Last Looks

The last time I was in Hamburg, back in late March, I spent some time with Sarah and Tobias.  After lunch, they walked me back to the U-Bahn, and as we said our goodbyes, I had a flash of realization- after that moment, I might not ever see either of them again in my lifetime.

I know it seems like a negative point of view, but it’s a simple truth: In just thirty days, I will be leaving Germany. Sure, I’ll travel to Europe again in the future, but I probably won’t be in Hamburg again.

After that realization, I started noticing it in other places.   Sometimes it’s silly (will this be the last time I buy a fricking heavy six-pack of water from the Getränkemarkt?) but usually it’s a little more bittersweet.

I saw this image in one of those ridiculous Buzzfeed lists, and the sentiment is exactly what I’m talking about, even if the image they chose is terrible:


For the last six months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transition back and about what I’m leaving behind here.  I started making these comparisons in another post a while back, but I’ve got more.

Some of it isn’t great.

  • I won’t miss riding with patient zero on the bus.  Every time the temperature drops even the tiniest amount, there’s hacking and coughing and sniffling like you would not believe.
  • I won’t miss the smokers everywhere.  Standing at the bus stop.  Walking through the city.  I can smell it from half a block away.
  • I won’t miss the crazy spin-art vomit stains on the sidewalk at the end of every weekend.  Most Germans can hold their beer, but this is a college town and Universities are where people test their limits, and then spill those limits all over the sidewalk before passing out.  Walking through the city on a Sunday morning can be a little bit like walking though a slightly squishy minefield.
  • I won’t miss the fucking cobblestone.  I haaaaate  cobblestone.  No, seriously-  cobblestone is charming when you first arrive, but it’s hell to walk on for long periods of time.    I can’t begin to count the number of times that my ankle has turned a bit on a cobblestone step.  It’s a miracle I haven’t injured myself in all this time.
  • I won’t miss the specific style of outdoor chairs that you find at beer gardens and restaurants with outdoor seating.  See the crossbar halfway up the back?  Those things always dig into my back.   Seriously, they’re the least comfortable seats in the universe.  How to people sit on these for hours?  Oh, right:  The beer functions as a muscle relaxant.damnchairs
  • I won’t miss the random people who seem to do nothing all day except hang out in front of the Bahnhof, or in front of the park directly opposite.  Every city I’ve visited has these people- they’re around the train station with a beer in hand.  Often, it looks like they’re sleeping there, in front of the station.  It’s such a waste-  I won’t ever understand people who don’t have the desire to go other places and do other things.
  • I won’t miss the way Germans line up for things.  At the bakery, or waiting to board a bus, or a train, there’s never a single simple line.   If you’re trying to get off of a bus, you generally have to push through the people waiting to get onto the bus because they don’t stand to one side to let people through.   Germans, by and large, are terrible  at lining up for things.    It’s usually a large cluster of people with no real sense of order.
  • I won’t miss my shower plunger.  I have a standard wood-handled rubber plunger, of the type commonly associated with toilet issues.  This particular plunger has never been used in a toilet, however.  The drain of my shower has been finicky for as long as I’ve lived here, and I keep the plunger in my shower so that whenever I find myself ankle deep in not-draining water, I can plunge the shower drain for a minute and things will even out.  This happens at least once every few weeks, and has for as long as I’ve been here.  I’ve tried the local equivalent to Drano, and I’ve tried a few other things without much success.  I won’t miss having a shower that backs up at random intervals.

But there are things I will  miss.

  • I’ll miss having a vibrant concert scene just one hour away, or three, or six.  Many of my trips have started with concert plans.  I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall in London twice now.  Many of the bands I want to see play in Berlin, or Cologne, or Hamburg.  Sometimes they even come to Munich or Nuremberg.    The concert scene is a little more dead in Florida, alas.
  • I’ll miss this view, as seen from Neupfarrplatz in the Regensburg Altstadt:
  • I’ll miss the Deutsche Bahn.  From Regensburg, a single train will take me to Prague in four hours.  Salzburg in four hours.  Berlin in six hours.  Frankfurt in three hours.  Anywhere else in continental Europe is within reach, as long as I’ve got the time.  The trains here are fabulous.
  • I’ll miss my crazy-fast Internet.  The picture below is a photograph of my screen when I did a speed test.  I’ve never used anything this fast back in the US.  I know it’s possible, but in South Florida, it’s mostly DSL and Comcast cable broadband, and it’s nothing like the blazing fast speeds I’ve been enjoying here for the last three years.
  • I’ll miss the dogs everywhere!  Germans take dogs with them on the bus, on the train, into restaurants, and pretty much everywhere that will allow it.  Little dogs wearing sweaters are just adorable, and they always make me smile.
  • I’ll miss the bakeries.  The bread and pastries and pretzels here are beyond compare.  Apfeltaschen and Butterbreze and Kurbis Krusti… nom nom nom.
  • I’ll miss the scalp massages that are a regular part of any haircut here, during the shampoo portion of the visit.  When you get a haircut in the states, they’ll wash your hair but they never linger  on the shampooing like they do here.  It’s really heavenly.
  • I’ll dearly miss a few very close friends.    My social life in Germany has been fairly limited, but I have made a few friends who will be part of my world in some fashion for the rest of my life.  I’ll be back to Germany to see them.

Of course, all the things that I will and won’t miss have their balance:  Things that I’m really looking forward to back in the United States.  In just thirty days, I’ll have access to some really wonderful things.

  • I’m looking forward to screens on my windows so I can open them without getting those little bugs that like my laptop screen so much.  And no more indoor mosquitoes when it’s warm!
  • I’m looking forward to electronic dishwashers.  After three years of hand-washing everything, it’ll be nice to just let the machine do it.
  • For that matter, I’m looking forward to having an actual in-sink disposal unit again.  I don’t have that here.  If I have something that I need to dispose of here, I have only two real options:  The trash or the toilet.  Yes, I’ve actually flushed away expired apple sauce here.
  • I’m looking forward to having a full sized kitchen again.  My refrigerator here doesn’t even come up to my waist.  The freezer is roughly the size of a shoebox.  I have roughly ten inches of counter space in the form of a drainboard.  There are four cabinets overhead for dishes and food storage alike.    It’s more of a kitchenette.
  • I’m looking forward to Golden Oreos.  And other cookies.  While Germany excels in cakes and pastries and other baked goods, they really can’t seem to figure out cookies.  With a few very limited exceptions (primarily Oreos and Subway cookies,) I’ve been profoundly disappointed with the cookies here.  I’m looking forward to that American cookie aisle in the grocery store again.
  • And while I’m on the subject of the grocery story, I’m looking forward to shopping on Sundays!  Or after 8pm, for that matter.    I’m so tired of having to do all of my grocery shopping in the two hours after work or on Saturday afternoons.  I miss the flexibility of being able to do whim-based grocery shopping at 2am on any random Thursday!
  • I’m looking forward to having a car!  Right now, when I do my grocery shopping, I have to limit myself to what I can carry in a single trip.  I miss being able to get a ton of groceries and load them into my car.   I miss being able to travel to places that are outside of public transportation range without walking or biking to get there.
  • I’m looking forward to American-style customer service.  Sometimes it can almost be a mythic challenge to get the attention of a waitress here.
  • I’m looking forward to reliable cellular signal again.  The only place I ever had weak signal in South Florida was the men’s room at work.  (And let’s face it, that’s the one place I really don’t want to take a call anyway.)  Here, on the other hand, I see my phone drop down to Edge speeds all the time-  on the way to or from work, on the train, or just walking down the street on a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m looking forward to video without significant Geo-blocking.  I can’t count the number of times a friend has posted a link to something on Ye Olde YouTubes, and I’ve clicked the link to see this little angry-maker:
    Annoying, isn’t it?  GEMA is a music licensing entity whose sole function seems to be making Americans so angry that they want to kick puppies.  To get around it here, you need to use data redirection techniques-  either a browser plugin or a VPN.    The same thing applies to Pandora, to Netflix, to Hulu.  Even the Daily Show and the Colbert Report geo-block now, although they didn’t when I first arrived to Germany.    Geo-blocking is a pain in the butt, and I’m glad that I’ll have less of it to deal with.
  • I’m looking forward to being able to go about my day to day life without needing translation help.  I’m looking forward to being able to sign an apartment lease without someone parsing the bullet points for me.  I’m looking forward to being able to understand all my junk mail without bringing it to a friend to review.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my family! I have a three year old niece and I’m going to be back in time for her fourth birthday.  I’ve only been there for a handful of the days of her life so far, and I’m looking foward to changing that.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m looking forward to having brunches at the Moonlite Diner, lunches with my coworkers… I can’t wait to get back to my life.

This post has changed pretty drastically from where it started.  I originally intended to talk about the emotional impact of leaving a place, and I wound up just making another bulleted list.  I guess for the poignant emotional stuff, I’ll have to turn the floor over to the inimitable Peter Cincotti.  This is the song that has been playing in my head for the last few weeks, and it’s almost exactly how I feel:

What do you look forward to the most when you go home?


22 thoughts on “Last Looks

  1. Aw. So true! It’s funny how the prospect of leaving puts things in a whole different perspective.

    That shower plunger sounds like something I might have to get. I wonder if we have a similar type of shower drain? We have to clean it out every few months or so, too. Frustrating and DISGUSTING. Might have to try the plunger route.

    We’ll miss you! But thankfully, we have the internet to keep in touch. Think you’ll still be blogging back home in Florida?


    1. For a while, absolutely. There will be some repatriation posts, and I’ve still got a few things that I never got around to writing. In the long run,though, I’m not sure whether I will continue. I used to blog about more general stuff on Livejournal back in the day; perhaps I will begin to do more of that general bloggery here. I haven’t decided.


  2. bunny42

    There’s a new diner in Boca, Flashback Diner, on U.S. 1, just north of Glades Rd. 24/7 availability! It’s kind of posh for a diner (think indoor waterfall!) and the dessert case is endless. It’s part of a small chain in SoFlo; two or three others have been around for quite a while. I checked out the one in Hallendale, just for kicks, and it’s nowhere near the same as the Boca iteration. I think you’ll like it. It caters to your itch to be able to shop at weird hours. We tend to eat at weird hours, and the pickings are slim at 2 a.m.

    I wonder what other things will have changed since you left. New buildings and stores and such seem to pop up everywhere, since the economy has turned around somewhat. Changes in traffic patterns and whatnot that we take for granted will come as a shock when you first encounter them. For that matter, driving yourself around will take getting used to. It’ll be another adventure in your rich and colorful existence.

    Will you be returning to your same position with Mr. Company?


    1. I feel like I’ve been to that diner before. Is one of their locations in Delray Beach?

      My job at Mr. Company is the same job, yes. Same location, same job responsibilities, just a change of venue from where I am now.


      1. bunny42

        Huh. I found some Yelp reviews for Flashback Diner in Delray Beach dated December, 2013. But their main website only lists Davie, Hallendale and Boca. So I guess that one must have closed. Try the one in Boca, though. 24/7 is hard to find!

        I don’t know how these things go. Has someone been doing your job stateside while you’ve been gone? Or were you doing the same thing, only in Germany? If so, why the move? I’m just curious. When I worked for Uncle Sam, if you went somewhere temporarily, you took your chances about where you’d be when you came back. So that’s all I know.


        1. I’m part of a department of about twenty-five people doing the same job. If I’m out of the office, one of them picks up the work. And I never left the employ of the US office fully, I’m just “localized” to this office so I get my paycheck and benefits on the Germany side. My responsibilities were more or less the same before I moved to Germany and they’ll be more or less the same after I go back. The only difference is that we hired a new person to replace me in the German office and he’ll focus mostly on our European clients so I’ll be able to do other things.


  3. Amelie

    I’ve been meaning to ask you this but I always forget. Did it go fast? We’ve talked often about the slowing down and speeding of time, and how that depends on how fast or slow you need it to go. 😛 Sometimes it feels like forever since last November. But it also feels like yesterday was the last time I saw you at Moonlite before you went to Germany, and you gave me a remote control shark for my birthday. I find that time often does weird things when something big is about to happen.

    I’m so happy you’re coming home. It’s been too long.


    1. It did go surprisingly fast, for the most part. Yes, there were slot bits- the year before last winter lasted for seven months and it just draggggged. And July of this year never seemed to end. For the most part, though, it zoomed by pretty quickly.

      I agree, by the way- it seems like both forever and like yesterday since the last time I saw you. I’m pretty sure this is a form of time travel.


  4. I remember talking to you about your visit with Sarah and you saying “I will probably never see them again.” I too thought…geesh that’s a dark thought. But the more you talked about it, I got it. We have the best of intentions to come back and see the places we loved, but we rarely do get back to them.

    I will miss your Monday morning posts on your latest adventures.

    The longer I’m away from the US, the more I can live without. I over indulge on Mexican food and margaritas when I go home. Garden Salsa Sun Chips are like crack. I cannot stop eating them once the bag is opened. Glad they are an ocean away. But then again Germany has Sweet Chili potato chips. Om nom nom. The bags are smaller though, so I don’t feel too schwein-like.


    1. I’ve still got Monday morning posts lined up for a little while, but I decided to drop back to one a week for the immediate future because things are about to get *really* busy for me.

      Since I wrote this post, people have been reminding me of other foods I miss, by the way- there’s a chain of deli restaurants in South Florida called Toojays. I want one of their hot corned beef sandwiches on rye bread so badly that it’s making my mouth water. I haven’t had a corned beef sandwich in more than three years.


  5. Wow, my list was so similar to yours…both the miss and won’t miss. We left a year ago and reading this brought some many memories back. Americans have no idea how many “conveniences” we have created for ourselves, how comfortable (furniture, roads, shoes, etc…) everything is, how much excess we’ve grown to expect in all areas of our lives, how customer service may seem annoying yet when it doesn’t exist you’re insulted; however, we also don’t realize how crazy our American lives are, our hustle n bustle attitudes, how little we think about excess and conveniences and how that affects our everyday lives and our relationships with those around us. We miss Europe. We miss that pace of life. I would love to just sit in a beer garten for hours chatting with friends with no expectations of rushing and asking for the check, hop on a train to another exciting European city and explore a different castle or cathedral…but then I turn on my garbage disposal as I load my dishwasher and put my groceries (that I bought on Sunday) away into my gigantic refrigerator and think…this ain’t so bad…for now.


  6. Agreed on the smoking, the stupid bars on the chairs, and GEMA. Those people are Satan incarnate, I swear. But also agree on all of your positives. Luckily it sounds like you’ve got enough stuff to look forward to, that you won’t miss the dogs and bakeries toooooo much.

    And, I’m ridiculously jealous of your future dishwasher. So very, very jealous. 🙂


  7. I can’t believe you’re less than 30 days out! You must be overcome with emotion, but you sure did not waste a minute of time during your stay in Germany. Revel in all things American when you get back and cherish only the things on the good list 😉


  8. Robert

    I’m not sure – but you guys are aware, that we so much dishwashers in Germany that some people even sell them? 😉


  9. Pingback: The readjustment continues. | Doin' Time On The Donau

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