Sunday, July 7, 2013

On Sightseeing in Görlitz

A number of weeks ago I took a visit to Görlitz, the most easterly town in Germany. From where I live down south it was 7 and a half hours on the fast train, so in other words I probably could have made it to New York in the same amount of time. Even though the nature of my travel was business rather than pleasure, I did feel a tad smug at the fact that I am slowly beginning to lay claim to the fact that I have indeed seen a lot more of Germany than many of the Germans themselves. 
I guess it's understandable that if you are going to spend a day travelling to get somewhere, that you might just choose a trip to Italy above that of one to a smallish town on the Polish border, but still...
Germany is a fascinating country. Culturally speaking it is very much like two countries because of it's divided history, and what I love about the east is that mixture of progressive can do newness combined with the remnants of the past. And being an island woman, there was also the buzz of being able to walk over a bridge and arrive in Poland. (Phone call to daughter: 'hey, I just walked to Poland, WALKED to another country like!' 'Mom, you're so pathetic.')
Görlitz, without a shadow of a doubt, is worth a visit: beautiful buildings, culture galore, old churches, cobblestones and all that... 
My room, including cupboard with skeleton
And of course that eastern German flair whereby I wasn't really sure if my hotel was a shabby 'aul attempt at being posh, or if it really was a beautiful Jugendstil room with character. It was one of these run down places in an old building with old furniture and chandeliers, but it was a bit dead, and one of the doors of the wardrobe in my room was locked and without a key, so I did spend the night wondering if there was a skeleton in the cupboard. 

But here's the thing. There were a few tables and chairs outside the hotel bar on the street and they were occupied by a few dodgy looking characters. As I arrived to the reception (where there was a sign saying to check in at the bar), a little car pulled in that was from one of these mobile carer companies, you know, those dudes who go to old peoples houses and check on them to distribute medication and whatnot. So the guy gets out of his car and I go into the bar to check in. The guy at the bar takes me  back over to the reception where I see that in the meantime, the carer dude is in the hallway and one of the dodgy old guys from outside is sitting on one of those posh looking sofas taking off his shoes. As I check in, the carer dude proceeds to change a bandage or something on the old guys foot. I look away feeling nauseous.
At this stage I am tired and giving them dagger looks from the part of me that is a  cranky intolerant withering woman. But I keep the mouth shut and go to my room - the one that I'm not sure whether it's posh or not, the one with the skeleton in the cupboard.  
I decide I need to see more of the city (this is the part where I walk to Poland), but as I leave the hotel, I see that the old guy is back outside again, drinking a beer in the evening sun. He gives me a smile.
The bridge to Poland
And that's when I see the beauty in it. A city where people can work around caring for the elderly in a way that means they still have the freedom to sit outside a bar and enjoy the evening. Humanity, that's what I saw - a twinge of humanity, in a country that gets a lot of flack for being otherwise. I wondered where the old chap would be sitting if powers that be decided it unfitting to attend his wounds or whatever it was with his feet, in the public hallway of a run down hotel. What about the legal aspect? Insurance? Hygiene? The logistics of the whole thing? But you see, Germany is country as diverse as it is big, and for me, this kind of 'sightseeing' ranks higher than a holiday camp on the riviera. 
Because this was something that told me that the world was an ok place and that's when the room and the skeleton didn't matter anymore. And even if there had been no cobblestones or culture or impressive buildings, I'd been to a place where I'd caught a glimpse of something beautiful, and a place where all of a sudden, I stopped being afraid to grow old.