My gap year experience motivated me to travel to Germany when I studied abroad. I went to the Europe University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) because I wanted to understand east Germany more deeply. The city was founded in the 1300s by merchants and the university was established in the 1600s. The dorm I lived in, on Berliner Straße, originally belonged to a church that was founded with the city. At first it was used to shelter lepers, and later became a hospital, which was open until the 1700s. The church next to the hospital collapsed in the 1920s and had to be rebuilt down the street. The hospital stood empty until the 2000s when the EU gave the university permission to restore it and convert it to a dorm. When I was there, part of the building was new, part under renovation, and the rest in utter disrepair.
Every time I came home from the university the large, broken, upstairs windows stared back at me. Sounds creepy, right? It was, especially late at night. But more than that, it awakened a curiosity in me. I wanted to know, what is this building? So, I went exploring. I found plaques around the building that explained its history. I explored the yard that contained the ruins of the church. My initial exploration in the yard, yielded random odds and ends, but nothing that I could attach to a narrative. I found some old bottles, one women’s shoe, a rusted car, and what looked like part of an animal skeleton. After timidly exploring some of the partially renovated parts of the hospital, I found a door that looked untouched by construction. The door was rusted almost shut. The opening was pitch black in bright daylight. I finally got up the courage to go through the door and down the stairs. The whole time I had the thought in the back of my head that I had just conveniently entered a horror movie setting. I kept imagining the sound of the door slamming. I did not have the courage to turn the corner, where I could not see the light in the doorway. When I had reached the bottom step, I found something. A half-sheet of disintegrating paper. This was it! What I was looking for. I apprehensively picked up the paper and turned swiftly toward the door.
I made it back out thankfully. In the sunlight I was able to read the title, printed in calligraphy, “Die Augen” or “The Eyes”. The calligraphy was difficult to read. Some words were unintelligible because of the holes in the paper. I read enough to understand that it must have come from a manual instructing doctors on how to relate to their patients. If that were the case, then I had just found something at least from the 1700s. I had made a personal connection to a place and time that no longer existed. A place whose former meaning was slowly being erased. You can read about my continuing adventures in Frankfurt (Oder) here.