The Sour and the Sweet: My Life in Dresden and a Day I’ll Never Forget

The weekend had been beautiful. After spending 11 days north of Berlin in a small village called Retzow, I was filled with a mixture of joy and dread, knowing that I was back in the comfort of Dresden but having to attend German lessons again when I was so painfully terrible at German. When I left for my get-away, I was happy to leave Dresden behind. March was gray and gloomy, the light of the city had not yet caught my eye, and on a daily basis I wondered, “What am I doing here? How much longer until I go home?” I remember leaving Retzow, awaiting the train, and feeling like I didn’t want to stay there but I didn’t want to arrive in Dresden either. I had no choice, however. Dresden was my “home” in Germany; I had already paid for the classes and dropping out did not cross my mind; it was not an option. This was supposed to be a challenge, after all; I had signed up to get my butt kicked.

Upon arriving in Dresden, and settling back into my tiny studio apartment, I decided to go for a walk. The sky was finally filled with sunlight and spring was in the air. It was on that walk, approaching the Elbe River, that I noticed the shift in the city’s demeanor. What was once desolate and cold, was now joyful and bright. People were laying along the river, laughing with their friends, BBQing, playing soccer, all without a care in the world. I walked to the Waldschlösschen Bridge, which took me about 45 minutes to get to from my apartment. From the bridge, I could see all of Dresden, with the silhouette of Old Town in the distance, the sun’s rays showcasing it like the gem it truly is. In that moment, I fell in love with the city and from that day onwards it would hold a piece of my heart no matter where else I hopped off to.

Although my walk to the bridge is a day I will never forget, the day that followed is the one I want to touch on. It was my first day back at class. In this specific program, each month the students went up one level in difficulty. It was also paid for on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, which meant that the students would change every month depending on which ones were continuing with the program or going back home, and some would only stay for two weeks. My class in March was quite honestly absolutely dreadful. The teacher was great- she was kind, she worked hard, and she clearly knew what she was doing- but I was in a level that was too advanced for me. As a result, I felt like crying at least twice a week in class, being so frustrated that I was unable to communicate the way the other students could and making me feel dumb in the process. I knew that all of this wasn’t my fault, that I had been placed too high, but that didn’t ease my aggravation.

After the painful experience of March, naturally I woke up on the first day of class in April with pure dread racing through every vein and fiber of my being. “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go,” I thought to myself as I dressed, ate, and walked out the door. My expectations were this: I would get to class, not understand anything (because, remember, last month was hard but now I’m UP another level; this is not going to be good), hold back tears, have no idea what’s going on, say every sentence incorrectly, and at 1pm, go home and shut myself in my room for more studying and trying to comprehend the four hours of class I had just sat through. Oh and also have no friends because the other people will be weird (I’m not out of line here, I have it on good authority that March 2016 was a weird month for Goethe) or there would be extenuating circumstances in which we could not hang out (ie they live an hour away). Yep, that’s how it was going to go, so I might as well accept it my fate, hold my head high, and let the butt-kicking begin.

I walked into the school, forcing every step forward, as if there were a cement block I had to kick in order to get anywhere. As the classroom got closer and closer, my nerves were bouncing off the walls and yet my mind was somehow at ease (“Just accept it.”). I entered the room, looked around, and somehow I just knew… this month was going to be different. The faces of the other students were friendly and kind. Everyone seemed to be my age, and as I would soon discover, my German really was not bad. Yes, I got my butt kicked in March, but it made my German, well, GOOD. I had worked really hard and it had paid off, I had just been blinded by this realization because I hadn’t been in an environment to help me make it (In Retzow, I was staying with a family whose 4-year-old only spoke German, so I knew I was conversational, but still).

On this day, I also had no idea that I was about to begin one of the best months of my life. I made lasting friendships, I had a social life, and I learned to love Dresden more than I’ve ever loved any place outside of my hometown. A real attachment to this small city in eastern Germany was something I yearned for, but doubted I would ever manage. April would be a month of many laughs, solo walks along the river (something I still cherish to this day), and beers with great people. The experience I dreamed of came true.

The entire experience of Dresden, from beginning to end, is something I will take with me for the rest of my life. Looking back, I am proud of what I went through my first month. My German not only advanced because of it, but I grew stronger as a person as well. I faced my challenges head on, they knocked me down, and I’m all the better for it. I wouldn’t have been able to savor the sweet of April without the sour of March. It’s like it all came to me as a package deal and I couldn’t have one part of it without the other.

I think this applies to life as a greater entity. Our triumphs are nothing without our trials. How can we grow if we aren’t first pushed into the dirt with nothing but ourselves to push us out again? Getting what we want means feeling the hurt, leaving what’s comfortable for what is sure to be painful, and dragging ourselves up bit by bit to be who we want to be, even when the metaphoric foot comes to give you a good stomp. You want to be better? Brace yourself for the pain, accept that it is a package deal, and when you get to where you’re going, you’ll be just as grateful for the sour as you are for the sweet.

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