Sprint To The Finish

The penultimate photos link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/CwB1bkrvc4GmLTSD8

Veronica and I arrived back in Rostock late on June 7th, and I resumed my teaching bright and early Wednesday morning. There was time for a bit of a walk around the river on Thursday afternoon, to show Veronica the old town and pick up a couple ingredients (cilantro) for our upcoming cooking adventures (falafel.) So we had a fairly relaxed first few days back.

Friday evening's adventure was my birthday present from Gabi and Frank: concert tickets to see "Mutabor" play across the river. We could see the club on the south bank as we biked over and added our bikes to the growing number already locked to the railing outside. Veronica enjoyed meeting Gabi and Frank, and it was a really great concert. Mutabor is described as being a mix between punk-rock and folk. Which is just not a combo I generally think of, but it was actually pretty great. The lyrics were fairly socially aware (discussing climate change and war in a between the love songs) and the upbeat tempo and energetic performance were really quite enjoyable. The lead singer had a butterfly shirt/suit on so that when he spread his arms, a wing-patterned piece of fabric appeared, which was fun to watch for. I was particularly impressed with another band member who seemed to play everything: I think I saw her swap between 5 different instruments over the course of the show, from penny whistle to shakers. We didn't stick around too long after the show, since Gabi and Frank's son was hosting his birthday party at their house, so they wanted to get back to that. Veronica and I pedaled back home shortly afterwards.

The next day we decided to take advantage of our 9 Euro tickets and head to the capitol of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and the home of an impressive castle, Schwerin. By the time we got up and got moving however, the next convenient train wasn't until later in the afternoon. Although I had mowed the lawn before leaving for Spain, two weeks without attention meant it was looking quite wild when we got back. The push reel mower we had in the shed had done ok on the actual grass, but couldn't manage to clip the sturdier weeds that had sprung up. So it still looked pretty goofy, as we surveyed it from the kitchen window: a neatly trimmed lawn interspersed with these tall gangly stalks.

I jokingly said I was tempted to just go out there with the kitchen scissors and trim them, since the yard was so small. Since we weren't doing much as we killed time before heading to the station, and it was a nice day Veronica actually went out and did it!

Veronica in the yard clipping weeds with kitchen scissors
I couldn't believe she was really doing it!

I chuckled at the absurdity of it, and then went away from the window to do some indoor tidying. Before long I heard a loud whirring that sounded like it was coming from the back yard. I glanced out the window, and there was Veronica, accomplishing her goals much more quickly with a weed whaker!

Her lawn care got a lot easier once she had a weed whacker

Apparently our back yard neighbor (who I don't think I had spoken to even once in the months we had lived there) and glanced through the trees, upon hearing some lively singing (Veronica had been jamming along to spotify as she worked) and had taken pity on the barefoot girl literally mowing the lawn with kitchen scissors. He offered her an actual tool to do that job, addressing her in German, of course. She responded in English and he had said something like "I have something for that, do you want to use it?" and thus the ridiculous yard was brought to order in a much less ridiculous fashion than originally planned.

We did eventually make it onto bikes and to the Rostock Hauptbahnhof and onto the train to Schwerin that afternoon. As the town's main attraction, the castle was our first stop. It was much more in the style of pleasure palace and less fortified stronghold than Olite had been, and we enjoyed walking through and seeing all the ornately decorated rooms, stately portraits, elaborate ceiling carvings and exquisitely paneled wood inlays in the floor. It was also cool to see the actual stateroom where the current heads of state really sit to do the current governing of the land.

After completing our circuit of the indoor rooms open to the public, we did a loop through the lush gardens all around the perimeter. They really were beautiful, and I made Veronica smell all of the kinds of roses and rate their scent, like we had done at the Rostock rose garden on Wednesday. The palace jutted out into a small lake too, so it really was a lovely setting. They also had a whole section made up of tropical plants in pots that could be taken inside in the winter.

Looking up at Schwerin Palace from the orangery/garden below
Part orangery and part garden

We were then rather hungry, and so--deciding the be carefree and spontaneous--set out into the town to stroll along and see which restaurants looked good. The flaw in this strategy is that, as you get hungrier and hungrier and yet continue not to find anything that looks tasty, it becomes increasingly obvious that something could be looked up online and navigated to in a matter of moments. So in the end we succumbed to the technological convenience. But it did result in some tasty food in a charming outdoor seating area, so we were ok with it.

We heard the bells from the nearby cathedral chiming as we ate, and upon realizing that it was right around the corner, resolved to go there next. We tried to do just that, but it turned out that it had already closed for the day, so we strolled instead to a nearby park which turned out to have a wonderful view of the castle across the water. We settled there and read peacefully in the sunshine for a while until it was time to head back to the station and board our return train to Rostock.

The next day we went on a more local excursion to Warnemünde, despite the blustery overcast weather. We even spread out our towels on the beach (bravely, and in the face of the sand being whipped into our faces on the frequent gusts.) After reading and shivering for a while we decided we didn't really need to swim on such a chilly day, and instead put our layers gratefully back on and ventured inland to see the lighthouse. We ended up paying the couple of Euros to climb the winding staircase up to the two different observation decks. I had never done that, despite my many visits to Warnemünde, so it was neat to get to look out over the water, Seepromenade and the harbor itself.

Veronica and Kate took a selfie in the lighthouse with the beech and costal walkway in the background
The view from above

After the lighthouse we decided to get some food from some of the boats docked along the walkway back to the train. I instructed Veronica to guard her fish sandwich vigilantly until we could make it safely to the sheltering umbrella nearby to eat in peace. I told her about Maggie's seagull attack as a cautionary tale, but I think she may still have been a little skeptical of the real danger. Until a fellow patron's french fries were cunningly snatched from her very hands right in front of our eyes, then she understood fully the temerity of the Warnemünde gulls. Our food and fingers remained un-mauled by waterfowl however, and we made it safely back to the train and home again.

I only had one morning class on Monday, because of end of the year cancelations and things getting moved around, so we were able to make a relaxing day of it. After a stroll inland to the crazy "you can climb inside the trunk and they always remind me of the Womping Willow" trees by the Kleingartenalage, we headed home for some cooking. We finally made the falafel we had been putting off making, as well as two kinds of cookies: lime mint shortbread, and Selina's salted chocolate chunk shortbread. Both were delicious, and as evening approached we packed everything up and went to meet Adam in the city center. His train was due to arrive from Hamburg, where he had flown in for the last time earlier that day. I decided by now he should be an expert in navigating that stretch of tracks, having done it many more times than either of us expected him to need to, and therefore I didn't need to go meet him, especially since he was traveling so light this time.

Veronica and I, armed with cookies, and falafel-pita ingredients hopped on the 7pm ferry. Veronica had eyed the sky and wisely decided to grab her raincoat before we left. I blithely set out without mine, knowing that Adam was bringing me a new raincoat, and reasoning that we would see him very soon. We made it a block or so past the ferry (we were planning to meet Adam at his favorite place: RostDock) when it started raining. Soon it was pouring and we had to take shelter under one of the convenient overhung patios looking out over the river. The deluge lasted 10 minutes, as deluges can't sustain themselves very long, typically, and we continued (mostly dry still) on our way. We even caught a lovely rainbow seeming to rise right out of Dierkow as the clouds receded, the sun emerged, and we approached RostDock.

A rainbow arcs through the cloudy sky, emerging from across the river
It looks like the pot of gold should have been right at my school. My placement did feel like that big of a treasure too

Upon arrival, we said our hellos and ordered some drinks. The cloudburst had naturally left most of the outdoor seating drenched, and so Veronica and I grabbed some folding chairs from under the awning and attempted to set them up while Adam held the drinks. I say attempted because it took an embarrassing amount of time to even get one of them figured out. I swear you need a specialized degree to set those things up. We are two reasonably intelligent women (Veronica just got a PhD for God's sake!) and yet it must have taken us at least 5 minutes of both of us wrestling with the slightly warped wood and confusingly placed hinges before we managed to produce even one chair. In the meantime, Adam had been awkwardly holding 3 drinks, and eventually one of the staff members had taken pity on him and come to wipe off a bench seat for us. So it was all for naught, and we then had to wrangle the one chair we had managed to properly erect back into its folded position and go take our place on the bench.

The music was nice however, and the skies cleared up, despite the chilly wind remaining. I slipped on my cozy new yellow raincoat and happily sipped my aperol spritz through a dried noodle straw. Looking back it's such a typical German summer experience: enjoying a refreshing iced beverage by the water....in a raincoat trying not to shiver too much in the cold, and hoping it doesn't start raining again.

We (ok, it was mostly me) ended up feeling too weird eating the food we had brought when RostDock does technically serve some food. So we sipped and enjoyed the band for a while, and then headed over to a nearby cluster of picnic tables and ate there before heading towards home. I went to bed with a bit of a sore throat that night, hoping it was allergies and would clear up in the morning.

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning feeling terrible, and took a covid test. It was negative, so I slept slightly better after that. When my alarm rang to awaken me for the day's 8am class however, it was clear I was far too sick to go much of anywhere. I let the teachers I was supposed to work with that day know I would be out, and went back to sleep. A while later I got up and poured some cereal...and was literally too exhausted to keep my head upright a couple of bites into the endeavor and had to abandon my bowl and slink back to bed. My sore throat had mutated to include body aches, a 103 degree fever, a headache and that extreme exhaustion. 'Hmmm, sounds a lot like covid,' you may be thinking. Yah, so were we, especially since I had loosened up on masking while in Spain...But I continued to test myself that day and the next (when I was only slightly improved) and it kept coming back negative. It really was fairly textbook covid, except for not loosing taste or smell, but I think I took a total of 5 tests over the course of the illness and every one was clearly negative. Luckily neither Adam nor Veronica got whatever it was, which was a blessing. My doctor cousin did recently remind me that our bodies fight most viruses in a similar way, and just because it's a pandemic doesn't mean there aren't other viruses floating around still.

By Thursday I was up and about, not feeling nearly as bad, but coughing quite a bit. I said goodbye to Veronica without a hug, just to be safe, and with careful instructions about how to navigate to the Rostock train station and from the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof to the airport without an in-service phone. I was glad to get the message that she made it to the airport a few hours later.

By Friday I was feeling much better, despite a scratchy voice and occasional cough. I decided to brave going to school, knowing I would be wearing a mask the whole time. I had been sad to miss the last class with Ireen's 7th graders on Wednesday and so I didn't want to miss any more classes that close to the end of the year. I did alright with frequent sips of water, but after a particularly noticeable coughing spell, Gabi took pity on me and came up and gave me a sage bonbon. I made its through the lesson alright however, and headed home for a quiet weekend.

We were invited to Gabi's birthday party that Saturday night, and though I still felt pretty much fine, the previous day's 90 minutes of talking in class had rendered my voice barely audible, and my cough persistent. Gabi assured me that no one there was worried about catching what I had, and I should go ahead and come, especially since she had made vegetarian food especially for me. I felt bad, but eventually decided against going, since (in addition to the lingering concerns of infecting everyone, since there would be no possibility of masking there) it isn't much fun to chat when you can barely be heard in a silent room, let alone with musical background noise (there was no doubt that Frank and/or Harald would be DJ-ing) and I would also be called upon to be Adam's German voice in addition to talking for myself...

So it was a quiet weekend of voice resting, and after yet another test came back negative, I went with Adam to Al Porto where the end of the year Language department gathering was taking place. It was a nice evening to bike over (only a little light rain) and it ended up being neat for Adam to finally meet all the teachers I had been talking about all year. Not as much interpretation was needed on my part either, most of them being English teachers. They were very sweet too, and had pitched in to get me an array of thank you/ goodbye gifts including a Rostock memory game with pictures of the city from Daniela, some chocolates Max had brought from Michi, a lovely card they had all signed, and perhaps best of all, a private guided tour of Rostock, in English so that Adam and my parents could fully appreciate it, scheduled for the last day of school.

There was that anticipatory note in the air at school that week, where everyone can practically taste summer vacation on the warm breeze floating through the open windows. It was the last "real" week of classes, and I enjoyed the wrap-up lessons (including playing "werewolf" with the 6th graders, which is the German version of the group game "mafia" I knew from summer camp) and I was very touched to get hug requests from so many of them as we said our goodbyes. That's the funny thing about middle schoolers: they're these prickly little cacti all year, barely willing to acknowledge your presence, and then they reveal how much you meant to them at the very end! To be fair the 6th graders still had a little more of the sweet innocence of elementary schoolers about them, but this "prickly outside, sweet gooey inside" phenomena was much more pronounced in the 7th graders.

That weekend we took what would turn out to be our penultimate trip to Hamburg, to cheer on Maggie in the half marathon she was running. Or at least that was the goal. She had predicted the day before that her time would be slower than usual due to some overly vigorous training. I should have known never to count on Maggie to be slow...We ended up missing her completely! But we managed to have a nice day anyway. Adam and I strolled through a blooming summer version of Planten und Blomen while Maggie went back to her place to shower off, and then the three of us met up for lunch at a cute little cafe.

It was warm enough to sit outside on the little patio, but trips inside did make me chuckle at the wide array of pithy stickers adorning the walls. It was nice, as always, to chat and catch up with Maggie, and although we wouldn't see her in Germany again, we vowed to meet up once we were both back stateside. After our meal, we decided to enjoy the nice weather and use our magical 9 Euro tickets to go on a free ferry ride along the Elb. We chatted some more as we watched the city go by, and enjoyed being on the water. Being a Sonntag, we headed home before it got too late, as I did have an all day workshop with Gabi, Daniela and both of their 11th grade advanced courses the next day.

I am very thankful for the 9 Euro ticket that made our trip to and from Hamburg free. But also. It meant that the train leaving the city that evening more closely resembled a sardine can than a typically ordered and relaxed German train. Rather than fight our way to a potential seat, we decided to stay by the door which Adam took it upon himself to open every time it automatically closed, in an attempt to get some fresh air into the stiflingly hot and crowded entryway. Things did not improve when a large extended family got on a stop later, including a man who had just given up and was shirtless and several young and frequently shrieking children. It was a long ride back.

We made it though! The next day was my last official teaching engagement, and it felt fitting for it to be with the 11th graders, since I had worked so closely with both classes throughout the year. It was a nice day of rotating through various stations, and everyone was juuuust focused enough to feel productive, even as the celebratory summer feeling permeated the atmosphere. I was also touched to get a lovely hand painted card signed by both classes, and a framed picture of the groups as well.

The next day Karis was the only crafter who could make it over, and we had a nice time hanging out (and I think this was the night we finished watching the BBC "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries.) Gabi and Frank stopped by later that evening and the 5 of us sat out in the garden and enjoyed some champagne they had brought us. Frank then loaded up the bikes they had kindly lent us. Strangely, that was the only time my Fulbright/craft circle overlapped with my host school community, what with Amber's talk getting canceled. It was a lovely summer evening. That night my parents also landed in the Copenhagen airport, rented a car and began their southward journey to come visit us. Inspired by the PBS show, they stayed in a quaint seaside hotel that night.

They arrived the next morning, and we took a group trip over to the grocery store to pick up some things for a lunchtime feast, once again enjoyed on the patio. After eating our fill we strolled down to the ferry dock and sat on a bench looking over the river and chatted a while before the boat arrived. I knew there would be a professional tour the next day, so I wasn't worried about playing tour guide too much, and we just strolled down the other side of the river, after being ferried across, soaking in the sunshine.

The family waiting for the Gehlsdorf ferry on a bench
My dad's selfie game has really improved, I've gotta hand it to him!

Of course we had to stop at RostDock, since they had heard so many tall tales about it over the months. We had just eaten however, so we each had a quick drink and gazed at the Warnow some more, from the opposite bank. It's always fun to introduce people to a fun spot like that. As we strolled onwards, Adam and my dad were soon lured by the smell of fresh Backfischbrötchen so we sat down a little farther along the path and they ate their fried fish sandwiches while my mom and I had some fries. We continued the circuit all the way back along the river, along the path where I had so often biked to work, eventually making it back, as "together" as any walk containing both of my parents can be, given that his natural pace is at least 3 times faster than hers.

We had a fairly quiet night at home on Wednesday evening. It was the last night we could call it that, as we were moving out in the morning. We would miss it, but it was time to move on too. We turned in early, since the next day would be a full one.

We awoke early on Thursday to gather and load the last of our things into the electric car that my parents had rented for our adventures. It turns out it's remarkably easy to move out when there is no furniture involved! It helped that Adam had only returned with one small backpack, and I had pre-packed most of my things as well. We were able to get everything into the car, and most things in the trunk with just a suitcase and the food bag that would have to sit between mom and I in the back seat. We then had plenty of time to relax and clean at a leisurely pace before Nils, our landlord stopped by to do a final walkthrough.

After returning the keys and saying our final goodbyes to the place, we drove to the other side of the river (almost the first time I had made the trip in a car!) and found a convenient charging station where we could leave the car during the tour. Our first stop was at a nearby grocery store where we got some ingredients for a picnic lunch as well as some staples we would need in our new "Ferienwohnung" (literally "vacation apartment") where we would be staying the next few nights. After dropping some stuff off back in the car, we headed to Petrikirche where we sat on a little stone wall and enjoyed our picnic.

We peeked inside the church as well, enjoying the exhibit of old photos on display there. Given that my dad isn't too fond of heights and my mom doesn't really appreciate small spaces, we decided to skip the cramped climb up to the steeple. It was about time to head to Neuer Markt anyway, where we were to meet our tour guide for the afternoon. We stopped by Steintor on the way and posed with the iconic griffins guarding it too.

The tour was wonderful. Max joined us as well, since he isn't himself a Rostock native, and wanted to learn a bit more about his new home. It was so cool to be able to peel back the layers of history that were under the surface of these places that had by then become familiar landmarks to me. We learned that the darker the bricks in an old building, the more wealthy the owner had been, since firing bricks for a long time gives them their darker color, and also costs more. We got to hear the story of the family who had owned the house that is now the Stadtbibliothek (main city library) how they fled to the west after the war, and upon returning after the fall of the wall, left the house to the city on the condition that it always remain a library. We heard the story of the guy who used to play his accordion by the Universitätsplatz fountain everyday, rain or shine, who now has a statue commemorating him there. We heard so many wonderful details about the city walls, the way the buildings by Neuermarkt were removed to make room for East German military parades...

Our tour guide leads Adam, my dad, me and Max over to the main university building
...all the way down to decoding the symbolism in the statues adorning the main university building.

Eventually the tour wound to a close, and we headed back to the car to move it, now that it was fully charged. We found a spot near the restaurant "Vegangster" where we were meeting Amber, Karis, Armand and his mom and sister who were also visiting. It was very fun to be able to see everyone (except Diego and Xinyi) one last time, and to be able to meet Armand's family and compare notes on what they had seen so far on their travels. The food was delicious and we were sad to have to leave as quickly as we did, but the end of the year Sommerkonzert was about to start at Nickolaikirche. So we gave some last hugs, promised to stay in touch, and headed back to the car before too long and drove over to the church-turned-performance-space.

Unfortunately we couldn't find parking that close so we were running late and some of Caro's 6th graders had to hold the door open for us to sneak in. All of the first-come-first-serve seats were taken by the time we arrived, so we crept awkwardly past all of the proud parents and teachers to a spot we could stand near the front corner. Luckily the same 6th graders magically procured chairs for us before long, and expertly maneuvered them through the crowd to us between songs. Once we were settled, it was really fun to watch so many of my students play and sing so well, several of them in a variety of different ensembles. It's always cool to see students outside of class, and I especially appreciate how some of the ones who tended to be quiet in English class took on central roles musically. It's a good reminder that each student is a whole person, with many dimensions outside of their roles in the one context I'm familiar with them.

Partway through the performance, the 6th graders pulled me aside and gathered around to present (with many hugs and well wishes) a beautiful stone coaster painted with the Gehlsdorf view across the river at the city, as well as some fancy baltic sea salt. Lovely gifts that I appreciated for how small and easy to pack they were too.

It was 9:30 by the time the concert was over, and we all spilled out onto the street. The sun was near the horizon, but it was still fully light that far north and just past the summer solstice. As we walked back to the car, at one intersection you could turn 180 degrees and see all three of Rostock's big churches. What better way to finish off a wonderful day and a fantastic year? I felt so lucky to have been placed in such a beautiful city with a rich and interesting history, at a music school with so many welcoming and supportive colleagues. I felt a bit melancholic for the end of an era, even as I was excited for all of the adventures to come as we drove northeast to the airbnb house that would be our base camp for the next stage of the journey.

A panorama shot of a Rostock intersection with all 3 main churches visible
From left to right: Petrikirche (where we had been that morning) Nikolaikirche (where the concert had just been) and Marienkirche (where we would go in a few days)