Many years ago, 2009 I think, I had spent the day working in Brussels, then rushed to the train to get to Bregenz, Austria, where I was living at the time. It was a nine-hour ride and I was hungry.
I had to switch trains in Köln, Germany, and had a quick 40 minutes between trains.
It’s a big station and I figured I only had time for a Big Mac Menu, so I headed for the Golden Arches. After grabbing my dinner, I went to the back, where the homeless people hang out.
I parked away from the traffic, back against the station, and dove in. Between bites I looked up and saw something truly amazing. Standing there, chatting with the others, was a man, dressed head to foot like an extra in an episode of Gun Smoke (insert your favorite western movie, or TV show, here).
He had the hat, the red kerchief around his neck, the sheriff’s badge, plaid flannel shirt, the long riding coat, rings, tattooed hands, big belt buckle, wallet on a chain…and Reeboks (okay, ALMOST head to foot).
I had to have a picture of this guy.
I shoved what was left of my Big Mac in my mouth, grabbed my Canon 50D with 70-200 2.8 lens and headed over. While I was walking I pulled €5 from my wallet and put it in my front pocket.
“Spreche English?” I asked him.
“Nein,” he coldly replied.
So I turned to the homeless man next to him and asked the same.
“Nein,” he replied. But before I could give up hope he yelled out to one of his friend across the way. “RUDY!”
Rudy came straight up to me and said, in perfect English, “Yes, may I help you?”
“I would like to photograph this man,” I told him.
“Is it worth €5 to you?”
I handed him my €5 and he said “I will give him half…I am his manager.”
He told the cowboy something in German and the guy went over to stand by his bike. On his bike must have been all of his possessions, as it was covered with bags. I didn’t pry. On the back of the bike, the only thing that would give a clue I was in Germany and not Wyoming, was a German flag, with an EU flag underneath.
It was getting dark, so I wasn’t sure if I could get ANYTHING. I prefer shooting without a flash, so I started with that, hoping to get what I wanted. I then flipped up the built-in fill flash on the 50D and banged out a few more.
I had a train to catch, the last one that would get me home that night, so I could only get a few.
I took one more shot, and in my best German, I said “Freut Mich,” (happy to meet you). “Wie heißen Sie,” (what is your name). He held up a friendly hand and said, after a really cool pause, “Elvis.”
I waved as I rushed over to gather my camera bag and dinner, then ran to my train. I made it at the whistle.
I found a seat and couldn’t wait to download my photos and HOPE I got one good one. I was sweating as I ate cold French Fries and connected my camera to my laptop to download the photos through Adobe Photo Downloader.
After the download, I opened the shots in Adobe Bridge and was ECSTATIC I had a few I would call “keepers.”
I’ve gone through there many times since, but Elvis isn’t there, anymore. They’ve changed the back of the station and chased out all the homeless people. I wanted to buy him a bier and show him my shots…maybe he would care.
So here are a few shots of Elvis the homeless German behind the train station in Köln.