.

17:45, Köln Messe/Deutz Station: The few-minute ride to the expo is smooth - I've seen more packed trains commuting to the University of Dortmund. Just when I'm beginning to wonder where all the people are, I disembark at Köln Messe/Deutz and find myself in a small station that is so packed that the police are controlling the pedestrian traffic to the platforms. I realize that the youth festival at the expo just ended at this time, so everybody is trying to get off the grounds while I'm trying to get in.

Altar Server Passes18:30, Kölnmesse, Altar Server's Center: After navigating through the crowds at the station and across the scarcely signposted expo grounds, I find the altar server's center in a remote corner of hall 7. All around, desks and equipment are already being dismantled, but the altar server's desk is still staffed and online. A guy in front of me is just being turned down because enough altar servers have signed up already - however, since I registered online months ago, I receive my altar server's passes for the vigil on Saturday and the mass on Sunday within minutes.

19:00, Köln Messe/Deutz Station: I'm back at the station, and so is everybody else. Police and WYD volunteers are still controlling access to platforms 9 and 10 for the suburban trains to ensure they're not dangerously overcrowded. Remarkably, the officers seem quite relaxed, and their mere presence and hand signals are enough to keep the crowds in check - people are aching to get out of here after a long day, but everybody remains peaceful. Fortunately, I made it into the station just as it began to rain. When I reach platform 9 about 20 minutes later, a torrential rainstorm is pouring down. Underneath the roof, the cool wind actually feels refreshing after the hours on trains and in crowds. I just hope we'll be spared weather like this during our night out on the Marienfeld tomorrow!

19:45, S6 to Leverkusen: The suburban train to Leverkusen comes right from Cologne central station, so of course it is already packed when it arrives here at Kölnmesse. Nevertheless, I squeeze into the first carriage (given my stature, I usually don't have a problem with that, but the backpack and attached camping mat about double my volume). Jammed in the aisle with me are British, Italian and Polish pilgrims who're all trying to figure out where they need to get off the train. Our public transport system can be confusing for Germans already, and the fact that all signs are in German only (if present at all) doesn't make things easier for foreign travellers. An elderly lady (with WYD lanyard!) and I try to help - she knows the local train network, I know English.

WYD pass, rosary, meal coupons, and Marienfeld area assignment20:00, Leverkusen Forum: After quite literally popping out of the packed train in Leverkusen, I walk over to the local registration center, where I check in as a pilgrim. Despite the late hour, I'm not the only one - people are still drizzling in at this time. I receive my WYD pass, area assignment for the Marienfeld and meal coupons for the weekend; then I'm directed to my host parish for tonight: St. Matthias - I guess the matching algorithm that processed my online registration was implemented with the catholic canon of saints in mind!

20:21, Bus 208 to Leverkusen-Mathildenhof: On the bus to the parish, I wonder if anybody will still be waiting for me if I show up so late, and whether I'll sleep at a host family or in communal quarters - but either way, I'll be relieved when I can crawl into my sleeping bag instead of carrying it on my back. The rainstorm has moved on, but after some time, a group of girls in WYD gear gets on the bus who have obviously been in the middle of it. When we reach the stop at Teltower Straße, they walk off to their quarters, while I head over to the church for the last check-in of today.

Parish festival at St. Matthias20:50, St. Matthias: When I arrive, an international festival is going on in front of the church, as the parishioners are celebrating with their international guests. I check in at the service point set up on the side, where I receive a warm welcome and my last piece of equipment: the coveted pilgrim's backpack with song- and guidebook, rosary, maps, WYD scarf, biodegradable cutlery, inflatable waving hand/seat cushion, Saturn consumer electronics advertising (?!) and water bottle. Then, local volunteers Jörg and Jenny take me to my sleeping quarters. "You're lucky, you'll be staying in communal quarters with a group of 15 girls from the Sauerland", Jörg tells me, and I think I have an idea who he's talking about...

Schützenheim in Leverkusen21:00, Schützenheim: The communal quarters turn out to be the home of the local marksmen' club, and as expected, the girls from the bus are also there. I drop off my stuff, have a shower at the nearby sports field, and then order pizza with Jörg and Jenny. After that, I feel re-energized enough for a walk back to the parish festival.

22:00, St. Matthias: The festival is still in full swing: Representatives of all the nationality groups (and this parish is hosting quite a few!) are performing songs and dances. I finally get out my camera and take a few pictures of groups coming from as far away as Sri Lanka, Vancouver, Zimbabwe and Wulmeringhausen in the Sauerland (a region in central Germany).

Group from Sri Lanka Group from Sri Lanka Group from Sri Lanka Group from Sri Lanka Group from Vancouver Group from Vancouver
Group from Sauerland Group from Sauerland Group from Zimbabwe Group from Zimbabwe Dancing at the parish festival Dancing at the parish festival

22:30: Jenny invites me for a beer, and I accept so as not to offend my hosts - who probably wouldn't believe that I normally don't drink any alcohol at all, but would think that I just don't like their Kölsch (which, people from the Ruhr area would claim, is hardly beer at all - but that's a religious debate I'm not competent enough to get into). Jenny still notices that I don't enjoy my beer that much, but I'm too tired to explain that I wouldn't have looked happier with a Düsseldorfer Alt beer, either.

23:30, Schützenheim: We're heading back to our quarters with another late arrival, a girl from Spain. Jörg and Jenny will keep watch all night - while they're staying awake watching DVDs on a portable LCD player, the pilgrims from Sauerland, Spain and Leipzig are soon asleep after a day of traveling.

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