Continued from Sorry, Thomas Wolfe, but Sometimes You CAN Go Home Again
Of all the blessings in life, aren’t old friends the best? But as I’ve learned, you can’t just wait for the stars to align and hope someday you’ll see them
again. You gotta pony up and make a plan. The good news is, you don’t have to freak out about the planning, just start in one corner and work your way to the other. So if you’re waiting for tomorrow, guess what? It’s the very next day after today. Get with it!
After Koblenz we drove to Erlangen, to stay with my friend Geli and her lovely family, whom I had never met before but they instantly made us feel at home. Geli and I met when we both were at university in Göttingen. We spent many a night in an underground Kneippe called Im Trou. I don’t know what “trou” means in German (dictionary is no help, so likely nothing) but in French it means “hole,” and it was quite literally a hole in the ground–and one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been in.
It must have been an old wine cellar from long ago, buried under a row of shops. The entrance was a steep, narrow stone staircase–a bit death-defying on snowy nights with wet boots. If you were coming down the stairs while others were going up, it was a tight but friendly squeeze. The tables were set into alcoves carved out of the stone, with wooden tables and benches and lots of candles. It was so cozy to meet there with friends on long winter nights, and the beer they served was the best: Urstoff, Flensburger, Valentinus. Damn fine brews. I was so homesick those winter nights, I didn’t mind leaving my room in the dark to bus it to town to meet there. It was a huge relief each time I saw Geli’s smiling face, and in fact she helped me survive a particularly bad stretch after a long-distance break-up.
Over the years we lost touch (time flies when you’re having kids) but Geli had looked me up about a year ago and found me online. Reconnecting with her through email was amazing, but nothing like seeing her again in person. When we finally got to her driveway I jumped from the car. “I can’t believe it! Is this really happening?” and that kind of thing. God, I wish that kind of happy reunion on all of you.
Geli’s husband, Stefan, is the kind of person who instantly puts you at ease and their lovely daughters were just a delight to behold. I’m still so grateful for how welcome they made us feel. We had lunch in their garden and then the teenage girls went into town to shop while the rest of us strolled through some woods and along some fields above Erlangen.
The next day we went into Nürnberg and they graciously showed us around the city on a loop I’m sure they’ve traveled with guests before. I’m grateful they were willing to do something so familiar (and maybe even a bit boring for them) with such enthusiasm for our first time. That is the mark of an amazing host/ess.
I had not noticed all the details of Nürnberg the only other time I’d been there, to see Bob Dylan and Tom Petty in concert in a tiny venue (front row seats!). This time I saw amazing art everywhere I looked.
The Kaiserburg was too big to capture in my camera phone. My Nikon wasn’t much of a match, either. Some things you can’t fit into a frame.
And some things you can’t explain in German, like this little bit of graffiti that would be quite at home in Colorado:
At this point we were hot and thirsty, so we stopped in a tiny bar to get some bottles of water. The summer was exceptionally warm (thanks, climate change) and we were wilting. We walked through more of the quaint old town full of Bavarian charm, with the notable exception of the Hangman’s Bridge (Henkerssteg), which was actually quite lovely despite its deadly history. Our destination was an Eiscafe (ice cream parlor) that served huge, elaborate sundaes that boggled the mind.
That’s when I discovered I had lost my cell phone. In a panic I thought of where I could have left it…maybe the railing of the Hangman’s Bridge? Stefan graciously accompanied me back there. No phone. We went back to the Eiscafe. I was pretty sure I could have left it at the place where we bought the waters. Now this is where the wonder of the internet comes in, second only to Stefan’s heroism. He used his cell phone to look up the name of the place on Google Maps (he knew the street corner but not the name of this tiny little pub). He called the place and they had my phone! So Stefan, mein Held, volunteered to RUN back there (over cobblestones, mind you, killer of knees and ankles) in the heat to get my phone. He even stopped on the way back to buy us some delicious Lebkuchen, a Nürnberg specialty that is like a dense gingerbread cookie made with ground nuts. Danke sehr, Stefan!
If you want to see the inside of the Bieramt Wanderer, when the owner so kindly protected and returned my phone, look here. Marvel at technology with me. And if you’re ever in Nürnberg, stop by and tell them I said thank you!
Next we boarded a bus to the Dokuzentrum, a museum exhibit in the unfinished Congress Hall that was to be part of Hitler’s complex of grand architecture designed to augment his tiny stature and showcase the massiveness of the Nazi Party. The Zeppelin field, home to the massive Nazi rallies, was completed with a huge stage meant to make him and his movements look larger than life. Hitler was a showman and had a habit of exaggerating his greatness–only he could save the German people, only he could make Germany great again (hmmmm….).
This stark red-brick exhibit hall documented the rise of the Third Reich through dicey politics, a frustrated working class, and a megalomaniac who ripped through laws, disparaged and eventually choked the free press, and manipulated rivals to get what he wanted (hmmmm…). It took a very sober and unsettling two hours to get through. Suffice it to say, we were feeling sick after watching video clips of the actual trials, with Göring on the witness stand feigning innocence. (To hear his voice, though just a scratchy recording, made my skin crawl.) It was mildly gratifying to see the corpses of all those hanged Nazis, but knowing Göring escaped justice by swallowing cyanide just brought you back to the despair of the genocide he and others orchestrated.
At the end of the exhibit, you walk out into the open air to see the unfinished Congress Hall at your feet.
Though words can’t cover all that history stirred up, we ended the night with dinner in a beer garden, then some meaningful conversation and tasty nightcap in Geli and Stefan’s backyard:
And I don’t know if it was the beer talking or what, but when we told Geli that out last stop was going to be Köln (Cologne), she said, “Hey, I’m not working Monday; maybe I’ll meet you there!” Oh how I love her spontaneous spirit!
To be continued….