Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Toronto Ontario from the air...
The flight to Berlin from London was as to be expected- short and sweet. Unfortunately I was sandwiched into a window seat by a hulking, sleeping American couple with no chance for escape, despite rows of completely empty seats begging me to lie across them.
When we arrive in Berlin, we passengers stream through the hallway and a cacophony of digital noise belts out of every hand and pocket, as Germans begin receiving the texts they must have missed since entering the Flugzeug. Dings and bells and whistles of all kinds whizz around my ears. Slowly we shuffle forward, as my stomach sinks anticipating the inevitable customs inspection. And for the second time in a row when arriving in Berlin, der Polizei say NICHTS to me. Not a single word. Just scan my P-Port, flip through the pages, stamp and send me off with a nod. A girl could get used to this.
Exiting the terminal puts me face to face with the second gorgeous sunset I’ve witnessed in two days, the sky a pale glowing blue with steam clouds sent up from some distant Fabrik, framed in luminous pink. I try to get a few shots but the light is hard to capture.

On the bus now, headed towards Peggy, hopefully Tracy, and possibly a nap. Finally back in Germany, and I’m feeling completely and utterly at home. I didn’t think it would feel this good! Any trace of melancholy I expected to feel at leaving my homeland melted away when I saw the TV Tower looming above the city from the plane.  As I lumber on to the bus with my suitcase trailing behind me, I ask the driver how much the fare costs. He promptly and jovially corrects my German and flashes a smile.

Deutschland, ich habe dich vermisst.

Life in limbo...

Airports have become something of a way of life for me. Within these often massive structures I wander, sometimes aimlessly and sometimes with intense purpose, usually with tired eyes burning and often with a body exhausted by broken sleep or anticipating it yet to come. I read something, inconsequentially squandering time until the next call for boarding. I watch the other travelers. They are here for business or pleasure, alone, with family or friends, excited, miserable or indifferent. Here in London Heathrow I listen to the accents of these travelers; locals drawling with cockney twang, snippets of German which I have come to understand occasionally, a clipped Indian English, something twangy and American.
The ceilings are a thousand feet high here, supported by white industrial beams reminiscent of the Death Star, and there are windows from the tip top of level three down to the asphalt, outside of which airplanes taxi in and out, while luggage cars and transport busses are dwarfed by the magnificence of the flying behemoths bedecked with the Union Jack and emblazoned with the slogan “Keeping the flag flying.”
This is only my third experience with London Heathrow, what I imagine must be one of the biggest airports in the world, but somehow it seems familiar and small to me. I remember the giraffes outside the kitchy eatery on the third level, the Starbucks adjacent to the Pret a Manger on the second level, the Duty Free into which I have invariably ducked to douse myself in perfume (either one of my favorites, Marc Jacobs Lola or Burberry Brit.)
It seems as though every traveler I see is one I’ve encountered before, smiling with anticipation, grimacing with inconvenience, or zoning out with boredom. I’m not sure where I fit in, my frenetic mind hopping from one emotion to another, my face invariably expressing it without my consent. One second there’s a giddy grin plastered across my face, the next a glazed stare out the window or in the direction of a vaguely attractive fellow traveler, still another an anxious scowl of worry about whatever mysterious future is to come, or at the very least, the whereabouts of my departure gate.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Frohe Weihnachten!

Shortly after I returned to Leipzig from Marienberg, I scooped my American friend Tracy up and we headed to Magdeburg to spend Christmas with my sister-from-a-German-mister Annika and her mom (Mutti or Mutsch.) We split a Sachsen (Saxony) train ticket with our friend Gregor and two other travelers, which allows up to 5 riders to use the same ticket when traveling in Saxony or some parts of Saxon-Anhalt. Can't beat six euros for a trip that normally costs around twenty.

Some mistakes in communication caused us to arrive at Annika's apartment while she was out. In fact, she'd come to the train station to pick us up but we didn't anticipate that so we took the tram straight to her house. Tracy and I, being as awesome as we are, made the best of the situation and had a hobo party in the hallway, complete with xmas tunes from my computer, warm beer, pretzels, a tetra-pak of Gl├╝hwein and a random wandering kitty cat.

Hobo party! *note wandering cat.

When finally got ahold of Annika, we lured her home with promises of hobo snacks in the hallway (well not really but it would've been cooler if we did.) Anyway, Annika came home and we went back out into the cold to explore the Magdeburger Weihnachtsmarkt.


Doing the robot?

The next day was Christmas Eve. Annika, Tracy and I really wanted to go to a service in the Magdeburger Dom, (Cathedral) so we trekked downtown in the slush and snow. The building of the Dom began in the eleventh century; it is massive and built mainly of concrete. Naturally, it's not heated. So there the three of us sat, bundled in winter gear watching little ones do a modern retelling of the story of Christmas with mic's that worked about a quarter of the time and attempting to sing the completely unfamiliar carols while no one else in the building made any effort to do so, making this possibly the only Christmas service I have ever not enjoyed. However, chalk it up to experience.

Later in the day we took a train to Wanzleben where Annika's mom lives. Christmas Eve is traditionally when German people exchange and open gifts. Lucky me! From Tracy I got a homemade lebkuchen (gingerbread) heart with my favorite German saying piped on in icing! Also she made me an amazing comic on her computer of the two of us. Echt geil. From Annika I got a journal inscribed with quotes from F.Scott Fitzgerald, a tiny airplane Christmas tree ornament, and the movie FRIENDSHIP!, which I am currently kind of obsessed with. 

Total Hammer Geil.

Yule Log!
COol dOg
24.  As in, December 24th. Christmas Eve, duh.
Christmas Day proved lovely as well. Annika and Mutsch prepared a yummy lunch for us of duck (no comment.) wobbly jellyish potato thingies and red cabbage. Yum to all and especially the red cabbage! We mostly just lounged around on Christmas Day, watching weird random things on TV or listening to 'Nsync sing Christmas songs.

Lara dog snuggles.

We headed back to Magdeburg from Wanzleben that afternoon, thoroughly disappointing Annika because we couldn't go to the Christmas night party she'd been planning to take us to. Sorry Anni! But alas, I had a plane to catch the next day and needed to pack and get ready in Leipzig first.

Christmas on the train.

Getting home from the 'Burg proved no small feat. Tracy and I boarded the train we were meant to get home to Leipzig on, sat for ten or fifteen minutes, and were finally informed that that particular train wasn't going anywhere. Good thing someone decided to let us know. So we got on the one we were told was going to Leipzig, and were promptly ushered off. About two minutes later we were told we could get back on. Trains. Le sigh. But eventually, after what felt like the longest train ride in the universe, we were back in Leipzig and heading home. Or so we thought. Merry Christmas to us, the streetcars weren't running! Which means, the ersatz busses were. Which means, in a nutshell, there was no transportation. I ended up walking home in ankle deep snow with a thirty pound bag slung over my shoulder. Lovely. However, I was granted one small concession- my phone/mp3 thingie, though nearly fresh out of battery, lasted the entire walk and I got to listen to The Tallest Man On Earth the whole time. Score! 

Early the next morning I was up and ready to head to London to meet my friend Chris. Problem- the Leipzig streetcars still weren't. More on that to come.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holly Jolly

A few days before Christmas my wondeful flatmate Astrid was kind enough to bring me to her family's hometown of Marienberg near the Czech border. While there we were treated to lovely eats at her brother-in-law's ice cream shop, fed delicious meals by her parents, and given the opportunity to explore a former silver mine. Marienberg was buried under tremendous amounts of snow, which only added to it's charm.

Marienberg town center.

In the mines.

Outside of the mine.
 Astrid's dad took us on a sightseeing tour of the little villages in the area, including Annaberg and Wolkerstein. I got to hang around with some really nice little rugrats (Astrid's nephews,) and the peace & quiet, and lack of internet connection, allowed me to write the English lesson plan for the 5th graders that I had to teach today.
Annaberg Weihnactsmarkt. Nussknacker.

Waffle mit sahne. (Creme.)

From the car window...


Over the course of the trip I was introduced to Astrid's mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and 3 adorable nephews. We had a yummy breakfast together on Christmas Eve Eve. The whole family were totally welcoming and sweet to me. The previous night Astrid, her sister and I worked together to make a traditional German Christmas star out of paper, and they gave it to me!

The whole trip was great and reminded me again (as if I needed reminding) how fantastic German people are. They are so kind, generous, caring and genuine. It's going to be heartbreaking to have to leave.