There are places I remember all my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better, some have gone and some remained
All these places have their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living – in my life I’ve loved them all.
The Beatles have left us with much wisdom to cherish in their lyrics, and I particularly love this song – especially in the Johnny Cash version. I recently got to visit one of the very places that I’ve loved in my life, and that I am sure will remain.
I spent three years as an undergraduate in Greifswald, a small seaside town by the Baltic in Germany’s far North Eastern corner and one of my beloved Hanseatic Cities. It was the first place I lived in on my own after moving out of my parents‘ house, the first place I truly chose for myself and that was not presented to me as a „home“, but that I made my home all by myself. My time there was full of life and opportunity and dreams. When I moved away, I cried bitter tears, and whenever I’ve returned, it has felt like coming home. This time around, my last visit had been two and a half years ago. All the more excited I was at the prospect of taking a day trip to this place I hold so dear to my heart.
Andrew and I catch an early train from Berlin’s main station that takes us through the misty landscapes of Brandenburg into the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The rape fields in rich yellow blossom under the wide grey sky, and passing by all the stations with names that are familiar to me – it makes me so nostalgic. Is it really ten years ago that I first set foot here? As the train passes into Greifswald, my heart starts beating faster. We get off at the main station, and I feel it right away: I am home once more.
From the train tracks we walk through the old bus station directly to the rampart that is encircling the city center where the city walls used to be, and walk along it towards the waters of the river Ryck. The museum port is mostly unchanged from when I was last here. I love the old sailing ships and the boats they have made into swimming pubs, and I love the small and slightly sleeply port with the more modern motor and sailing boats.
We walk along the water. How many times I have made this walk I cannot count. The river Ryck is flowing calmly and quietly beside us, and there’s lots of men and boys fishing – no women or girls, I notice. I’d love to try fishing sometime. One man walks through the high wet grass at the embankment with four humongous fish on his hook. To our right, the cherry trees are in blossom. Many families are out and about on their bikes. Greifswald is a young city due to its high student population, but I didn’t use to notice that there were so many young families. Maybe that is just because that phase of my life was so far away when I studied here.
Finally we make it to Wieck where the beautiful Draw Bridge makes my heart wide. It must be one of my favorite bridges. We cross it and buy Fischbrötchen at a road side stand – smoked salmon in a bread roll, and it tastes like heaven. Then we walk all the way up to the very front of the pier. Greifswald is set by the Bodden, a kind of lagoon, and not right by the wide open sea – but it is still the Baltic that we have a beautiful view of, and Andrew has never seen it so far. I wonder what that does to him. I get very excited about seeing places for the first time that I have heard much about. I want to ask him, but then it seems so much more natural to just keep quiet and look at the eternity that is the grey and mighty pulsating of Baltic Sea waves.
We take a different route back into town, past the housing complex where I used to live, past the university library through the rose garden and past the theatre, across the big street crossing into town, the university cafeteria to our right, and memories keep flashing in front of my eyes. We enter the pedestrian zone, new shops have opened, it is so much more posh than it used to be. As the narrow street opens up onto the wide market square, I slow down a bit, but we keep walking, and only stop in the middle of the square. Instantaneously, tears are running down my cheeks, and I am glad I have Andrew to hold on to. It is only now that I notice how much I miss this place.
From the market square and past the town hall – the large red building you can see in the picture – we make our way to the cathedral. My beloved red brick stone, but white washed inside, with beautiful painted ornaments in the cupolas, simplistic and without too much pomp. I think about how everything about Greifswald speaks to me. It is unostentatious and simple and honest, it gives me space to think with its width and the fresh breeze that is blowing through the streets.
I take Andrew to see the university and the buildings where I used to have my classes, and I have stories lined up about all these places. They are laden thickly with the force of memory. I keep thinking – and saying – how different it all looks – but while in other places it sometimes irritates and confuses me what time does to a place, in Greifswald all the change cannot take away from the bond I feel with the place. I am sure one day is really enough to *see* it, but of course one day can’t tell the story of the town, the story of three years of lived life here. As we board the train back to Berlin, my heart is cram-full with memories and feelings. But the beautiful thing about a place that has become home is that you can take it with you when you leave it. And Greifswald is most definitely in my heart forever.