So, Germany. This is it for a while. I’m flying home tomorrow night and even though it was what I desperately wanted when I booked my ticket, even though it is what I desperately need, I can feel my toes digging in. I want to leave you and I don’t at the same time and I think this contradiction will be inherent throughout our entire relationship. But we’ll learn to live with that, just like we learnt to live with my jaywalking ways and your thing with rules and wurst. And your terrible television. Just like we learnt to live with a lot of things.
I have to say, Germany, you were a bit distant at first, a bit aloof. You don’t make it easy, you know, with your grey skies and clipped conversation. You can be a bit unyielding sometimes, a bit quietly disapproving. God my face burned every time I made a mistake on the buses or didn’t understand something. I found it – you – really hard to begin with, I felt a bit like you didn’t really want to get to know me, you weren’t particularly fussed either way. You don’t show a lot of emotion Germany, you can be a little brisk. And I missed the sun, I missed ‘how you going?’ tacked onto the end of every ‘hello’. I missed strangers making conversation because they happened to be in the same place at the same time and silences can get a bit uncomfortable. Some people say you’re cold and unfriendly. But I figured it out eventually – you just have to look a little harder for the warmer, more welcoming pockets. And once you’re in them, the embrace is tight and unending.
But God, your bureaucracy. Your love of paperwork. What is with that? And that scary man at the Foreigner’s Office with his rapid-fire speech and big stamp. The bundle of papers and photos and copies and contracts and signatures to get a visa extension, the ‘go away and come back’, the ‘you need this, make another appointment tomorrow’. I am pretty sure they were all just having coffee while a room full of people waited nervously for the big stamp. You don’t make things simple. And this thing with different Sparkasse banks and not being able to deposit in Weiden if my account was opened in Münster. The fact everything has to be a hard copy, your wariness of emails, the reams of paper and letters required to change or cancel health insurance. Paper, paper, paper.
Remember our first Winter together? What a laugh that was! Not. I hated it. No, that’s wrong. I loved it for a week. I wore knitted hats and boots and drank glühwein and marvelled at actual snow, falling outside my bedroom window, making everything white. It was like something out of a movie, my movie. Then I fell over, on my arse, in front of the entire bus stop and had to be hauled to my feet, slipping and sliding on the ice. Then I hated it. I hated the darkness, the relentless cold, I hated always being wet, my toes always being cold. I hated wearing so many clothes to run across the road and get some milk. I wised up for the next winter, though, didn’t I. I discovered H&M online and lived in Ugg boot things and got one of those big jackets with a hood lined with fake-fur. It wasn’t such a shock to the system when the temperatures went below zero. Dark mornings on the bus, watching the day slowly dawn from a classroom at 8.30am and darken once more at 4.30pm became somewhat normal. Although -20 degrees in February was a bit much, don’t you think?
You showed me, though, that a long, hard, dark Winter makes Spring that little bit sweeter. You showed me that snow and ice and black mornings make you feel like you’ve earned Spring. Remember I sat in that park in Weiden marvelling at the rich smell of blossoms and wet grass. At the fat little bumblebees. At the feeling of the sun on my skin. While we’re on the topic of Weiden, remember how hard I found it, at first? How lonely I was, how dispirited about work. How much I missed my friends and family. How hard it was to reconcile it all with the fact I loved living with SG, just not here. But things got better. I didn’t find work, but I found parks and little alleyways and lakes and the days grew longer and warmer and there was ice cream and football games and we took little day trips to Rothenburg and Regensburg and Flossenbürg. And Weiden began to feel like home, like Münster did before it.
Remember our time spent together in the hospital in Münster? That was fun. Sort of. We muddled our way through, even though I spent most of it utterly confused and unsure as to why I was actually there. Remember the nurse who would slip into my room to ask me questions about the Australian visa system, on behalf of his sister who was living there. The same nurse who was the only one who could explain what was going on in English, and squeezed my blocked IV drip so there was a crisp pop as the liquid flowed into my veins again. Remember my room mates? They had at least 60 years on me. Shrewd would perch on her bed in her tiny lemon nightdress and we would converse, falteringly, about breakfast or audio books.
I could talk about the people, obviously, the friends I made while we were together. But you and I both know what you gave me. They know too. A kindred spirit of a flatmate. My German brother. My German parents. The warmest and widest of hearts, the go-to friend with an endless coffee pot and comforting couch. Like minds and saving graces at work. A loud, loving soul who loves British pubs as much as I do.
Remember how much I struggled with homesickness? Those times it would hit, suddenly, like a cold or a stomach cramp, then crawl away, back to where it came from, to wait a while before it struck afresh. You weren’t there, but in the black cab that pulled away from my parents, that time I visited them in London, I cried like a baby the whole way to the station. I missed my home, horribly. I missed its space and skies, my Mum, my dog, my friends. I missed not being a foreigner, not having to try so hard to do the smallest of things. I felt like things were happening back home that I should have been there for. I compared you, then, Germany, I compared you unfavourably to Australia and I resented you. It sounds so stupid, I was the one who chose you, I was the one who came to you. And I’m sorry. But I was tired. I wasn’t seeing clearly. I needed someone to blame for the grey skies and the loneliness and you were there. But we found our way back again. Spring helped. Sunshine always does.
And after we found our way back, remember how hard it was to make the choice I had to leave you?
It has been a big two years, Germany. Or, more accurately, 20 months. The other five were in Greece and they were big months too. But this isn’t about Greece, of course, it’s about you. You and me. Doesn’t it feel like it has been longer than 20 months? Doesn’t it feel like we have known each other for 20 years? So much has happened, we have done so much together, fit so much into our short relationship. Doctors and hospitals, weekends away, road trips across borders, visiting your neighbours. A wedding, birthdays, Christmases and Easters, visiting friends and families. Three jobs. Moving trucks and big cardboard boxes, packing up a much loved apartment. Limbos. A white Christmas. A cross-country move. Hamburg. Dresden. Berlin. Frankfurt. München. Kiel. A lot of train trips. Singing and dancing until 4.30 in the morning in our tiny kitchen on that tree-lined avenue in Münster. Winding our way through your tiny, Medieval Bavarian towns. Flying in and out, to London or Dublin or Santorini.
But I always came home to you, Germany. And I will again, I promise. We fell in love sometime a year or so ago. Real love. The kind of love that takes time and arguments and misunderstandings to reach a point of solidity and solidarity. You have a big piece of me and a lot of my clothes. And my tea cups. And a lot of my books. And my love, you have him too, and probably always will. So of course I will be back, this isn’t goodbye.
It’s just goodbye for now. And thank you. Thank you for everything.