On Leaving

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Once, sitting on an U-Bahn train painted brown as it hurtled through a faraway city’s underground arteries, a young man told me he would never truly leave that adopted German city of his. In the weeks and months following, having returned to my own adopted city, I thought of that moment often and came to hope that the same would hold true of Regensburg and I. At the very least, a box of my leftover belongings sits in a cool cellar in a house beside the Regen, a few forgotten textbooks lie in my staffroom locker while Piers’ and my vintage tennis racquets, so enthusiastically purchased from the Fischmarkt antiques store, are tied together with grey twine, slouched in a corner of Rudi’s blue bicycle shed. The books I gifted during the last weeks of school stand on the shelves of teachers and students alike – from Kumpfmühl to Pentling to Altstadt to my dear old Donauinsel. Something about this trail of breadcrumbs I subconsciously scattered behind me during my last weeks beside the Danube made stepping onto the Vienna bound express train that Friday a little less heart-breaking.

Konstantin kindly drove me to the station. How unfair it seemed to have to leave a life I had so lovingly built and chosen for myself, to trample all that progress underfoot, to murmur choked see you soons to so many people and places I had grown to love. I watched as the silhouettes of Rudi and Christl grew ever smaller in the window mirror whilst Konstantin and I careened south to the station, my one way ticket to an unknown away creeping closer. How to expound in words the feeling of sitting forlornly at Gleis 9 – a platform on which I’d often said goodbye to other visitors, on which I’d often returned to my assumed home with great happiness – with worldly possessions at one’s feet, experiencing this poignant farewell amidst the bustle of the everyday? I’m leaving! Some ceremony please! I wanted to shout. The weary workers commuting home for the evening, children returning from school and teenagers arriving in the city for Friday night distraction paid no attention, of course, and when the train did at last arrive, predictably delayed, I embarked alone and without spectacle. It was always going to be a solitary goodbye. Or better, a solitary auf Wiedersehen. Let’s not talk of goodbyes just yet.

Yet though I am no longer a tangible presence there, I find myself walking along Stadtamhof’s Hauptstraβe in the sacred moments before sleep descends; in dreams I cycle the length of the Prüfeninger Straβe, wander through medieval streets, sit on one of those ubiquitous benches – telephone box red – lining the banks of that mesmeric blue river.  Yesterday night I bought postcards from the Buchhandlung Dombrowsky, took a bike ride through the secret rose garden in the Herzogspark, marvelled at the radiant flowers reaching for the sun. And though there are few photographs to mark my last days in the Donaustadt, I carry with me always a necklace of delicious memories – a string of near perfect summer twilights which I already, though mere weeks have passed since I packed my (numerous) bags and upped to Austria, feel nostalgia for.

One such evening, June at its end – the city suffering silently under a shroud of humid midsummer heat – Julia and I met to listen to Carmina Burana in the Stadtpark, parking our two bicycles amidst the hundreds of others lining the leafy avenues of the park. The evening was remarkable in that I could feel the moment imprinting itself in my memory as it was happening, no hindsight necessary: our hopping from Stadtpark to Strandbar to Chaplin’s back to Stadtamhof, cycling along Thundorferstraβe with a Bavarian pink sky burning orange at our backs, Julia’s Russian girlfriends reciting Rilke by heart, a gaggle of my favourite little pupils running about the park with summer spirit in their legs and bottles of Limonade in their hands. And at the end of it all, as we hugged and giggled and made plans to meet for the last time, I remember the first drops of rain falling on my eyelashes, storm clouds imbuing the sky with that particular shade of black.

***

The moment I fell in love with Regensburg I can pinpoint exactly. It was one warm July Tuesday four years ago whilst standing on the kerb in a street sandwiched between the Justizgebäude and Dörnbergpark. The leaves on the trees were rustling overhead, the light cutting just right across the tarmac, and a man – old or young, I don’t know – cycled North in the distance.

Right there. Just then.

It took me a little while to find the street again when I moved to Regensburg three years later but eventually Piers and I happened upon it during an evening walk. I recognised it immediately. This was it! The street! The street on which I fell in love! The street that decided my future! I found myself standing on the corner of that street once more on another of those summer twilights during my last days beside the Danube. Nicholas and I had undertaken a spontaneous bicycle tour of Regensburg’s green belt, riding from park to park, stopping only for crêpes and photographs: the Stadtpark, Dörnberg, Villapark tucked right up beside the river, and the Herzogspark rose garden. And that’s when I found myself standing at the park gate looking up at the building of justice, remembering again that this was the place. I hadn’t been there often during the year. Who has time amidst the activity of modern life to visit a particular street, just because? Not I, and anyway, it was the other end of town from my apartment, en route to nowhere I needed to go. I’m glad of that now, for it meant I was always happily surprised to chance upon it again. Especially that last time, standing beneath a linden tree, cobalt blue bicycle between my legs, a dear friend by my side as the sun throbbed upon our shoulders.  Things coming full circle, or something like that.

Well-worn cliché though it is, I wouldn’t change a thing of the year I lived in Regensburg, on an island perched atop one of Europe’s great rivers. I wouldn’t change a thing; neither good nor bad. Being granted the opportunity to live in a city I had always admired, to be allowed to fall desperately in love with the place,  is a fact I still shake my head at. I don’t know that I was always the best person I could be in Regensburg, and I was deeply sad at times, but I was simultaneously blisfully happy there. The people I met and grew to know well there I will always carry in my heart. Though it was dreadfully sad to leave, I can be nothing but grateful. I was so blessed, so well cared for, and made such wonderful lifelong friends. Having boarded a train out of the main station on a sultry July afternoon not so many weeks ago, having now exited the proverbial door of the city beside the Danube I came to hold so dear, I can sincerely say I believe what that boy on that subway train elucidated. I have a second home to return to one day, should I so wish. How can I be anything more than utterly thankful?