Compared to the major cities in Germany, Mannheim is austere and lacking in brilliant photo-worthy castles. It has a well-known university and most of the people living there are either studying or working at the chemical behemoth in the neighboring town. To most it is an insignificant place, but to me, it is where I learned that I can live without regrets and that I do not have to be a CEO or own a luxury car to feel accomplished. Mannheim glows with a unique sense of freedom and contentment which I can call back to my mind when I feel pressured to sacrifice my time to something in which I do not believe. Mannheim changed my life.
Time may be the one thing that no one can take from you, but it is also the most precious commodity that we hold as individuals, with the most potential to be used for greatness, and it is the easiest thing to let fall from our attention. Just out of college, I had a good job, a savings account, a 401-k, and a business degree. Exactly what I had always been told would send me on my way to a happy and fulfilled life. About a year into my good job, I watched the Denver skyline approach from my seat on the express bus and I realized that this would be my future. There were no new classes to take, no curriculum to follow, no rules to abide by, and I wondered how I had come to be in possession of a cubicle and my own set of black mesh office supplies. I must have chosen these things, but they did not seem like me.
I had a panic attack. I realized in an instant that I was wasting my short life away. I had chosen to study international business, because if I was going to have to succumb to the humdrum of the office gray padded walls, I at least wanted to sit in a cube located outside of the U.S. It was at this moment that I took my time back and sent an email.
I emailed a second-cousin in Mannheim, Germany, one who I had never met, and I begged him for a position in his small company and he conceded, although hesitantly. I packed up some clothes, I booked a ticket, and in a month, I started over. It was the best decision of my life.
Creative energy seeps from the walls in Mannheim, as does graffiti. Students bring a free and alternative feel to the city. With the highest Turkish population by percentage of any city in Germany, multiculturalism and youth create a passion that never sleeps. People are relaxed and conversations never center on career and winning, but on growth and expression. The Jungbusch Nachtwandel midnight art festival and bonfire is held for a week once a year in winter along with other events. The streets brim with people of all ages as music and singing ring into the streets from hidden apartments. Every door in the neighborhood is open as people wander through private houses, apartments, galleries and abandoned buildings that have been hiding art installations through the winter months.
In the summer, an almost constant crowd of people host barbeques along the extensive river shorelines and on docks overlooking the water. Families play, freeing themselves to the warm summer sun in all fashions imaginable. These habits and others create a community among the distinctly separate groups that live in Mannheim. I made friends from all over the world and I made it a point to visit them and learn about their lives at home. I realized that traveling, learning about people and writing about their true amazing lives is what I need to do with my time.
Most of my friends from Mannheim have moved on. I have also moved on but my mind returns to Mannheim when my heart feels heavy and I find myself searching for the perfect balance for each moment.
About the Author: Stephanie Caraway moved to Germany after graduating from university and has not stopped moving since. She is in a constant state of either planning her next adventure or on a spur of the moment trip. She is currently working on an “Ugly City” photography project, documenting the beauty in everyday industrial places and working people that tourists may overlook.
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