In retrospect, my life made complete sense. A caused B, which then caused C. But that How hardly ever answered the Why. I could never quite answer the question these backpackers across the counter were about to to ask me. "What's a Mongolian doing here selling cheese?". In a way, it's insulting. No one asks the South African, the Turk, or even the Slav about that—no one bats a fucking eye. But me, I’m a stranger in my own home. Contrary to popular belief, the French, Italians, and Swiss are not born from the womb knowing about cheese. No. To truly know about cheese, to be able to know and differentiate different types by the most faintest of smells—that requires a lifetime of experience. Mine began with the first taste of freshly made ricotta at age three. I was an orphan back then, my soon to be parents, Germans running a cheese shop.
“I’m a German cheesemonger raised by German cheesemongers,” I firmly replied with a hard stare. They quickly and awkwardly left.
In retrospect, I could have been nicer.
But the truth was that the most-asked question was the one I never managed to completely answer at a personal level.
I am as German as just about anyone else. Logic and order—sanity and reason—was the only sensible means of existence; surprise is something left to kids, mostly in the form of chocolate eggs. My Breakfasts were spent with thick slices of dark rye bread with jam, Muenster, or leberwurst.
But how could one deny being a Mongol? Like this beautiful state that evaded totalitarianism, war is not peace, freedom is not slavery, and 2 + 2 adds up to 4. Framed on the wall is a newspaper feature entitled: “Der Käse von Dschingis Khan” There I was, the sole non-German amongst my blue-eyed blonde haired assistants, appropriately named Hans and Thomas. (My actual cheeseshop was named Berg von Käse, named after how my parents first met by accident, on top of Mount Fuji).
I put on Beethoven's Eroica and had one of my assistants watch the front. I went to the back to teach my other assistant the art of splitting a Parmesan wheel. At least, I tried to. The door dinged with one of my regulars. It was Philip—a man madly obsessed with Gorgonzola—who greeted me as usual:
“Guten dag, wie geht es Dschingis Khan?”
I sliced out a good 1/2 of the giant Gorgonzola wheel. Philip paid in exact change and went on with his day.
My name was Tobias Weiß, but locals called me Dschingis Khan (Genghis Khan). I appreciate the custom, but I still can’t figure out—why name me after the bloodiest warlords in history—in Germany?
When he left, I returned to the back to teach my assistant. She was a quick learner, but like the greatest of workers, they never last. The best people always have something better in life to look forward to then operate a cheese shop.
After a long day, we closed shop and I drove home, getting a fellow worker closer to the bahnhof. At home, Dinner by my German wife was the usual: Meat, Potatoes, sauerkraut, and some mustard to fill up my beer belly. This “usual,” was however interrupted with my worst of enemies: surprise.
"You should go to Mongolia," remarked my wife.
"Why? I'm happy here. I hate traveling. Going to a resort in Barcelona once a year is good enough for me."
"Tobias, you’re unhappy. You try to hide it, but I know. Business is doing great, we’re having a baby, but it’s clear what’s missing from your life."
"I don't know. I can't. I have this store to run. And…"
"You trust your workers. Ask them to take care of it."
"Maybe another time. Sometime later."
"Maybe in the future when we’re more settled."
"I love you, but I want you to be happy. I think it’s time to face your past."
"I just want things to be simple. And I'm not sure..I don't even know if going there would do anything. And if it didn't it would be a waste of money."
"I think you'll find something you were looking for for a long time."
She handed me over me plane tickets. A direct return flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
"Please take it."
Across those grass fields was something so familiar yet never experienced; the silent memories of a childhood dream. Terrified of its unfamiliar tranquility, I became home sick already. I recalled the first time my parents brought me into their cheese shop, which was now mine. I remember the nutty smells, the constant hums from the refrigeration units, and the strong pungent notes of the Gorgonzola. I missed it already. But this is also my home; however forgotten. This place I was scared to be in as my hatred of travel made me scared to be anywhere. Yet, my first steps across the Frankfurt jetbridge will have me missing this.
There were very few people in this rural countryside. Back in the metropolis we always thought ourselves to be so much greater than nature, but here was the reminder how insignificant and useless we truly were.
Those few people that did live here were just like me—exactly like me—yet completely different. Back home, I was the only Mongol. Here, I am the only German. This was where I truly belonged contrary to all logic. This was a homeland, my foreign homeland.
I walked into someplace resembling a restaurant in total wonder on what to eat. What did Mongols eat. Rice? Noodles? I couldn't hold chopsticks to save my life. Do they even use chopsticks here? Do they use their hands? What is this place? Who were these people?
I couldn't even speak a word of Mongolian and made due with English on top of a confusingly thick German accent. And there was the proprietor, a man looking exacly like myself—my own doppelgänger: same beard, same large size, same black hair and skin tone. He was a Mongol, simultaneously exactly and completely unlike myself. He hadn’t understood a single word. Gazing across each other's face, our eyes couldn’t have been more different.
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