I have delayed writing this post for a few reasons, but it is now high time (considering we have been in Europe for a month already). Coming back to Leipzig was almost like coming home. I spent most of my twenties in this city and did a lot of growing up here – sowing my wild oats and all. In certain areas, every street corner has a memory – sometimes it’s a tree growing in an odd place on a decrepit building or a particularly bumpy cobblestone or a spot in the park. Of course, most of these memories are tied to people and it has been good for the soul to see some of them again and see how their lives have evolved.
Since leaving, Leipzig has grown considerably and looks much more beautiful than it did when I first got there. An extensive project to reopen some of the canals that flow all around the city is well in progress and has changed the cityscape and there is now a train station under the old market square in front of the city hall. Most buildings have now been renovated or rebuilt and restored to their former beauty. The Thomas Kirche looks magnificent, as do the surrounding buildings. Leipzig is, after all, a musician’s mecca – home to Bach, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Schubert, Liszt, the Schumanns, and even Grieg and there is history everywhere! Just walking past the churches that Bach composed for every Sunday is mind-blowing (we will also be living in an apartment right next to one of the other churches Bach composed for, but not as regularly).
The city has also had a population explosion and has almost doubled in size. The upcoming generation of Leipzigers have lots of babies and are hip and earthy. I decided to stay in a different area of Leipzig this time and found a cool apartment in Plagwitz overlooking one of the canals and right next to a bike path that took us almost to the city. Plagwitz is hip and grungy – lots of tattoos, beards, bare-footedness, harem pants (the ones with the crotch at the knees) and kids. The area where I used to live, the Sudvorstadt has been regentrified and is much fancier than I remember with many cool little shops and eclectic restaurants.
Our first weeks consisted of trips to the zoo (although I am not really a big zoo person, this one is pretty awesome, supposedly the best in Europe, with spectacular playgrounds, lots of educational interactive points, and cafes that also serve beer), and bike rides to the playground in Clara Zetkin Park. We also made good use of the slide across the canal where we always made friends and took a couple of trips to the Cospudener Sea. The Cossie is amazing – I used to live right next to it in Markkleeberg while it was in the process of being flooded. Leipzig is now home to a massive series of manmade lakes (flooded brown coal mines) that have beaches, a harbor, restaurants, and various watersporting options. The water is crystal clear and super cold. Generally, we leave home in the morning and come home early evening tired and with sore feet.
On rainy days I have tried to do some indoor things and have gone to some of the museums I never went to while I still lived here. We visited the Unikatum – a children’s museum that blew my mind. The had an interactive exhibition that takes children (and adults) on an imaginary journey. There were places to make marble runways, paint pictures, decorate and stack cake boxes to make a cave, add to the yarn sculpture, pick a color for music, and even a spot to give your own puppet show. Gave me some good ideas for our Kitchen Sync stuff! Then there was the exhibition on LOVE. This one involved more reading and G breezed through it, but we had fun at the dress up boxes – we both were dressed as brides at one point. We also went to the Grassi Museum and had fun in the Sound Lab. Playing the steel drums was my favorite part and the collection of pottery nose flutes was quite impressive. We also went to the Folk Museum which had artifacts from all over the place – could have spent three days there, but my 5-year-old wasn’t having any of that!
Our diet has not been the most balanced (am glad I have had no full length mirror in the apartment), but it has been fun. G is in sausage heaven! She is loving the variety of sausages available here and just about on every street corner. She is also a big fan of the bakeries and can now ask for a “milchhornchen” herself in German (it’s the cutest thing). We have ended up at the market in the market square on most Tuesdays and Fridays and have bought copious amounts of berries and cherries which are eaten on the spot. I am also easily persuaded to buy flowers. Ice-cream is a daily thing (just one kugel) and is our happy afternoon moment. Mommy has never had so many cappuccinos and G so many pommes. A diet somewhat carb heavy, but… oh well, we’re happy.
We have also enjoyed seeing old friends and catching up. Unfortunately, I timed my visit a little poorly as July is when everyone in Saxony is on holiday – so there were a few points when there was absolutely no one around that I already knew. Not actually a bad thing, as it gave G and I time to explore and forced me to be a little more proactive!
I don’t think I can write this post and not mention an experience we have had that really put a dampener on our last few weeks (if you are still reading you must be a close friend or family – be prepared for some grossness). The day after we arrived I woke up to find I had about twenty bug bites. I assumed they were mozzy bites, but had never felt this itchy or had had such a bad reaction to bites before. The strange thing was that G had no bites at all – usually, she reacts and I don’t. I was extremely relieved that she was fine but perplexed. My landlord was very understanding and tried to be helpful by offering a lamp to put in our room, assuming that I was being bitten by mosquitos while sleeping. As our apartment was directly on the canal, this was not too far off. My bites didn’t seem to get better and I started becoming a little obsessive about using bug spray. After two weeks of itchiness, some of my bites started turning into big blisters around my ankles. Swollen, elevated blisters the size of a quarter. It was so embarrassing – we went to have a braai with some friends who had offered to introduce me to some other moms, and these blisters started killing me. Super painful and burny. Ended up sitting in the corner hogging one of the only chairs with an ice pack on my foot. By the next day, they hurt so much I was too scared to venture out and found one of those indoor playgrounds (the type I was trying to avoid) to keep G busy. I really had to reign myself in the following few days so that my foot didn’t hurt. Saturday came and our rental contract ended – we were off to visit my friend in Dresden who has a 5-month-old baby. Had new bites on my arms that were painful. On Sunday evening, I got a call from my former landlady to say that she had found bed bugs in the apartment. This explained everything! I actually felt violated. I guess it is one of those things you never think will happen to you until it does. Kinda like cancer…
My friend in Dresden was super and she sprang into action, boiling and freezing all my stuff. I was mortified to think I could have brought bed bugs into her home. I had to go back to Leipzig to sort out my bags which were in the cellar at my old place. My landlord, Sandra, felt terrible about the whole thing and was as grossed out as I was. She had researched how to get rid of the bugs and called in a fumigator. She also said she would take care of my big suitcase that was apparently most at risk. She really tried her best to make up for the situation and I am grateful to her for that. I could go into more details, but suffice it to say bed bugs are a lot more common than I thought (found even in fancy hotels), some people don’t react to the bites and may not even know they have been bitten (most cases), while others are allergic (like me). You can pick them up just about anywhere – even at a pool and they are hard to kill (the eggs, that is). The only way to get rid of eggs is either to freeze your stuff or wash it at 60 degrees. Not easy when you are on the move.
Anyway, I guess no trip can be completely hassle-free and having these hard moments helps us enjoy the good moments more. My child has been a champion and I am proud of her ability to go with the flow. If there is anything I have learned, it’s that nothing is ever as you think it will be and even good can come out of bad (I am now a bug professional and have very clean clothes).