Up until this year, I hadn’t set foot in Germany, even though it borders Czech Republic. We travelled to Austria several times, giggling about the town names as we drove. (Yes, people. We’re that immature.) Drasenhofen, Poysdorf, Bad Pirawarth. Salzburg, Austria is where we fell in love. Vienna is where we got our Czech visas. And somewhere between Durnkrut and Hohenau, my dad nearly lost his head leaning out the train window.
But Germany just wasn’t on my hit list. (That would be Italy, dear readers.) My husband had to go to Berlin for graduate school and he returned raving about the city. I admit, I was surprised. My color for Berlin was gritty gray. I had absolutely no basis for this, but that’s what was in my head. (Never have I claimed that what is in my head makes much sense.)
Then we all trooped up to Berlin for his graduation and I was blown out of the water. (Figuratively, of course.) I know you’ll think me shallow (rightfully so? I’m not saying.), but the fact that every street name was labeled with consistent font on every corner delighted me to no end. The map perfectly matched the streets so that I finally gained “competent navigator status” in our car. (A title previously elusive to me.)
More than that, there was a certain familiarity that soothed me. Some cities I travel to make me feel nervous, some make me feel awe, some make me feel dirty, and some make me feel cultured. Berlin’s gift to me was acceptance. We didn’t stick out of place. Our clothes were similar to theirs. Our face shapes were similar to theirs. You could half-listen to strangers behind you and imagine they were speaking in English. We almost fit in (except for the maps, travel brochures, and the ten minutes we spent trying to buy tickets at the S-Bahn machine.)
Then on the way home we stopped for a night in Dresden. It is now highest on my list of European cities to visit, a shining gem of class, sophistication, and architecture. Even the McDonalds was discreetly hidden, dressed in Renaissance finery. (Actually, I have no idea what kind of architecture that building was, but doesn’t it sound grand that way?) (The kids found the McDonalds anyway.)
We were smitten tourists the entire trip. Camera snapping, exploring, souvenir-trapped tourists. Yet it was more like visiting a new city in my home country. I’m not saying Germany is like America. But there is a cultural and linguistic bond that countries further east lack.
I love where I live and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Life has become normal for me in Czech. But to step away for the weekend and feel almost home, to almost belong, was like a hug from a dear friend. Thank you, Germany. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.