Me comparing Dresden's current skyline with a painting of it from the late 19th century:
Adam and I trained to Berlin two days ago and I'm enjoying my final days with him here in Germany. Yesterday, we spent the day touring Berlin's impressive Jewish museum followed by a brief walk through Tempelhof airport (the largest fascist structure remaining in Germany). Today, we're going to Berlin's Zoo, located a short walk from the pension we are staying. I leave Germany early tomorrow morning to return to Boston: my German adventure has come to a close. Adam will stay here for another month doing research. Prior to leaving, I wanted to post some of my thoughts and impressions I've formed here.
My time in Germany has made me aware of the things I can’t live easily without and the things I absolutely can. Of utmost technological importance to me is, of course, the internet. In Tübingen, after waiting a month to determine, and then receive, the proper paperwork to procure internet in our student housing once we were finally connected, it was a pretty good system. (We had to contend only with the occasional internet “black-outs"). Upon moving to Dresden, however, I definitely had a mini freak-out session when I realized we couldn’t--and wouldn’t--have internet in our apartment. Of course, it turned out not to be too big of an issue after we found our free wireless at the internet café/hostel down the street. But still, our access was limited and I had been spoiled.
I miss movies. For those of you who know about our Netflix obsession, this should come as no surprise. I don’t want you to be under the false impression, however, that we haven’t been watching any movies or following our favorite tv shows (BSG and Lost). With thanks to my Czech host brother, who has kept us in the loop with some of his favorite Czech and other European movies, and our friend pirate bay, we’ve stayed on top of many episodes and movies that you all have been enjoying this year. The same goes for my favorite shows from NPR: I've been downloading podcasts of This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me among others. This has served to be vital entertainment (in English)! for me as well as a way to stay connected with American life and news.
Without a cell phone, TV, and the usual obligations and delights that accompany life in the US of seeing friends and family, we’ve had a lot more time to just “be.” I’d like to think this year that I seriously was exposed to—and learned to embrace—the art of doing nothing. Of course for me, the art of doing nothing is best enjoyed while sitting in the sun.
We’ve become enchanted with watching birds, water fowl, and our neighborhood panthers (cats). I always wondered why it was mostly the young and old who seemed to enjoy the sport of bird watching. I now think it’s because we young-middle aged folk have so many other things going on in our lives that the potential stimulation, joy, and wonder found from hanging out with nature is largely lost on us. I desperately hope to hold on to this habit returning to my life in the States. I know it won’t be easy.
When my friend Amanda came to visit, I chatted with her about my newfound love of “being unplugged.” She said it reminded her of an article Mark Bittman wrote in the NY Times recently. For Mark, he tries to not check email, use the internet, telephone, etc on a full day of the weekend--either Saturday or Sunday. I think that’s quite an admirable strategy to aspire to.
The Super Dads
In Dresden, I’ve become used to seeing men interact shamelessly and lovingly with their baby or young child in public. They hold dolls and stuffed animals while patiently watching their child pick up rocks. They speak baby talk, make ridiculous faces, walk slowly and are otherwise completely absorbed in their child’s life. They aren’t multitasking by talking on their cell phone or with another adult friend. They are completely, utterly with their baby and seemly unaffected by me, the gawking American—shocked to see so many young men spending time with their children…and DURING THE WEEK! It took us a long while to realize what was going on. Were we seeing some particular sub-culture of progressive Dresden? Our German friend Rose helped fill us in: In an effort to raise their low birth rate (one of the lowest in the world), the German government passed legislation granting extremely generous and progressive leave policies with pay--for both parents. As in general, Germans don’t seem to be as tied to work for their self-worth and identity, I think this grants many German men the freedom to stay at home and be the primary care giver (if only for a three month to a half year period). I’ll be on the lookout for these “super dads” in America. And, if it’s only on the weekends, so be it.
Smart Urban Planning
Previously, I’ve never consciously considered myself interested or observant of urban planning and development but my time here has certainly made me into a novice. (Or at least a critic)!
Germany’s use of space continues to astound and impress me. It’s particularly evident sitting in the train, watching the transformation of compact, slick urban space transform to open farm land, protected forests, and towns and villages that have a center, logical feeling, and heart. I certainly get the feeling that the use of land resources are highly controlled and planned with everyone’s best interests in mind. While I’m sure that suburban sprawl must exist here—I haven’t found it!
My time here has enforced my belief in having green space within an easy walking from where most people live. Also, designated walking/biking/running paths are a huge bonus.
I still can’t get over how different zoning is here. It is the expectation that within—or quite near to—residential areas there will also be grocery stores, pharmacies, bakeries, bars, drug stores and playgrounds within a walk from ones house, but also schools, doctors and dentist offices! It took me a long while to get used to the lack of parking lots and even parking spaces here. Also, in commercial real estate zoning (take shopping malls for example) grocery stores are often built in the basement level!
I have thoroughly enjoyed Germany’s fabulous and comprehensive public transportation systems of slick trains, trams, undergrounds and buses. And yes, sometimes there are strikes, delays, or re-routing, but most of the time they work quite well. My time here has strengthened my dislike of cars. At this time, I feel I’d be perfectly happy if I never set foot in another one.
A Small Space
I’ve completely given up my childhood desire of having a large house. Having lived in and witnessed the smart use of small spaces, I’m committed to having a cozy house of my own (some day). Europeans use space brilliantly. One of my favorite examples was a sleek cabinet our friends Rose and Uli had by their main door. It was shallow but about four feet tall. I wondered what did it hold? Rose pulled on one of the drawers, revealing a diagonal slat supporting a pair of shoes! There were many such drawers within the cabinet keeping their shoes neatly hidden in a compact space and stored near the front door.
I’ve totally normalized the size of the small ovens here…I’m still working on the fridges.
Food + Drink
I’ll miss German’s obsession with “tubed meat,” mustard, jams, cheeses, chocolate, breads, pastas, potato salad, pastry items, beer and wine. This, of course, isn’t to say that I can’t purchase most of these goods (or ones of similar quality in the US) but the cost is exponentially higher.
What do I miss from America?
I miss Netflix. Mexican food, bagels and my bed! I miss not being able to communicate with anyone I pass or meet. But, most of all, I miss my family and state-side friends. I look forward to seeing (or speaking with you once I rejoin the cell phone community) soon!
God, it's been a great year. I feel extremely thankful to have had this opportunity.