I am admittedly biased against train travel in Germany. The last time I was here I spent an enormous amount of time hauling my suitcase up and down staircases (my fault, not the Germans’ fault) and cramming into non-air conditioned cars filled with drunk football fans (that one we can blame on the Germans.) When we started planning this trip, I pushed for us to rent a car instead. We couldn’t avoid a little bit of train travel, and it was enough to make me feel quite justified in the car rental. Yesterday’s train from Berlin to Dresden was so overcrowded with students that we ended up on bucket seats in the hallway for two hours. (Truthfully, we were probably lucky to get even those. I don’t think many of those without reserved seats knew that these hidden seats existed, but I did, so we did, at least, get a place to sit.)
Once the stress of being in crowded train cars left (claustrophobia stresses me out), we were able to laugh at the situation. Mostly we were just glad we made the train. We were also able to re-assert an important traveling in Europe lesson: buy tickets for trains in advance.
The rest of yesterday was mostly spent in the car with me crowded in the back between the men and trying to get a whiff of air conditioning. (I never feel more like an American than when I realize how dependent I am on climate control.)
The rest of the day was a fairly relaxed evening socializing with Juergen and Gerlinde Neumann, who are distantly related to me. We have a common ancestor with Gerlinde, funnily enough, though she’s not a Neumann by birth and Juergen is. Since my German is limited to things like “Guten tag” and “danke”, I mostly sit and listen to the conversations, but we make it work.
Today was much busier. We spent the day enjoying the area around Spitzkunnersdorf and the adjoining cities. Spitzkunnersdorf’s Rathaus contains hand written records dating back to the early 1600s that we got to see, including the records of the births and baptisms of several of my ancestors (this, by the way, we looked at while the radio serenaded us to the 80s power ballad classic “You’re the Voice”. I nearly died trying not to laugh.)
We also learned a bit more about the town itself, of which Juergen used to the the burgermeister. Spitzkunnersdorf itself was founded in 1347 and began primarily as a location for weavers. In fact, many of the homes in the area have distinct arches around the ground floor to help stabilize the structure of the house since the movement of the looms often caused architectural problems otherwise. Once the engine powered looms took over the dense population moved elsewhere, but some still remain. The town now has a population of just over a thousand. It was spared the bombings of World War II, but suffered a great deal under communism from 1949-1989. Even so, it’s hard to see that impact now. The town is beautifully kept and peaceful. It’s easy to see the effort spent in upkeep compared to the neighboring town of Zittau and even more so compared to the nearest city in Poland. Juergen drove us (briefly - he doesn’t like Poland) over the border and the difference is striking. Poor Poland suffered so intensely during and after the war - they’re still recovering from that toll.
The highlight of the day to me was visiting the church in Spitzkunnersdorf where my ancestors worshiped. I’ve been once before, but the spirit felt the same this time. There is something so special about being in a place where I know the foundation of faith was built for my family. I come from several lines of people who have sacrificed for what they believed in. We have not always believed the same thing or practiced faith in the same way, but that legacy is a powerful one to me. I hope I can honor this tradition and keep the ball rolling, so to speak.
We also got the chance to visit Zittau (where we had lunch) and a local Christmas store run by a friend of Gerlinde’s. The shop is small but packed with great decorations, many of which are hand made by the shop owners. I picked up something for myself and a gift for a friend as well.
Tomorrow we get the chance to go to Prague, which I am excited about, not least of which because I think it will put us all on equal language footing again. One thing that has been challenging about the last few days is in feeling so conversationally crippled. In addition to knowing my love of England, it doesn’t take long for someone who meets me to realize that communication is a big part of who I am. It might even be the most obnoxious and intimidating part of meeting me, I don’t know. What I do know is that I miss being part of conversations I can keep up with!