Life in Leipzig

Life in Leipzig

Would you like to know about my life in Leipzig?

Of course you would. It’s all you can think about these days, I know. So here’s an update on my life in this charming East German city, after having lived here for exactly three months. There’ll be some facts, and some non-facts, but mainly there’ll be a lot of utter useless trivia and anecdotes.

Oh, and this blog will take the form of an interview, so I’m calling it an Interblog, or a Blinterview.

For the purposes of this blinterview I shall assume the persona of a journalist called Rachel, a brunette with chopsticks in her tied-up hair and just the right amount of tousled bits falling around her face.

Q: How is life in Leipzig, Kelley?

A: Thanks for asking, Rachel.

Well, Rachel, the short answer is ‘easy.’ Life in Leipzig is incredibly easy. I’ve never lived anywhere before where it’s just so easy to be. You see, there are only about half a million people living here so it’s not overcrowded; it’s the perfect-sized city, and it’s beautifully laid out. There is the historical centre, which is pedestrianized, so you never feel hassled by ‘traffic’ when you’re in town so you can feel free to wander happily. There are bicycles galore though, so you have to be careful not to get trampled by a cyclist. How I’ve dodged that ugly business yet I do not know.

Q: Speaking of bicycles, have you made the effort to ride one yet instead of insulting them?

A: I don’t appreciate the tone in your voice, Rachel, what are you implying? I’ll have you know some of my best friends are cyclists. Yes, yes, I did it!!! And here’s the proof because I knew no one would believe me. To explain: I’ve had a weird bike phobia because I didn’t have one as a child (I know, my parents sucked), and even though my friend J had a BMX when I was 12, she only let me walk next to her while she rode it (she sucked too). So I finally overcame my weird phobia and did it. And it was SO MUCH FUN!!! I got a bit overconfident towards the end though – as I was taking it back to its original spot in the park (it was hired), I had to navigate a small bridge and thought ‘pah, easy, I’m a confident rider now’ which is exactly when doubt set in and I almost tumbled into the ditch. Damn bikes!!!

Q: What exactly is your job, and how’s that going?

A: Good question, Rachel. Has anyone ever told you what an insightful interviewer you are? And how luscious your brown locks are?

I can’t really talk about my job in case my English students are reading this – in fact, if they can’t understand this then I’m doing a really poor job at teaching them English. When I say students, I’m talking about the seven men and one woman I teach at an IT company. I use the word ‘teach’ lightly as it’s mainly conversational English, so an average day involves me wandering around the town centre talking and drinking coffee. Which, if you ask any of my friends back home in Jo’burg, is pretty much what I did there anyway, except now I’m being paid to do it. Did I mention they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met? (just in case they’re reading this).

Q: Are there any challenges when it comes to the job?

A: The biggest challenge is that I can’t always remember what I said to each person, and what he or she told me, so I’ve had to start to write it down. Some weeks it feels like I’m dating ten men and I can’t remember which one has kids, which one went to Spain on holiday and which one had a knee op, it’s very confusing. Or where we should go for coffee, or lunch. That can be tough.

Q: Oh, you poor thing.

A: Sarcasm diminishes your natural wit and beauty, Rachel.

I’ll have you know I was hugely stressed at work the other day – one of my students almost beat me at Scrabble, but luckily I retaliated with ‘quiet’ on a triple word score. It was a close call though.

Q: You must have picked up some German by now?

A: Well, just one but it was unintentional, I thought he was winking at me from behind the deli counter but he was just adjusting his contact lens.

Q: I’m talking about the language, you dimwit.

A: I have a confession to make. I haven’t made much of an effort to learn the lingo. I know, I know. L I know a heck of a lot of words though, well mainly related to food items on the menu, but the truth is…eek I’m going to get shot down now…it is not the most melodic language I’ve ever heard, and therefore I’m not really drawn to studying it. And don’t believe people who say, ‘oh you know some Afrikaans so it should be a breeze.’ Really? Bratwurst does not a boerewors make, okes! And I’ve tried just adding ‘en’ to the end of every word because it sounds kinda German but it doesn’t work. ‘Cannen I haven a bottlen of wateren’ is apparently not an actual sentence. And just using a German accent also doesn’t get you anywhere. Believe me, I’ve tried all the tricks. If things change, and I find myself here for longer than a year, then I promise to make an effort ok? Until then, mein lieben schnitzels, back off!!!

Side note: In East Germany it’s mainly the younger generation who can speak a bit of English – people over 30ish only really learned Russian, French or Latin at school so English is not that widespread. It would do me a lot of good to speak German because I’m not sure how much longer I can get by on just saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry.’

Q: Tell us about the history of Leipzig.

A: Do I have to? I’ve never been terribly good at remembering facts. Ok I’ll try tell you what I know without Googling. Leipzig was a trade city in the olden days (in the …th century to be exact). Bach loved it here – he was choirmaster at the St Thomas Church; Napoleon hung around here a bit cos there’s a huge flippin’ monument to do with some war he was involved in – huge I tell you; Leipzig is close-ish to Berlin so it was ‘behind the wall’ and part of the GDR until the wall came down in ’89. Crikey I’ll be offering tours of Leipzig soon I’m that knowledgeable. Enough?

Q: What has been the biggest culture shock for you?

A: Cleaning my own house.

Rachel throws Kelley a look.

A: No car guards.

Rachel throws a book at Kelley.

A: Having electricity.

Okay, okay. I’ll be serious for a minute. I really value my freedom here above all else. Women are treated with such respect here, and I never worry about my safety. I walk everywhere and that includes late at night alone. I’m not careless or naïve so I use my intuition when I’m walking around, but people here just leave you to be, and they are respectful of rules and the law. They can come off as aloof and guarded – I sense the wall hasn’t come down in many respects and some are left with a deep suspicion of outsiders – ‘auslanders’ as they call them/us. It’s very difficult to make eye contact or engage with them initially; so there are days when I feel very isolated and it’s not even to do with the language barrier – it’s that it takes some time for them to let you in. But those I have a personal relationship with are phenomenal people. This is definitely a nation of people who ‘get things done!’

The most wonderful thing about Leipzig is that it’s still small enough for you to feel like a person here, and not just a number.

I spent a day in Berlin and was mesmerized by the city, but when I came home I was so relieved to be back to my cute, familiar Leipzig – it is truly a special place. If I’m honest, the best way to describe it is that I feel as if I’m living in a commercial for butter – or cream – or milk – or chocolate – or some type of dairy. It’s so idyllic that it’s been a shock to my system.

Q: Tell us about some of your favourite moments so far.

A: It’s the simple stuff for sure, like the endless natural beauty of the parks and canals. My walk to work and home is so peaceful. I never experience any traffic since I don’t drive or take public transport – I leave my apartment building and I’m in the park in two minutes, passing duck ponds and conversing with the trees. I normally greet the crows and any other birds that happen to be on my path, then I stop and mend some broken wings and tend to the squirrels’ injuries too – all the animals in the park are constantly vying for my attention.

Then there’s my relationship with the ice-cream man. Let me explain. Because I can’t speak German it’s incredibly difficult to make friends in my neighbourhood. I’ve only seen two people in my entire apartment building since I moved in – and a baby’s pram, which just sits in the hallway and never moves (don’t get me started on how creepy that is). But every day I do my shopping at the Konsum Supermarket two blocks away from my home, and on the way I have to pass an ice cream shop.

Did I mention that the Germans are obsessed with ‘eis’ in the summertime? I’ve never seen so many people licking cones in one town, seriously. Anyhoo, it turns out that a rather handsome, muscly man owns the ice-cream shop. I’m not really attracted to him but there is a bit of a ‘vibe’ there so we greet each other most days and occasionally he’ll ask me if ‘alles ist gut?’ to which I always reply ‘gut danke’ and return his smile.

I will tell you that during some very dark days here, when I’ve hit a supreme downer, his smile has meant the world to me. Especially on those days when you just feel so damn invisible. And that is why I think I love him, and it is just a matter of time before he asks me to live with him in his flat above the ice-cream shop.

Another thing that’s special here is the presence of music wherever you go, and the constant stream of creativity: when you walk around town there are people singing or playing classical music; there are street performers dancing; artists chalking on pavements; it’s such fun! This happens everywhere in the world of course, it’s just more noticeable here because I’m always on foot, and everything is happening around me not inside a mall. One of my favourite evenings was watching the Gewandhaus Orchestra perform their annual open-air concert in the park – an absolutely unforgettable summer’s night!

Q: Anything that’s surprised you?

A: Service in restaurants: There are exceptions to the rule of course but generally service comes with quite an abrupt, no-nonsense, hurry-the-f-up and order attitude. The first time it happened I mistakenly thought I was in Paris.

No shops are open on Sundays: that’s an amazing thing for overall quality of life, but not when you’ve forgotten to buy loo roll on Saturday.

Powerful semen: I have never seen this many pregnant women or kids in one place. I can only deduce that Leipzig is the portal to life on the planet, and German men have some mighty strong swimmers. If you’re looking to get knocked up, come to Leipzig.

Q: Do we really have to end this interview on semen?

A: I’m afraid so. I apologise for finishing early, I know it was a bit premature of me, but I have a sudden urge for ice cream. Auf Wiedersehen!

Kelley Thorrington
natalie@thecreativelab.co.za