My first experience with eastern Germany was working on a tiny farm in a village called Lebehn. I was on a trip with my German class at the time, and decided to remain in Germany for a year instead of going back to the US. My goal was to be fluent in German by the end of the year.
After my three-week trip ended, I took the train six hours from Munich north across Germany. On my way, I got stuck in a small town called Pasewalk. After some internal panic, I ended up boarding a tour bus going to Poland. With the help of my new Polish friends, the bus dropped me off at the tiny decrepit train station. The train station consisted of one boarded-up building and one train track. I had planned to meet my host family here, but it was about an hour past when I was supposed to arrive. As the sun began to set, I stood by the train tracks wondering what next. I finally got up the courage to ask the portly man smoking by the train tracks, if I could use his cell phone. As it turned out he did not have one, but he would ask his wife. Thankfully she knew where Lebehn was and drove me there.
I would discover later that half of the houses in Lebehn were empty with gaping broken windows. All the young people had gone west to Berlin after the fall of the wall, to find work. There were rarely people in the street. Most of the people who did live there, were too old to be mobile and too poor to leave. My host family lived in this area because they wanted to own a farm and they could afford to do so there. My host family and our Polish neighbor were the only people I knew who were there by choice. As a result, my pool of possible friends there was rather small. I made due by getting to know my host family, the animals, and by reading German books. I like to joke that the cow was my best friend at the time, which in a lot of ways was true. After a couple months, I was really ready to move to a city. My host family put me in contact with friends of theirs in Berlin which made this possible.
My experience there taught me many things including how to press into loneliness and focusing my goal of being fluent in German despite hardship. Lebehn also instilled in me the desire to tell the stories of those who might otherwise have been forgotten. I knew that in order to act on this, I would need a deeper understanding of this part if Germany. This desire combined with my experiences in Berlin, would greatly impact my interest in studying abroad in that area a year and a half later. You can read about my experiences studying abroad here.