Many of you who follow my blog, or have stumbled upon pictures have seen and heard stories about the “side trips” I’ve taken. Summer of 2014 I spent nine weeks in Erfurt, Germany. This beautifully old, historically rich city is nestled in the former East Germany about two hours east of Frankfurt and an hour south of Berlin. Erfurt looks something like the storybook pages of Germany.
Let me paint you a picture. Erfurt is a city where the cobblestone streets have no end. Where flowers spill out of window boxes, wooden shutters contrast brightly painted houses all in a row. Where coffee shops and bakeries mark every street corner. Nutella is the German Jiff, fruit is always fresh, and bratwurst and schnitzel the size of my face are ALWAYS on the menu. Though Erfurt has a university, it is not a college town; in fact, Erfurt is very family oriented. If I were looking to raise a family in Germany, I might find myself in Erfurt living in a gold painted house with dark wooden shutters contrasted by red, white and pink flowers spilling out of every open window. I might, however, be the only house in Germany that had air-conditioning and a garbage disposal. I applaud you Germany for your efforts to keep the planet healthy.
Erfurt has one large train station, Anger 1, located in the heart of the old city. This is where the bank/post is I visited every two-three days to mail letters to one I missed. Anger has a large shopping mall, chocolate shop and basement market. One thing I truly appreciate is the locally grown, seasonal fruit. We are missing out America if this is what a fresh strawberry with zero preservatives tastes like! Better get them here while you can because when they go out of season, they go off the shelves.
Ice cream, “Eis,” as they call it here, is second to none! Eis is in the hand of every pedestrian on warm days, even some rainy days, and for me, everyday. Gotta have that “bitte schokolade!” I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that when I approached the ice cream stands, the workers waved in recognition of my giant smile, overwhelmed time and time again by the many flavors. Even the puppies lap up spilled ice cream on the sidewalk.
Dogs are treated as people here. They go where their owner goes; food markets, shopping stores, cafes, trains, probably even church. You name it, a dog has been there. Erfurt is very pet friendly, I just don’t know if it’s custom to pet someone’s dog.
The Domplatz is one of the big tourist attractions in Erfurt, and how could it not be, it’s steeples can be seen clear across the city. The Dom is a massive cathedral and outside is a strip of cafes, restaurants and pizzerias. There is always something going on outside the Dom. The first week in Erfurt there was a large fresh food market, the next was a medieval fair and the month of July was an Opera.
For the directionally challenged, Erfurt is fairly easy to navigate, just follow the train tracks. Shopping isn’t too shabby either. They have local German brands as well as some American mainstream names. In Germany you always pay with euro, never “charge it,” which I still find odd, but I guess that is a more budget friendly lifestyle. If you were wondering, yes, the name brand stores take Visa!
Everyone eats outside, walks from place to place, even the finest restaurants have outdoor seating. The Gera river streams under the city and, in fact, Erfurt is a City built on a bridge. It started as a merchant’s bridge as it was one of the most trafficked trading routes and now it is one of the main attractions in the city. You might not even realize you are on a bridge until you walk to the edge and look out over the icy water. We called this, the umbrella bridge. On special occasions bright umbrellas are strung from window to window down the slanted street. It was on this street that I realized I was in fact, living inside a postcard. I felt as though I might turn into Mary Poppins and take flight. I have fallen in love with the outdoor environment here, however, the smoking has got to cease. I have probably ingested as much second hand smoke here as I would in a country-western club back home.
Erfurt has much to offer, except on Sundays. Sundays are holidays and everything; I do mean EVERYTHING is closed. This began as a frustration when unprepared, but now this is one of the many aspects of Erfurt I hope to take back to Texas. It is sad that Sunday becomes a day of making up for procrastination. Everything that didn’t get done throughout the week gets pushed to Sundays, but not in Erfurt. Sundays are family days. You might see a family or group of friends at the park, a couple hand in hand strolling the streets, taking a bike ride through the city, or like me enjoying a Nutella filled croissant and coffee at an outdoor café- a prime people watching post. For hours I would sit with my journal and study the lives of those around me. This was also very helpful in the cultural adaptation process.
My favorite coffee shop soon became Peckham’s. Owned by a young couple, who speak English might I add, and their three-year-old daughter. Some days I sit and talk with them and some I sip a chai latte and read. Peckham’s is home to Erfurt’s BEST chai latte, in my mind’s eye. SO Tasty!
Nostalgia is my favorite antique store. The man who owns it must be in his late 70’s, speaks absolutely zero English and only opens for three hours, five days a week. He was one of my first friends here. Multiple days I would go in and study his pocket watches. He tried to tell me the stories of them all. I didn’t understand a word but enjoyed the enthusiasm in the old voice. I would love to interpret his stories.
I just so happen to be here during a football triumph for the Black, Gold, and Green. I wasn’t an avid world cup fan prior to this study abroad experience, but being in Germany the year their team charts it’s way to victory was nothing shy of a good time!
This city’s charm never got old and I hope to take some of it back with me. Maybe I will invest in some lace curtains and overflowing flower boxes. Maybe I will insist on eating outside if given the option and maybe Nutella will be my new peanut butter (we will have to see about that). In a country where I can easily communicate, I will have no excuse to NOT learn people’s stories. That can be the mission of a Sunday, to meet a new heart and document it’s beauty. If there is one thing I have learned while aboard it’s that beauty is always present. I would challenge you to open your eyes, more importantly your heart, to be captivated by beauty. Let it overwhelm you. I have found the truest treasure of beauty is it always starts and ends with Thanksgiving. You see, you need not hunt for beauty, just simply uncover it.
“Thanksgiving Has taught me to trust there is always enough God to see, learn and love…Spend the whole of your wild and beautiful life investing in many lives and God simply will not be outdone.” –Ann Voskamp, 1000Gifts