By Alice Reynolds
Tidying up my childhood bedroom stuff has become a regular experience for me as I travel to and from college each term. Farewells were more difficult, however. Yet knowing that it was more of a bald bisthat auf Wiedersehen was a certain comfort.
Our family road trip to France in July, due to a cancellation of our flights, instilled in us a newfound love and confidence for driving in Europe. So, in the same spirit, my dad and I set off on what turned out to be a 15-hour trip to Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate. The Eurotunnel was child’s play, and while driving through Belgian towns and spotting farms, reminiscent of the type of fleeing soldiers that war movies flee to, a certain romanticized excitement aroused in me. Over the miles, I tried to transcribe in my head everything I had heard and read about Mainz, knowing soon enough that I would see it for myself. Sure enough, we quickly drove around the outskirts of town and the Scotland Yard crime podcast we had been listening to started buzzing in the distance of my concentration. For me, the final breakthrough was the reality that this is my new home. I’ve had that feeling before; I didn’t know anyone before coming to Durham in 2020. However, at the same time I was acutely aware that this adventure would bring many more and varied challenges.
After catching the heavy door of a girl also entering my floor, I met two of my roommates in the shared apartment (or Wohngemeinschaft, a common way of life in Germany). We exchanged brief hellos as I stumbled a sentence in German about our trip and dropped the bags in my room. I had previously met the roommates online via a WhatsApp call during my interview for the spare room style rental. It’s a wonderful apartment on the edge of the old town – high ceilings, baroque red brick walls, the bedroom furniture was wooden, and I thought the pulp Fiction flaunts a cool touch. I left my dad to start unpacking, as I, knowing his importance, pushed myself to socialize in the kitchen. First impressions took on new difficulty as I struggled to translate my usual talkative and outgoing self, especially since I had barely spoken a word of German during the entire summer break. Nevertheless, I passed the basics and retired in the least of my father fremd company. We spent the night in his Air-BnB in the Neustadt, the new part of town. It was difficult to get a first impression of the city because not only had we arrived late, but our car had also been towed away by parking attendants, so we decided to leave them for the morning.
The next day was Sunday, a quiet day in Germany. Most shops and businesses are closed but cafes remain open so we enjoyed brunch at Willems– a lively place with lovely staff tucked away in the old town. Asked for the table and ordered for us in German, but after tasting our bagels, the popular German plate of charcuterie and boiled eggs was not immediately appealing, the bill was handed to us in English. This seems to be a common trend in cafes and shops here; they start talking to me in English despite my, what I would say, very decent efforts in German. I hope that will change over time. We walked along the Rhine, an expansive river that skirts the city, which has more expensive, cooperating attracting restaurants dotted along its banks and carved out the cobbled streets of the Altstadt teeming with cafes, wine shops, delicatessens and churches. My shiny new home opened before my eyes and the excitement of this adventure filled every step I took. That evening we tasted the regional specialty Flammkuchenthin rectangular bread dough topped with quark, onions and traditionally bacon bits, and enjoyed a Bitburger, the region’s Pilsner, at a local Kneipe before retiring for the evening, this time to my new apartment.
I woke up Monday morning with the bittersweet feeling that my dad was leaving me today. We cruised around the German supermarket, having checked twice and thrice with a local taxi driver that we could park in our space, as the fear that I would be alone before long grew stronger. I wasn’t sure if I would be upset about him leaving or leaving for Germany in general, but as we said our final goodbyes and his car pulled away down a side street, I found myself walking away , wiping tears from my cheeks. I decided the best thing to do was get busy immediately and found my first distraction in the church a stone’s throw from my apartment. I had read about Chagall’s famous stained glass windows in St. Stephen’s Cathedral and found the serenity of the church very centered on my feelings. Later that evening, my housemates invited me to cook with them and watch the Game of Thrones prequel, which was a much appreciated gesture.
Overall, my moving experience was very positive and probably easier than others moving to a very different culture and time zone; it is certainly a comfort that home is only a short flight away. When I look back now I am proud and excited for my current and future self that I can say that I moved overseas at the age of twenty and pieced together a life in a city I had to barely heard of and didn’t know anyone before in .
Photography by: Alice Reynolds