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11.10.2009

Grand Finale: Dresden and Leipzig 

I’m back in Hannover now having returned yesterday.  Traveling was fantastic, but I’ve really been looking forward to a day like today when I won’t do anything but sit on my ass and recover some much-needed energy.  I’ve got plenty of time to write about the last few days of the trip, so I’ll attempt to do so with appropriate detail. 

1 – Leaving Prague (08.10) 

On our last morning in Prague, Krissi and I just got up early, had some breakfast at the hostel, then killed the last couple of hours first by checking out a church that we’d passed by on the free walking tour and were interested in seeing.  The tour guide had told us an interesting legend about the church, that one night a thief snuck in and tried to steal the golden necklace from around the statue of the virgin Mary, but the statue came to life and grabbed the man’s arm, trapping him there until the priest arrived.  The priest discovered the man, who was now ready to repent all his sins and renounce thieving, but the statue wouldn’t let go so the priest had to hack off his arm with an axe, at which point the statue returned to its pose of praying.  The fucked up thing is that the priest hung the man’s arm over the entrance inside the church as a warning to any future potential thieves, and the arm is still hanging to this day. 

We couldn’t remember the name or location of the church, so we went to the Old Town Square where the free tour was gathering, and found Mike, our guide for the castle tour who also does the free tour, and asked him about it.  Mike kindly pointed us in the right direction so we were able to find it, go inside, and see that indeed there was a disgusting, black, shriveled rotting arm hanging above the entrance.  It was a nice church otherwise, and we found the statue of the virgin Mary, although no necklace around her neck.  The whole thing just makes me wonder from whom the priest got that arm, because the story is obviously some bullshit he made up to impress his parish and put the fear of God in them.  I gather that most medieval priests were probably seriously fucked up in the head. 

After seeing that we still had about an hour to kill, so we walked along the river in search of a nice café near the castle to sit and have some tea.  We were running out of time by the time we arrived there so we couldn’t find any really nice places and just got one at a café in the metro station, after which we rode the metro to the second of Prague’s two train stations and made it with plenty of time before boarding the train to Dresden. 

2 – So It Goes in Dresden (08.10 – 09.10) 

When we arrived in Dresden we didn’t quite know how to find the hostel, but being back in a German speaking country I was able to ask people at information booths and whatnot for instructions, and found the place without much trouble.  The receptionist at the front desk who checked us in was also very helpful in pointing out where the sights were and where the night-life was.  She also took note of the fact that we were only staying one night and told us quite bluntly that one night was plenty of time for Dresden, as apparently there’s not that much to see or do.  You basically just walk around the Old Town and check out the buildings, or go into a museum if you’re so inclined. 

It was only 4:00 when we headed out, but we were both very hungry so we stopped for a very early dinner of Döner Kebab before heading to the Old Town.  We’d both been craving Döner for awhile because it was almost impossible to come by in Prague.  We’d only found one Kebab stand in the entire city, which didn’t look very good, and one in the train station right before we left.  But Dresden was absolutely littered with them—nearly one on every street corner—and we window-shopped until we found the one that looked the most promising, which was right across the street from another one that looked almost exactly the same.  It wasn’t the best Kebab ever, but it satisfied the craving. 

With that taken care of, we walked to the Old Town, and along the way I explained to Krissi why I wanted to see Dresden in the first place, about the fire-bombings in 1945 and how the city was reduced to nothing but ashes and rubble.  I also told her to read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, as in addition to just being a great fucking book, a lot of it has to do with Vonnegut’s own personal experience of having been in Dresden during that fire-bombing, and seeing all those civilians get blown to smithereens by the Allied Forces for no good reason.  So it goes. 

The Old Town was very impressive, having structures that apparently either survived the bombing or were just perfectly reconstructed afterwards.  There were a few awesome-looking buildings laden with more statues than I’ve ever seen in any one place.  The “Zwinger” complex in particular was rather incredible, looking like an ancient Roman pavilion lines with hundreds upon hundreds of sculptures, each completely unique and many just awe-inspiring to look at.  The other buildings all had some charm as well, but unfortunately there just weren’t very many of them.  We were pretty much finished walking around by the time the sun was setting over the Elba river, and we decided to kill the next couple of hours before the night-life time began by going back to the hostel and looking up possibilities for what to do the next morning or the following afternoon in Leipzig. 

But the hostel only had one computer with free internet access and I didn’t feel like paying for another hour as I had earlier, and that particular computer was being used by three young girls (one extremely cute one) so I had to wait in the lobby for awhile.  The receptionist told the girls that other people need to use the computer but apparently they needed at least 10 more minutes of MySpace time and that would be it.  But while I waited I just picked up some pamphlets and figured we might do a bus tour or something the next day.  The really cute girl came around to where I was sitting, and I told her in German that it was okay, that I didn’t need the computer anymore so she and her friends could stay longer. 

By then it was pretty much late enough to go out drinking anyway, so Krissi and I headed out.  The first place we stopped at was a small, darkly lit little place which both of us found appealing, and the bartender there looked like he might have also been the owner.  We liked his style too—sporting a beret and a thick, Luigi-like moustache, chain smoking the night away.  Unlike West Germany, smoking in bars is always allowed in East Germany, I assume because the East Germans have all been through enough real life shit that they couldn’t care less about meaningless trivialities like second-hand smoke in public places.  “Seriously,” I could imagine them saying to any politician who dared pass such an ordinance, “we spent half of our lives being told what we can and can’t do, and now you want to tell us we can no longer smoke in a fucking bar!?  Well, thanks but no thanks for your health concerns, Stalin, but I think we’ve earned the right to smoke indoors.” 

We left that place after only one drink and passed by a bunch of bars, looking for another good one, until we passed a place from which we heard some pretty bad-ass music playing.  We went inside and went downstairs, where we found a few people jamming on some instruments—a drum-set, guitar, and keyboard.  At first we thought they were a band, but when they finished playing they just set the instruments down and resumed drinking, the guitarist actually taking his place behind the bar, where he remained nearly the rest of the night serving drinks.  He told us in German—then in English when it was clear we didn’t understand—that we were welcome to pick up an instrument and play if we wanted, but neither of us do so we declined. 

As the night went on more people poured in, and occasionally one or two would take up some instruments and jam.  We knew we’d stumbled on one of the best possible places in town, so we knew we’d probably spend a lot of time there.  After two beers when we might have otherwise gone off in search of an even cooler place, a few people who looked like serious musicians came in and started setting up, so we knew we had to stay.  One by one they finished setting up and started playing—the drummer, the keyboardist, and a guy with an acoustic guitar.  After only a few minutes of jamming, another guy—a really effeminate kid with long blonde hair—stood up and grabbed the bass, got it all set up and joined in, totally kicking ass and making the sound even better.  He seemed to kind of piss off the acoustic guitarist though, whom he was now completely drowning out, so the guitarist picked up the electric and the jam continued.  A short while later, a dude with an electric violin joined in and now the sound was fucking spectacular.  We drank a few more beers and stayed there for at least another hour, over the course of which different people would leave their instruments and make room for others to head up and jam.  The whole thing kicked incredible amounts of ass. 

But after awhile we decided we’d spent enough time there and we should head out, so we went out into the night in search of one last place.  We found another bar which had a good DJ doing his thing, but it was relatively empty and we only stayed for one beer, as we were now both adequately drunk and didn’t feel the urge to get any drunker.  Of course now we had the drunken munchies, and as we’d eaten such an early meal I figured we might as well eat again, and for the first (and hopefully the last) time in my life I got a second Döner Kebab in one day, this time at the place right across the street from the place we ate at earlier, which must be part of the same business because it was exactly the same thing. 

We got back to the hostel, passed out, and woke up the next morning way earlier than we expected, at 7:45.  I decided to get up then and there, as most hostel-goers seem to set their alarms for 8:00 and I wanted to beat the rush to the showers.  I’d checked the previous afternoon and found that of the five showers in the men’s room, only one had a door that you could actually close—the rest didn’t even have shower curtains so you’d just have to get naked in front of everyone.  Most Europeans have no qualms about that sort of thing, but having grown up in America and taught that my naked body is something to be horribly ashamed of, I’m still not quite ready to disrobe in front of strangers.  Luckily, I got to the shower with the door before any others. 

We ate some breakfast—which I really didn’t need because I still felt full of kebab, then I bought some WiFi internet and spent the next hour looking up stuff to do in Dresden and Leipzig.  We’d decided against the bus tour because it was just too expensive, but I couldn’t find anything else we might like to do except check out the art museum, but the museum was closed for renovations until next year.  So I figured we’d just walk to the Old Town again, maybe check out both churches they have, then walk back to the main train station and head out, as the regional train to Leipzig left every 20 minutes after the hour and I figured that would be the perfect amount of time. 

But nothing quite worked out according to that plan.  The first church was closed, and I just couldn’t find the second one.  It wasn’t on my map or anything and it wasn’t where I remembered passing by it the day before.  But we couldn’t search around for too long because we had to get to the train station or be stuck in Dresden for yet another hour with absolutely nothing to do, while meanwhile in Leipzig, according to the internet, there was plenty of stuff to check out. 

I’d miscalculated the time it would take for us to walk to the train station, as I’d been using maps of different scales the whole time and a fifteen-minute walk by the scale of the Prague map actually ended up being a thirty-minute walk by the Dresden map.  When we were really cutting it close I finally gave up and bought a tram ticket three stops away from the station with only ten minutes to spare.  We got to the station with only two minutes to go, and ran to the train, not having time to buy a ticket, and boarded just a second before it took off.  I was nervous about having boarded the train without a ticket but I figured if we just went up to a conductor and explained ourselves—therefore making it clear that we weren’t trying to get a free ride—they might just cut us a break and charge us the normal price.  But we walked both lengths of the train and couldn’t find a conductor.  We did however find a sign that said in German, “First buy a ticket, then board the train.”  So we decided that maybe we’d hop off at the next station, rush to a ticket machine to buy a ticket, then hop back on.  We might manage that in a two-minute window if the machines were right on the platform. 

The next station was Dresden-Neustadt, the second main train station in Dresden, but as we rushed along the platform we realized there were no ticket machines to be found.  We had only a split second to decide whether to board again or whether to give up and play it safe.  We decided to play it safe, and watched the train roll away as we went downstairs to the ticket machines to buy our ticket, then just wait around for another hour until the next train came.  We didn’t expect to have a hard time finding a seat because the last train had been virtually empty, but for some reason the next one was almost completely full.  We were able to find some seats and sit down, but from my seat I got a view of a group of young people that had been staying at the same hostel as us, including the really cute girl from the previous evening.  I tried not to pay much attention but I had plenty of time during the hour and a half train ride to fall completely in love with her.  She had a very Lauren-esque personality, just seeming to have no interest in life whatsoever, staring blankly from her perfect face and projecting that whole “I don’t give a fuck attitude”.  And damn was she hot.  So very hot.  But way too young.  Frustration.  But not overwhelming frustration—it was just one of those, “Of all the seats on the whole fucking train…” things. 

But before I knew it was reached Leipzig, the last stop on our adventure, which was to be the setting for a much bigger coincidence—the most fortuitous traveling coincidence I’ve ever experienced. 

3 – Leipzig’s Big Day (09.10.2009) 

It had been mostly a whim that brought us to Leipzig on that particular date.  It could just have just as easily been a day before or a day later, or we might have passed it by altogether or done a different city.  But there we were, arriving in Leipzig on the 9th of October, 2009, without any idea that this hate had any significance whatsoever. 

And as we walked to our hostel, literally right across the street from the train station, there was nothing to indicate that anything special was happening.  The front desk agent who checked us in said nothing, and the map he gave us which pointed us in the direction of the Tourist Information center was just a generic map with a walking-tour route through the Old Town with info on each major location. 

We went to the Tourist Information center to ask somebody what we should make sure to see, as I knew almost nothing about Leipzig other than the fact that it was the city of Johann Sebastian Bach and had been part of the Soviet Union along with every other city in the former East Germany.  We waited on line at the info center until a girl came up to us and asked us what we wanted.  I just said we were here for one day and wanted to know what we should see.  Immediately, we could tell that she was perhaps the worst Tourist Information employee of all time, as she just handed us a map, circled the entire Old Town, and said we could walk around and “see your favorite sights”.  Well, obviously, but what should we see?  I asked her in these exact words: “What is the one thing we can’t miss while we’re here in Leipzig?”  She just shrugged and handed us a pamphlet for some Amazon Rain-Forest exhibit at a museum on the other side of the city, then repeated that we could walk around and “see our favorite sights”.  Once it was clear that this was all the help we were going to get, we thanked her and left. 

The little walking-tour map that the front desk guy at our hostel had given us was actually better than the official map, and I figured we could spend the afternoon following the route on the map and stopping anywhere that seemed interesting.  The first stop on the map was the train station, the largest dead-end train station in all of Europe (which I was skeptical about because they’d said the same thing about their station in Frankfurt) but we’d already been there so we moved on, heading down Nikolaistraße to the Church of St. Nikolai, the next stop on our tour. 

It was here we got our first indication that anything special was going on.  There was a sign on the door that said that for today, because of [incomprehensible German] the church would not be opened until 16:15, which was still a couple of hours away.  There were news vans and journalists standing outside the church, so we knew something was going on but we still didn’t know what. 

Then we walked down a bit further and found what seemed like a demonstration, but signs with a big black-and-white picture and the words, “Leipzig ‘89” written on them.  There were also a few banners with today’s date: “9 Oktober 2009”, so we now knew that there was come kind of celebration happening today.  It must have had something to do with the end of Soviet Rule, because the Wall came down in the Fall of 1989 and this was 20 years later, but the Wall fell on 9 November, so what was going on here?  Maybe they just picked this day because it was a Friday that worked for them? 

When we reached the Augustusplatz point on our map, a large square outside the Opera House, there were even more banners and posters and news vans and journalists, including one van you could go inside and learn about the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  There were all kinds of dates there so this van must have been touring Germany all year going to different cities of significance in the lead-up to the reunification.  There was a little stand with pictures and pamphlets outside the van, and Krissi picked one up and asked a woman who worked for this van-tour project thing if she could take one.  The woman answered in English that she could, so I decided to also ask straight up, in English, if the date of October 9th had any particular significance for the particular city of Leipzig. 

Well, yes, actually it did.  Apparently exactly 20 years ago to the day, there had been a peaceful protest of 70,000 Leipzigers which began outside the Church of St. Nikolai, and it sparked protests all over East Germany that led directly to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  (The story our tour guide Inez had told us at the end of the Berlin Wall, about how the government thought they could appease the people by pretending to open up travel between East and West but really put too many restrictions for it to actually work—only then to have that news delivered by a fool who didn’t realize the plan and just said they were pretty much opening up the Berlin Wall for good—was the result of these protests that had begun that day in Leipzig). 

Unbelievable.  By pure dumb luck, we’d arrived in Leipzig on the 20-year anniversary of what is pretty much the most important date in the city’s history.  We were sure that night that everyone would be out celebrating and partying—thus making for the perfect end to our little tour of Germany. 

From there we continued our walking tour, next heading up downtown Leipzig’s tallest building to check out a spectacular panoramic view of the city.  The weather was also perfect—completely clear with blue skies and a temperature that made you never think of the temperature.  The view was awesome, and it only cost €2 so that was nice. 

After that we went to the City History Museum of Leipzig, which was the perfect thing for us to see on that day.  In addition to works of art by Leipzigers depicting the general feeling of life during Soviet rule, it had all kinds of artifacts from the period of time between the end of Nazi rule and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Video footage of various moments of historical significance were also prominent, and as I read the captions and picked up the ear-pieces to listen I found that I knew enough German to get the gist of everything.  So that was a nice little history lesson to reinforce our understanding of the day’s significance. 

The next few stops on the tour weren’t as interesting—shopping districts, the Old and New City Hall and whatnot, but the second-to-last stop, the St. Thomas Church, was pretty fucking awesome as it was where Bach himself worked during the entire latter part of his life, from 1723 to 1750.  His remains were buried right there outside under a big polished stone.  We also learned from the tour map that the Boys’ Choir, which is the oldest in Germany (started in 1212) and was directed by Bach himself during his time there, sings there every Friday night at 18:00.  It was currently 17:00, and we figured we simply had to check it out. 

We killed the remaining hour by looking at the last stop on the tour—just a road right outside of the Old Town with a bunch of restaurants—and then back to the Church of St. Nikolai to see if it was now open.  It was indeed open, but the crowd outside and inside was so thick that we stood there for ten minutes without moving an inch (although I’m pretty sure we made it onto German television because there were a shit-load of cameras there scanning the crowd). 

We left and went back to the St. Thomas church with 15 minutes to spare.  It was €2 to get in but we gladly paid, then took a seat in a giant hall and waited.  They’d given us a program on the way in, which I was surprised to see was actually a program for a genuine church service, with a sermon and prayers and everything.  So for the first time in fuck knows how many years, I actually attended church. 

And it was safe to say that it was the most kick-ass church service I’ve ever been to.  It opened with a few words from the priest about the significance of the date, then kicked into gear with the choir director playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D on the organ as a special tribute to the date, which meant we got to hear my favorite Bach piece in the actual church where Bach fucking worked.  After that bit of awesomeness, the boys began, and holy shit were they awesome.  I had been expecting something nice and pleasant but these boys were just mind-blowingly good.  I was getting chills up and down my spine and all over my body, the sound of it was just so amazing.  They sang five little pieces, then the priest delivered a sermon I surprisingly understood much of—pretty much about the role God played on this night 20 years ago—then everyone was invited to sing a hymn along with the boy’s choir, a couple more pieces by the choir alone, everyone rising for the German Lord’s Prayer, and finally two more amazing pieces by the boys.  There was never any applause or anything, and when the last piece was over everyone just got up and left. 

That was probably the highlight of the day.  What followed was by far the lowlight—the biggest disappointment of the entire trip.  It hadn’t occurred to us that there might be some big event going on in town at a certain time to celebrate the anniversary, so when we left that church we just decided to satisfy our hunger and go to one of the restaurants on that street from the end of the walking tour.  The fact that the street was like a ghost-town and pretty much every restaurant was totally empty should have clued us in to the fact that something was going on, but we’d never been to Leipzig on a Friday evening before and for all we knew this was how it always was. 

It wasn’t until we’d already sat down at a placed our dinner order that Krissi said, “Do you think something is going on in town right now?” and I asked the waitress in the best German I could muster if there was indeed some kind of celebration happening right now.  She said there was but it was in the city, then she asked her colleague something and told us something about 8:00.  I assumed that meant it began at 8:00, and since it was now 7:45 I guessed that if we ate fast enough we’d get there at 8:30 at the latest and it would probably still be going on. 

So we scarffed down our food, which was excellent but we weren’t focusing on enjoying it because we were too concerned about missing the Big Event, and after 8:00 more people started coming to the restaurant and we began to get this sinking feeling like whatever was happening had already happened.  Nevertheless, we quickly paid and got the hell out of there, but as we reached the Old Town we just saw thousands of people all walking out, in the other direction. 

At that point we knew we’d missed it, that the waitress must have meant that it ended at 8:00, and we were kicking ourselves left and right for not fucking realizing that something was going on before it was too late.  It hadn’t even fucking occurred to us that there might be some major gathering of all the people in Leipzig to gather at the St. Nikolai Church or the Augustusplatz at dusk to hold candles and sing a song or something to celebrate the big 20-year anniversary of their city’s biggest night. 

We tried to mitigate our huge disappointment by telling ourselves things like we didn’t miss anything we’d been planning to see anyway, that it was still really cool that we got to see what we did and that had we arrived at Leipzig one night later we would have missed the whole fucking thing and been much more disappointed.  But we knew it was of no avail.  We’d missed a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be there when an entire town came together to commemorate the most significant event in its history.  Instead we’d gone for fucking dinner, and been too dense to realize that the fact that the streets were empty actually meant something. 

We ultimately decided to blame that god-awful bitch at the tourist information center, as she could have—really fucking should have—told us what was going on, that it was a big day in Leipzig and everyone would be gathering in the square at dusk to hold candles and sing a song in celebration.  I mean, I actually asked her: “What is the one thing we can’t miss while we’re here in Leipzig?” and she just handed us a goddamned rain-forest exhibit platform.  Seriously, she should be fired and burned at the stake for that shit.  What the fuck?!  I mean What. The. Fuck? 

Anyway, we got to Augustusplatz where the scene was still pretty crazy.  Thousands of people were still there, lights were flashing on all the buildings with words about the big anniversary, and a giant “Leipzig ‘89” was spelled out in candles in front of the steps of the Opera House.  As we walked back to the hostel along the streets which had been cordoned off to road traffic by the police, we passed several platforms right on the tram tracks (also cordoned off, of course) with about five performance artists each painted all grey or red and dressed in grey and red clothing of the East German style, standing frozen in motion, I suppose to remind people of the melancholy atmosphere of the time.  On one of the platforms there was actually a little seven-ish-year-old girl sitting at her mothers’ feet with a look of the utmost boredom on her face, and I couldn’t believe they actually dragged her into that.  “Don’t worry, honey, it’ll be fun!  You just sit there looking sad and not moving for several hours!”  She must have had no idea what she was getting into.  Either that or her mother promised to buy her ice cream every day for a year after that. 

Still disappointed, but glad that we at least got to see way more interesting shit than we would have seen had we arrived on any other date, we got back to the hostel, got our shit together for out last night of drinking, then headed back through town, still swarming with people, and down to the night-life area on the road where all the websites said it would be. 

I’d thought there would be a lot more people out celebrating, but in that area it was mostly young people who were just kids during communist times so it was just an average Friday night to them, and the atmosphere didn’t feel much different than other German cities on a Friday night.  We stopped at the first place we came across because it had been a ridiculously long walk to get there, and got a shot of Jäger and a beer, agreeing that after we took the shot we would no longer bitch and moan about how we’d stupidly missed the most significant event of the whole fucking day. 

And we abided by our pact.  As we went from bar to bar we talked about everything but that bullshit, and only mentioned the significance of the day in a positive light—like how fucking cool is it that we were even there on this date in the first place?  And let’s not forget that Boys’ Choir.  That was definitely a priceless experience. 

We were hoping to find some live music but we didn’t get any.  Just an 80s bar, an Irish pub, a bar that seemed like a gay bar but might not have been (we only thought so because guys were all talking to guys and girls to girls and the bartenders were definitely dykes), then one last place which turned out to be really pleasant with friendly bartenders and a good atmosphere.  On the way back to the hostel, our long 30-minute walk, we stopped into a Kebab shop for one last Döner (I don’t think we’ll be eating any more of those) which turned out to be the absolute best, most delicious one I’ve ever eaten. 

When we finally got back to the center of town it was only 2:00 a.m., but we were shocked to find that the streets were now practically empty.  We’d figured that on such a significant date, and on a Friday night at that, there would be people wandering the streets with open beer, singing and celebrating all night long.  But either everyone had gone to bed, they were celebrating in their own homes, or it just wasn’t as big a deal to them as all the hooplah had made it seem.  For one thing, I know many East German people actually miss the old communism days, not that you’d have gotten any impression of that from the signs and banners, or even the history museum.  Perhaps this was simply a night of commemoration of the big peaceful protest, and they’re saving the Big Party from a month from then, November 9th, the day of the actual fall of the Berlin Wall.  But it’s possible that most of them, while proud of their city for what it had done, actually represents a change worthy of celebration—that things sucked then and now they just suck in a different way.  That tends to be the attitude of most East Germans I’ve talked to. 

But we stopped into an Irish Pub for one last drink, and asked the really cute English-speaking bartendress what was going on.  She said she hadn’t been upstairs (it was a basement bar) for hours and was surprised herself to hear that there was nobody out there.  But apparently that was the situation, and I found it downright fascinating.  Germans usually never miss an excuse to have a wild drinking party, and I’m sure than during next month’s big November 9th celebration in Berlin (which I’m now seriously considering going to) they’re going to be drinking and singing well into the morning.  But that’s Berlin, a city with a character all to itself, and you’ll have both East and West Germans alike participating which means enough of them will actually feel like the fall of the Wall was a good enough thing to celebrate all night. 

So after that, our last beer of the trip, we walked back to our hostel, fell asleep, and woke up the next morning to a city that showed practically no indication that anything special had happened there the night before.  All the big screens and things were gone.  A few banners remained but everything was just as clean and spotless as it had been the day before.  We left our bags in the luggage room of the hostel and spent our last hour walking around before it was time to go, and it seemed like any other German city on a Saturday morning. 

When it was time to go we got our bags and walked across the street to the train station and boarded the train for Hannover, which I was amused to find is actually one of the trains I take back from work in Helmstedt when I’ve got to switch over in Braunschweig, as it begins in Leipzig and ends in Köln, stopping in Braunschweig and Hannover along the way.  I listened to Pink Floyd on the whole way back, in amazingly good spirits while reflecting on what had been, overall, a totally fantastic life experience.  Naturally, there were plenty of snafus, frustrations, and disappointments (some major disappointments) but overall it was every bit as awesome as I’d hoped it would be, and in some ways even better. 

And that concludes the documentation of my travels around Germany with Krissi.  With Strasbourg and Prague as added bonuses, we got the full German experience.  If you count Berlin and Hamburg as a kind of “prologue” then we really hit all the major cities.  We got Cologne in the West, then Ichenheim for a taste of small village life in the Black Forest region, the Bavarian Alps for a tour of Germany’s most excellent location for natural beauty, the obligatory trip to Oktoberfest which was even more fun than we expected, and finally two of the most famous East German towns with Dresden and Leipzig, concluding on a day of great significance for the city we finished in, the 20-year anniversary of not only Leipzig’s most historic day, but one of the most historic days in the history of Germany.  All in all, I now feel like I’ve gotten the most out of my time in Germany, as even after living in the country for two years I’ve never had such a clear impression of the culture and history throughout the entire nation—its differences and similarities and what binds it all together.  Now more than ever I feel I’m ready to move on and discover another part of the planet, hopefully to learn and absorb just as much about that place—probably Japan—as I have about Germany. 

The high from the last two months’ travel experiences will eventually wear off, but it will always be a part of me, and will be remembered, just as I’d hoped, as one of the greatest overall experiences of my life.