Monthly Archives: August 2014

Finality

I’ve been putting this off for a while now. Exactly why, I can’t tell you. I left Germany only a few days after I left Berlin, so I guess you could say there are a lot of reasons. The most obvious one being, I didn’t have anything else to write about. I had a lovely last few days with Sabine, saw my friends a lot, and just was finally actually… Ecstatic about being in Germany, but that’s all something you’ve heard about before. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s the fact I wanted to be able to sum up all I thought about the experience. It’s because I was too lazy to write anything. It’s because I wanted to have fun for the few days I had of break before I went back to UMW. There’s a lot of reasons, and I don’t think any single one of them explains my reluctance to write this. But taken together, as well as an overabundance of other reasons I can’t even explain consciously, this made me so unwilling to really sit down, and write something. But, I’ll try.

Germany. The land of beer and pretzels, at least, that’s what everyone called it on my Facebook when they were talking to me during the semester abroad. It’s an interesting country, filled to the brim with idiosyncrasies that both fascinate you, and frustrate you to the utmost extent. To closing all stores on Sunday, to the undeniably well run public transportation systems, to a million other things that I find both absolutely abhorrent, and lovable when compared to how things are run in the US, Germany is unique. I will give it that.

I think that I had a rough start. And I’ve been down this road a million times on this blog, but it’s true. I was in a really bad place when I first came here, and it made it difficult to make friends and really find how to orient myself to Germany. I became disillusioned with my ability to master the German language, I felt alienated from even my American compatriots, and unable to leave my room when I knew I should.

But that’s not all of it, and it’s not even close to the most of it. I eventually got out of my rut, and made the best of my situation. Out of everything, and I hope this doesn’t offend any potential Germans that read this, I loved the food the most. The MEAT, is absolutely mindblowing. See, you can make a burger only a few ways. The Germans have somehow perfected the art of cooking sausages and pork a million different, unique, and delicious ways, that makes every culinary adventure a delight. I saw Berlin, one of the most incredibly experiences of my life, and spent it with a wonderful girl, and feel as though even though I don’t “believe” in travel for self-enlightenment, that I had an experience that affected me on a fundamental level. And I made friends that I probably won’t ever talk to much again, that were different than most of the people I’m used to talking to at UMW.

The point being, summing up my experiences abroad is more than difficult. There are conflicting timelines, and emotions. If the beginning of the semester was like the end, it would have been an experience I would have enjoyed more. That being said, the beginning was so heart wrenching, that it’s hard to reconcile it with how great it was in the end. I’m divided.

And I guess that in the end, I never loved being in Germany just because I was there. That much will always be true. I went because I wanted to learn German, and that’s what a young, sophisticated, culturally relevant human of the 21st century is supposed to do: re-examine their own life’s conditions by comparing and contrasting the unique facts of a different culture. So I did. I think that in the end, I hated what I found for so long, because I went for the wrong reasons.

I still believe travel is a fool’s paradise. I’ve said that a million times, and I’ll definitely say it again. But as Hemingway said in “A Moveable Feast”:

Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.

And that’s the heart of it, at least I think. I never felt a real connection to anyone, because that’s the nature of relationships you meet when abroad. They’re single-serving friends, for a few months, before you never see them again. Travel may be beneficial to those eager to see the world, but I never had the inclination. And I never felt close enough to anyone to really branch out and experience Germany until the end, and the experiences I had at the end were honestly quite delightful. I had Kloesse, for Christ’s sake, and ate raw meat, and went on incredibly unsafe carnival rides, and saw Berlin, and looked out upon Erfurt under the lights of the city and stars for hours with Sabine, because it was what I wanted to do. And that is because I was with someone I cared about, and felt comfortable experiencing things with.

But I don’t think those experiences are necessary for growth. Any action, advancements, or even setbacks, all lead to changing who we are, for better or for worse. So when you think about the United States, a country that has an overabundance of different cultures within a singular State, I don’t think “travel” in the laymen’s sense is what’s needed for growth. I agree travel changes you, as it definitely will. It forces you to adapt to a set of circumstances outside of your comfort zone, and makes you the better, or worse for it. But you don’t need to leave your own continent to do so.

I digress. This is becoming more of a polemic about the metaphysical necessity of travel than anything else. I think the point I was trying to make by defining that fact is that I don’t regret going to Germany. But I’m not so sure I would go again if I knew how it was going to be before I left. And that’s the heart of it. There’s a distinct tension between the disappointment of the beginning, and the wonderment of the end, and I don’t know if there’s a real right answer about it.

I can’t tell you what I’ve learned. I’m too close to the situation. It’s weird, you always look back at your life when you’re older, and you can always identify what you learned from certain important experiences, even though you don’t truly realize how they shape you when you’re going through it. I can’t tell you right now how this changed me, but it definitely did, and I’m pretty confident it was for the better, even if it wasn’t a walk in the park. So, the end of my Thueringen Travels is rather ambiguous. And I think that’s acceptable, if anything.

So I’ll end with this: travel, if you want to. But do not get caught up in the romanticized notion of travel as a necessity. At the risk of sounding cliche, trite, and all too Emersonian, all life is a voyage, if you treat it like the adventure it truly is.

Berlin

Well, I found myself in BERLIN this past weekend. That was… different. Now, when you picture Berlin, think of it as you would imagine New York City, only with less filth and squalor, and the ability to move about without hitting someone, as well as more World War II memorials and exhibits than the entire rest of the world combined.

That being said, it was pretty cool.

Sabine and I got in Friday afternoon. We stayed at her sister’s place with her boyfriend, and once we dropped our stuff off, we went about adventuring. The first night, we saw that TV Tower. My GOD, that thing is huge. And I remember we learned in German once that they make a display at the top of the tower during Christmas. My God, I would die from fear just at the idea of being up a thousand feet in the damn air, let alone having the whole, “Let’s construct a modern marvel, that’s a testament to German will,” thing on my mind as well.

We walked about the city, and went to this international beer festival for a while, too. Now, maybe I’ve just never been to a beer festival, but if my experience was anything like the norm, then 80% of the crowd was populated by high functioning alcoholics. Sabine and I were sitting on a curb at one point, and this man came up to us and said “HEY. What are you doing? You’re supposed to be moving!” When we replied just sitting, he said, “OH. Okay. Where you from?” We answered his question, to which he said, “Oh yes, I from Norway, the capital of Sweden.” We honestly couldn’t tell if he was making a joke, insulting us, or just too drunk to actually know that Sweden and Norway are different countries. And with that, he disappeared, into the night. It was different, to say the least.

The next day was actually pretty amazing, though. Sabine’s sister and her boyfriend accompanied us to see the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the capital building, and the still standing parts of the Berlin Wall. The Brandenburg gate was a bit of a mind f***. I mean, how does something like that even come into existence? And then the carvings between the columns and atop the actual gate. That was pretty fun. We ended the night at the German-American festival. It was laced with carnival rides, that I’m almost sure would have failed almost every standard of safety regulations that they’d need to pass if they were in the US. But Jesus, I’ve never been so terrified, excited, and happy at the same time as when you’re spinning in a cart that’s connected and spinning to a different part of the ride, as you’re made perpendicular to the ground.

So, yeah. Berlin was nice. Berlin was fun. Berlin was different. We’re going to Weimar on Wednesday, I believe. Gotta visit Goethe and Schiller’s house, of course.