Dresden, Germany - (map)
Sebastian's infectious laughter and fun personality drew me all the way to Germany for an unplanned stop on my European itinerary. Michelle and I met him on our Himalayan trek and after he invited us to Dresden, I couldn't say no.
He played the perfect host, showing me around Dresden's old city, the small village where his parents live, and the mountains around Saxony. He even drove me to Berlin for the weekend for a tour. We dined in nice restaurants, drank in beer gardens, relaxed with his friends and girlfriend Maret, went to a late night student disco, and barbecued on his back porch. I learned more about Germany through my talks with him than I ever could have hoped to on my own.
Sebastian grew up in the former East Germany with two dreams - the first to cross into West Berlin through the Brandenberg Gate and the second to visit his relatives in Namibia. Since the fall of Communism and Reunification, he has accomplished both and now enjoys a lifestyle that he thought would never be possible 10 years ago.
It is a new world in East Germany, a place where construction cranes hang above every skyline. Sebastian pointed to shopping malls near the center of Dresden, "That one is five years old, this one is two years old, these are three years old." You can easily see the three eras of Dresden architecture - historic pre-war monuments, Communist style apartments, and buildings from the last ten years.
Not every German feels as excited as Sebastian about the changes in their country. Thousands lost their jobs in the transition, including Sebastian's father and Maret's mother. And while Sebastian's father now works for himself producing Christmas crafts in his home in Seiffen*, Maret's mother has suffered with 10 years of unemployment. With Germany's 15% unemployment rate and the disappearance of lifetime guaranteed employment, it is easy for me to understand the success of current Communist politicians in Berlin. They run for office with slogans similar to, "Are you better off now than you were ten years ago?" The answer is just as clear for Sebastian as it is for Maret's mother - those who have found success in the last ten years verses those who have found heartache.
* Seiffen is Sebastian's home town, a village of 3000 located near the Czech border in what used to be East Germany. His town is famous worldwide for making Christmas crafts - well known items such as wooden nutcrackers and "smoking man" incense burners. Check them out.