How my love for Tolkien helped me see a friend again – after eighteen years

Trevor H. Paul and Marcel R. Bülles living it up in one of Germany's best boardgaming cafés, Tillis, in Jena, Thuringia
Trevor H. Paul and Marcel R. Bülles living it up in one of Germany's best boardgaming cafés, Tillis, in Jena, Thuringia

Looking back at 2006 I have to say this was quite the memorable year. Not only was Pluto demoted to a dwarf planet, but in Germany the 2006 FIFA World Cup happened. You might ask what football has to do with anything but I will get to that in a moment. And there also was an outstanding Tolkien conference at Exeter College. Oh, and the Gathering of the Fellowship in Toronto, including a visit to the musical.

However, the most important thing that happened was my stay at Wheaton College, Massachusetts, with the kind support of Michael Drout of Beowulf and the Critics and Tolkien Studies fame. And meeting one of the coolest guys I have ever met: Trevor H. Paul.

At the time I had hoped to do a dissertation on the early US Tolkien fandom. For that I wanted to visit the US, talk to amazing people like Michael, visit long-time fandom activists like Gary Hunnewell, and generally speaking figure out whether the project was doable. Unfortunately, due to the simple fact that I have never had enough money to spend on such an amazing project I could not do it. A pity, surely, but the stay itself was wonderful, nevertheless.

Yes, I was allowed to use Mike’s office for work.Yes, there may be Cthulhu somewhere.

Some of the opportunities I was given were the bibliography of the Tolkien Studies volume at the time, to write stuff for the Encylopedia, to participate in Michael’s classes, and that’s where I met my friend Trevor.

You know how you sometimes meet people and you simply get along like a house on fire? That’s how it went for us. I was an elderly German student – at the time I was 31 and therefore allowed to buy as much booze as I wanted which really added to my level of attraction to a certain group of people 😄 -, I did not know anyone, people were way younger than me and from a very different cultural background. What you then usually do is to find others like you, often Europeans who were at Wheaton for a multitude of reasons – but thanks to Trevor I had the opportunity of meeting American students, going to room parties and generally have a lot of fun. And for that I will always be grateful. I should probably share some of my recollections in the future but suffice it to say – my stay in the US was a great one very much thanks to friends like Trevor.

My hottest friend in the States: Java City. I spent soooo much money on coffee 😅

Thanks to him I was the Russian coach of his hockey team when I visited his hometown in Maine. Yes, we both agreed I would sit on their bench and yell at them and as most English-speaking people cannot tell any languages apart that are sooooo similar – like Russian and German – I simply yelled the few Russian lines I knew, interjected with a wide array of German swearwords. His team still lost but I seemed to have been the talk of the town for the people in audience: “How can they afford a Russian coach?” Perfectly hilarious.

It was in 2006 that I realised – having by then achieved my degree in US history at the University of Cologne – that all the clichées on all things American were true. Gazebos in the town square? Yes. Those yellow buses everywhere? Check. Statues on even the most unimportant local ‘heroes’, as often as possible? Ubiquitous. Getting stopped by the police for going on foot? Did happen. All the things I had seen in films and series turned out to be true and were in many cases even more outrageous than the things I had seen until then. Absolutely glorious, and it certainly opened my eyes to everyday cultural things in the States like never before.

Yes, of course, I needed to go to Harvard! I am a Gilmore Girls fan after all.

Anyway, I could probably rummage through some old files and find my reports of that time… well, maybe, some day.

To cut a long story short: I stayed for three months and I will always be grateful for that experience. I went back home and then…

The FIFA World Cup happened. Trevor had just turned 21, wanted to do some research in Germany, and stayed with me in my minuscule appartment in one of the students’ quarters in Cologne for months.

I have proof of his arrival and that I was the first foreign national who invited him to a beer and the first German beer he drank on German soil was a decent Kölsch from my hometown.

Yes, that’s Trevor with a Kölsch at Cologne Airport. We had six Kölsch. At once, basically.

Ever since then he has been a football fan. Please keep that in mind. He was part, in a sense, of Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen, the most successful German documentary film ever made. They were a few magic months in modern Germany’s history, that’s for sure.

Fast forward eighteen years. Time passed, we both moved ahead in our lives. On the way we got married, he and his wonderful wife have a great kid and they now live in beautiful Maine again in a beautiful house. During the course of the years we somehow kept contact, exchanging messages on Facebook at times.

[I am still proud to have been one of the first Europeans to have a Facebook account as you needed a US university account for that and I had one with Wheaton – and I was pretty certainly the first ever to delete the account soon after!]

I knew he had worked in China and become a teacher. And that he was responsible for the exchange program at his school – an exchange with Germany.

Imagine my surprise when I received a message this February, after a two year break, simply stating:

“Hey pal, I will be in Amberg from April 12th to 22nd.”

Well, things went from excited to nuts following that statement. The lovely city of Amberg is not quite around the corner – according to German standards, for the US it’d be laughable, only a 2-3 hrs drive – but I knew we had to meet up. And then Trevor agreed to come and visit Jena over the weekend.

So on June 16th, 2024, after almost eighteen years to the day I found out in front of the Basilika St. Martin what a bear hug is. You do remember, he used to be a hockey goalie, right? His arm strength is definitely still there!

Meet-up with the Tolkien Stammtisch Amberg
Meet-up with the Tolkien Stammtisch Amberg

The evening was absolutely hilarious thanks to our kind hosts of the Tolkien Stammtisch Amberg and some football (again!)

And then Trevor stayed with me the next weekend and I showed him around the beautiful city that is Jena, we had loads of beer, and talked for hours on end. Oh, and he got to see one of the newest and coolest football stadiums in Germany by FC Carl Zeiss Jena. I even managed to get him a ticket to a game our team won – and Trevor met the other members of Jenas Tirith, the only football club ever to be mentioned in ‘The Silmarillion’!

And yes, Trevor has been collecting German national team shirts – and now FC Carl Zeiss Jena as well! He even made it on Instagram!

We have promised ourselves we will not wait another eighteen years before meeting again. So if you happen to know a great school in Germany that would love to do an exchange with a great team from a school in Maine – do let me know! I think we can do something about that!

A huge thank you to J.R.R. Tolkien for allowing me to meet wonderful people from all over the world.!

For your information I now have three books at time on my “to read list” by a great author. The Legacy Chronicle are impressive doorstoppers I am truly looking forward to read and I am little proud to say a friend of mine is a published writer. Do have a look at Trevor’s work for yourself – over at Amazon or his Facebook page.

Marcel R. Bülles

Marcel R. Bülles is the author of, a specialist blog centering on worldwide Tolkien fandom, geekdom and research. He works as a freelance translator, journalist and writer and is the founder of the German Tolkien Society as well as a co-founder to RingCon, Europe's formerly biggest fantasy film convention. You can find him in cafés all over the world sipping an espresso blogging, writing, reading. At one point he was married to an extremely lovely French lady by the nickname of Sauron. Yes, that Sauron. He is also active with the International Tolkien Fellowship on Facebook and the Tolkien Folk on Instagram.