I just returned from a carefully planned, two-week trip through Germany with my family to visit dearest friends and old haunts. It took a lot of planning on my part, but with the internet (yay!), just about anything is possible from renting a car overseas to booking lodging to researching train schedules and prices. I’m so “over” stressing every detail in life that my trip planning devolved into more of a dare to see “how long can I procrastinate and still make this work.” It worked!
I lived in Germany in 1987-88 and have visited a few times since then, but it had been 20 years since my last trip, when I took my then-fiance to meet my German “parents” (dear friends who treated me like a daughter). I had hoped they’d really make him work for the “Gutschein” (seal of approval), but within 5 minutes they declared him wonderful. Everyone loves Joe!
I started practicing my German a few months before our trip, but was surprised how quickly so much came back to me once we landed. Kids, it pays to do your homework. I kept thinking of all the hours I had spent scouring over dictionaries and textbooks (this was before Google Translate, y’all) to learn German (and French, before that), and I have to admit I am pretty proud of my devotion to linguistics.
Everything went off without a hitch, save one or two train delays that were easy enough to work around. I’m still trying to process all the wonders revisited, new ones discovered, and what it’s like to live with half your heart on the other side of an ocean. I can’t “sum it up”–it’s too big–but I can share some thoughts and lots of pictures. Maybe you’ll be inspired to quit fussing with the everyday and start thinking big and far away. Everyone has some place they want to visit “someday.” Well, someday never comes if you don’t get off your habits and start planning. Where do you want to go? More importantly, what are you waiting for? I’ve posted some pro tips to get you started here.
Der Großer Kreis (The Big Circle)
We had lots of people to see during their summer plans, so we ended up driving in a big circle around the entire country. This was a great way for my family to see the various states, including the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) or East Germany. For background on how and why Germany was divided, see here. More on that in a future post when I cover Berlin.
I love the Rhineland, where I lived with my German “parents” in Köln (Cologne) on the Rhine. Köln is a happy city (host to outrageously elaborate Karnival parties and parades) and the Rheinland is about the sunniest place in Germany. Being from Colorado, where the sun shines over 300 days a year, I needed Köln. But the whole Rheinland is astounding, as you can see. We started in Andernach, near Koblenz, with friends I met through a dear friend who has been pen pals with their father since the end of WWII. (I am not including photos of them only because I haven’t asked if they want to be published on my blog.)
The next day we took a ship up and down the Rhine from Koblenz to Braubach. I have a special fondness for Koblenz because my German “dad” took me there a couple times when he had to travel for business, so I got to wander around on my own. I’ve taken the ship ride there a few times, past castles and well-manicured river towns that date back many centuries.
On July 7, we picked up our rental and followed our hosts up to Marksburg, a big medieval castle in Braubach.
After a much more fascinating time than I’m able to recount here, including a lovely spell in the beer garden with gorgeous views and the delightful company of our very entertaining friends, we decided to get dinner on the Mosel. So first we had to cross the Rhine by ferry.
Driving the long, winding roads along two of my favorite rivers was a bit dreamy. I was struck by how comfortable I felt there. Now, Germany has no reason to think of me as belonging to it, but I do feel at home there in a certain sense. I don’t always fit in–I’m emotional and expressive to a fault, I feel like I get stuck in vocabulary loops I can’t get out of, and I say exactly what I’m feeling, which is not the German way at all. They will tell you exactly what they are thinking, but feelings are mostly private.
I love the friends I’ve met there (they’re the expressive exceptions) and it’s not lost on me that German friendships are for life. Maybe the best way to describe how I feel is like a long-lost cousin from the other side of the pond. As a fascinated observer who has done a lot of research, I know Germany pretty well, with its flaws and glories, atrocities and efforts to atone for them. I’ve tried to no avail to understand how humanity can be as debased as the Third Reich was in WWII, but (news flash) that level of hate can and does happen anywhere (do you need a list?). I shudder to think where the next drift towards brutality might occur, and if I sound sometimes like an alarmist about how things are headed in my own country, well…I’ve studies patterns of human behavior, not just details of histories and economics. Vigilance is always the best policy, in any country.
I once got to see first hand how division affected them, and this time is noticed how reunification has too. But more on that when we talk about Berlin. We have a few stops to make along the way before that…stay tuned.