Buffalo is my hometown but Bremerhaven is the place where I grew up.
At the age of twenty-three, I packed my life in suitcases and with my dog by my side, hopped on a plane to Germany to go live life with my best friend. I already did it once – left my mom to go live in Europe when I was in college, but here I was going to do it all over again. This time though, to go become a long term European resident. Did I ever expect to be granted a life like this? Not in a million years. Was it scary as hell? Yes, it sure was.
As soon as my feet touched the ground at the Bremen airport upon my arrival, October of 2017, I felt the overwhelming sensation of excitement with a side of loaded anxiety. I just left all that I knew behind. Chris picked me up in the team’s manual cargo van – I’ve never seen this boy drive a stick shift before, and now we’re doing it in a van on the autobahn, not knowing a lick of German to read the signs? What the hell are we doing…CHRIS! Where the hell are we?
My first reaction was to be upset with Chris that he decided to take his career abroad so suddenly. I had no time to prepare! We just put our dog through an eight-hour plane ride and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. If it weren’t for my previous experiences when studying abroad, I would’ve been even more lost when it came to knowing what I was in for during the plane ride and how Europe is in general. Luckily, my work-from-home job allowed me to keep my weekend work, except I would have to accommodate to New York hours…3 p.m. to Midnight every Saturday and Sunday. But, this experience is seriously once in a lifetime and I would be a fool to sit at home in the States missing Chris and not being abroad adventuring with him. Sacrifices are the only way to get through this hockey lifestyle.
I wasn’t in Germany for too long until I became a fiancé. Maybe eleven hours to be exact, and even sooner if Chris wasn’t so scared to do it earlier (he told me this after the fact). Twenty-three with a ring on my finger, still with a side of loaded anxiety from the travel and move I just made, but content knowing I was in the exact place I needed to be with my boys, Chris and Shadow. We were a family that was in this together. We’re going to figure it out.
The next few months came with hardships in trying to adjust to the cultural changes. All I wanted were some damn lime Tostitos and fresh salsa (my favorite snack at home) but the grocery stores here don’t carry such things. In fact, they don’t carry a lot of the things that I have depended on at home. On top of that, my dog wasn’t eating either. He became such a snob to the brands of food we tried giving him, I felt like a failure to be his mother. Now that I know that my dog is just a snob about everything, I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.
No dishwasher, no dryer, a fridge smaller than my mini fridge from college, a manual car that I never learned how to drive. My medical needs had to kind of be suppressed and before coming to Germany I had to pay for all of the things I needed because U.S. insurance only covers three months at a time. If I needed to talk to my mom or anyone back home I had to do the math in my head of what time it was for them. My German was horrible so needing help at the store or figuring out where things were – completely on your own. There were just so many little things that I and everyone else takes advantage of when living in the same place for so long.
I wouldn’t call these issues mountains I had to climb, but they definitely we’re small hurdles I had to jump over and over again. As soon as you feel confident in one aspect of living in Germany, BAM another thing happens and it hits you square in the face. For example, there was a lot of work to be done in the apartment we moved into and “renovating” a place in a foreign country was a little overwhelming (but thanks to Ikea and realizing OBI is just like Home Depot we got a little too comfortable). It’s one thing to come and visit a foreign country for vacation because you know you’re coming right back home within a week or a few weeks time. But when you arrive on foreign ground knowing you won’t be going back to the country you’re from for at least seven months, that makes everything so different. It feels like a failure when you can’t figure something out but then at the same time, there is no sweeter feeling of success when you are able to take it by the horns.
But I did it. I learned how to be resilient in the face of adversity.
Coming back to Germany for the second season, Chris and I were literally ready to kick ass. We came home for four months and realized we missed Germany every single day of those short months at home. We became so used to our life there, that coming home, while it was fun, wasn’t as exciting as we thought it would be. When we got back to Bremerhaven we were so excited to see our friends again, meet our new friends, take Shadow on his hundewiese walks, ride our bikes and see what Bremerhaven was like in the summer months. It just felt like things were back to normal. We knew what we were doing this time around. We knew what to expect. We knew what we liked to do and how to just be normal while living here. Germany isn’t all that different when you really boil it down. As long as you keep an open mindset and try to learn some of the language.
I also suppose I shouldn’t leave hockey out of this since it is completely the reason why we get to live the life we do. German hockey fans -ESPECIALLY Fischtown fans, made this experience an ultimate gift. I didn’t know how popular the sport was until my first game here where the fans were chanting and singing and beating the drums the entire game long. If the guys lost, every single patron stuck around to applaud them for their try. When they won, you could feel the arena shake. Every game sold out in Fischtown and every person wearing a jersey and team merchandise. The last memory I’ll have in that arena was the very last game when Fischtown tied the game in the last thirty seconds to make the game go into overtime. Whoever won this got into the next round in playoffs. That goal received the loudest cheer I think I will ever hear in my entire life. Schießt ein Tor – schießt ein Tor – schießt ein Tooooohooor!
This took me a long time to finish because I’ve been going through a lot of emotions. Bremerhaven will always hold the most special place in my heart. It’s where Chris and I grew tremendously. It’s where I got engaged. It’s where I learned how to truly fend for myself. It’s where I learned how not to be lazy and actually cook for myself (and to immediately do the dishes sans dishwasher). It’s where Shadow and I had the tightest of bonds because we are often home alone together and he loves me for taking him on those walks. It’s where Germany felt like home. It’s where I learned that the world does not revolve around the USA but the USA should be taking more notes from the rest of the world. It’s where I needed to learn German phrases to get me through day to day things. It’s where Chris was able to have some of the most fun years in his hockey career yet. It’s also where he broke his hand and jaw, one requiring surgery and an overnight stay at the hospital down the street (that experience truly got me ready to be a wife 😳). It’s where I became super determined about having my own career. It’s where I met some of the best girlfriends who made this experience that much better – they even threw us brides a bachelorette party! It’s where I spent my very first Christmas away from home and spent every meaningful holiday including my birthdays away from my family. It’s where I found out what truly kind of person I am and those that I am unable to surround myself with. Now more than ever do I feel like an independent person because in this life you can’t depend on anything. Packing up and moving is just part of the job and leaving a place that you call home can happen every single year.
I’m full of emotion because leaving was so bittersweet. I know we have nothing but more adventure in our future (especially with a wedding this summer!) but the sad part is leaving a place where our lives took a complete 360 and doing that together makes it all more special. It’s only a feeling that comes when you really put yourself out there and take the risk to really go live your life away from all comfort and everything that you know.
We’ve officially been home in the U.S. for three days now and I’m not going to lie, I’ve been struggling a little. For some reason it feels weird. I don’t remember having this issue in the past, but now that I have eighteen months of living in Europe under my belt, adjusting to life back in the U.S. feels a little fuzzy to me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling having to adjust yourself to the country you literally came from, but it’s been happening to me. I had to drive myself somewhere yesterday and while I was on pilot mode with directions, my visuals made it feel so weird. The streets are so big, the cars are so big and there are no bikers for me to have to look out for in the biker lane, even though I checked at every turn. Chris and I finally went to Wegmans last night and we felt soooo uncomfortable when our cashier was bagging our groceries for us (in Germany you bring your own bag and bag your own groceries!). It was something that we got so used to doing that it almost felt demeaning watching our cashier do that for us. Anyway, I know this feeling will soon fade but the contrast in lifestyles is truly a weird feeling.
I’m twenty-five years old but I feel like I’ve aged fifty years after all of the crazy sh*** we have done over the past two seasons. We did things I never thought I’d have to do, things that were scary to do, but also things that were so rewarding. We have been able to travel so much, experience so many cultures, get accustomed to a different lifestyle, make friends from around the world, have a home in another country, see things we never would have seen before. We’ve been planning a wedding while living abroad and it has completely influenced everything we are putting into it and has made us realize that you don’t need material things to be happy.
So, with that, goodbye Bremerhaven and the biggest DANKE SCHÖN I could ever give. Chris and I will forever and ever and ever and ever be grateful for you.
These pictures are all random and some stupid, but they mean a lot to me because every time I look at them it brings back a memory.