Zsuza's time in Dresden

My whirlwind romance with Dresden began at night as my reliable and timely Deutsche Bahn train pulled into the moonlit Hauptbahnhof. The morning of my flight had been filled with sheer anticipation and if I’m honest, complete fear, but I knew that some of the most thrilling weeks of my life lay just ahead of me. I met my delightful host family on the platform, and immediately began putting my previously school-limited German knowledge to the test. As a linguist, one of the most daunting feats is conversing with a group of native speakers in a fast-paced manner, and I definitely felt intimidated to begin with. I made plenty of mistakes, including the scandalous ‘ich bin heiβ’ but by the end of my time there, my fluency and comprehension had improved extraordinarily. I found myself able to hold full conversations on random topics ranging from the American collegiate system to the tale of Saint Benno. To my great disbelief, I was even able to crack a few jokes which real life Germans actually found somewhat humorous!

My first steps in the magnificent city were in darkness, but I was soon enveloped by the glorious warmth of my Gastfamilies exquisite Wohnung and their overwhelming kindness. My feelings of peace were briefly unsettled when I was informed that we would be leaving for school at just gone 7 o’clock the next morning, but I soon overcame my shock (although I admit I never really did adjust to the combination of später Nachts and früh Aufstehens!).

My first day at Benno was truly wonderful. It began with a regrettably incompetent bike ride (on my part), which made my poor Gastschwester late for her first GRW lesson but was also breathtaking as I was able to glimpse the city in daylight for the first time! It was also my first taste of the Grosse Garten which became a place I frequented often throughout my stay whether it be through early morning jogs, or picnics on the adorable Carolaseeausblick lakeside jetty. I found the eleven-subject A Level timetable a little tiring, but the sustained immersion in German language was exhilarating. I enjoyed being able to study some subjects that I’m not doing at home such as Polish, and whilst I didn’t understand a word of what was going on to begin with, I now think that I could competently list some types of food, and say “yes”.

The next day we were lucky enough to attend the annual start of school Gottesdienst, during which the other Austauschstudenten and I were presented with our very own Benno Fische – certainly not something I was expecting but appreciated none the less! Afterwards my Gastfamilie and I went to a hip burger restaurant just round the corner from the Kreuzkirche, and it was so nice to be able to get to know them a bit more, and I hope they learnt a bit more about me despite my very broken explanations!

My Gastfamilie did a tremendous job of showing me all the highlights of their homeland, which involved many Ausfahrts on the weekend and afterschool! They knew I had a special love for Wassersportarten so they took me canoeing in the stunning Sächsische Schweiz National Park (we also stayed for one night in a ‘Boofe’ there!), and one evening we went stand-up paddleboarding on the Elbe at sunset. Seeing the Blauer Wunder illuminated and framed between a valley speckled with lit up houses is a sight I will forever have a mental picture of (sadly not a physical one, but not taking my phone was in hindsight a good idea as I very inelegantly tumbled in halfway through our descent!). We took the Stadtseilbahn up to the woods for a hike, which ended up at the stunning Ausblick von Dresden that Schloss Eckberg had to offer. Only in Germany will you casually hear the phrase “it’s just a short walk along to the next castle”! One of my favourite things we did, was watch Mozart’s Opera ‘Die Zauberflöte’ in the eminent Semperoper, although I hugely enjoyed seeing the Panometer with my Gastmutter too - the sight from the top of the viewing platform was spectacular!

Another aspect of Dresden culture that I was delighted to try was the food. I had my first ever Raclette which was so delicious, that I plan to make it a tradition in my own home one day. I loved the afternoon ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ especially the regional Eierschecke and the delicious hot chocolates my Gastfamilie made. I also enjoyed getting ice cream after school with my friends, during some of our many trips to into the Altstadt. I went to an Oktoberfest market where I had my first Bratkartoffeln alongside a Stiefel of authentic German Beer! I grew accustomed to eating a lot of bread, and I certainly missed the grilled Turkish bread we ate at supper when I got home, but my favourite Abendessen was the homemade sushi evening I had with my host sister. However, I must admit that I found “Club Mate”, a German beverage, disgusting and I don’t know how some of the people at school managed to get through multiple bottles in a day!

During my second week, the marvellous Gastvater of one of the other Scholars invited us all to go with him to the Gedenkstätte of the former Buchenwald Concentration camp. I think it was a poignant day for us, and it was certainly very emotional to visit a place where such historical atrocities had once occurred, but we were in agreement that it was an important thing to see, and we are so thankful to him for organising such a valuable excursion. In our final week, he also invited us all round to his beautiful garden for a Grillabend, which was an especially lovely way to say goodbye to the city, and all the wonderful people I’d gotten to know.

My host mother once said that Dresden has a “Gefühl von Freiheit”, and that is exactly what I felt when I was there. It’s a place embellished with enormous buildings, art, and splendid museums, but it also has a deep core of history and culture that I cherished discovering. My time in Dresden was simply fabulous. I’ve never been more motivated to continue my linguistic development, than now.

Read Zsuza's Versöhnung essay here

Zsuzsa 2