Thursday, April 17, 2008

16 December: Auf Wiedersehen...Just Kidding!

We were up at 7 am, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a relaxed breakfast. Beth and Axel arrived at 8:45 and helped schlep all of our luggage down to their B-Class. We managed to fit everything in, just barely, and headed off to the airport. After we got all checked in (we only had to open up one of our six pieces of luggage for the security check, thank goodness), we returned to the outer waiting room to say goodbye to Beth and Axel. Beth and I tried to keep it short and sweet but I started crying anyway. I didn’t really fall apart until we went through the X-ray and into the big waiting lounge, where I had a good cry in the corner.

We sat around for half an hour or so and didn’t see the plane out on the tarmac, which seemed a bit odd. Then one of the staff members came in and started talking to a group of Americans that included a high-up female Chrysler executive whose name John recognized. We couldn’t quite hear what they were saying but we were pretty sure it involved a snow storm and finding hotel rooms. Sure enough, our worst nightmare had come to fruition – they had canceled our flight due to a massive snowstorm slated to hit the Midwest today. Apparently we were fated to spend one more day in Germany! Fortunately John had had the foresight to tell the hotel not to clean our room until after noon, in the event that our flight was canceled and we needed to stay one more night. (This was very important because we had left the cat's litter box in our room to be thrown out!)

We were in a bit of a daze as we re-collected our luggage (fortunately they were able to store two of our bags and the two cardboard boxes at the airport) and boarded a shuttle bus for the return journey to SI-Suites. We spent the afternoon at the hotel; John napped on the couch and Scotty curled up in a ball in the armchair, seemingly unphased by his brief journey to and from the airport. I called Beth to break the news and we decided to get together for one last dinner downtown. We took the U-Bahn one more time and met them at a tiny Italian restaurant a few blocks from the Königstraße. It ended up being an excellent meal (we all had different pasta dishes from the daily menu) and I was much happier spending our last evening with friends. Beth and Axel gave us a ride back to the hotel, taking us up the famous Weinsteige through the vineyards up and out of the city. This time we managed not to shed any tears.

The extra time in the hotel gave me a few more minutes to reflect on our time in Germany. I will miss so many things about daily life here…the sound of the church bells ringing out across Botnang at 7 am, noon, and 6 pm sharp…the cheerful yellow U-Bahn cars gliding up and down Schlossstraße…the lovely Altbau apartment houses lining the gently curving streets of Stuttgart-West….the Deutsche Post workers in their cheerful yellow uniforms, riding their matching yellow bicycles laden with the daily mail…the tidy piles of gelbe sacks lining the sidewalks on recycling day and the friendly garbage men who always smiled and said hello…the toll of the vegetable man’s bell as he walked up and down our street bellowing “Kartoffeln!”…all of the wonderful people (and their dogs) that we met walking in the woods (we never got a chance to say goodbye to Tessie’s parents or Itzy’s mom)…the tidy, carefully tended gardens of Botnang, dripping with flowers straight through October…Frau Dörr’s friendly smile every time I knocked on her door to ask a favor…the view of the Birkenkopf and the wooded valley from our balcony…the sun shining through the leaves of the chestnut tree outside my office window…life is in the details, and I hope I can etch these details into my memory forever.

Of course, I won’t miss hauling my groceries up two flights of stairs every week. I won’t miss Kaufland’s lousy vegetable selection, but I will miss the friendly cashiers at Neukauf. I'm looking forward to having a gourmet grocery store a few blocks from our house, but it won't be quite the same as our pilgrimages to the Markthalle for cheese and seafood. I’m looking forward to having a dryer and air conditioning again. John won’t miss being cooped up on Sundays, but I had a certain fondness for the enforced peace and quiet. It will be nice to do yard work any time I want, and not when it’s dictated by a Kehrwoche sign hanging outside our door. I will really enjoy not having downstairs neighbors who turn the hall light on and slam the door in the wee hours of the night and/or morning. Actually, having our own house and yard again will be a real pleasure! But these are all such little things, minor inconveniences really. When you look at the greater scheme of things, we’ve got very little to complain about. We came to Germany with open minds and a sense of adventure, and we leave feeling fulfilled and satisfied with our experience. We may not have mastered Deutsch, but we mastered living life to its fullest.

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland. And I mean it. I will see you again. But visiting as a tourist will never be quite the same as the two years and four months that we spent living as expatriates in this fine country.

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