I wasn't aware how much my life would change when I boarded a plane to Darmstadt, Germany in 2011. I wasn't aware when I stepped out to see ‘airline’ replaced with ‘Fluggesellschaft.’ I wasn’t aware when my host family greeted me with hugs. In fact, it was after my trip, reflecting alone, that I reached this curious epiphany—14 days overdue. Regardless, the experience remains unforgettable.
Darmstadt is a quaint city close to Frankfurt. I spent my days in the central Luisenplatz, listening to church bells and marveling at how effortlessly the people joined history with the present. As friends emerged from Bären-Treff smacking on sweets, they tread upon the same spacethat had been attacked with the British bombs of 1944.
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While others sat chatting under Ludwig, a commemorative column in the heart of Darmstadt, others rode the steam trams across paths embedded with golden squares; as a sign of forgiveness, each square lay carved with the name of a Jewish resident taken by the Holocaust.
Perhaps my favorite experience in Darmstadt was dining at a Biergarten. The entire restaurant was a forested café; above ground was a grove of tables and European chestnut trees, while underground was a network of ancient breweries from which the restaurant was named. Fascinated, I sat with a plate overflowing with Schnitzel and absorbed the earthy shade.
However, I must admit that I feel selfish when recalling these experiences. To anyone else, the city’s attractions are merely places—to me, they’re much more; Darmstadt was brought alive by the friendships and memories I made. Those are things I cannot share.
Nevertheless, I can say that I learned far more than how to order Essen or how to say danke when I was in Germany. What I really learned was how to live life.
I realized that it is only when we are extracted from our normal lives and dumped into another that we really understand why life is so extraordinary. Indeed, we cannot freely travel to other countries whenever we want, but once in a while, it’s a healthy remedy. When we’re all alone in the big, big world, surrounded by a culture so different from our own, it awakens a raw, childlike wonder deep inside ourselves that we usually have no curiosity to unearth.
It’s that sensation of wonder that I’ve learned to crave.
Upon visiting Darmstadt, I knew nothing about the German language—however, I soon learned to appreciate the unintelligible beauty of the words instead of struggling to understand them. I learned to appreciate the existence of speech; it’s astounding how people of the same Earth could so easily manipulate their voices into a language I couldn’t begin to comprehend. With my mind free from these shackles, I found room to appreciate the essentials of life’s treasures, to enjoy them in a way that I couldn’t otherwise.
It was a humbling moment. I felt like I had finally opened my eyes.
I’ve realized that the magic in our lives isn’t untouchable—instead, we’re guilty of pushing it away. Only after Germany did I realize how much I was missing—I realized that if I just stop and observe, I could be rid of my proverbial blindness and see the world anew. I could make every second of my time on Earth count.
So, with that said, would I go back? Rewind time to re-experience everything I had done in those two weeks? Return to the country where I had surreptitiously left a piece of my heart?
You don’t even need to ask twice.
It’s about time we actually started living.
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