Last weekend, I traveled to Germany for the second time this semester. Per the recommendations of many friends, I went to Berlin this time, but before I could enjoy the city about which I’d heard such great things, I had a very important detour to make, which requires a bit of backstory:
When I was in sixth grade, my family had a foreign exchange student live with us for four months. Her name was Lia, and she was a high school student from Germany. We loved having her around–she was nice, funny, and really cool. Lia did everything with us, just like she were another Novak in our family, including eating dinner, riding to school, and even taking family trips! After her exchange program was over, she returned to Germany, but came and visited us the following two summers, and we were happy to have her. From there, we’ve just kept in contact via annual Christmas letters and the occasional email. That is, until I found out that I was coming to Rome. Before I flew here, I tracked Lia down on Facebook and told her that I was going to be in Europe for a semester. We both got really excited, and decided sometime in October that I’d come visit her during my trip to Berlin.
I took the train straight from the Berlin airport to Bremen, where Lia is currently living and working while she completes her Master’s Thesis. She called me as my train got close to figure out where I was, and sounded slightly surprised at my voice on the phone. After I told her my arrival platform and hung up, I realized that most of her memories of me were of the awkward eleven-year-old that I was when she lived with us eight years ago, and that I hadn’t even entered high school as of the last time we saw each other. This reunion was long overdue, and I couldn’t be more excited for it.
Lia was waiting for me at the train platform, and we walked to her house for some cake and catching up. We talked with a couple of her roommates, and then looked at her old scrapbook from her time in the States. There were so many horrible pictures of that chunk eleven-year-old I thought I’d left behind long ago! It was all really funny though. From there, we left on a walk around Bremen.
The city was beautiful. Everything was just beginning to get geared up for Christmas, and the streets were completely decked out in ornaments and lights and garland. We browsed in some shops and sampled a German Christmastime specialty: hot spiced wine. It was delicious and warm on that cold, foggy evening. On the way back to Lia’s apartment, we stopped by the grocery store for a few items so that she could make a traditional German meal. After we ate the cabbage, sausage, meat, and bread, some of Lia’s friends arrived. I got to know them a little bit before we all biked, like most people in Bremen do, to a house party.
This party was the biggest I’d ever seen. The host apartment was five stories, and all of the residents were participating in the fun. Hundreds of people were crowded into the small rooms and narrow hallways, drinking beers and chain smoking cigarettes. Lia and I stayed for awhile, but decided to leave early, since we’d have to wake up in a few hours to get me back to the train station.
My departure was just as sad as my arrival was exciting. I told Lia I’d be back in Germany as soon as I could, but begged her to come back and visit my whole family in Texas. We cheezily waved to each other through the train window as it pulled away. I was so thankful to get to see her after so many years, but I wish my visit could have been longer. It’s alright though. I’m sure we’ll run into each other again soon.
As much as I’d love to say that the following 24 hours in Berlin didn’t live up to the 16 I had just spent with Lia, I can’t tell a lie. Berlin was amazing. I saw a lot of the city, and just couldn’t get enough. It’s a city with a rich history and culture, which is what I love so much about Rome. How Berlin bests Rome in my mind, however, is that along with these great old-timey aspects, it is very metropolitan, complete with a lot of the amenities we have back in the States. It was the first place that I’ve visited outside of the U.S. in which I could actually see myself living. All in all, it was a good weekend in Germany.