Just when you think that east Germany and the Bundesliga may have sucked out your soul completely and you have nothing left, you eat the most delicious gnocchi that you’ve ever had with your darling husband and a few lovely friends. The wine was a delight, the laughter flowed freely, and did I mention that the gnocchi was the most delicious I’ve ever had? The waitress knows my order before I even utter a word (my favorite dish isn’t even on the menu) and the chef comes out after the meal and makes sure to wish the boys good luck for tomorrow’s game. Just when you think you have to go home, you realize you’ve made a home right where you are.
If I’m being totally honest, tonight’s gnocchi isn’t the first sign I’ve had that we might have actually made preliminary steps towards carving out our own niche here. Last night I sat in the kitchen of another wife, with several other wives, and drank wine and ate snacks and swapped stories and learned secrets for hours. I felt free of pretense there. I felt confident in my broken German. I felt I could be myself when I spoke. I felt at home with my friends there.
I walked my dog through town a few days ago. I recognized the cheese woman at the bakery. The woman at the bakery knows what bread I prefer. I saw a fan at the pharmacy who asked about Dave’s health. I exchanged pleasantries with the regular cashier at the grocery store. The Real Boy got a treat from a neighbor when we passed them on the sidewalk. The door was held open by the kids who live downstairs when I returned to the apartment.
The truth is that spending eight months somewhere doesn’t make you a native. You need much longer than that to truly become integrated in any community, let alone one that operates in a language other than your native tongue. But eight months is long enough to get to know the people in your building, the owners of your daily shops, and the names of your favorite candies (who am I kidding, that took me 48 hours). Eight months is especially long in the world of hockey, where your relationships are under pressure of both the good and the bad variety. You connect with people over any commonalities, willing to ignore differences for the sake of social interaction. And by forsaking those differences, you discover things you otherwise would have missed. Eight months shows a glimpse of all four seasons, families change, babies are born, teammates become friends and once again ‘home’ means something new.
Don’t get me wrong. Aforementioned longing for things from home still stands. My sister is still WAY too far away. Pillows are still leaving much to be desired. But when the season ends (which I hope sincerely is NOT tomorrow) I will be sad. And a few days of partying together won’t really feel like enough. This may not be our ideal place, the season may have had it’s share of trials. But no one likes to say goodbye to somewhere/someone that took them in the way the town/our friends here have. We can always hope that next season has something wonderful in store, but the bittersweet brevity of each season never fails to surprise me when the moment approaches. So here’s to prolonging the inevitable, romanticizing the imperfect, and living in the now! Auf geht’s Pirates, Prost Freunde!