Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Germany - Have I REALLY been here for a month??

Let me first apologize for the length of this post. Lord knows I tend to get long-winded.
Read and enjoy. Love y'all!

Left: A remnant of the Berlin wall. So eerie. Right: My "I'm trying not to get lost in Berlin" face."

I survived a month (and FIVE DAYS!) in Germany. Say whaaaat? Have I really been here for a month? Have I really been able to survive a month in Germany without knowing the culture, language or a single soul?

Yes, yes I have.

But I decided today that I have been able to do oh so much more than just survive in Germany. I've been able to thrive in Germany. I've been able to get around Frankfurt (and not get lost! not once!), go grocery shopping, work in a really awesome job, use public transportation, go sightseeing and act like a tourist, attend church, try new things and make new friends in Germany.

Kudos to me!!

In celebration of my one-month mark, I took a trip to Berlin! It was a business trip, but it was a celebration nonetheless. After a four-hour train ride from Frankfurt to Berlin, I took one of those really cliche bus tours of the city. I saw so much and so little at the same time. Berlin has so many wonderful bits and pieces of history and yet, the things I saw only scratched the surface.

I was able to see Brandenburg Gate, the Parliament Building, the East Side Gallery (a portion of the Berlin Wall that is painted over and is one of the largest outdoor art exhibits in the world. So cool!), Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Memorial and another portion of the Berlin Wall. I also had some Dunkin Donuts. Can't forget about those!!

I stayed the night in Potsdam, which is a 20-minute train ride from Berlin. I was equipped with a Google map of how to get from the train station to my hotel.
"Head west on Friedrich-List Strasse/B1 toward B2. Continue to follow Friedrich-List-Strasse."
I stepped out into the chilly night air. Where the heck was west? I knew by looking at the map that I had to cross a river, but where the heck was the river?! I had a decision to make. Which way did I think was west? Should I walk to the left or to the right?

I chose to go right. I reassured myself as I walked past people who knew where they were going. "Right. Right is west. I think."
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I walked about 200 meters up the road and saw my hotel - all 13 stories of it - standing in the distance. Across the river, as promised. Lucky guess.

"Score! Taylor: 1, Potsdam: 0," I chuckled as I skipped toward my hotel. Pretty sure the guy riding his bike past me thought I was a crazy person for my mini celebration, but whatever.

After triumphantly checking myself into the hotel, I decided to explore Potsdam. It's such a cool little city, so I couldn't not take a walk around. After walking for about an hour, I decided all of Potsdam's major landmarks were just too far away to try and find. In the dark. By myself. 

Instead, I stopped by the nearest grocery store and bought four Ritter Sport candy bars. I had only intended to buy one, but there were four kinds that were just SCREAMING my name. 

"These all look so stinking delicious," I thought, staring at the brightly colored packages in front of me. "The checkout lady will probably judge me if this is all I buy.....Whatever. You only live once!"

Can you say DIABETES?!

I spent the rest of my Saturday night wandering Potsdam while listening to country music and eating German chocolate. An experience I would highly recommend to anyone.

Sunday was the big day! The reason I was in Berlin and Potsdam to begin with!

I'll just cut straight to the chase and say: I GOT TO MEET ELDER JEFFREY R. HOLLAND! I got to greet him as he came into the chapel in Leest and I got to shake his hand!! I got to TALK TO HIM!! His wife gave me a hug and told me I had beautiful hair!!

In all the things I've experienced in my 21 years and 4 months of life, Sunday morning was probably the coolest experience I've ever had.

After meeting him, I followed him and his entourage (I feel like that's totally not the right word at all...) into the chapel. I couldn't help but cry a little. "Did I really just meet Elder Holland? Did I really just meet an apostle of the Lord? Let alone my favorite apostle?"

I've always connected with Elder Holland's messages during conference. I have read and re-read so many of his talks in my moments of need. I know people think he's super "intense," but I've always loved his talks. It was so amazing being in his presence on Sunday morning. That tiny chapel in Leest, Germany was so full of the Spirit and was overflowing with love. I wish I could take how I felt on Sunday morning and feel that way every single day. Life would be a breeze if I could!

After church, I had the opportunity to talk to and interview several church members for some projects I was working on for my internship. They were all so friendly, so welcoming, so kind.

As I sat on the train from Berlin to Frankfurt, I couldn't help but just sit there and think, "Did that really just happen? Did I really just have an epically awesome weekend topped off with an incredibly spiritual experience?" Several days later, I still find myself wondering, "Did that really just happen? Am I really in Germany? Doing really, really cool things? Is this really my real life?"

It only took me one month and five days to realize it (better late than never, right?), but this weekend made me realize how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to be having this experience. Sure, I miss my friends, my family, my truck, my cowboy boots, throwing hot dogs at people at 3 a.m. (that's for you, Chelsea!), American pizza and Duck Dynasty, but how many people get the chance to live in a foreign country, work in a really cool job and meet really cool people while they're at it?

I've come to love Germany. I love the half-timbered houses. I love the croissants. I love seeing guys wearing well-tailored suits (SO HOT!). I love the chocolate. I love my evening runs through the German countryside at sunset. I love Apfelschorle (totally addicted!). I love how straight forward German people are (it's entertaining). I love how everyone here wears scarves (so classy!). I love wearing skirts and dresses to work everyday (I feel like a real grownup!). I love the feelings of accomplishment, independence and self-worth I get when do things I never pictured myself doing.

Moral of the story: look for the good in the world around you. Goodness knows we all have so much to be grateful for.

I was talking to a taxi driver on Sunday and he told me that Germany is boring. I wanted to ask him if he was on crack, but instead replied: "But Germany is so cool! There are so many things to see in Germany!" He promptly responded: "You always think that where you're from is boring. The familiar is never good enough." I was somewhat astounded when he said that. I didn't know it was possible to have such an intellectually stimulating conversation with a taxi driver who only speaks "school English."

But his words struck me. He was right. I think we so often get bogged down in our day-to-day lives - school, work, drama - that we forget how awesome the world is. I think we sometimes forget that we are capable of feeling so, so good about ourselves, our situations and the world around us.

My first month (and five days!) in Germany has taught me to break out of the monotony. It would be so easy to just sit in my apartment, chat with friends on Facebook all night and nap on weekends while I'm here. But I've been choosing to go on adventures, take chances on people and lose a ton of sleep while I'm at it!

Try it sometime.
Throw caution to the wind! Take an evening stroll through town while listening to your favorite songs, and make sure you have a tasty candy bar (or four!) to top things off. Talk to and get to know people you wouldn't generally think of associating with. Explore the world around you - I guarantee there are wonderful things just outside your door. Spend time by yourself. Try new things. Take chances.

And above all else, let yourself enjoy life. Because you'd be stupid not to.

Left: Saturday sunset in Berlin! Right: The Brandenburg Gate!

Left: Potsdam by night! The view from my hotel! Right: Sunday morning walk by the river turned into a "take self portraits in this cool maze I found" session.

Sunday morning in Leest! Elder Holland is such an amazing man! 

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