Often, since being here, people will ask me where I learned German. This weird, American girl is tromping all over their land speaking a strange, American hybrid of high-German, and she knows when to use formal and informal terms. They’re like,
I usually end up telling the story of how I lived in Germany for 18 months of my life. I tell them I love the language, the people, the history, and then I will puff out every bit of pride I have and with a well-earned and cheeky grin inform them that a year of that was spent learning the ways of the Berliner. My year in Spandau is one which I hold dear and near to my heart, and always something I will be proud of.
It was my year of no regrets, of sweaty summers, pushing through crowds, learning what on-time really means, beautiful memories, and even more beautiful people. Since the day I left I had been missing it, and scattered Skype conversations and spotty contact were never, and will never be enough.
I am ecstatic, nay, OVER THE MOON to say that I got to go back home; to my beloved Spandau.
Celina Franke, is one of these beautiful people I got to know whilst living in West Berlin. She was 18 when I first met her and about to turn 20 when I left. She was the little sister I never knew was missing, and we helped each other through hard times. She was baptized while I was there and I was the first one to hug her when she came out of the water. She always called me her ‘first hug person’ and this was a title I was/am glad to carry.
This last fall, Celina informed that she was getting married. I was thrilled and also heartbroken that my best friend was going to get married and I might only get to wave at a computer screen at her to wish her my love. However, I will never forget the day this January when I called and told her that I was going to just happen to be in the general area of Western Europe in June (when she was getting married). Needless to say, we both cried a lot during that call.
Her wedding at the Freiberg temple lined up perfectly with the weekend we had to freely roam about Europe as we saw fit. So, my friend Kevin (who served his mission with Celina’s fiancé) and I booked overnight bus tickets because they were cheap as dirt and prepared to go to Berlin so that we could go to the wedding.
As I prepared for Berlin, Celina had the Bishop of the Spandau ward send out an email asking if anyone would have room for my friend and I. Almost instantly, emails and messages came in offering places to stay for our 4 day weekend. The Dessin Family, who I used to renovate a Zeppelin Tower with, ended up taking us in the end, and in typical Dessin fashion they were way to generous even before we arrived in Berlin.
We were set to leave Wednesday night and then travel through the night to get to Berlin at about 8 am the next morning. I was going to have 2 full days to run around to all my people in Berlin and then Saturday to go to the wedding and Sunday to go back to church with my people.
But, ya know, things just can’t be that easy, can they?
We showed up 30 min early to Vienna Erdberg bus stop where the international buses are supposed to stop. We sat by a bus stop with the name of our bus on it, next to a bunch of people with luggage. We figured we had made it and all was well.
We waited, and waited, and waited some more. Finally, it was almost 3 minutes after our bus was supposed to leave, and yet, still nothing. Suddenly, a Flixbus, green and double-decked, drove passed us after turning from an alleyway about 100 meters away. Puzzled, we walked and around the corner, HIDDEN UNDER THE ROADS WITH NO SIGNAGE AND ABSOLUTELY NO STREET PRESENCE IS THE ACTUAL BUS STOP.
Our bus, green and double-decked had left us.
The very unhelpful dude at the service window boredly informed us another would be leaving in about 20 min, but as he asked for our passports, we discovered that my friend had indeed, chosen not to bring his and had been somehow planning on crossing international boarders without one during a refugee crisis (WHAT IS WITH MEN?). So, I breathed, a lot. A lot of counting to tens and exhaling and inhaling later, we decided to go the next day.
That was a rough night, lemme’ tell ya.
Four hours later, at 5 am I found myself once again at Vienna Erdberg, this time at the right bus stop, and boarding a bus that in 9 hours would take us to my homeland. I spend the bus writing a nasty not to Flixbus informing of them of their non-existent signs and stupid bus stop. (PS They replied to me, like, 4 times in French and after several nice replies I snapped at them about replying to me in a language I actually understood and now we got our moneys back. Thank you mom for teaching me to be super BA when dealing with incompetent customer service.)
We arrived in Berlin about 5 pm on Thursday, and Beverly Dessin, my other sister from another mister, met us at Spandau train station, at the same spot she used to meet me every time we got together at that station, right outside of Dunkin’ Donuts’.
It was as if I had never left. Seeing my Family Dessin and cuddling with the girls on the couch was good for my soul, and just felt right. The next day I made sure to see the S* (some names withheld), Thieme, and Matthias families, knowing I would be returning in August to see even more lovely people. Sabine Thieme squealed and cried when I ran up that last flight of stairs, and showing me her room covered in pictures and drawings of me and my companions, her wall was now covered in happiness and one could only, just barely sense a bitter-sweet spirit which still lingered from the death of her best friend, and husband 4 years ago. Her place still smelt of Petco and old cookies, and Big Mama wrapped around my shoulders as we talked and she babbled harmoniously about her life.
The S Family also welcomed me graciously into their home, where 2 years ago I sat close up to the woman as she broke in my shoulder with sadness at her inability to mother a child. Then it was hopeless and heavy, and this time, I sat close to her as she cooed and proudly showed me picture after picture of their new little girl they have adopted. I sat on the couch as she woke up from her nap and came to plop down on my lap. I wanted to tell her I sat with her mama before she was born, and I promised her that she would come. Hot tears filled my eyes with gratitude for being able to witness one of those ‘all is right, here, in this little world’ moments with my dear friends.
Emmy Matthias and I, sat up until the wee hours eating toast, watching her Mum fall asleep and talking about boys. She showed me music and we remembered how we felt real with each other. I was again reminded how lucky I am. So gosh darn freaking lucky.
Saturday, we trained down to Freiberg where I was reunited with my little sister dressed in white. I ran to her and hugged her after the ceremony and it has now been decided I will have to be the first to hold her newborn child when that day comes to carry on the ‘first hug’ tradition. Afterwards, we had cake and hot chocolate at a cute little restaurant in this cute little town, and then we headed back to Spandau, where I finally sang ‘Give a Little Respect’ with Angelika Dessin and I got to see all my kiddos at church on Sunday.
On the one of the trains heading back from Freiberg, I saw a man with a bag that read, “To Germany with Love -Lufthansa Airlines”. It is a reference to an old Alphaville song that talks about Germany being split and the hope of something better – essentially a letter to Germany, written with love.
I was reminded, somewhat painfully, during many moments of my Berlin trip of the pain and greyness I experienced there. It was the hardest year I have yet lived, and one filled with rainy days and numb, sometimes soul-crushing work. I saw a lot of things which weighed heavy on my soul. My letters I would write home were often a grasp in the dark at some sort of hope and maybe a tidbit of happiness that could be found during my week. They were written with the weight of others’ tragedies often on my shoulders, but they were also written with oh so much love. Love for others who would lift my sorrows and numbness, and love for a God who saw fit to put me in such a place where I would hurt and love perfectly.
‘I lift thee and thee lift me and we’ll ascend together’ – Sick Quaker Proverb
How lucky I am to have found a place that makes coming back oh so great.
From Germany with love,
In other news, the Red Cross put me into connection with home for young boys who came to Austria without parents. Update is being written!!