Auf wiedersehen , Hamburg!
Well, it's taken me over a month to write this up, but I figured it was finally time to cover the last weekend of my German stay. Mostly because this past weekend I was in New York and really need to get some more updates going.... more on that later.
My last European update left off after my return to Hamburg from Ireland. I had only the Thursday and Friday left at work before leaving on Monday for Canada.
Because so many of my coworkers from Online were vacationing that week my days at work were pretty quiet. On Thursday I went out for lunch with my boss (who is also an old friend of my uncle's). Because of some details relating to selling the apartment I had been staying in he kindly offered to be my host for my final weekend in Hamburg. On Friday I had one final lunch with the Advertising boys, which was fun and a little nostalgic. I found it pretty funny how much their English had deteriorated in the eight weeks since we had been working together. The rest of the afternoon passed quietly enough, but when the end of the day came around I noticed the whole floor of the agency was all gathered up around the meeting table. I wandered out and everyone was looking at me, and then they presented me with a little gift and a card everyone had signed. On the card was a picture of the How I Met Your Mother cast, though they had photoshopped my face over Robin Scherbatsky's, and below had put "How I Met Your Mudda", a word-play on my first German words "deine mudda". I, of course, got totally overwhelmed and started tearing up, then made a probably incoherent speech about my time there.
That, however, was not the end of the night. Our agency is split up into two buildings, one of which is Advertising, Design, Online, (generally the more Creative side of things) then the other building that mainly houses PR, Accounts, Management and other such administrative type things. That Friday night we were having a big company party to encourage everyone to get to know one another (A Team themed party, I might add). Like most German parties, everyone got pretty drunk at the open bar and had a prodigiously good time singing and dancing to hits of the '90s. I wound up swing dancing with a member of senior management who was delightedly telling me about his recent marriage (I think... it was really tough to hear). It was a brilliantly fun send off. Though in a particularly obnoxious turn of fate, I happened to meet a charming, attractive, tall, successful, single gentleman who was actually interested in me. Go figure. Neither of us was pleased that I was leaving the damn continent in three days. Thanks Europe. Nothing but married men for three and a half months and then Prince Charming days before I leave.
Anyway, the next day was my boss' father's birthday, so I joined his family in journeying to the countryside outside of Hamburg for the party. I was a little nervous that it would be awkward since I'm essentially a complete stranger and can't even speak German, but the family was so welcoming. For my benefit they all spoke English, and my boss' parents were probably the sweetest people in the world. The area they lived in was also exceptionally beautiful, and it was nice to get a sense of what there was outside of Hamburg. I had a great chat with the birthday-man, who happened to be pretty hilarious. He asked if I was planning to be in Design permanently, and when I said I had lots of different plans for my future he replied "Good, you're too smart to waste your whole life on that." Haha classic old man honesty.
I should add that my boss happens to live in one of Hamburg's nicest communities. His residence is right near the lake, on a tree-lined street with gorgeous white Victorian townhouses and wrought-iron gates. It was a pleasure to stay there and get to walk around the area.
Once we had returned from the countryside birthday party I headed downtown to try and get my final shopping out of the way. I needed another bag (too much shopping during my trip) and also had to find a souvenir for my father, which I eventually was successful at getting. While wandering around I did see the craziest thing though. Right in the middle of the shopping district was a giant and rather frightening looking man hauling around a giant wooden cross and shouting German at passersby. I would have taken a picture if I wasn't genuinely concerned for my safety. Shortly thereafter I decided I needed some caffeine and headed over to Starbucks, where the freak-parade continued. As I was standing at the bar waiting for my order, the man ahead of me picked up his: a venti white mocha. For those of you who are coffee-illiterate, a venti white mocha is a 20 ounce drink made up of two shots of espresso combined with white hot chocolate and then topped with whipped cream and white chocolate sauce (thanks, job at a coffee shop!). It is probably one of the highest fat and calorie drinks you can order, not to mention it is bordering on sickly sweet. I then observed the gentleman take his sugar-fest diabetes-inducing drink to the condiments stand, where he casually poured half of a giant tumbler of sugar into the drink. I mean it, he poured almost half of that sugar in there. I could barely contain my laughter, though the thought of all that sugar made my teeth hurt for all the cavities I'm sure he has. Now you're probably imagining a morbidly obese man right now, but in fact this guy was pretty young and really skinny. All I can say is I'd hate to be him when that metabolism slows down. As though that hadn't been enough hilarity for one night, on my way back to the metro I passed yet another comedic sight. I was using a crosswalk when two gentlemen pulled up to a red light in a flashy convertible with the top down. Despite it being well after dark, I'm quite sure one or both of them were wearing sunglasses. The best part? They were blaring Bollywood music like it was the coolest shit this side of Ibiza. Once again I had to suppress laughter as the President and Vice President of the Douche Squad rolled on by.
The next day (my last in Europe) I was determined not to spend packing. So, in the morning I got my stuff together, then went to my favourite place - the Alsterarkaden - to meet up with a friend from work. We got coffee and hung out there for a bit, then moved on to get lunch. We finished the day by walking around the lakes, something I hadn't actually done before. Unfortunately the day was fairly overcast, but I was still pretty pleased with how it went. When I got back to my host's place a friend of his was visiting and so we all chatted for a while. The friend (whose name I absolutely cannot remember) was very interesting and for quite some time had been a European fashion mogul. I was therefore all the more delighted when he complimented me on the design of my shirt and the colour of my fur scarf (which has turned out to be one of my best European purchases). Anyway, we all decided to go out for dinner at a place called Brücke. Brücke is a small little restaurant/bar that was once a choice Hollywood hang out. It was started by a rather famous restauranteur and has a great reputation. We started with champagne (which I have developed quite a taste for), and then I had a fried fish on a bed of lentils, with perhaps the best sauce I've ever had. It was fantastic! The three of us debated spending a night out on the town, but concluded that since my flight was so early it was probably best that we get to bed early.
The next day it was off to the airport at something like 5:30am. My first flight was from Hamburg to Frankfurt, and of course it was delayed by at least an hour thanks to one of the runways getting shut down. This stressed me out a little since I had a connection to make and really didn't want to push my timeline. Anyway, eventually I got on the flight and arrived in Frankfurt without too much trouble. If you'll recall Frankfurt is one of the largest airports in the world, and dragging myself through it was not what I would call "fun". Anyway, after jumping through hoops with security I arrived at the correct gate, and finally it was on to the giant air bus headed for Vancouver International. Unfortunately, unlike my flight from Vancouver to Hamburg I was not seated by any handsome gentlemen this time around - just some stringy looking quiet guy. I was, however, one seat over from a window and right next to the aisle, which definitely improved my flying experience. Though I had hoped to get some sleep, instead I wound up watching a ton of movies. I started with the new Pirates of the Caribbean (sucked), then watched Bad Teacher (better than I expected), Thor (which I've already seen), Something Borrowed (sucked), The Green Lantern (sucked), Voyage of the Dawntreader (sucked), and probably at least one other film I can't even remember. I believe once I'd run out of movies I moved on to 30 Rock, and then an episode of Modern Family. It was a long flight. One of the coolest parts was flying over Greenland. I had been too far from a window on the way to Europe to see anything, but on the way back I was able to glimpse the endless hills of snow in the arctic. It was incredible! I've never seen anything like it, and I wish I could've gotten a picture or even just looked at it longer.
After ten and a half hours in the air we finally landed in Vancouver, and then I had to deal with at least an hour or two of customs, duties, and security. The fact that I had been out of the country for so long also made things more confusing, though I haven't been hunted down yet by the IRS so I'm guessing I didn't fuck anything up too badly.
There are a lot of things I've taken away from my time in Europe, and I expect I'll discover many more as time goes by. First, it's given me a better understanding of my own culture, country, and what it means to be a Canadian: an identity I only had a vague sense of before. Second, it taught me a lot about culture in general. During my first month in Germany I resented that the culture wasn't as open as my own: I was constantly frustrated that it was so difficult to connect with people, and I concluded that it was a closed-minded way of operating. Ironically, I was the one who was being closed-minded. While I will still tell you that the Northern German culture is more reserved, I won't say that that's a bad thing. It's simply different. While their friendship is a little more work to come by, once you have it you can depend upon it. I hope that in the future I'll be able to experience more cultures and continue learning these lessons.
Another thing I gained from my time overseas was an increased faith in my abilities and a greater independence. While I've always been a fairly independent person, I now feel like I can do just about anything: nothing could ever be as much of a challenge as working and living on the other side of the world in a culture I'm not familiar with, in a country whose language I don't speak, and on a continent where I know no one. These days I am more likely to look at a situation and see opportunities to be grasped rather than challenges I cannot overcome. I am also not afraid to be alone. I know I can take care of myself, and that I don't need to rely upon anyone else to do the things I'm interested in. My travels taught me to be alone in a way that I don't think I could've learned otherwise.
I'll always look upon my time in Europe as a significant period of growth, learning, and change in my personal history. I am so overjoyed that I got to go, and I can't wait to have more adventures just like it.