After a hectic morning of enrolling in German school (more on that later) and relocating our many suitcases to the train station, Kevin and I bought two, one-way tickets and boarded a train Würzburg, our new home.
I’m always excited by the prospect of moving: the thrill of a new routine, the potential of finding an even better life the new place. Inevitably, though, some trifling detail will disappoint – a lack of morning sunlight, or poor water pressure – thereby draining me of all my rosy optimism. I’ll fall into a gloom, only to emerge slowly, as my preconceptions are replaced by the happy surprises of reality.
Moving to Würzburg was no different.
As our train made its way through the countryside, the towns became smaller and smaller, tiny hamlets, really, and the architecture became more and more modern and utilitarian – not the Old World town houses I had been imagining. I began worrying whether I could really live in such an uninspiring, out-of-the-way place for a whole year. But, when Würzburg finally came into view, those fears momentarily subsided. Würzburg was larger that any town we had seen outside of Frankfurt; it seemed to be about the size of Little Rock, but much more dense. From the distance, I could see a number of tall Gothic church spires – usually a good sign.
But after we arrived, when we emerged from the dank, smokiness of the local train station, our first impression was of a run-down, former Eastern bloc city. There is nothing nice to be said about the Würzburg Hauptbahnhof. It is dirty and smelly (a new odor that I am not yet able to fully describe) and the plaza just in front is mostly populated by the drunk and homeless. Not that this is uncommon by American or even Boston standards, but it's not what you normally see in Europe’s temples of social welfare. In fact, the only time I have ever seen anything like it on this side of the pond was on a trip to the Hungario-Slovakian border – not exactly a vacationer’s paradise.
As quickly as we could, we piled into the first available taxi (no small accomplishment considering the size of German cars and the girth of our luggage) and headed home, or rather, to the university-run guesthouse that would be our home for the near future. Unfortunately, our taxi driver was not the best ambassador for her city. Her magenta (magenta!) hair was the same shade as her bulbous drunkard’s nose. Her car wreaked of “stale cigarettes and cheap perfume,” as the saying goes, and all I could do not to throw up during the ride was to focus on the passing scenery: more boring, Soviet-style apartment buildings. From the train station to the guesthouse I could see nothing that would suit the front of a postcard, nothing to write home about.
At the Gästhaus (one of those modern European high-rises that are all windows and look to be constructed of Lego), we were met by Herr H., the building superintendent. He took us up the elevator to our apartment on the 6th floor (the three of us and all of our luggage fit into a single elevator!), and then he explained, in German, the elaborate Hausordnung (house orders) of which the Germans are so fond. I pretended to understand all of his detailed instructions about sorting the trash and the dates and times when one can buy tokens to use the washing machine, etc. And then he left us to explore and unpack.
Kevin could read the disappointment all over my face. Even though I was on the verge of tears, I kept saying aloud, so as not to disappoint him, “It’s OK. It’s OK. It’s really going to be OK.” And then, suddenly, it was. Walking around our apartment, I realized at once how large and airy and well-arranged it was: three big rooms – a bedroom, living room and kitchen — and a hall and a bathroom. It was three times the size of our last Boston apartment. The kitchen was stocked with pots and pans and dishes; the beds were turned down with fresh linens.
Then, to let in some light (for there was a promise of sunshine for the first time since we’d arrived), I threw open the curtains of the floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of one of the bedroom walls. And this was what I saw:
And then I rushed into the living room, where, across from the desk, was an identical wall-to-wall set of windows, and this was my view:
My very own castle! Then I knew that everything would be OK, really OK ... better than OK.