Letter from Dresden, #2

Barbara Gardner

March 2015.

Seven months I have lived in Dresden now.

We are edging towards the end of winter. The real bone-chilling cold winter, as many voices had warned, never arrived. Temperatures have been too warm, snow’s been too little. On very few occasions did the city wake up under a thin white blanket stuffed with too few icy feathers. The wind can be aggressive, though, and scratches the face with sharp little claws.

The Pegida storm has died down somewhat yet threatens to regrow, possibly into something a lot worse if we don’t watch. But the witch hazel is also blooming in the front yard, as are spectacular patches of lilac crocus downtown. When I arrived here in August the time frame I had chosen was strict and, yes, rigid: I would give myself one year — at the most 18 months — to finally, and once and for all, come to a decision where I’d set up my permanent home, be it here in Germany or back in the U.S. I have to admit now how utterly arrogant that notion now seems.

It took alone 4 months from my very first step into the doors of the Immigration Matters Department (that’s its official title in English) to receive my Extended Stay Permit. I have to reappear in September of this year to start the proceedings all over again. I had an easy time since I am a native speaker of German, familiar with all the customs and have an income. Others wait much longer. It is quite an experience to sit in a grey hallway together with people from all around the world who want to live here in Germany. Many are asylum seekers, refugees of the various wars.

It also took three months of intense searching, and sheer luck, to find the wonderful apartment I live in now. But it’s New Year’s Eve when my experiment here in Dresden really begins. With new friends I find myself on the Waldschlösschen Bridge, champagne bottle in one pocket, glasses in the other. We have walked here, through Jack-the-Ripper fog, to watch the spectacular fireworks that are to rise above the Dresden skyline. Germans greet the New Year joyfully and very loudly with booms, bangs and rocket blossoms! The bridge and the river banks are crowded. Batteries of empty wine bottles hold each and everyone’s personal fireworks that will hiss off into the night sky. Men have built odd-looking contraptions that are to ensure the perfect ascent of their loud toys. At midnight even small children, wearing colorful hearing protection against the blasts of baby TNTs, wave sparklers! (It’s perfectly safe, children here don’t suffer from overprotection). People we don’t know at all shout Prost Neujahr! in our direction when the clock strikes twelve. It’s a glorious, lively moment. That the fog, of course, swallows every single firework before it can unfold into its beauty but does not take away from the joyous atmosphere.

It’s from that minute on, 12:01am, 2015, that I count my time here in Dresden, not in clearly measurable mathematic units but simply in moments. More and more I leave my camera at home and explore the city with my senses alone. I leave the familiar tourist areas (though their beauty always calls me back) by tram and get off where something’s caught my eye. You can find me walking long and narrow streets lined with tall apartment houses still in the Wilhelmenian style. Houses that were spared the bombs that rained down on 13 February 1945. And I leave the city by train now, ‘adventure’ farther out into the surrounding areas, catch sights and sounds of villages, the splash of river water when a lone barge glides darkly past the winter-barren vineyards. And just last weekend, on an unexpectedly sunny, still somewhat chilly Sunday, I sit with my back against a toasty stone wall, on the terrace of a simple village restaurant, breathing in this moment: below me the yellow ferry picks up hikers and bikers every 10 minutes, empty or full it crosses the river. The waitress sets a bowl of a lovely winter stew in front of me, with a basket of fresh bread. Simple things, nothing earth-shaking happens, life just unfolds. And right then and there I know that for now I am in the right spot for me. And that one year will not be enough, that I am still at the beginning of this journey.

But now I have to go. Because I am off to rehearsal at the theater. More about that in my next letter.

Barbara Gardner

Barbara Gardner

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