As promised, I’ve got a few last blog posts up my sleeve.  Here are some pictures from my last few days in Germany.  One of the things which caused an undue amount of stress in my life was my going away party at work.  In the German tradition, one throws one’s own going away party, which just seems like a bad idea all around.  If someone not leaving the country must have better things to do than try to organize a party for their coworkers.  In the end, I bought some cakes from the freezer section at the store and brought those to the social room at 2 pm, so people could eat cake and get their own drinks from the coffee machine.  As this was my first excuse to visit the amazing world of frozen German cakes, so I got rather more than I needed to.  Plus Markus baked another one.  Plus one of the older professors in the institute didn’t see my email the day before and brought in some belated birthday cake of his own (Germans throw their own birthday celebrations too), so there was really a lot of cake.  But it all got finished eventually, and allowed me to save the most delicious looking one for dinner that night at Markus and Karen’s place.  Another, rather more endearing German tradition, is the one of going around the institute and taking up a collection for a going away present.  They gave me a really fancy and beautiful fountain pen, along with a shirt and business card holder, both with the DLR logo.  Below are some pictures from the party, along with a few from later that evening on Markus’ balcony, using up some sparklers I had left over from two New Years Eves ago.

That was all Tuesday.  Wednesday I spent trying to return all the furniture I’d borrowed (including the DLR refrigerator), say final good-byes, finish cleaning out my desk, and parcel out all the rest of my stuff.  Of course, in the end, I still had too much stuff, as you can see from the final picture at the Frankfurt Airport, but in the end, assuming the box I shipped eventually shows up at my parents’ house, it will have worked out surprisingly well.

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Well, this is it.  The very last post from Germany.  It has been not quite two years, and I’m flying home tomorrow for good.  And I don’t even have time to write a properly reflectful blog post.  It’s currently almost 1 am and I’m using my friend’s computer because I turned my apartment back over to my landlord and returned all my borrowed furniture this afternoon.  Tomorrow I catch a train at 10 am from Siegburg and a flight from Frankfurt to Chicago at 12:30ish.  After much tussle and heartache, I finally got everything packed.  I’m going to have to check a third suitcase and my parents will be receiving a large box via post, but I managed to fit in almost everything in the end.  And everything else has been distributed among my friends.  My intention is that Genauslanders will end with Germany, but there may still be a few more posts over the next few weeks about life after Germany and catching up on a lot of the pictures and travel I’ve been doing lately but haven’t had time to blog about.  My friends here have been amazing and showered me with amazing and beautiful and thoughtful good-bye presents (which didn’t exactly make packing easier, but I still appreciate them).  It’s very, very hard to leave, but at least I’ve been so busy and stressed about everything lately that I’m ready to leave, just to be done with it all.  As I type this, I can hear the raindrops falling on the leaves in the dark outside the open window.  Thank you to Germany, to my boss and my co-workers and my friends.  I treasure you all.  Alles Gute.  Tschüss!

I’m slipping this in ahead of Amber’s post, as she should, of course, get the last word.

I am so delighted to have Amber coming back to the States.

I am also so sad for her, as she has had a tremendous year.

I have had a tremendous year myself.  This blog is about Germany, so I’ve refrained from giving my own updates.  But suffice it to say we made a great decision to spend this year doing work we loved in places we’ve relished.

It was hard.

Sometimes awfully hard.

But we have come through this well.  You’ve read about Amber’s life.  I have done deeply meaningful work and developed deep relationships with patients, staff, and friends in Chicago.

I want to thank you all for reading — the first year, with lots of goofiness, and the second year, with lots of interesting stuff.  I want to thank Germany for bringing Amber thrills.

And I want to thank the Germans (and more than one Ausländer!) who have taken such good care of Amber, have had so much fun with her, and have provided me with hours of entertaining stories to hear.

So thanks Markus and Karen, Karianne and Mischa,  Levin and Piotr, Pedong and Zhenglei.  And thanks to everyone else whose names I’m forgetting.

Remember, all of you, that you are not just invited, you are REQUIRED to come visit us in the U.S. at some point.

I recently discovered the work of the Russian photographer and artist Sergey Larenkov.  He takes old photographs from the Second World War and merges them seamlessly with modern pictures of the same spots.  Many of his pictures are from the siege of Leningrad, but there are others from all over Europe.  It’s hard to walk past the historic buildings over here and not try to imagine the way things used to be, and these pictures add a whole new and somewhat spooky degree of realism to those musings.  It really is, as someone else described his work, as if ghosts are walking among us.  I think what perhaps amazes me the most is how much overlap there is between then and now.  Despite the damage from the war, a lot of the buildings haven’t changed very much.  Perhaps that shouldn’t be so surprising, as it’s only been about 65 years since the originals were taken, but the grainy black-and-white film, and the conditions depicted, make it seem like a different universe.  I’ve copied a few of my favorite pictures into this post.  You can see more of his images by going to his website, http://sergey-larenkov.livejournal.com/ or just googling his name.

The Reichstag in Berlin. It's particularly interesting to see places I recognize.

Another image from Berlin, with the Branderburg Gate in the background

Joe here, writing to you on the one year anniversary of my leaving Germany to come back to the U.S.  What a crazy year!  With four days left before Amber returns home (!!), I found myself needing to tell a quick story.

Our dear friend Terra asked me a few weeks ago if she and some friends could stay here at the house in Chicago.  Her friends were a guy she meet at camp who happens to be from (of course!) Germany, and his family.  

Collin is from Chemnitz, which is where Karen (featured in a few posts with her boyfriend Markus) is from.  Markus went to university in Chemnitz as well.  So while Amber hangs out with these folks and says goodbye to them, I welcome a whole Chemnitz family into the community here.

Collin’s family was meeting him in Chicago and seeing the city.  They brought copious amounts of Milka.  This pleased me.  

They ran poor Terra ragged, staying out super late and, with typical German gusto, trying to see just about everything.

Their eagerness did not end in Chicago, though.  They left Saturday afternoon and drove a small rental car to the Indiana Dunes, and then to Cleveland to deposit Terra on her parents’ doorstep.  They then plan to head east to Niagara Falls.  

Okay, that’s reasonable.  

Next stop: New York City.  My hometown!  A must-see!

From New York, they’re heading to Philadelphia and D.C.  Wow, an ambitious trip, but they might as well see as much as possible while —

Wait, there’s more!

From D.C. they head to Atlanta!  (11+ hours), and then from Atlanta they head to…

Miami?  

Wow.  That’s just insane.  Atlanta and Miami are another 11-ish hours apart.  

According to Google Maps, their total car time for this trip is over 43 hours.  

I know Germans love to drive.

But I also know that Germans — well, Europeans — don’t get how large the U.S. really is.   And that’s because in 43 hours, you can drive from Lisbon to Krakow and then down to Milan, and still have time for a few cappuccinos.  


In the Petite France district of Strasbourg

Last weekend, Levin and I went to Strasbourg, which is just across the German border into France.  He told me I had to see Strasbourg, and he was right.  It’s a really wonderful city.  After two years of traveling, I’ve gotten to the point where, believe it or not, all the European cities are kind of starting to look the same.  There are a few that stick out:  Bruges is one, Strasbourg is another.  The historic center of the city is on an island in the Ill River, so there is water and bridges, and the region has a lot of German influence, so the streets are packed with charming old half timbered houses, more than I’ve ever seen anywhere else.  We ate Flammkuchen, one of the regional specialties, and crepes, and tried to go to a cheese restaurant that came highly recommended, but on a Saturday night it was completely booked, so we ended up at a restaurant that specialized in baked potatoes instead.  I had also been looking forward to hearing the world renowned Gregorian chanters of the Strasbourg Cathedral, but the information on the website was wrong, as we found out when we showed up for the 11 am mass that we should have been there at 9:30.  Oh well, just more reasons to go back.  We did take a boat trip around the island and climbed the cathedral tower, and just spent a lot of time wandering through the streets enjoying the architecture.

Light show on the cathedral

There were two highlights of the visit for me.  The first was Friday night.  We got to Strasbourg rather late, but decided nevertheless to walk to the island and check things out.  We wandered for quite awhile through magical, lantern-lit streets, where happy diners at tiny cafe tables spilled across the sidewalks.  Eventually we made our way towards the cathedral, and noticed that it seemed to be lighting up and changing color.  We quickened our step.  We emerged onto a narrow street running, right in the middle of a sound and light show playing out on the side of the huge church.  We stood and watched, entranced as the lights and shadows brought out different pieces of the elaborate Gothic architecture.  It was one of the best possible tourist experiences: big, beautiful, free, and utterly unexpected.  It turned out to be a special installation playing just for one month, so if you have the change to go to Strasbourg in the next week or two, it’s definitely worth the effort.

The other wonderful thing that happened was the following night.  Levin had wanted to go to a classical music concert, which can usually be found in abundance in Strasbourg, but August is the month when the musicians, like everyone else, goes on vacation, so the pickings were slim.  The girl at the cultural information office mentioned that there would be a free concert in the square behind the cathedral.  Speaking in German, she had difficulty describing exactly what kind of music it was… traditional, not really jazz or rock, but energetic and funny.  After the disappointment with the cheese restaurant and some very expensive baked potatoes (which were at least covered in cheese), we were wandering back toward the hotel when some music caught our ears.  It seemed to be the event that the girl had described.  We went over to check it out.  From the short video clip below, I hope you can get some idea.  It was four guys, playing two guitars, an upright bass, and an accordion, seated in a trailer decked out inside to look like a living room.  I don’t know what the kind of music is called either, but is from the 1920s and fabulous.  Everything about it was somehow perfect: the lights, the music, the square, the people, the tiny dance floor where people from 8 to 80 danced in all kinds of styles with all kinds of partners.   It was a quintessential “this is Europe” moment, standing in this square in France, on a balmy summer night, listening to the music and watching the people dance.  It reminded me of the Deana Carter song, “In a happy little foreign town, where the stars hung upside down… the band played, songs that we had never heard, but we danced anyway…”  The concert and the dancing ended at 10 pm, just in time to watch the show on the cathedral again.

On the way home, we decided to take a different highway back along the German side of the boarder.  The traffic was bad because of construction, so we detoured farther to the

east and took the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, the high road through the mountains of the Black Forrest.  It was pouring rain most of the way, so we couldn’t fully appreciate the views, but what

Playing in the water in the Black Forest

we did see was beautiful.  The rain eventually cleared up and we stopped to hike back to a waterfall, along a beautiful little river full of rocks covered in emerald green moss.  I even took my shoes and socks off and waded across the river for a photo op.  It was the perfect way to spend my next-to-last weekend in Germany.

I am very, very sad to be leaving Germany.  I like my job and my apartment and my friends and the traveling that I get to do.  And as I explained to someone recently, I like very much the idea of being an American living abroad.  It makes me special, and for better or worse, it makes every day an adventure.  I saw a quote recently from a French writer called Anatole France which sums up almost perfectly the way I feel about going back to the US.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

Reading this also makes me feel a little less guilty about the fact that I am so sad to leave.  However, one thing that I am looking forward to about coming back is the fact that I will once more be able to make flippant, off-hand remarks that will not require 1) having to explain to my listeners that I was being flippant and off-hand, and 2)  then spending five minutes attempting to explain the flippant and off-hand remark to people who are unfamiliar with the cultural associations behind it, and unavoidably using vocabulary said people have never learned.

Case in point:

Me, standing in a small and normally empty laboratory, after the third person from my research group had just walked in the door:  Man, it’s starting to feel like Old Home Week in here.

Germans:  What??

Me:  Feeble and ineffective attempt to explain American rural tradition stemming from the mass migration of agricultural workers to urban centers after the industrial revolution.  Then I tried just to explain the concept of Homecoming, but as Germany doesn’t have school-sponsored sports or, apparently, school dances, I didn’t make much headway.

Another example:  Yesterday on the way to lunch, one of my co-workers was asking about the certainty of my future plans.  Without thinking, I prefaced my response with, “Well, barring an act of God…”  Do you want to try to explain the verb ‘to bar’ to a native German speaker, particularly in the context of divine intervention?

Part of the trouble is that Germans simply do not make flippant remarks.  They are generally a very serious people, or at least straightforward when speaking.  And when they want to make a joke, they announce it first as a joke.  There is an expression in German that is used when someone is joking around too much or making unexpected (and hence generally uncalled-for) humorous remarks.  “Hast Du einen Clown gefrühstückt??” they will ask.  Translation: Did you eat a clown for breakfast?  And it’s not a compliment.

I was discussing this phrase with a German recently.  He wasn’t surprised when I said that there was no equivalent expression in English, because, he noted, Americans were always joking around.  Which led to the following exchange…

Me, attempting to look offended:  We’re occasionally serious!  And all that joking is really just an attempt to hide our pain. *snicker snicker*

German, completely straight-faced and nodding:  I know.