At Seven Cities Writers we believe that lives can be transformed through creative expression. In this space, we will be inviting individuals at every stage of this process to share their stories. First up, dear friend Barbara Gardner, who continues her process of blooming in her native land of Germany. What follows is her first —
LETTER FROM DRESDEN
It happened right smack in the middle of the Augustus Bridge in Dresden. I knew. I knew! This was the place where I would run the experiment: What would it be like to live in Germany again?
“I’m flying home,” I answered if someone in the US asked about my nearly annual pilgrimage traveling through Germany to see my family and longtime friends. I, as a young woman, left Germany more than thirty years ago simply for love: I married an American and moved to the US. The marriage eventually fell apart, but I stayed on, built a new life; made friends; enjoyed the country anew. America has been good to me…where my adult sons, daughters-in-law, and my grandchildren live, and my closest friends.
Yet…though I left Germany such a long time ago, it seems my heart never did. And so, wondering, wishing at times, dreaming of…maybe…return…home…should I…just try might it be like…just a trial run…someday…
And then Someday happened. Dresden happened. On a Friday last October my train rolled onto a bridge just before arrival at the main station in Dresden. A postcard-perfect view of the city unfolded as the Inter City Express slowed, and this view simply took my breath away. The dark-blue band of the Elbe wound towards beautiful steeples and domes crowned with crosses and angels. Cyclists pedaled in bright sunshine on the old tow paths on each side of the river. Children flew colorful kites on the Elbe Meadows. A yellow tram traveled in the distance across yet another bridge above fast-running waters to the other side of the city. All this I would get to explore and see.
I took a cab to my little hotel in the New City — new translates as built after 1685 — plopped down my luggage in my room and, armed with a guide book, walked off into the rebuilt and gorgeous Old City of Dresden. To get from the hotel to all the famous sights I had to cross the Augustus Bridge where I was to have my revelation. There have been few times in my life I have ever been so sure of anything.
Turns out, deciding to actually make that move, to really live the experiment wasn’t as easy as crossing the Augustus Bridge.
Just the word “leaving” caused me great anxiety. I would be leaving my family and Virginia friends — there would be too much water between here and there. Too much time and distance to cross for a weekend trip to see my sons, daughters-in-law, my granddaughters, my friends. Was I deserting them? Abandoning them?
Would it be wrong to follow my dream of going home?
And why, after all my years living in the States, why now? What was it that kept calling, nagging, urging me louder and louder to go back now? And what exactly was “home”? Why, after thirty years, did I still feel the need to explore this question, despite the fact that I could pretty much feel at home in the US? Living in two cultures, and for me especially, inside two languages, feels perfectly normal, feels fine, downright delicious! Why, when everything was quite OK, why did I so want to move to Dresden?
These questions remain. And so here I am. Looking for answers.
I arrived on 1 August 2014. Two suitcases, two backpacks, five boxes shipped ahead. All my other belongings — though I thinned down — in storage in Virginia. I had help. Lots of help. Alone I could not have accomplished this vast undertaking. My three sons and their families encouraged me enormously: Mom, do it! Do it now! Now is your time!
My friends in Virginia reassured me during intense conversations, housed me and cared for me when I was out of my cozy little home. My friends fed me when I forgot to eat during the hectic phase of preparations. They kept me from falling apart, dried my tears when I did. My friends put on the brakes when I was moving ahead at breakneck speed, or picked me up when I crashed. My family and friends farewelled me in the sweetest ways and let me know over and over again as they do now that we will always be connected wherever we are. I miss them all.
My German family welcomed me in Berlin and Hannover, my hometown. My sister-in-law drove me with all my luggage to Dresden and settled me into my first vacation apartment. Phone calls from my brothers, my godmother, friends and other relatives make life easier here. I am making new friends, too.
It is a treat to hear and read German every day now, but I do miss my American English — speaking it with family and friends sitting across from me.
But I am here now, just like I dreamt it, wanted it. I am here in Dresden. I did it. And that’s a good thing.