I am not as awesome or brave as I like to make myself out to be. I am certainly not as traveled as my knowledge suggests. It is one thing to know about other lands and other cultures and quite a different thing to experience them. Part of me actually thinks going to a totally foreign country would be easier than coming to a European country. The culture here in Leipzig is similar to what I am used to, but just different enough to push me outside of my box quite a bit. Add to that the fact that I fell asleep last night at 8:00 PM (2:00 PM Eastern Time) after having been awake all but 2 of the preceding 31 hours. My capacity for overnighters is not what it was when I was 20.
So, I’m in Leipzig. It is almost 10:00 AM here, so about 4:00 AM at my house in Maryland. I woke up around 8:00 AM, showered, checked e-mail, then went to breakfast. Soon, I’ll head out into the city center of Leipzig, which I walked extensively in yesterday.
Yesterday I landed in Leipzig a little after 11:00 AM (5:00 AM Eastern Time). I had plenty of time to make my transfer in Frankfurt, even with the inclusion of a bomb-drill that prevented me (and a few hundred others) from getting through security for about 30 minutes. Policemen that reminded me of The Bourne Identity held the crowd at bay with red and white caution tape. In Leipzig, I took a cab from the airport to the hotel, which cost me a whopping 30 Euros. Upon arriving at the hotel, I organized my things and did some final preparations for the meeting. Then I checked my e-mail, met with the event manager of the hotel and headed into Leipzig. I’ve told several people that the one thing I wanted to do was go to Thomaskirche, where JS Bach was the choir master for a period of time, and where he is buried. Google map in hand, I left the hotel and started walking.
The city is beautiful. Its narrow streets are lined with old (like seriously old) buildings, arcades (which have essentially been renovated to be malls with very old architecture and no outer doors. Awestruck by some of these beautiful buildings, I strayed from my map and resorted to looking for steeples along the skyline barely visible from the narrow canyon of streets. In the process, I found some beautiful architecture, a stunningly clean park in the middle of the city and more cafes than I can even count. Resigned to having to start my trek again from the start, I headed the direction I believed my hotel to be and very quickly found myself in a beautiful courtyard with a building whose tower prominently displayed a chi rho. Pausing to take a picture, I noticed a JS Bach statue in front and immediately found myself smiling.
I walked into the church, hoping only to see Bach’s gravesite, the structure of the church, and perhaps say a prayer for music’s role in Christian life being so long-lasting and so important. Instead, I found the church crowded with people. Bummed that my solemn moment would be intruded upon, I made my way in to take a few pictures and then leave when suddenly beautiful sound washed from the choir loft. Thomaskirche is home to the St. Thomas Boys Choir, a world-renowned choir of young boys. I had seen they were performing elsewhere in the country this weekend and assumed there was no way I could see them. Well, lo and behold, they were rehearsing. I wish I could describe the emotion of a moment of being in this old church, Bach’s gravesite at my feet, and the sounds of a boys choir singing century-(centuries)-old music washing down around me like an ocean. I had to sit down. I stayed until their rehearsal ended, then returned to my hotel.
At the hotel, I returned to work while watching ESPN:America, a commercial-less version of ESPN and one of two channels I understand that does not scroll stock prices.
At 6:00 PM (12:00 PM Eastern Time), I went to find myself some dinner. This was the most intimidating part of the day. I know virtually no words in German (bier = beer, danke = thank you, kindergarten = kindergarten) and don’t know the “rules” of European cafe style eating. Add to this the fact that I was both starving and nearly asleep on my feet, and it made for one overwhelmed Matthew. I was hoping for some German food, but was not prepared for the cafe alone experience, so I looked for food I could order at a window then sit on a nearby table in the street. It seemed this was not to be. I decided to get Vietnamese food, since A) I love it and B) The menu had pictures and I knew the name I was looking for: Hanoi Pho. I got an order of Hanoi Pho and a 0.5L bier for 7.75 Euro and sat along a street lined with boutique shops and cafes while people smoking cigarettes and laughing German laughs strolled by. It was beautiful. And the Pho was positively delicious.
After dinner, I strolled back to my hotel marveling at the “Goth” people of all ages that periodically passed. They were not just teens like at the Annapolis Mall. They had more authenticity. Their boots were wrapped in chains and many of them looked like members of angry metal bands. Oddly, I saw a group of them huddled around a comrade playing an acoustic guitar in the middle of a park. They looked like they were wearing costumes, but for some reason, being in Germany made it more authentic.
In another park, a guitarist was singing loudly and sounded great. I wish I could tell what he was saying. He was dressed like a member of Flogging Molly.
I saw one person I’m relatively sure was American. He was wearing plaid shorts, a fraternity-greek-letter t-shirt and a New York Yankees hat. He strolled the streets with a 0.5L bottle of bier in hand.
I returned to my hotel room, scarfed two small pieces of dark chocolate left by the housekeeping staff, followed up on several e-mails for work and proceeded to pass right out. I slept better last night than I have at a hotel in a very very long time.
This morning at breakfast I had some white sausage with sweet mustard, a pretzel-croissant, some wonderfully delicious soft cheese on fresh baked bread and some sort of chocolate-rasberry breakfast pastry. Oh, and coffee. But you know me, coffee is basically a given.
Well, I’ve gotta do some work before wandering in the now-rainy city of Leipzig.