Caveat lector: in this long post I muse about the weather, clothes, shoes, and packing. If these subjects do not interest you, come back in a week or so, when I write about traveling!
Dresden weather in January 2°C / 36°F 3°C / 27°F
Dresden weather in February 4°C / 39°F -2°C / 28°F
Dresden weather in March 8°C / 46°F 0°C / 32°F
Dresden weather in April 13°C / 55°F 4°C / 39°F
Dresden weather in May 18°C / 64°F 8°C / 46°F
Dresden weather in June 22°C / 72°F 11°C / 52°F
Dresden weather in July 23°C / 73°F 13°C / 55°F
Dresden weather in August 23°C / 73°F 12°C / 54°F
Dresden weather in September 18°C / 64°F 9°C / 48°F
Dresden weather in October 14°C / 57°F 6°C / 43°F
Dresden weather in November 7°C / 45°F 2°C / 36°F
Dresden weather in December 3°C / 37°F -1°C / 30°F
Wie ist das Wetter in Deutschland? On the whole, it will be cooler than here, as Saxony lies farther north than most of the US. For comparison, the northernmost town in Maine is Estcourt, which lies on the 47th parallel; Winnipeg in Manitoba is on the 49th parallel; Dresden lies on the 51st parallel. From the table you can see that the warmest Dresden typically gets is in the low 70s in the summer, although the text from the website actually says that because of the climate of the Elbe River valley, summer temps often reach the low 80s. The coldest is usually just below freezing. Compared with negative temperatures here the last two winters, it should be relatively mild! An umbrella or two will be a must.
I will spend this, my last week at home, cleaning out my study and trying to maximize my packing capabilities. In preparation for my preparations, I solicited advice from grad students who have already completed their foreign research. I was particularly interested in what kind of clothes to bring. The general refrain was that while some locations (notably university libraries) have more relaxed sartorial standards, some archivists equate one's wardrobe with the seriousness of one's project; and that to be on the safe side, I should dress more formally the first day or so, and then relax as I gauge the expectations of the people who will be answering my thousand questions and fetching me more or less obscure materials. The problem is that I am planning on visiting both libraries and archives, and since I can't know the unspoken dress codes ahead of time, it seems I should pack a wardrobe that ranges from "graduate student" (= jeans and hoody; read: comfortable) to "conference presentation" (= suit or equivalent; read: uncomfortable, not to mention not very travel-worthy). This advice clashes with another sage saying I heard: pack twice as much money and half as much clothing as you think you will need.
A friend of mine with apparently heroic self-discipline got through the usual year of dissertation research with three shirts, two pairs of slacks, a pair of jeans, and a winter coat. He always looks proper; but I am afraid I could do no such thing. I know, I know: you can only wear one pair of pants at a time, etc. But at the end of the winter I always despise my (admittedly ample) sweater collection--but perhaps it is more the drudgery of the cold weather that has worn thin my patience than "nothing to wear. On the other hand, I can't pack the way I used to when I went home for the month of winter break back in college. Whereas my friend took only a backpack for a year, ...I used to lug home two suitcases, a toiletries bag, and a backpack. For one month. At home. So it's not like I was trying to avoid the cost of laundry! I just couldn't help but think, "What if I want to wear that shirt?" Of course, I probably didn't wear half of what I lugged on the airplane. Checked baggage fees and some travel maturity have largely cured me of that bad habit. But what to bring for 10.5 months living in Europe?
One factor befuddling my packing is that I have only ever experienced Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, England, Ireland) in the summer. With the exception of a heatwave one July in Prague, my impression is of cool and rain. I only got through the two months of a supposedly atypical but by subsequent experience standard summer at the Goethe Institut in Göttingen by appropriating a sweatshirt from a classmate; thank goodness I had included one pair of jeans with all my shorts and t-shirts. This time, however, I will be arriving in the middle of fall, with a long winter ahead of me. For instance, this week in Dresden daytime highs are in the 60s with fog or rain, and nighttime lows are in the lower 50s. By the time I arrive there October 1, it should be in the 50s during the day and the 40s at night. The final complication of this sort is my brief stop-over in Baltimore, where the temps are still in the 80s!
Another piece of advice I have received regarding packing for this trip is that "Germany is a civilized country, after all"--meaning, if I forget something, I can just buy a replacement when I get there. Several people have suggested buying everything from shampoo to a bike helmet once I get to Germany. However, the frugal me doesn't see why I should spend money over there for something I already own (over here), especially something like a helmet that isn't consumable. We'll see if I change my tune once the packing begins.
One thing that will improve my preferred wardrobe (jeans, tees, sweatshirts), is that my favorite comfy tops are printed in English, with med school and other slogans. There are any number of reasons not to want to stand out as an American, but probably prime among them is my personal desire not to repeat an episode from that summer abroad during college. Despite the suggestion not to bring clothing with English words (it was 2002, after all), my attire at the time largely consisted of Dance Marathon t-shirts. While walking through the town center of Göttingen wearing one of them, I was accosted by a boy, probably 10 years old: "Do you speak English?" he asked. "Vielleicht [maybe]," I replied, indicating my preference to speak in German. "Vielleicht," he repeated, mocking my accent. I had been revealed as a double impostor: an American who wouldn't speak English but couldn't speak German. Then he and his friend ran away.
With the weather and a rough dress code of "nice graduate student" in mind, I am planning to bring only (unprinted) tops that I can wear for more than one season--i.e. pieces that layer well. I am often cold, so in addition to my winter coat, I will bring at least one hoody for all those chilly archives, plus some leggings to wear under my pants like longjohns. (Leggings and herbal tea were about the only way I recently survived a very cold winter of classes in the basement of the hospital!) Speaking of pants, I suspect the limiting factor will be the bottoms, or more precisely, the shoes. Most of my nice tops can be worn with either dress pants, khakis, or jeans. So far, so good. But what shoes to bring?? I don't consider myself a shoe-horse (is that the equivalent of a clothes-horse?), but the volume of the provisional list I'm made of footwear already alarms me: sneakers, 1 or 2 of the 3 pairs of nice shoes I own, probably one pair of sandals, and boots. Maybe also my slippers? Probably I will leave the black shoes and bottoms home, but then I have to choose between the gray shoes that make my feet look small and the practical but boring brown ones. Oh woe, the decisions!
One "cheat" I may use is asking DH to bring me a small bag of clothes (probably sweaters, maybe the boots?) when he comes to visit in November; he can take them away again in March, and I will have gotten through the winter with an expanded wardrobe. Similarly, my parents hope to visit next spring; maybe I'll pack a bag of summerish clothes and sandals for my stopover next week, leave it there, and ask them to bring it with them?
Either way, perhaps from the undue length of this post you can tell that I've thought a lot about packing--but not really as much from worry as from my secret glee at problem solving. Packing is like three-dimensional Tetris (my favorite two-dimensional computer game): how can I get all this stuff to fit in that little space? I relish the challenge. Hopefully my send-off photo from the airport will prove that I was up to the task!