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.
- 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?