I’ve never had an office job before. Apart from a few odd weeks of work experience scattered here and there throughout my teenage summers, the whole concept is completely new to me. I hadn’t expected to find it so draining. I’m used to working for at least eight hours a day, six days a week in Oxford, and so my forty hour contract sounded like a doddle. I hadn’t quite realised how much I rely on being able to start those hours whenever I like, and intersperse them with coffee breaks at Missing Bean and cups of tea in Sam’s room and sprawling on the JCR sofas whining about the latest essay crisis. The end of the first week of my internship was really, truly the first time I’ve ever understood the joy of the weekend. TGIF gained a whole new meaning. Two days off. Two lie-ins. I was pretty excited.
But how to spend it?
I had by this point managed to make a grand total of one friend, but since he works on Saturdays I still had no company. So, armed with only a book (I’m reading ‘The Story of Art’ by E.H. Gombrich by the way and it’s brilliant and I really recommend it, but that’s another story) and my camera, I set off for the lake. I envisaged finding a patch of grass near the water, which I might share with a dog walker or two. I was wrong. I was suddenly really, truly, undeniably at the seaside.
Leipzig is somewhere around 200 miles from the sea, so I think I can be forgiven for my surprise. (My flatmate doesn’t agree. He found my lack of foresight – and the fact I didn’t take a swimming costume – completely hilarious). I spent a blissful Saturday reading in the boiling sun, surrounded by very scantily-clad (or, in some cases, not clad at all) Germans, and if I shut my eyes for a minute or so, imagining being somewhere far more exotic than Germany wasn’t inconceivable.
(‘Blissful’ might be a good summative word here BUT I did get stung by a wasp for the first time ever, and spent an hour or so frantically trying to find wifi to find out whether being in so much pain that I could hardly walk straight was a normal reaction, and then another hour or so sitting with my poor swollen finger dangling into the cool of the lake. Nothing’s perfect).
Anyway, I liked the lake so much that I’ve already been back twice. The first was for a barbecue at sunset with my housemate and a few of his friends. I managed to forget – again – that everything is closed on Sunday here, and so found myself eating grilled fishfingers in my total failure to buy meat in advance. (I would actually recommend). The sunset that Sunday was magical and mesmerising, and I pottered around with my camera trying to do it justice.
My third visit was this weekend, with Sam in tow. We’d already spent a reasonable proportion of the vac lazing around on beaches, and, well, I had to let him see how the Germans compared to the Greeks in this particular respect. (Verdict: incomparable). This time I managed to bring my swimming costume and avoid angry wasps – so a resounding success.
Despite having spent three weeks in an entirely German-speaking office, this lake is the place I’ve felt most that I really am somewhere different. This sort of place, I think, just wouldn’t, couldn’t exist in England. The weather is one obstacle but so too would be our tendency to run over nice things with the cogs of capitalism. The unassuming snack hut at Cospudener See with its humble offerings of chips and beer would be, I’m sure, something far uglier in any English equivalent. There’d probably be speakers blasting out ghastly tunez too. (I am being cynical, I know, and I apologise). But as Sam pointed out, “there’s always a lake near a German city, isn’t there?” This spirit of lazily, cheaply, happily enjoying the weekend outside is something I already like a lot.
(ps. in case you were wondering: the title of this blog post is based on one of my favourite books in the world, “The Sea, The Sea” by Iris Murdoch. It’s wonderful and you should read it.)