Leipzig Travel Log

Leipzig Travel Log

October 1-8, 2002

 

October 1-2:  The Journey to Leipzig

 

Whoever said, “Getting there is half the fun” probably never traveled long distances, and certainly did not travel a lot in or through Ukraine. 

 

The trip began for the five of us (myself, Nina, Sergiy, Valentina, and Katya) at 4 p.m. on October 1 at the Khmelnytsky train station, where we had to catch a train to Lviv.  I didn’t realize until we got on the train that none of us had reserved spaces.  We managed to find places relatively quickly, but I was shocked that they would sell us tickets like that.

 

When we arrived around 9:00 p.m. at the train station in Lviv, we asked about taxi prices to the Lviv bus station on the other side of town. The quotes were either 15 or 20 gryvnias.  Nina, who is used to paying 5-6 gryvnias for taxis anywhere in Khmelnytsky, was appalled at the prices and wanted to take a marshrutka (route taxi). But after waiting 10 minutes for a marshrukta that clearly was not going to come, Sergiy found a taxi that was willing to take all five of us for 15 gryvnias.  The car was an old, grey Volga that would never pass a smog check in America. In fact, it seemed as though the exhaust pipe had been connected backwards and that the fumes were coming right into the car. I tried to keep the window cracked to get some fresh air, but my colleagues asked me to roll it up because it was too cold. I held my breath as best I could, but I’m sure a year or two was taken off my life in the journey to the bus station.

 

It was 9:30 p.m. when we arrived; our bus was not scheduled to come until midnight.  Because it was early October, it was cold and there was no heat in the bus station. (The heat in Ukrainian facilities is generally not turned on until October 15, regardless of the actual weather conditions.) Nina and Valentina laid coats and sweaters down on the benches in the station because it was too cold to sit down directly.  Sergiy and I killed an hour wandering around the bus station looking for a café, which we eventually found. The menu was limited (read: they were out of most things on the menu), but the borscht was good and reasonably priced (1.50 gryvnias, less than 30 cents).  The next two hours I spent listening to CDs and walking around the building in an attempt to stay warm.

 

At about 11:40 p.m., Nina led us all outside to wait for the bus.  Midnight came and went, and the bus didn’t come. We had no contact information for the bus company other than a cell phone number that only worked in Germany.  12:30 came and went, and still no bus.  At this point I was not a happy camper.  Finally, at about 12:40 the bus rolled in.  We loaded on while the current passengers, having come from Kyiv, got off to stretch or buy drinks and snacks. 

 

The bus was a tourist-class bus with comfortable seats.  I was placed, however, next to one of the few overweight men in Ukraine.  Also, I didn’t notice any bathroom on the bus. I had avoided using the bathroom at the bus station (a safe choice even in America), so I was going to have to wait a little while longer. (We eventually stopped at a gas station.)

 

I thought Lviv was as close to Poland as Kharkiv is to Russia (30 km), so even though it was late I decided to stay awake.  I though I would see the Polish border before I went to sleep.  It turns out, however, that Lviv is at least 90 km due west from the Polish border, and I think we may have gone slightly north before going west. 

 

Sometime in the 2:00 a.m. hour the bus stopped, still in Ukraine. The driver turned on the interior lights and announced something over a microphone. All I caught were the words “two variants”.  Someone came by collecting money—either 5 dollars or 5 Euros. I suspected this might be some kind of bribe, and I didn’t want to pay. I asked, “what is it for?” Half the bus laughed as if I were a country bumpkin who didn’t know how the world works.  Katya said it was for “granitsa” (the border).  I asked Nina to help me, and I think she told the money collector that I didn’t have to pay because I was a foreigner. 

The driver took the money that was collected and stood outside with someone for a while. Then he got back on and the bus continued on. Nina later called it “wild capitalism”, but I told her that this activity could not be called capitalism. 

 

At 3:00 a.m. we arrived at the Ukrainian border check.  We all got off the bus and waited inside for the border officials to finish their technical break or whatever was keeping them from serving us at the moment.  After I went through, I went outside but noticed the bus was locked. I came back in and tried to buy Polish zloti, but the currency exchange booth said they were out of zloti.

 

When I saw what looked like the last person going through the passport control and customs check, I looked and saw the bus was open and I got on. Everybody followed me.

 

At 4:00 a.m., we were still sitting on the bus.  The driver explained that there was a problem with one passenger’s declaration form.  A declaration form is needed if you are taking more than $1000 or 1000 Euros out of Ukraine.  There were several people on the bus in this situation. One passenger was found with more money in his possession than was stated on his declaration form, which is a kind of fraud. 

 

I don’t know what they did to him (or her), but I know we sat there waiting for the situation to be resolved until 5:15 am.  Then we drove maybe 200 meters across the border, where we had to hand over our passports and wait our turn to go through the Polish passport control and customs check. 

 

At 5:47 a.m., we got off the bus and went into the passport control area.  A mere half an hour later, we were back on the bus.  At this point, the driver informed us that customs inspectors found a bag on the bus with 500 cigarettes, well over the Polish legal import limit. The DRIVER was fined 100 DOLLARS, and the bag was confiscated.  The driver was not going to continue on until the person responsible confessed and paid the money.  (This explanation was not given to me in English until half a day later).    Nobody confessed, and the passengers did not try to pressure anyone into confessing.  At about 6:45 a.m., the driver gave up and continued on. 

 

The drive through Poland was okay.  We went through Krakow and Wroclaw (Breslau), but I couldn’t see the reported beautiful parts of either city. I did see areas that were highly developed compared to Ukraine.  I saw lots of new cars on the roads, bicycles, shopping malls, even and Ikea.  At one roadside stop, I wanted some real Polish kielbasa, but I still did not have any Polish money. That is when Katya explained that the Euro is as acceptable as the zloti in Poland.  She was right.  And the kielbasa was good.

 

Sometime in the early evening (maybe 7 p.m.), the driver stopped at a gas station (this was not unusual; we had been making such stops all day).  I heard the words “no service”, but didn’t quite understand.  That is when Nina explained to me in English the problem with the cigarettes, and that the driver refused to continue on until the money was paid.  She said he said he didn’t even have enough money for gas now. I wondered why the bag wasn’t held up so we could see it and say whose it was. Nina said the bag had been confiscated. I was starting to think that if everyone on the bus paid $5, we could go on.  The driver left the bus, then came back saying he had called his company. The company said the driver was half responsible, and the passengers were half responsible.  If each passenger paid $2, we could go on our way.  I didn’t catch all the words, but I could see some people were complaining that they did not want to pay this money, and Sergiy was arguing with them (for which point of view I’m not sure).  The driver said he didn’t want to have to do this, and he sounded sincere so I was inclined to believe him.  I was feeling more pragmatic than I have ever felt in Ukraine, and incredibly frustrated. I wanted to go to Germany.  So I got out two $1 bills.  Valentina asked if I was paying. I said in my American movie-mentality-combined-with-pent-up-aggression-that-I-could-no-longer-keep-pent-up voice, “I’m paying because I want to get on the fucking bus and go! And whoever did this to all of us should rot in hell!”  I was embarrassed at my own behavior (especially if the person who did this was the shy, poor looking babushka who may have been desperate for money). I was even more embarrassed when Valentina got on the bus laughing, feeling that she had received a great lesson in English language cursing.  But maybe it had worked because soon the bus went on and the driver sincerely thanked those of us who paid for our contributions. 

 

The German border was relatively smooth, and at 8:00 p.m. we were border-free.  We arrived in Leipzig at 10:30 pm, an hour and a half later than our original estimate.  Katya called my colleagues’ friends, who were on their way. We waited at the bus stop about 20 minutes. I was ready to go to the hostel right away, but I wanted to make sure my colleagues were not stranded. 

 

One woman came running across the street and started hugging my colleagues like they hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. Three other people followed.  They kindly took me to my hostel.  One of them drove a Mercedes that had some kind of GPS system. They programmed the hostel address, and the car told them (yes, in a computer voice) which way to turn and when.  I was impressed. I was in the height of civilization.

 

I checked in at the Sleepy Lion Leipzig hostel, which was clean, quiet and friendly.  I took a long hot shower to wash the day off, and went to sleep.

 

October 3, 2002

“Tag der Deutschen Einheit”

 

This was the first day of the conference, and also a German public holiday to commemorate the date of reunification of East and West Germany into a single nation. Because I was downtown, I had the advantage of having a few hours to check out the city before I had to get on a train to Brehna (30 km north) where the conference was being held. 

 

I had a basic breakfast at the hostel for 3 Euros—a buffet of coffee, granola with milk, broetchen (bread rolls), and cheese.  Then I walked to the main train station and explored the mall and food shops inside.  Most of the stores were closed because of the holiday, but it was still a pretty sight. They even had an Eddie Bauer store.  The food looked great.  The only sign that I was in a former Communist area were the food stands that sold shashlik (barbecue) and solyanka (a type of soup) that were called by the same names used in the former Soviet Union. 

 

I left the train station and walked towards the opera house. There was a small concert stage with an alternative, all-girl rock band playing and singing in German. They were pretty good.  Next to the concert stage was a kiosk selling anti-Nazi stickers, pins, patches, flags, and t-shirts. Since there were a lot of punks hanging out there, I thought it was good to see this kind of kiosk and to see so many people buying these items.  Not all kids with safety pins in their leather jackets are neo-Nazis, eh? I bought a button that said “Gegen Nazis” (against Nazis). 

 

I made it to the opera house at Augustplatz (August square), where I discovered an open-air market.  The goods were pretty basic—purses, baby clothes, sewing notions, household goods. It reminded me a little of Ukraine.  Then I wandered around to another street, where I found what looked like a medieval style market. Instead of blue, white and yellow nylon booths, the booths were made of wood and canvas. Many crafts were being made onsite by artisans.  There was a special theater stage with more singing. It was here that I finally chose to have lunch.  There was a special dish I had never seen before—a bread roll filled with ham and cheese, topped with sour cream and chives. I had a small one so it was only 2 Euros.  To wash it down I drank “met” (a fermented drink, perhaps like mead?) in a clay cup for 3 Euros. 

 

After lunch I wandered to the Rathaus (town hall) where I saw a third market and concert.  This market reminded me of the Christmas markets I had seen in Prague and Vienna, though it was too early for Christmas and I am not even sure they had Christmas goods for sale. But they had the same wooden house-shaped booths and lots of arts, crafts, wine, and food.  There was a large stage where at the moment an African group was playing folk music. It was great, but I had to be on my way to the train station to get to the conference.

 

On the way back to the train station I passed by Nikolaikirche, the church where the movement for German unification began. It was rather plain on the outside and covered in repair scaffolding on the inside, so to me it was significant more from a historical standpoint than an aesthetic one. 

 

I caught the train I needed, which only went as far as Bitterfeld. My connecting train was going to be 30 minutes late. After 30 minutes, the sign changed to say the train would be 60 minutes late. I could not wait another 30 minutes or I would miss the opening of the conference, so I took a taxi to the hotel.  The taxi driver knew about the train problem and charged me 15 Euros even though the meter said 16.90. I thought that was nice and I gave her a 1-Euro tip.

 

The opening ceremony was one of drama (most of it in German), standing up and sitting down and saying hello to people, and “Window displays” by the presenters.  Many presenters had colorful signs about their presentation. Others used mimes or drama skits that made no sense to me.  This was going to be some conference.

 

October 4, 2002

 

To be at the conference by 9, I had to take a train that left Leipzig at 7:24 and arrived at 8:13.  So I set my alarm for 6:30 to be out the door at 7:00. I hit the snooze alarm of course, and then heard a second alarm. Who else could be getting up this early? It turned out there was another woman (a Russian studying in Leipzig) who had to leave at the same time I did. My 20 minutes to get ready in the bathroom became 10.  Flexibility…

 

I left the hostel at 7:00 but at the door ended up talking to Sasha, a hostel employee who was studying to be a history teacher. I told him about the conference and said I would give him any teaching materials I picked up there.

 

I walked briskly to the train station, bought my ticket at the automated ticket booth (where I had a little trouble getting the right ticket), ran upstairs to the train platform, and got my hand on the door to push it open just as the train was pulling away.  No, I did not make that train.  There was another, more expensive train at 7:33.  But that train was delayed while they changed the compartments.  At 8:00 it was just about ready, but by the time it could get me to Halle, I would miss the connecting train in Halle to Brehna.  Halle I knew was farther away from Brehna and thus would be a more expensive cab ride. So I relaxed, bought an International Herald Tribune and some breakfast (broetchen and juice), waited for the 8:24 to Bitterfeld, and again took a taxi to the hotel in Brehna. At this point I was starting to wonder if I was really saving money by staying downtown instead of staying in the conference hotel.  I later found out the cost of the hotel and discovered that even with the taxi rides I was still saving money. 

 

 

The Conference Lessons

 

The conference seminars were super. The first seminar was on using metaphor to teach language and to promote positive thinking in students. It began with an exercise where we matched words with pictures that served as metaphors.  (I matched “exuberance” with a chandelier, which helped a German participant understand the word exuberance much more clearly).  Then we talked about the story of the Ugly Duckling and the current and desired state of the ugly duckling at the beginning of the story.  Then we were asked to think of something we wanted to do, and in groups we all drew pictures of the “desired state” of our actions.  The ugly duckling was a metaphor for us for achieving our goals.  Interesting. 

 

The next seminar was about guided imagery.  We listened to music and danced and then closed our eyes and the presenter talked us through an image of nature that made us happy, someplace we would like to be at that moment.  I went to a cold waterfall in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, then Roosevelt Island in Washington DC. Then I nearly fell asleep.  At the time I thought it was a weak presentation. But I really felt open and relaxed afterwards. And I was able to apply the technique in a speaking activity in class—I asked students to imagine a place in nature, then to talk with a classmate about where they were. 

 

The next seminar was about many things about teaching in secondary school, but the main lessons for me were on exercising the brain and stimulating the brain for learning. We did special exercises (breathing, stretching) and brain teasers, and humor to get people ready for learning. It was cool. 

 

Finally, my colleague Sergiy gave a great presentation on poetry writing that opened up our “psyche” through music and kinesthetic activities.  We wrote poems about ourselves on hearts and pinned the hearts to our sleeves. We threw a ball of string and read our poems, while holding part of the string to make a web. Then we put our “hearts” on the web. Then one person let the string go, and everything fell apart. This too was a metaphor—we all have to support each other in the class or the class falls apart.  We listened to music and read haiku and wrote poems inspired by it all. 

 

After the Conference:  Leipzig Opera

 

Sergiy’s presentation was the last one of the day, so I left the hotel shortly after his presentation in a hotel shuttle to the Brehna train station, where I caught a train back to Leipzig. I had plenty of time to walk to Bagel Brothers for a dinner snack (Bagel, lox, cream cheese and red onion sandwich for 3.30 Euros—it would cost twice as much in the States so how could I resist?), then walk to the opera house where I bought a ticket to the 7:30 p.m. showing of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” for 15 Euros. I had first row seats. I could watch the orchestra warming up.  I wanted to take pictures but they weren’t allowed.  The opera was in Italian with German supertitles.  I bought a program and read as much as I could, and read as much of the supertitles as I could.  It wasn’t until I read the program that I realized Rigoletto was a tragedy.  After reading the description I was dreading the final act.  It was good, but sad.   The woman who played Rigoletto’s daughter happened to be Asian. I was surprised at first, then after a few minutes it didn’t matter because she could sing and act.  I was surprised again to see people smoking inside the opera house at intermission. Otherwise it was just a great time at a great price.

 

After the opera I walked along the main street and ended up at a jazz bar (with no jazz that I could hear) where I had a great glass of white wine (a dry Riesling). 

 

When I got back to the hostel, there were some people hanging out in the lounge.  Two of them were Americans—Mike and Sierra from the San Diego area.  I stayed up with them and two of my roommates (Matt from Manchester and the girl from Russia) talking and nursing one beer until 2:30 am.

 

October 5, 2002

 

I didn’t even bother trying to make the 7:24 train.  I made the 8:24, though. And took a taxi once more to the hotel.  I still thought it was worth it to be downtown, though.  I would never have gone into the city for opera nor met the people at the hostel if I had stayed out in Brehna.  I felt like a young traveler again.

 

The first presentation was actually a poetry workshop. I wrote what I thought was a pretty good poem about a matroshka (Russian nested doll).  That evening I stayed for the poetry reading at the hotel.  Bertha, the American who ran the workshop, facilitated the reading by inviting workshop participants to read their poems. Then Bertha read her own poems, which were really good. 

 

When the reading was over, we walked outside to the main hall to some kind of drum concert.  It was awfully loud.   I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I asked for the shuttle to the train station. It took a while to get out of the hotel, and once again I found myself 5 seconds away from a moving train.  I had asked the driver to wait to make sure I got on the train, but then I figured the next train would come in 25 minutes, and it would take most of that time to go back and forth from the hotel. Plus I did not want to be in hotel with all those drums.  I waved to the driver to go home.

 

I thought wrong.  The train I thought would come at 10:06 didn’t.  I ended up waiting a whole hour in the dark and the cold for the next train.  But I made it back to Leipzig safe and sound.  Once more I stayed up with Sasha, Mike, Sierra, and Matt in the lounge talking and had maybe two beers. This time I didn’t go to bed until 3:15 am.

 

October 6, 2002

 

This morning I couldn’t get motivated to get up and go to the conference sessions at all.  I had been burning the candle at both ends—I needed some rest.  I finally arrived at the hotel at 12:30, just in time for lunch and goodbyes. I sat briefly with Yoshimi Brett, a woman from New Zealand who had given a great presentation on personality types and learning the day before.  She asked, “where were you this morning?”  I didn’t want to say that I had blown off the conference, but I didn’t want to lie either. I said, “I was in deep meditation”. It seemed like a response that was appropriate for this crowd. 

 

I went to the “abschluss” (goodbye), where we said in English and German what we liked about the conference.  We also did chants in German. The one I remember clearly in German was “I do not want to go home”. At that point I really did not want to go home.

 

After the abschluss was one last lunch at the hotel.  The buffet was an amazing array of fish (two kinds of lox, shrimp, seafood pate), vegetables, salads, and main dishes (hearty German dishes like sauerbrauten and ethnic foods like paella).  Then it was time for many people to check out and catch trains back home.  A large carload of us went from the hotel to the train station.  The Brehna train station is just two tracks, one going towards Halle and one going towards Bitterfeld. No schedule, no travel center, just a sign on each side of the track with an arrow and the single destination.  I felt I was the only person from the conference who knew the territory (an ironic position to put myself in given the troubles I had had over the past three days with trains). Nevertheless, I explained that people who wanted to go to Halle should be one side, and people who wanted to go to Bitterfeld and Leipzig should be on the other.  There was one woman, Sabine, who had been telling me in the car that she was debating whether to go to Halle and then home, or go to Leipzig and spend the night in a hotel or hostel and then go to Weimar in the morning.  She hesitated for a while, then decided to stand with me on the Bitterfeld side of the track. Everyone else was on the Halle side.  Their train was scheduled to come at 15:13, and so was mine and Sabine’s. 

 

Sabine and I saw the train to Halle come, but ours did not come at the same time.  Sabine pulled out her schedule. It turned out the train we both needed was the one to Halle. I had a printout of the times but it didn’t show the connections so I had just assumed that all the trains I wanted went through Bitterfeld.  The next train would not come until 15:42, and it was awfully cold out. Moreover, Sabine looked at her ticket and realized she had a seat reserved on the train to Halle and then home.  I felt awful.  She tried to assure me that it wasn’t my fault, that it was her fault for being indecisive.  But I still felt I had been responsible for keeping her on the wrong side of the track, so to speak. All of the positive energy I felt from the conference drained away quickly.   

 

We eventually got on the train and learned from the conductor that it was supposed to rain the next morning.  This, Sabine said, would not be good weather for going to Weimar, and she had a lot of work to catch up on.  She was saying she could still catch an evening train in Leipzig that would get her home late that night.  She also mentioned that she had a ticket reserved at a cabaret in Leipzig.  Leipzig was famous for cabaret, and she had already been to one the night before. 

 

When we arrived in Leipzig, Sabine gave me a page from a newspaper with the name, address and phone number of the cabaret. She encouraged me to use her name to get the the ticket she had reserved (it was being held until 7:30 p.m.) and go in her place. It would only be 16 Euros.  I said I would do that.  I wished her a safe journey home, and we said goodbye.

 

In the train station, I saw that the shops were open, a rarity in Germany on a Sunday. I decided to hang out and explore, and have a light dinner (currywurst).  I ran into Sabine one more time, and said goodbye one more time. 

 

Evening Entertainment

 

As I was walking back to the hostel, I saw a sign for a classical music concert at the church on the way between the train station and the hostel.  It was part of “Festtage” which can only be translated as “Festival Days”.  I was thinking maybe I could see the concert, and then go to the cabaret. But the concert was 13 Euros, would start at 6:30 p.m., and would last 90 minutes.  It would be expensive to do both and I would not have time to do both.  At that point, though, I was afraid that if I went back to the hostel to rest until the cabaret I would get too comfortable and not go anywhere.  I was also thinking that from what little I knew about German cabarets, it would be very difficult to understand it or enjoy it without a native speaker to help me translate certain things.  I vacillated for another 10 minutes, until it started to rain. I took that as a sign that I should go to the concert.

 

The concert was great.  It was a Baroque ensemble with two violins, a cello (or viola?) and a harpsichord.  I love the sound of a harpsichord. I heard the first two of four pieces, then there was an intermission.  At this break, I started thinking again about the cabaret. Would I regret not going to see what it was like? Wouldn’t it be great to pack in another cultural experience?  I decided I had paid my money, enjoyed the music, and could leave the church with a clean conscience.

 

I found the cabaret ticket office with relatively no problem.  I got the ticket in Sabine’s name, and after stumbling around I found the correct entrance to the cabaret hall (about 200m down from the ticket office).  On my left I saw a bar. I wasn’t sure if this was where the cabaret was actually held or if it was just a bar (I still had some visions of the movie “Cabaret” in my head).  I had twenty minutes before the show started so I decided to check it out.

 

You can’t imagine my surprise when I walked towards the bar and saw Sabine waving at me and talking on the phone.

 

When she finished her call, she explained to me that when she got on the train, it was very crowded and she could only get a reserved seat part of the way home. She had been hoping to use the train to get some work done, so she decided it would be a better use of her time to stay the night and take an early morning train the next day when there would surely be more room.  Moreover, she decided to keep the evening cheap by staying in the same hostel I was, and had taken the bed below mine in the hostel so I wouldn’t think she had just said she was going home to get away from me.  She had reserved a second ticket for herself for the cabaret to make sure there would still be one for me.

 

I only had about 10 minutes to have a drink and ponder the metaphysics of our unlikely reunion before we had to go inside to the theater, where we learned we were given seats next to each other.

 

The cabaret was interesting.  It was a combination of ironic (sarcastic) skits and songs performed by a trio of actors (two men and one woman) interspersed with musical interludes played by two-man synthesizer/drum band.  Sabine had to explain a lot to me. For example, at one point one of the actors held up a picture of a sign that was posted in the city of Leipzig.  Although it was written in German and English, the English translation did not capture the innuendo that the German sentence did. A better translation is “This area is being video monitored for the prevention of criminal acts by the Leipzig police department”.  Thus, it suggests that the police are the ones committing the criminal acts.  I saw the sign myself in the city, and took a picture of it.

 

There were only two skits I could really follow on my own.  One was about two men who came to rob a bank. The bank teller gave them a million Euros, then gently asked for the money back to pay for various taxes and health insurance.  The other was “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire for a Better World”.  A man was playing for 1,000,000 Euros for charity; when he lost in the final round he gave a consolation prize of canned goods.  Other skits and songs had lots of inside jokes that even Sabine could not follow because they related to Leipzig or the former East Germany.  There was one about terrorism that seemed to be welcoming terrorism, and I assume it was ironic but I still thought it was inappropriate. I guess I am still an American after all. 

 

After the cabaret, Sabine said she hadn’t eaten any dinner, so she and I walked through the Maedler Passage (a covered walkway of expensive shops) to the café where Goethe used to drink and think when he was a student in Leipzig.  The kitchen had already closed for the night. Even the souvenirs were locked up. Anyway, it didn’t look like a divey student hangout.  There were lots of new, clean wooden tables and almost no smoke. Maybe it is more interesting in the daytime or early evening when there are still people there.  Sabine and I took pictures at the Goethe statue outside of the café.  Then we found a late night café (next to the jazz bar I had gone to the other night) that was still serving food.  We both had an order of “Saxon potato soup” and capirihnas (sp?), a Brazilian cocktail that was on a 2 for the price of 1 special at the café and seemed to be as commonplace in Germany as margaritas are in America.  And just as good too.  We had a side order of typical female gab about men and relationships (or in my case lack thereof).

 

When I sputtered out the word for “check” in German (rechnung) to the waiter, the waiter restated it for me and that was the first time I truly caught what they call the “Saechsishe” (Saxon) accent.  My friend Peter had warned me not to pick up the accent while I was in Leipzig, and Sabine said her guidebook warned her not to make fun of the accent directly.  As a sociolinguist I usually pride myself on being neutral when it comes to language varieties, but I have to say at that moment I was stunned to discover that in the Saechsiche dialect, the word “rechnung” is pronounced more like “ressian” (like Russian with an e). 

 

We walked back to the hostel and I was surprised once again to find that everyone in our room was till awake. We stayed up talking with a linguist from Spain (though Sabine did most of the talking because behind Russian and German my Spanish is fading away) until the respectable hour of about 1 am.

 

October 7-8, 2002

 

Sabine left around 8. I said goodbye but I stayed in bed until about 9. After getting ready, I went downstairs and checked my email one last time (did I mention the hostel had email access for 2 Euros an hour?).  I had planned to take my bags to the train station, get a haircut, and then walk around the city to do some last minute sightseeing and shopping.  But in the dining room I saw two of my roommates. I decided to go in and have a quick breakfast with them.  I ended up talking with them there until 11:30. Then I ended up talking to them some more in the lounge where I had talked with Mike and Sierra Friday and Saturday night.  I felt like I didn’t want to leave; I felt like I was at home and I didn’t want to say goodbye to my new friends. 

 

In the end, though, I knew I had to move on.  Rather than take my bags to the train station, I left them in the hostel office.  A girl from Australia and her friend were heading out at the same time I was, and I walked with them so that they could lead me to Thomaskirche, the place where Bach is now buried.  On the way we passed a coffee house and museum. 

 

The Thomaskirche was beautiful inside and out.  As I was leaving, it started to rain so I ducked into a nearby bookstore. When it let up I continued walking toward Galleria Kaufhof, a large German department store. I had been the one in Frankfurt, where I had noticed it had a nice supermarket.  I went in to the Leipzig Galleria Kaufhof to do some grocery shopping.  They didn’t have the coffee I wanted, and the Chio tortilla chips (a German brand) were more expensive here than in Ukraine.  Then I found the ethnic foods section which included a shelf labeled “USA”.  It seemed so weird to see my favorite foods labeled as ethnic food. But I guess in Germany they are.  The prices, though, were awful. A box of Kraft macaroni and cheese cost 2.49 Euros (in the States it is never more than a dollar).  I did buy the “Buffalo Bill” salsa for 2.19, which I thought was a fair price. I was going to buy a box of Duncan Hines brownie mix, but there was no price on it and when the cashier told me it was 6.49,  I decided I didn’t need brownie mix that badly.

 

I browsed the other parts of the store, and in the CD section I bought the new Eva Cassidy album, “Imagine”.  Eva Cassidy was a D.C. singer who died of cancer in 1996, but she had a posthumous hit in England and her record label keeps finding old demos and live recordings of her music to put out.  At the time the 16.99 purchase seemed indulgent, but I’ve been using the title track (a beautiful cover of the John Lennon song) in classes and presentations on music. 

 

After Galleria Kaufhof, I went to a nearby wine store to get some more of that fine German reisling. From there I went to the opera house to take pictures, and then to the University of Leipzig bookstore to buy more English language materials (the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Slaughterhouse Five, and a new novel by Nicholas Sparks).  It is possible that these books are less expensive in Ukraine, but it is also possible that I would never find these books in Ukraine or would have trouble getting them.  And I was just having fun shopping in Germany.

 

I walked back to the hostel and put all my belongings together.  I had to break out the “babushka bag” (a nylon bag with blue, red, and white plaid stripes) to pack my new purchases, and I knew this was a sign I was on my way back east.  I caught the tram from the hostel to the train station.  I found no way to buy a ticket so I didn’t pay. Shame on me.

 

I was supposed to meet my colleagues at 4:30 at the bus stop. But I figured that was overly cautious, and that the bus was scheduled to be there at 5:00 so it wouldn’t be there until 5:30 anyway. 

 

When I arrived, Nina and Katya were waiting without their bags.  They explained that there was no bus. There was a minibus for just the five of us. It had arrived early and was driving around with Sergey and Valentina because it couldn’t stop at the bus stop to wait for me.  There was only one driver instead of two.  Moreover, it seems the driver had been in town since Saturday night or Sunday morning, but the company had not informed Nina of this.  The bus would be taking us back to Kyiv. Nina was really upset about all of this.  She didn’t like the minibus, she didn’t want to go to Kyiv, and I am sure she would have preferred to have left earlier.  (I should mention here that Nina is not a person who gets upset easily or without justification. She is usually a calm, smiling, happy person.)

 

I however, saw only positives.  I was glad to have had the extra time in Leipzig.  And with only 5 of us on a minibus, we would have more room to stretch out and sleep.  In fact, there was one row for each person and I took the front seat. A minibus could also drive faster than a regular bus.  Best of all, there would be fewer problems at the borders.  This proved to be true.  I got much more sleep this time, and we got from Leipzig to Lviv in 20 hours, even with the half hour stop in Poland so the driver could take a nap.  Nina had tried to get the driver to take us all the way to Khmelnytsky, but he said he couldn’t do that. He dropped us off at the train station in Lviv.

 

It was freezing out, but everyone had so many bags that we were to wait outside while Sergey went to get the tickets. I could not stand in the cold so I went inside with my bags.  We got the tickets and had to wait over an hour for the next train.  Again, much of this waiting was outside on the platform. 

 

When we returned to Khmelnytsky, it was early evening and still freezing.  Katya’s husband was supposed to pick us up, but I wasn’t even sure if I could wait for the car.  Somehow I did. But then I noticed that inside the van there were no seats.  Nina and Valentina were going to be sitting on boxes or buckets or something.  I must have seemed rude, but at that point I said that I preferred to take a taxi.  15 minutes and 6 UAH ($1.20) later, I was home at last.