Sorbet Series 1: An Explanation

When people end relationships, they often dive into the rebound. A haphazardous, unthinking, and often necessary experience to soothe some of the pain that comes with any ending. There are new routines, new people, and the adjustment to a new normal. A quick fling can provide at least temporary relief from some of the difficult and overwhelming emotions.

Since I’ve already defined myself as a relationship Athena, it’s probably not surprising that the thought of a messy, out-of-control rebound does not appeal to me.  A few years ago, over a beer in a popular Wilmington, DE bar, a fellow single friend and I exchanged woes over our dating histories, and shared hatred over the idea of a rebound.

We didn’t need a messy rebound, we needed something chosen and controlled to erase the bad feelings of our prior relationships.

We needed, in essence, a sorbet course.

 The sorbet course is a palette cleanser. A woman (or man!) can carefully choose a quick relationship to at least partially erase the slate.  A delicious sorbet can cleanse those angry feelings from a past boyfriend or girlfriend, provide a bit of an escape or a few hours of fun. Most of all, it’s a reminder that there is more to come. A sorbet course prepares you for the future, for the next relationship, for the next experience.

In many respects, this blog has served as a “sorbet course” for me. I left a job that was the “wrong fit,” a town that never felt quite perfect, and a long-term relationship that had faded into misery. Two months gallavanting around Europe cleansed my palette from some of those lingering feelings and prepared me to throw myself into a new life, in a new town, with a new job. (Supported by wonderful old friends, of course!)

However, unlike a five-course dinner where the sorbet course arrives at the perfectly scheduled time, there is no clear schedule on feelings. Though I have lived a life with no regrets (for real!), and I certainly don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made in the past six or so months–including leaving my job, my apartment, my relationship–I’m still grappling with some of the lingering feelings of everything that happened. Part of this struggle is because I inserted myself back into the situation (lesson learned on that one), but another part of it stems from never truly and honestly reflecting on my decisions.

So, stay tuned for the Sorbet Series, where you’ll hear my hopefully humorous and revealing thoughts on the past six months. I want this series to act as “sorbet” for me–a cathartic palette cleanser that leaves me ready to enjoy the next course.

*Names will be changed to protect the idiots. No worries.

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Myth

 

*author’s note: This is a narrative I wrote for my comp class. Blog will continue in normal fashion soon. I know it’s a little choppy, but it’s not due ’til Monday night, so throw out some feedback if you think I need it! Enjoy. ❤ H

I tell my friends that it’s difficult for me to date because I am 99% Athena, and who knows if the remaining 1% is even Aphrodite. Athena, the goddess of wisdom with her cool grey eyes, forced herself into the world through Zeus’ head to command over the realm of logic. She is wise and academic; she enjoys games with rules; she glowers at her more flirtatious family members, annoyed that their love lives interfere with their responsibilities.

 

I bought an owl necklace in Delphi this autumn, cementing this image, as though the Oracle herself sanctioned my self-concept.

 

For three years, I taught mythology to classes of chaotic fourteen year olds. One of the earliest units in the year, we struggled in the sweltering classroom over Greek family trees, Aphrodite’s true maternity, and the correct pronunciation of Hephaestus. My only previous exposure to the lore of Greece up until that point had been a particularly harrowing reading of The Odyssey my own freshman year of high school and my mother’s Big Fat Greek Marriage to my stepfather. Somehow the myths of the Olympians stuck with me, perhaps because I found both my world and myself in them.

 

We need mythology. We need archetypes and characters to help us understand the world around us.  When I learned about archetypes as a high school senior, I remember feeling like the only student in class who didn’t quite understand. The others kept confident smiles glued to their faces, nodding at all the right moments, as I bit my lip and clenched my pencil nervously, names like “Jung” hanging confusingly in the air. Even in college, units on archetypes brought back those old feelings, the fear of being called on, the sense that everyone else understood some complex idea that lingered just out of my reach.

 

However, in my adult life, I have stumbled clumsily into archetypes. Much as I define myself in relation to that grey-eyed goddess, I create myths about other people. I think it’s a part of survival. Everyone should have the opportunity and ability to craft a previously sympathetic boyfriend into an evil ex, unworthy of any pity or understanding. We need personal myths to create an understanding of our worlds, and we need that understanding to negotiate through the difficult nuances of life.

 

In the past ten years, I have left for college, studied abroad, lived in a foreign country, settled in a new state, started and ended my first serious relationship, and thrown stability aside in favor of integrity and the possibility of fulfillment. I have yet to live in the same room for more than a year. My friends are a beautiful, jumbled group of people who live stretched across at least four continents. Sometimes I’m lonely. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed. Always I’m seeking clarity and understanding.

 

In the myth of my own life, I have met heroes and villains. I have kissed frogs, befriended “evil” stepfamilies, and changed the color of my once-golden locks so often I’m not quite sure how to fill in forms at the DMV. It’s fun to control the authorship of my own myth, but the difficult thing about myths is that other people have pens, too.

 

I know that for a couple on the east coast, I am the wicked witch of their myth. I gagged for years on this knowledge like Snow White on that poisoned bite of apple, grasping to erase an adjective or change an ending. I know that for them, I’m lurking like a demon just outside the frame of their cozy existence, plotting how I can invade their peaceful kingdom and spirit the prince away. As corny as it sounds, I had to brave the onslaught of anger that came along with that perception. I had to steel myself against the briars and arrows, the nasty emails and inflammatory Facebook postings, because they saw a calculating witch. For awhile, I believed their myth, and it’s only with time that I see myself less as a conspiring crone and more as a Fraulein Maria, dancing stupidly down the alps and into a new landscape, cloaking myself in optimism and old curtains, and suddenly finding myself too naive to escape becoming the object of affection. Unlike Maria, I had no sisterhood to retreat to, I only had my own loneliness pulling me further down the path.

 

That loneliness left me entrenched in someone else’s myth, seeing myself in an image someone else had fashioned. Where at least innocent damsels can pine for a rescuer, the lowly witch has to suffer. She has to accept audiences cheering for her destruction and bear with children grimacing at her visage. I thought that this bad ending meant that I was bad; I wasn’t sure how to see myself.

 

In the movie Becoming Jane, the character Jane Austen struggles with authorship. She isn’t sure how to write the endings for good and bad characters; she wants to believe that good people deserve good endings, even though in life, good people occasionally meet with bad ends, and bad people can manipulate situations for their own good. Life does not mimic fairy tales and myths, where it seems that innocent princesses and their rescuing princes always triumph.

 

I recently found myself again a character in someone else’s myth. I inserted myself into her story, though truthfully, I belonged in another chapter. And I was content with my chapter. I thought I understood its plot and smugly thought the resolution had been satisfactory if sad. Unfortunately, I found out later that the subsequent chapter had bled into mine, and events I thought I had written and understood were now tinged with foreign shades, confusing diction, and unfamiliar penmanship. Angry that my deliberate organization and understanding had been based on a lie, I stormed into the next chapter and found an ally. Two battered protagonists, together we created the ultimate antagonist, a scheming, pathetic, poorly endowed, evil little man who slunk through storybooks in search of sympathetic sweethearts. Though momentarily enraged and vengeful, my confusion soon turned to clarity, and I thought I understood. I held the pen firmly in hand, scrawled a quick “the end,” and nodded my head emphatically, certain that like Uranus and Gaia or God or any of the earliest mythological creators, I had fashioned order from chaos.

 

At some point, comfortable with my universe, I rested. Perhaps it was my 7th day and I had been through enough, but before I knew it, some other pen had scratched out my scrawls and begun editing. As the red revision marks sliced through my carefully chosen words, I found myself recast, my standing as protagonist wrenched from me. Suddenly, I was again the wicked witch, the antagonist, a selfish interloped hell-bent on causing havoc for personal gain rather than an innocent muse who had perhaps allowed herself to wander a bit too deep into the story.

 

It’s painful, admittedly, watching someone else create an image of who they think I am, watching foreign hands sculpt my self -understanding into a shape that fits the way they want to see the world.

 

The thing is, though, that for a moment I forgot again. I’m not a character in someone else’s story. I’m not a damsel or a witch. My story might not end with a pithy “happily ever after,” but I’m not looking for clean endings and seemingly perfect princes. In fairy tales, when the happy couple glides off into a “perfect” life, no reader ever hears what becomes of them. I can imagine what happens when the slipper breaks, the looks face, and the couple has to live through midnight after midnight after midnight. And the myths never even assert that couples enjoy perfection. The Greek gods and goddesses don’t pretend to live in perfect harmony; they cheat, they lie, they seek personal fulfillment at the expense of others. I don’t want that.

 

Instead, pen firmly again in hand, fingers gently clasping the owl necklace, it doesn’t end, it continues.

 

And she lived…

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Q: Where have you been?

A: Bickenbach!

Sorry I disappeared for awhile. I settled into a nice little life in Bickenbach, a small town outside Darmstadt (which is right next to Frankfurt if you’ve ever been to the airport!).

This is the face of a girl who is supposed to be on a plane!

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This was me on Sept, 27th at about 8AM. At this moment, I should have been on a plane heading from Munich to Amsterdam. Instead, I got to spend two weeks staying with my friend Ammi, taking German classes, eating delicious food, and running! (More on all that later.)

Before I decided to stay, I visited some other friends. I feel like when I am abroad, I take more time to visit and appreciate my friends, while when I am in the United States, I take it for granted that they are there or I feel uncomfortable “imposing” with a visit. Well, no more. If you’re my friend, I’m visiting you, and you’re going to like it.

After visiting my AuPair Family, I went to see my friend Christian in Muhleim, a small town on the Ruehr River. Christian and I met at church in Hannover, and though we only hung out a couple of times in Hannover, we became good email buddies, and I visited him in Bayreuth, his university town, while I was studying at Heidelberg. I didn’t take tons of pics of us cause I always get awkward, but I had a great time catching up with him (he has a real grown up job now!), going running in the woods, and going on long walks with his girlfriend.

They were great hosts! I did manage to capture a picture of Christian making me a drink. That’s the nice thing about visiting people—you’re royalty for awhile.

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After visiting Christian and Josie, I headed to Schallodenbach, a supersmall town near Kaiserslautern, to visit Gaby, a former coworker of my mom’s from back when I was about 7 years old! I remember Gaby as “the woman with the funny accent” but since she and her husband (who works for a contractor for the American military) have moved back to Germany (where she is from though she is now an American citizen) I have gotten to hang with them a bit. They came to Heidelberg twice while I was there and we met up, and this time I visited their town. Before I got there, I stopped in Duesseldorf for an afternoon.

I stored my stuff in a locker at the train station and headed out.

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It’s beautiful here!

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I stopped in front of a Gymnasium (high school) and looked at some of the tiles the different graduating classes have made. In Germany, to graduate high school, you earn your “Abitur,” so all of the tiles incorporate “Abi” into them. The German schooling system is changing now to a more standardized EU system, so what used to be 13 years of school is being condensed to twelve and students will earn BAs and MAs in college rather than certificates. It’s a confusing and probably stressful time for many people, especially the students who will experience the “double year.” There will be one class graduating after 13 years at the same time the class below them graduates within the new 12-year system. This means twice as many students applying to college and twice as many university graduates eventually flooding the job market. Yikes. But, these kids had some creative ideas for their Abi tiles nonetheless.

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After a nice walk, I picked up my luggage. I only had to pay 3Euros, but it looks like someone else is going to owe a little bit more…

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Then it was off to Schallodenbach. I tried to capture a few pics of small-town life in Germany!

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Every town needs its sports club!

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What a beautiful day!

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The Tante Emer Laden. My spelling might be off. It’s a teeny store that sells everything open for a few hours in the morning. These stores exist in many small towns and though they only carry the staples, they do get deliveries of fresh bread very morning!

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We went on a drive and even (illegally!) cut through some fields—once for the adventure and the other time to cut off some cars that were driving suuuuper slowly.

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We stopped for Kaffee und Kuchen at a beautiful restaurant in the hills.

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It was a great visit, and Gaby and I had lots of discussions about life and choices and desires. She helped me to think about what I want for my future, which led me to my Plan B…. more on that later.

And, since arriving to Bickenbach, my life has been this in the mornings.

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I study German for 3 hours each morning at the LernAkademie. Again, it’s been hugely beneficial for me as a teacher to see how other people teach. My years as a teacher have helped me be a better student as well; I try to give others space and time to answer and to learn rather than worry about being the first one finished. This class was pretty good; I appreciated the time every day to really speak German (especially as I was staying with an American friend). However, my classmates weren’t always satisfied, so there was some drama while I was there.

And every evening, my life looked like this:

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Ammi is a vegan, so she cooks delicious vegan food, and she’s been teaching me how! German in the morning, cooking in the afternoon, time with friends, good wine. I think it was a good choice to stick around!

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The Alster: Then and Now?

I decided to come to Germany this  summer when I was visiting last winter. I wanted to take a few weeks of a German refresher course and do some visiting. Then, I quit my job, summer turned into fall, a few week course turned into a week, and I did some visiting and traveling and learning. I’m thrilled with my decision.

I wanted to come to Hamburg because I have lots of happy memories of the city. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. I love the cafes, the shopping, the harbor, and the running. It is a friendly, open city, and I always imagined I could live there because it’s big enough to have some English stuff going on, too. (Sometimes it’s nice to do things in your native language.) When I signed up for German lessons, I wanted to live near the Alster, but I ended up on the Elbe (and much closer to school), and that was fine.

It was great to have some time to walk around the Alster though. I never got my act together to run around it, but in the end that was better. The Alster isn’t summer for me, it’s winter. It’s the dark days of the end of December, and I’m traveling alone in Germany for the first time. My mom has just left after her Christmas visit, my friend Tara is traveling abroad, and I’m feeling a little out of sorts. On a running website that I frequent, a woman announces that she is running the Hamburg marathon and would love a training buddy. Hannover isn’t too far from Hamburg, so I message her.

I met Ammi in the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. She had just transferred to Hamburg for work, and though I think she was the age I currently am, she seemed so sophisticated and world-savvy. We went from the Hauptbahnhof to the hotel her new company was putting her up in, changed clothes, and set off around the Alster.

It was about seven o’clock at night. The weather was icy and still. We could see our breath. At times we had to shuffle over the puddles that had frozen into ice. Around every corner of the Alster, I was enthralled. Huge homes towered over the shoreline. Their lights glittered. Turning a corner, the city of Hamburg seemed to rise up from the huge expanse of water. My nose was bright red and dripping, but I was in love. I guess it always happens by surprise.

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Walking around the lake in the summer gave me more time to think and look around. At one point, I saw this statue.

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Though I must have passed it dozens of times while I was living and running in Germany, I never noticed this statue of Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s only in hindsight, after teaching this myth to three years of freshman English students that it meant something to me.

In that moment, I was reminded of Catcher in the Rye.

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Though Catcher in the Rye is not my favorite book, I enjoyed teaching it because my students love it. At this moment, in the warm autumn air, standing in front of the Orpheus and Eurydice statue on the banks of the Alster, I thought of Holden and the museum. The protagonist of Catcher, Holden Caulfield is averse to change, and he clings to places like the Museum of Natural history, where everything is under glass and stays the same. It’s a world he can orient himself in.

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move… Nobody’s be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.” –Chapter 16

Oh Holden.

Walking around the Alster, five years after I first ran around the Alster, seeing Orpheus, thinking of Holden… made me wonder, think, conclude.

I decided to run a marathon in Hamburg because I wanted to run a marathon in college. I trained for it, but I ended up getting a nasty little hip injury so I had to put if off. My friend Caitlin helped me through the disappointment by saying that it would be just as exciting to run a marathon in another country and it was nothing I needed to achieve in college.

College was a time I discovered my athletic ability. I flirted with running and working out before, but at William and Mary, I got certified to teach aerobics. I taught spinning, kickboxing, Pilates, weights, and I started to run. I loved running. I ran a bunch of half-marathons, and I definitely wanted to achieve a marathon. At W&M, a lot of my identity was tied up in my athletic aspirations. I was also very vocal about my activities because I never felt that I looked like an athlete. It caused a lot of problems for me.

I ran a marathon in Germany, and I continued running off and on as I moved cities and then moved to Delaware. But it always felt awkward. Like I was trying to cram myself into an old identity or reach some ideal I had decided was important years ago. Very Gatsby-like of me. I created an image of success in my head at a young age and forced myself to fill it.

I think my greatest aspiration was something not uncommon to young women. The thinnest one wins. You could get good grades (check), move to another country (check), and do amazing things with your life (check!) but unless you are smaller than a Macy’s mannequin and hanging off the arm of a guy, you would lose.

Stupid.

As I’ve had time to myself this month, as I’ve sat on the train and stared at the passing scenery, as I’ve gotten up in the mornings for casual and beautiful jogs in tons of different cities, I think I’ve realized something.

I need to get over that. We all grow up in different ways and with different expectations, and as a bullheaded perfectionist, I grew up setting and achieving unreal goals. I got into a great college! I ran a marathon! I moved countries! I’ve graded 100 papers in a week!

But sadly, I’ve never really learned to take care of myself, or be nice to myself, or open myself to depending on other people. I’ve been afraid of being soft, and I’ve always always struggled with my body. And I think it’s time to move on…

As I stood there, staring at Orpheus, leading his love out of Hades, looking behind to make sure she was still there and losing her forever, I realized that I needed to lead myself out of a Hades I’ve created or lose myself in a very real way.

It’s taken me awhile to put my thoughts together in this post, and it’s something I’m still tackling as I stuff myself with (delicious) German bread and other favorites, but it’s something very real. I don’t need to measure myself against some unreal standard and declare myself a loser every time I fall short. I need a new way…

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So viel zu Sagen!: Homecoming Hannover

I left Hannover in the middle of the day on Monday, so I had a little bit of time to walk around and to take my old Ubahn into the city. It was sad and strange and happy and a million things. It’s such a strange thing to take a quick leap into the past. Can you imagine sleeping in your old college dorm room and walking around the campus and visiting classes? I guess it was my own mini-Homecoming or something…

I decided to capture my old route into the city and all the old spots that really mean something to me. There are so many random places in Hannover that I am attached to, even though to most people they are just a bikestand or just a path or just a coffee shop. For me, that year was one of immense growth and new experiences—and mistakes and learning and all those other important things that happen in the first year out of college.

Leaving the house to the UBahn stop! I love the charming brick streets—and it means something in terms of driving, but I can’t remember what! (sorry)

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On my way through the neighborhoods. It was here I learned how safe Germany is. One of my first nights out I came back to a gregarious group of people loudly celebrating a local soccer game or hockey game or something. I was nervous, as any well-trained American girl would be, but I quickly learned that Germany is one of the safest countries in the world and the people are incredibly honest (overall). If you drop something, they will pick it up and leave it on the closest, cleanest spot. One of my friends found a mitten she dropped that way!

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This route is how I would walk to the closest Ubahn stop, but I would bike along a parallel street into the city. On the parallel street, I almost slid out on ice on my bike—very strange feeling. I had to explain myself to a police officer when I was the absolute last person evacuating our area after they found a bomb from WWII in a nearby field. (“Ich bin Au Pair.”) That was definitely a moment where having more grasp of the German language would have been useful! It was also where I decided to apply for a spot in the masters program in Heidelberg. I was biking in the sunshine, enjoying being outside, passing a local restaurant and just thought, “I love it here. I’m going for it.”

Hannover is noted in license plates when the letter H. Heidelberg is HD. Maybe if I marry someone with the last name H, I can move to Hamburg, which is HH.

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My turn around the corner. I used to love this house! I wanted my own little circular staircase.

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The local autumn market! I was there 5 years ago! This market is especially small and local, but Hannover had a lot of its own festivals, which were really fun. When people know you’ve been to Germany, they always ask if you’ve been to Oktoberfest. Though I have, I got a lot more pleasure out of smaller, local festivals where you can learn more about local traditions…and not just about getting wasted with a bunch of other American tourists.

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I used to run around this track when I was training for the Hamburg marathon!

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Awww…. the Edeka where I used to go shopping. Imagine shopping in a country where you don’t speak the language. I thought I was pretty bright when I asked for a piece of paper to order some hamburger meat—but I almost accidentally got 3 kilos instead of 0.3 kilos… in Germany, they use commas instead of periods to indicate decimals. I always used to feel so pressured when I was shopping because the pace of checking out is so different. In the US, the cashier leisurely scans your items, you both leisurely pack them, and out you go. Here, she scans quickly, you try to pack as quickly, and she’s already scanning someone else before you’re done!

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I used to park my bike here. My most vivid memory is of biking home during the cold, cold winter. It was the one time I missed having a car! The temp read –13. Brrr…. imagine getting out of a semi-warm UBahn and having to put your hands on a metal bike that has been sitting out for hours in that kind of weather. I could barely get the lock off!

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My old stop! The Line 7 used to come here but for some unknown reason they changed it to the 9… Grrr….

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There is a screen that counts down the arrival of the tram, so we all can time our commutes precisely.

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Got my one-way ticket into the city!

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Uh oh. The train is late! When I first moved to Germany, I used to laugh at how angry people would get when the train was 30 seconds late. By the end of my first year, I was one of those people. You’ve got to time your commute! I was teaching at the university, and I would hop on the train here and change in the center, and sometimes you only have a few minutes to dart from one spot to the next. (Overall of course, the trains are very reliable and prompt, but Germans have high expectations.)

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Here she comes! The sign indicates the other important stops the tram crosses and the word below is the end station.

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Yes! I got one of the cute little green trains!

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Push the button and the door opens and stairs descend. (Or, if you’re me, spend too much time taking a picture of pushing the button and almost get shut in the doors. I decided to put my camera away for awhile.)

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The ride was great. I didn’t take pictures, but it was fun listening to all the old stops. I used some of the stops for speech-training when I was living there. One stop has the word Kirche (church) in it, and I used to repeat that word at least three times afterward to practice my ch sound.

It was fun to go through my favorite three stops and remember how my friend Tara and I used to repeat them. Spannhagengarten! Pelikanstrasse—Achtung tuerren offnen links! Vier Grenzen! I watched the city go by before the train turned from a Strassenbahn (above ground) to a U-Bahn (below ground). I excited at Kroepcke, in the center city.

They have really improved a lot of the shopping area since I used to live there, and they added a Back Factory. I think I mention that I love this place because you can pick out your own bread and just pay at the end. This way, if you’re German is not-so-great, you don’t accidentally end up with three of something you wanted one of (not that I know anyone that happened to). However, I guess this place is tricky for people who are used to ordering with a bakery worker. I had to help a little old lady in Hamburg who had never been to Backfactory before—you need to get a piece of paper and a tray and put your tray away. She was a little flummoxed but so sweetly grateful.

This BackFactory had a sign outside with a play on words that I understood. Can you understand? Angebot=sale or special, brot=bread. A cute little joke. (Speaking of jokes…remember that time I confused witz and wiks in a conversation. FUN. Look it up…)

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The Kroepcke clock is a big meeting spot in Hannover. I used to meet my friends there. The other spot is “under the horse’s tail” by the statue in front of the Hauptbahnhof.

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When I come back to visit Germany, there are so many special German things that I really cherish, but when you are living abroad, it is natural to miss home. Therefore, I was so grateful when I realized that the local upscale shopping center had a grocery store with an international aisle… and they had American stuff!

Then, I went to the grocery aisle and saw the American stuff. Oh my.

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Can’t live without my cheese whiz… errr zip.

Tschuess Hannover!

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So viel zu Sagen!: Wochenende in Hannover

Five years ago, I graduated from the College of William and Mary. I spent a summer hanging out with my cousins, and then I left for Germany to work as an Au Pair. I had decided to become an au pair because I frankly didn’t know what I really wanted to do (Newsflash: Five years later the story is the same.) I put my profile on an au pair website in the fall and made contact with my AuPairFamily that December. By Christmas 2004, I had agreed to come work for their family! It was an exciting decision and something that relieved the “what are you going to do next year?” pressure that a lot of college seniors feel.

I have always been a conscientious student. I worked hard and got good grades and frankly did everything right, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. I went to a university where I was surrounded by people like me. We all strived to be perfect, and as I got caught up in the whirlwind, I started to feel like I was going to crack. I had quit Spanish my first year of college because I wasn’t passionate about it in the same way I was passionate about history or English, plus, despite the fact that my mom studied abroad twice in college (Spain and Germany), I knew I wasn’t going to leave William and Mary. I loved it there to much.

Fast forward less than a year, and 18 credits, an RA position, an office in my sorority, part-time jobs at the Writing Center and teaching aerobics at the rec center combined with a personal religious conviction that left very little room for failure (this was my personal—and faulty—belief, not the religion) plus a tangle with an eating disorder convinced me that maybe leaving W&M would be a good move. I spent a trimester studying at Oxford and then got a Eurrail pass and traveled with my cousin Kate.

When I got back to Williamsburg and had to think about what I wanted to do, I thought, “Europe was fun. I’ll go there.” Seriously. That’s what I thought. There are a variety of ways to become an Au Pair, but I did it through AuPair World. I liked this website because it’s simple and basic. My friend Tara came through Great AuPair, which is a much prettier website! (I found it too crazy to weed through, but that’s just me.) There are lots of services and agencies that match people up, but the result is the same. In Germany, Au Pairs watch the children in exchange for 260euros/month and German lessons and housing with a family. No one is going to get rich being an au pair, but it’s an awesome experience if you are interested in getting to know another culture better. I didn’t speak German before I came, and I almost wish I could come back now that I know the language. I was always a little self-conscious and stressed that I couldn’t speak German well (it’s the perfectionist in me), so I think I personally would get more out of it with more language ability. (Again, I write as I think about moving to another place where I don’t speak the language. Deep breath.) However, anyone can profit from being an au pair! I don’t think it’s the only way to grow into adulthood (which one of my colleagues laughingly accused me of believing) but especially for students who have gone through their education crossing every t and dotting every i and putting tons of pressure on themselves, it can be a great way to get out of that grind and experience something different.

Because I couldn’t speak any European language except for Spanish, I decided to choose a country based on stereotypes. I know myself. I am punctual, uptight, and type A. I couldn’t see myself hanging out with the Italians or Spanish—they were way too relaxed and their countries seemed too disorganized, so I decided to focus on Northern Europe, and I ended up in a place that suited me perfectly.

When I landed in Frankfurt five years ago, I had no idea how Germany worked. The escalators turn off to save energy, but thinking they were broken I dragged my suitcase down the stairs and groaned when I saw a German businessman step casually onto the escalator. I got a ticket from the Frankfurt airport to Hannover, but I didn’t get a reserved seat and I didn’t know how to check if a seat was reserved. I spent the train ride leaning on my suitcase and trying not to fall asleep. But luckily, when I arrived in Hannover five years ago, a lovely family was there at the train station to welcome me!

And there they were again! (sorry for the blurriness, we were all moving!)

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We had a nice, relaxing, just-like-old-times weekend.

We watched Little House on the Prairie (or Unsere Kleine Farm)

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They loaned me Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen so I could finish it! I did!!

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We went on a family run/bike through the woods, through the old arm fields, and around the Silbersee! No pics, but I got to run my old favorite route twice (Saturday and Sunday). It was fantastic. On Saturday we went to party, but Sunday was a nice family day that started with a gorgeous Sunday breakfast.

Truth. My AuPairFamily was the first German family I ever got to know, and therefore everything they do is the way it should be. We always had cool bread boards for Sunday breakfast and abendbrot, so when I eat with families that don’t have the cool boards, I’m always a little disappointed. Like they aren’t German enough or something.

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Ina baked our Sonntagsbroetchen.

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Henrik made the eggs.

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Kathi provided the ambience. 😉

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Lars made his famous lattes, and I took pictures of everything!

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Afterward, we went to the zoo. i adore this about the Germans. They know how awful their weather can be, so when it’s nice everyone is outside enjoying the sunshine!

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We met two of their grandmas for lunch afterward, and after a little more Unsere Kleine Farm, another perfect run, and some abendbrot, Ina and I made our way to a lecture! It actually happened to be at my old church. Crazy. A Palestinian woman was there talking about her experiences working with a group of Palestinians and Israelis who want to bring about peace in their region. She said a lot of things that stuck with me, but what I found most fascinating was the way she framed the issues. She said it’s not Palestinians vs. Israelis but rather those who want peace vs. those who don’t. Good stuff.

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So viel zu Sagen!: End of Hamburg

“So much to say”—shout out to Dave Matthews!

Well, my last days in Hamburg were great! It was amazing to have the chance to take a German class again and to speak so much German! I am already daydreaming about when I can come back. Truthfully, I’m dreaming about if I can stay. It wouldn’t be too expensive to change my flights and I found a 4-week course in Frankfurt that’s superintensive…. But, I don’t know when my job in South Korea is going to start, and it might be good to be home before I go. I need to keep reminding myself that I don’t need to do everything rightthissecond. Germany and German will still be here when I am done with my next big adventure.

Again, I need to recommend Couch Surfing so much. You don’t even need to sleep on someone’s couch to enjoy CouchSurfing! I did stay Stefanie’s place, but I also met up with Keno for a beer and had Abendbrot with Nadine and her son, Kilian.

Bread is very important to the German culture. Bread is often a big part of German breakfast and it is certainly a part of dinner, or Abendbrot, which translates to “evening bread.” I worked in Britain for the summer between my two German years, and I met a bunch of German people. We prepared German breakfast together, and it was so comical for me to try to find bread on a Sunday morning. In Germany, it feels like everything is closed on Sunday except the bakery! Sundays are for family (and God?). Stores are closed but cafes and restaurants are still open so people can spend time together. When I was studying in Heidelberg, the university library was closed on Sunday, which I hated! (I think that has changed.) In Britain, it felt like everything was open on Sunday except the bakery. In any case, there is a bakery on every corner in Germany, but Nadine baked her own bread for abendbrot!

She said she doesn’t doing it often because she and her son can’t finish it before it gets stale, but with guests that process goes faster.

I took the S-Bahn & U-Bahn to Nadine’s house.

When I got there, I took my shoes off and she loaned me some house shoes! (This is very common in Germany. Sometimes people—especially kids, I think—bring their own house shoes with them when they go to other people’s houses.)

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While we had coffee and chatted, Kilian arranged his own monster movie! They had hung a sheet of paper on his walls and he painted the scenery. He was taking a video when I snapped my pic. It’s been so nice for me to be around families on this trip—of all shapes and sizes. It feels so relaxed and cozy. I don’t have many friends who are parents yet, so it always calms me down to hang out with parents who are still cool and have good relationship with their kids.

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Home grown tomatoes and homemade bread!

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become a delicious salad and perfect slices (extra delicious with butter and herb-salt)

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Killian enjoyed his with some FreddyFox bologna! Look at the cool face:

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Abendbrot ist wunderbar!

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For me, this was a comfortable and familiar experience. I’ve had abendbrot with lots of different families, so it’s interesting to see all the different rituals and taste the variety of bread-offerings! (The dad of a good friend of mine says that I lust after German bread… not false.) I can’t wait to try CouchSurfing in a culture that I don’t know as well, so I can learn something new. It’s almost like having good friends in a foreign country.

My last day in Altona I tried to make as Altona-ish as possible.

I woke up and did my homework with some coffee. I love how Balzac makes it fresh! The Barista there said they enjoy making it because it gives them something else to do besides heat up milk. Honestly, I feel like everyone in Germany has been so much more friendly than I’ve ever experienced before, but I think that honestly comes from the fact that I am more open and trying harder to engage with people and use my language skills. So important. (She says before she moves to another place where she doesn’t know the culture or speak the language…)

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I had my last German class and then headed over to the Altona museum. There were lots of ship figures and special paintings of the Elbe River. They even had a set-up of an old house and old shops—it felt very Colonial Williamsburg to me. I loved it!

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It was really fun to go through the museum, but the most fun part was chatting with a woman who was born and spent her childhood in Altona. I didn’t realize that until the late 193os, Altona was separate from Hamburg. It was a separate (and much richer!) city with its own surrounding wall. During a cholera epidemic, Hamburg lost a lot of citizens, but Altona only three (including the great-grandfather of the woman I was speaking with). Hamburg wanted Altona, and in the late 30s Hitler ended the separation of a lot of the neighborhoods in Hamburg to create the city as it currently it. Freaking Hitler. You think having lived in Germany (and then spending the first part of this trip traveling through one of the Fronts of WWII) I’d be used to him by now, but damn. We spoke this sweet mix of mostly German and the occasional word of English, and she said she found my German impressive.

Now, I’m proud of myself, and I know I have learned a lot, but half the time I think people are just impressed that someone speaks any German! (I don’t mean people that know me, just people off the street.) Especially since I’m an American—we aren’t known for our language abilities. I’ve so enjoyed stretching my language muscles, but my favorite thing about German is being able to understand the daily stuff. It’s fun to read German books and watch tv shows, but it’s almost more fun to hear regular (even boring) daily conversations. “Should we turn here?” “Should I keep driving straight?” “Is this the street?” It’s so normal and wonderful and it reminds me that the language is alive. People speak German and conduct their entire lives in German, and it’s such a gift to have the time to be part of that.

When I was teaching high school, we had an assembly about a summer trip that some of the kids had taken. At one point, when a girl was talking about the trip to France, she blurted out, “And all the signs were in French!” People laughed at her (teachers, too) but I saw her point. Yes, on some so-obvious-it’s-dumb level, of course all the signs in France would be written in French. But on another, very profound level, when you learn English from a book in a country as isolated as America, it’s a beautiful shock to land in another country and see that WOW, everything you’ve learned is useful. There are people who speak this language and use this language and you can be a part of it.

I learned Spanish in school, but the reason I have pursued German with more ferocity than I ever pursued Spanish is because I lived there. I love the culture and the people and the language is such an intricate part of that. I find the German language interesting and beautiful. I know it sounds harsh if you don’t speak it, but it’s amazing to hear know how the language comes together. It’s such a complete language. I don’t know quite how to express that…

In English, we only need subject/verb. I should have gone running (over the river and through the woods on Sunday). The prepositional phrases can drop out without anyone losing the meaning of the sentence.

In German, the sentence would read live this:

I have on Sunday over the river and through the woods run should. (it’s hard to translate the tense precisely.) Look how so much of the meaning of that sentence comes at the end! When I was learning German, I was so thrilled the first time I made a sentence with the verbs on the end! (It is a danger to lose your train of thought halfway through though.)

Now that I’ve waxed poetic about learning German, I will admit that I continued my day by reading some more of Harry Potter auf Deutsch. Because I already know the story, I am learning a lot of vocabulary as I read.

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I had a quiet night in, though I didn’t finish the book!! before getting up early for one last Altona Elbe-run (you saw my route) before heading to Hannover!

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