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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

On My Own Again in Leipzig

GERMANY | Sunday, 1 May 2016 | Views [694] | Comments [1]

Leipzig was planned as a time for me to rest and reacquaint myself with Germany, but it had more in store for me than just that.



My first ever solo flight was when I went to Germany for my exchange student year more than 15 years ago, and the first time I traveled solo after that was within Germany. I still remember not only the nervous anticipation, but also the pride, strength, and accomplishment I felt after those trips. I recall walking around by myself and experiencing the surprisingly rewarding stillness of solo travel, as well as the awkwardness of those first lonely restaurant meals. But it has been more than 15 years since then and I really haven't done much traveling within Germany. In the few return trips over the years, I have always been with my husband and we were usually with friends, so I have not been alone in Germany for a long time. I wanted to reacquaint myself with the country that had influenced me so much during a very formative year of my life and has continued to affect my life ever since. I wanted to remember the person I had been when I first went to Germany, and the person I had become during my time there.

Rest and Readjustment

I can't explain exactly why I chose to spend a week in Leipzig, but I knew I would need somewhere to have downtime after staying only 2-3 nights in each place for the previous couple of weeks. Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne, and Dresden were in the running, but I wanted to go to a city and a region in Germany where I had never been, and I wanted a small-to-medium sized city where I wouldn't feel compelled to rush around to any big sights. Leipzig fit the bill and also meshed nicely with the somewhat accidental "behind the iron curtain" theme of this trip.

The first few days after my husband went back home were lonely, but that was to be expected. We had had such a nice time together and we had been pretty busy, so I had to adjust not only to being alone again, but also to being not busy. I was also still raw from the credit/debit card situation in Bulgaria and the guilt trip in Prague. As a result, the weeks in the remainder of my trip hung heavily before me. The first day in Leipzig was gray and rainy, so I went to one of my favorite places for a pick-me-up: A German bakery. It seemed to do the trick. After that, I went grocery shopping, did laundry in a laundromat, and cooked my own dinner. It felt good, like everyday, ordinary life, and it provided the structure and grounding that I needed.

After the chores were done though, I still had six days to fill. I was tired from all the previous travel, but even though I had planned for downtime, actually allowing myself to rest and to do nothing was another matter. If I stayed inside, I felt like I was wasting time and should be outside. If I went outside, seeing people in pairs or groups made me feel more lonely. I had a private room in a pension rather than a hostel, so I never saw anyone else or had any opportunity to meet other travelers. I realized with dismay that I was more lonely in the country that should feel the most familiar to me than I had been in any other country, so I set about trying to figure out why.

Of course there were the obvious things that I've already mentioned - missing my husband and not meeting other travelers - but there was more to it. I came up with a theory that speaking the language was actually backfiring, and I have three reasons for it.

  1. No one had any reason for a conversation starter because they thought I was just a foreigner who was living there. Even though they heard an accent, it was not immediately obvious that I was a tourist, so I just seemed like I was going about my normal life, and I was kind of a weirdo for sitting alone in restaurants. When it's clear that you're a tourist, people usually at least ask where you're from or make other small talk.
  2. The formal "you": In German, Sie is the formal you and Du is the informal you. When I lived in Germany, and in all my German interactions since then, I've used Du 95% of the time because I was with other students or friends, etc. But while traveling, I have to use Sie almost exclusively. I have hardly ever practiced the Sie form (it makes the verb work differently), so I am not very comfortable with it and it makes me feel the barrier between the other person and myself more acutely.
  3. When I don't speak the language, I drift around in a completely removed state, secure in my otherness, and happy to just look in from the outside. But being able to halfway speak the language put me in limbo. I felt neither completely in nor completely out. Rather, I was stranded in a halfway world where I felt I should have more of a feeling of belonging than I did.

At any rate, I finally did adjust and started focusing on enjoying the little things about Germany that I had missed - things like the way the windows tilt open from the top, the smell of yeast and sugar coming from the bakeries, the slowness of the pace in restaurants, the clinking of empty glass bottles being carried back to the supermarket for collection of the deposit (pfand). I went out if I felt like it, and I stayed inside if I felt like it. As seems to be my pattern, I finally found my place in Leipzig just before I had to leave.


As the loneliness cleared and I found my footing again, I realized that I was beginning to feel a sense of completion. My travels were starting to come to an end, and even though I was not able to see every place or do every activity that was on my original draft, I still felt that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I have learned to stop and appreciate the small things. I have practiced some artistic outlets. I won't regret that I didn't try this, or wonder what if I had done it. I now know with certainty that I can travel solo. I know what it is like to take a risk to follow a dream. Just because I don't want to travel forever doesn't lessen anything. Now, I am looking forward to seeing a place again that is very special to me: Home. And with that realization, I can focus on making the most of the time I have remaining and do my best to avoid taking this priceless time for granted.

Tags: completion, germany, leipzig, reacquaint, readjust, realize, rest, sabbatical, solo, travel




I traveled alone twice to Israel. I spent a week in Jerusalem the first time. The second time I participated in the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. I spent a lot of time by myself, and it was hard, but I am glad that I did it.

  Diana Kirkpatrick May 2, 2016 10:41 AM

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