My grandfather, radio receiver affixed to his ear, relayed the coordinates. Terrible and terrific, formations of B-17 “Flying Fortresses” streaked across the war torn sky of a nearly defeated Nazi Germany. The bombers’ prey, the cultured city of Dresden, seemed unsuspecting and eerily peaceful. The Dresden Frauenkirche, a baroque architectural masterpiece—whose great church dome withstood an attack by Prussian cannonball 300 years previously—stood stubbornly, confident it could survive an onslaught once again. But today history would change. The US 8th Air force showered a barrage of incendiary bombs upon Dresden. In a cause célèbre, the ensuing firestorm desolated fleeing civilians and scorched history into a dust.
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The last thing on the mind of an entering high school sophomore was the war tales of my grandfather. That was until my father accepted a 14 month job in Dresden, Germany. The stories about some German city across the pond now possessed an unexpected precedence. Faced with a dilemma, I had two options: remain content in my home town where I was born and raised or follow my family across the Atlantic into the unknown. Always advocating true knowledge comes from experience, I elected a life spent abroad.
The instant charm of Dresden quelled any regrets I held about moving. Touring the ivory halls of the Zwinger Palace, roaming the downtown streets of the trendy Neustadt, eating Soft Eis on the bank of the River Elbe, I lived unrealistically content in this surreal world. Then I woke up. Cultural shock set in. I missed the friends and family whose ties I’d cut and left behind. The five minute maximum showers, and mandatory closing of stores on the Sabbath, that at first seemed quirky, lost their appeal. An unobtainable order of Tomatillo Enchiladas trumped the once savory German Schweinehaxe or Schnitzel. Frustrated in a foreign country, I felt vulnerable. I lived in this depressed like state for a few weeks, blurred over and longing for home.
In time I overcame this dilemma and again appreciated the change, albeit with a more realistic maturity. Rather than taking Dresden for granted, I made a collective effort to view it as not just a visitor, but as a resident. I embraced the opportunity to live and breathe Dresden as a German would.
Enrolling in the Dresden International School, my classmates were not high school students who lived across the street, but instead from half a globe away. In a class were I was the only American, I participated with a truly international array. Students hailed from Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and more. Each with individual language and customs, I was forced to broaden my scope and become more internationally minded. But with all the differences the commonalities became apparent, like the universality of a smile or nod. To think that this school is one of the few places in the world were a Spaniard, a Japanese student, and an American can all play a round of ping-pong during break is nothing short of humbling.
A medley of 16th century baroque palaces, GDR communist efficiency buildings, modern shopping malls, and the occasional scorch from the aggression of World War II, this is Dresden, my newfound home. Uprooting as the move was, I now have a view for the interconnectedness of the world that I never could have appreciated without broadening my scope. The city that a B-17 radio operator destroyed has become a catalyst of discovery for his grandson. Whenever I sprawled out on the grassy knoll flanking the now rebuilt Frauenkirche, I couldn’t help but feel blessed for this opportunity.
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