My alarm is the least satisfying sound to my ears. It is a signal that I must peel my body away from my mattress, who always knows how to entrance me back to sleep. I am a chronic over-sleeper, a person who needs the service of nine alarms to get up and then has that oh shit feeling after ignoring said nine alarms, rushing out the door to work. There are days, however limited they may be, where my body decides to wake up well before my alarm is scheduled to go off. Usually met with frustration, knowing I have the authority to sleep an extra hour, I begrudgingly get up and on with my day.
On my fifth day in Berlin, after many alarm filled mornings resisting the urge to press snooze, I woke to rain harmoniously pit pattering against the pavement outside the window and a gentle breeze encircling the bedroom. It was the first morning where my body wasn’t perspiring through the layers of blankets cocooning me. The absence of my alarm prompted my mind to acknowledge the gentleness of the morning. The soothing melody of the raindrops, the subtlety of the sun glaring through the window, the half unpacked luggage dispersed across the room, the passports atop the table. I rolled over, placing my head upon Tyler’s chest, my then fiancé – now husband. His breathing created a melodious pattern. I concentrated on the sound of his heartbeat, calming my anxieties of the unplanned day ahead of us.
“It’s raining,” I whispered in hopes that he would be as happy as I was.
He groaned his I don’t want to get up groan and titled his gaze through the crack of the curtain. His hair was frazzled but the smile on his face endearing. He loved the rain.
I had visited Germany once before, while I was studying abroad in Prague, when I was 19. We visited Berlin by way of bus for three days and the city has become somewhat of an apprehensive blur. Traveling with the flu while also trying to maintain my I can do anything attitude, my febrile body and foggy mind vaguely recalls how we ended up going the wrong way on the U-Bahn. But, what I do remember was that it was raining then, just like the morning Tyler and I woke up to depart for a day trip to Leipzig.
Summer storms in Europe are magnificently muggy. One day you’re walking 10 miles through the city sweating through the long sleeved shirt you mistakenly wore, while your heels are being sliced up from your Converse you thought were ideal to walk in. The next, you wake up to the solidarity of raindrops tapping on your window, wondering why you didn’t bring an umbrella in the dead heat of summer. Peaceful, yet utterly hot.
After a quick shower and triple check for our train tickets, passports and money, we rushed down the stairs through the courtyard. Turning the corner, we were met by the bus dancing away 10 feet from our eyes.
“We’re going to have to walk,” Tyler said through gritted teeth. Telling me to walk this early without having had my morning coffee was like asking me to play a Liszt etude; it might not happen, and if it does, it won’t be pretty. I was well aware that we didn’t have any time to spare waiting for the next bus, as I took too long trying to piece together a rainy day outfit I hadn’t packed, but I was optimistic.
The roads were mysteriously silent this early. Cyclists rode through the reflected streets without any regard for vehicles. Umbrellas filled the foggy sky while pedestrians plugged in their headphones on the commute to work. And for once, there wasn’t a siren bouncing an alarm building to building down the alleyway. Then, there was us: fast walk-running to the next bus stop, confused whether the dampness on our jackets was from sweat or rain.
Seven minutes before our train was to depart to Leipzig, we arrived at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof amidst a sea of people. Just enough time to grab a quick coffee, I thought to myself. My mind was enervated from attempting to read the signs with a vague concept of the German language. While Tyler scoured the train station to find our departure platform, I waited in line at the first coffee shop I laid eyes on. Tapping my foot loudly, the impatience left my body and resonated through the floor. Eight people in front of me and the clock ticking away as I struggled to remember how to pronounce two coffees, please in German (which, by the way is, zei kaffee, wie bitte). I pulled my phone from my pocket hoping to hear from Tyler, only to realize that my cheap ass didn’t fork over the money for an international plan. I had no idea where he was and the person at the counter seemed to be ordering the entire menu.
“We need to go.”
He gestured me out of line as I took one step closer to the front, giving him the, but coffee, look. We had three minutes so I decided that making our train was more important. Just as the last call for boarding rang through the intercom, we simultaneously plopped into our seats. I sighed, snuggling my head into the crook of Tyler’s shoulder as the lull of the engine calmed my mind. I reminded myself of this trip. No plans, just us. I felt a squeeze on my knee and shifted my gaze towards Tyler who was giving me the, but coffee, look.
I scrunched my nose and began yet another search for caffeine.
Before our days of waking up in a foreign country together, Tyler and I had to endure a month apart with limited communication. He was studying with the Berlin Opera Academy and I was back home in Southern California trying to fill the gaps of time with working overtime, forcing my friends to hang out with me every day and maintaining my “summer glow” at the beach. I decided to take advantage of his opportunity, and at the end of the month I was on a plane to Berlin. Before embarking on the journey that is WOW air, I had exhausted Google to the point where I tried to cram an entire month of touring the country into six days. From visiting the canal lined city of Spreewald, to hopping over to Poland and sunbathing along the Baltic Sea or sufficing to Spandau, skinning dipping in the Havel River. My imagination got a little carried away to where I thought a day trip to Amsterdam was doable. I envisioned us drinking coffee from the balcony of our AirBnb, entranced by Die Zauberflöte and dining atop the Fernsehturm Berlin in my cocktail dress I never wore. However, what I didn’t foresee was how quickly money runs out and that walking from Friedrichshain to Mitte takes a lot longer than expected.
It became a challenge, how much can I squeeze into this trip?
When I travel, I explore. Old buildings, streets, restaurants, statues, parks, the parking lot that once was home to Hitler’s bunker. You name it, I want to see it. My brain was in exploring mode, plotting points of interest on my mind map, but my heart was tugging at the strings of missing Tyler. So we decided: One day. Outside the city. Just us. No plans.
After many Viber phone calls and failed Facetime conversations, we were hooked to Leipzig. The perfect setting for an Opera singer. From Bach to Schumann to Mendelssohn and Wagner, Leipzig’s musical endowment is a testament to some of the most prominent and well known musicians in the world. I had heard those names cross the path of Tyler’s speech a multitude of times, but their meaning and significance never truly resonated with me until I submerged myself into the history that lie within the cobble stoned streets that once supported the foundation of their compositions.
As our train pulled into the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, Tyler squeezed my hand enthusiastically. I had zoned out into a Sudoku trance, not realizing we had arrived. The rain was subsiding and I could see the crowd of people that filled the station. We had no plan and eight hours to discover what the city had to offer. The anxiety screaming in my body resisted the urge to purchase a map from the excessively overpriced souvenir shop next to the Starbucks, but Tyler pulled me along into the unpreparedness that lay ahead of us. His eyes, eager with life and simplicity, taught me what I needed to know as we roamed the streets of Leipzig.
Even though Leipzig is the largest city in Saxony Germany, I was captivated by the small-town feel and abundance of life preserved among the people and buildings. The shops payed homage to the musical and historical heroes that paved the way for citizens today, the food was prepared with the devotion of a home-cooked meal, and on every corner a smiling face could be found. Humble Pride. Anecdotes of centuries past in the atmosphere struck me as I walked among the classically formulated streets and marveled at the spired Gothic churches that emphasized the importance of Leipzig’s most prominent public figure, Johann Sebastian Bach.
After self-guiding ourselves through two of the largest churches, Nikolaikirche and Thomaskirche, our stomachs began grumbling. We meandered our way through the alleyways in search of anything to satisfy the hunger pangs. Just as the sun shyly appeared from behind the clouds, we stumbled upon a small Italian eatery amongst the Wochenmarkt (farmer’s market). Smells of fresh fruits and vegetables filled the air with subtle hints of bread and pasta intermittent as our server approached our table.
“Bach is Baroque, right?” In my years of dating Tyler, I had picked up a little about composers.
“Correct,” he smirked while taking a sip of Fanta.
I get a sense of satisfaction whenever I remember something that, for my entire life, was completely irrelevant to me. Until now. I had never understood this world, the world of musicians and performers. Observing Tyler perform in Berlin among people from all over the world whose dreams aligned with his and walking the streets in Leipzig, seeing the passion in his eyes, everything suddenly made sense. The sleepless nights and restless days to reach the top, the isolation towards achieving a dream, the audacity to continue after years of depression and discouragement, the fear of falling ill, the long hours perfecting a craft, it had been staring me straight in the face all these years but I didn’t decide to open my eyes until now. Seeing someone in their element, in what personifies them, creates a clear understanding on what their world really entails. An outsider looking in to what seems like a world of fame and fortune, but in opposition is feast and famine.
“So what’s next?” I needed to know more.
Within a couple of hours, we got lost among the books at University Libraries, attempted to admit museums free of charge, echoed our voices through the Opera House hallways, and ran into a familiar face at the corner bakery. Between the laughs, sore feet, arguing, and copious amounts of coffee, we learned. By way of Leipzig we came to an understanding of each other, of a love that had been forgotten while apart, and a connection through the musicality of the city.
We were quick to discover that we had a generous amount of time left after having done all that we could think of. We had many of those what do you want to do now? moments. I felt a gentle breeze sweep through the air while passing through the courtyard that was filled with a numerous amount of street performers and children running in the grass. The chill in the air reminded me of the morning. The rush of getting to where we needed to go, now met with the leisure of relaxation on a park bench munching on the McDonald’s that occupied the last of our euros.
“What are you thinking about?” Tyler inquired as I took the last bite of my barren hamburger.
“I like it here.”
He was familiar with the look in my eyes. The let’s move here look that I get far too often when I find myself falling in a deep adoration of a place. The location is the pull factor, drawing me into it by the archaic buildings and freedom of adventure. But it’s the abundance of life and vulnerability that I experience that forces my heart to say, “You need this in your life”.
“Maybe one day,” he responds. “You never know what could happen.”
I discovered that our journey here in Leipzig didn’t stop with site seeing or drinking our way through coffee shops. We went to uncover the history and foundation that paved the way for so many, including Tyler. We went to a place I knew nothing about and came out with an insider perspective on a world that I am delighted to gain an understanding to. We went to find each other after distance left us disconnected.
The journey of self-discovery can happen without a moment’s notice. For me, it appeared on a short trip to Germany in the middle of summer, gaining a new perspective and falling in love all over again. It happened when we argued in the middle of Hugenbudel in search of a souvenir mug, when our eyes widened at the price of band aids for a sliced foot, and being made fun of for forgetting how to pronounce Goethe.
As we boarded our train back to Berlin, this time without the stress of running late, my mind settled. Settled into an understanding of myself, what I want, and who I want to share that with. They say that traveling fills the soul, are the pages that fill the chapters of your life, or whatever that perfectly captioned Instagram photo says making you feel bad about your life. But what quotes and social media don’t capture is the exhaustion and realization that life is unexpected.
You never know what could happen.
So why not learn about it while you can?