Germany is a truly wonderful place to be this May. The weather is perfect, vibrant flowers are lining window boxes and peeking out behind garden gates all through town, and the sky is a lovely shade of pale blue almost every day. My home state of Missouri has been less fortunate this May, but I'm incredibly blessed to report that all of my relatives in Joplin are okay, even if their homes are not.
Last week, the long-anticipated "Jeremy in Germany" (say that five times fast . . .) adventure finally happened! The first half of his visit was spent in Munich on business with BMW, but I caught up with him at the end of that and we set off on a whirlwind tour of Southern Germany.
Our first stop was my beloved town of Regensburg, where I studied and lived for more than half of 2009. We spent Friday night running around with my best friends there, Johannes and Julia, plus a lot of other friends that I hadn't seen in a while.
The next morning, after a lot of breakfast and very little sleep, we hopped on a train to Friedrichshafen to visit my aunt and uncle on the Bodensee. Their hospitality is truly unmatched! I always have the best time visiting them, so I wanted to make sure that Jeremy got to experience that too. Saturday afternoon we explored a pottery market in their town and were treated to a lovely homemade meal of white asparagus and the most delicious potatoes either of us had ever tasted (of course they were from the farm just down the road, which might have had something to do with that). Sunday morning we went to Meersburg and took a tour of the oldest fortress in Germany. There were people in period costumes wandering the halls, doing various chores, and even cooking in the castle kitchen, which really added to the experience. In the afternoon, we went to Affenberg or "Monkey Mountain," a place I had very fond memories of from childhood but hadn't seen since I was six years old. I was worried that I might have built it up in my mind too much, but it was everything I had remembered and more! Basically it is a small mountain that has Barbary monkeys running around it. You get to feed them popcorn and observe them as they interact with one another. I even got involved in a quick game of monkey tag before one of the park workers shooed the trouble-making monkey away.
Sunday evening, my uncle made his famous Käsespätzle for us and then we took a long "Verdauungsspaziergang" (ridiculously long German word meaning "walk to aid digestion" or "after-dinner walk") along the lake.
The next day, my aunt and uncle drove us back to Tübingen, which was incredibly nice of them. On our way back, we stopped at Bebenhausen and did the audio tour of the monastery. We had lunch at the Tübingen brewery (Neckarmüller) and then said our goodbyes to Dieter and Bea. I thought the time we spent with them was one of the best parts of Jeremy's visit, and he probably agrees. Monday afternoon was spent showing Jeremy around Tübingen and then hanging out in the park with Dan and Lauren. The next morning, we got up pretty early and took the train to Ulm to visit my aunt, uncle, and grandmother, who had just arrived there from London. For the fifth time in my life, I climbed the tallest steeple in the world (768 steps). Jeremy was pretty impressed by the Ulmer Münster, and now I've got him reading Pillars of the Earth
, which is a fascinating novel by Ken Follett about cathedral-building in the 12th century. If you haven't read it, go do it! Now! After a nice lunch with the relatives, another Verdauungsspaziergang, and some coffee, we headed back to Tübingen for some grilling in the park with Dan, Lauren, and some German friends. We stayed at the park well after the sun had set talking about everything from neuroscience to unemployment, and then made plans for a farewell breakfast the next morning. Jeremy made it back to China safely, and I've spent the last few days getting caught up on my project before my grandma comes to Tübingen next week to help. Last night though, Dan and I rode our bikes to Bebenhausen (I know, it seems like I go there all the time, which is kind of true . . .) for a choir concert. It was absolutely the most beautiful choir concert I have ever attended. Ever.
The monastery was lit up with tiny tea candles, the sun was setting, and the music literally brought me to tears. The concert began with a lighthearted song
that I have actually sung in choir before, "Now is the Month of Maying" (hence the title of this post). The choir last night wasn't quite like this, but so you have an idea of what it sounded like:
The guy third from the left is by far my favorite.
The concert moved from the courtyard to the monastery's chapel, where they sang two of the best choir pieces I have ever heard in my life. There were tears streaming down my cheeks as I listened to this song and read the text, which I've copied for you below:
When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time
I want to feel the gentleness that changed my destiny.
I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want your ears to still hear the wind,
I want you to smell the scent of the sea we both loved,
and to continue walking on the sand we walked on.
I want all that I love to keep on living,
and you whom I loved and sang above all things
To keep flowering into full bloom.
so that you can touch all that my love provides you,
so that my shadow may pass over your hair,
so that all may know the reason for my song.
Soneto de la Noche, Pablo Neruda (Translation by Nicholas Lauridsen)
I don't know whether it was being in that beautiful chapel, listening to the haunting music, reading those lyrics, the fact that I have been going through the last and saddest of the letters between my great-grandparents, or a combination of everything, but there were tears streaming down my face as I heard this song. I am not an overly sensitive person, but that was a very moving experience and I'm so glad I got to be a part of it. So a big thank you is due to Florian's mom, Heide, (who was singing in the choir) for giving us the tickets!
On Monday, my family (minus Will) came to visit me in Germany. They arrived bright and early in the morning, and after a delicious traditional German breakfast, they headed to the hotel for naptime. We went to the local brewery for dinner and then they came over to check out my apartment before calling it an early night.
We decided to spend Tuesday in Heidelberg, one of the most famous tourist cities in Germany. It has an enormous castle and a beautiful Altstadt. Unfortunately we missed the English tour of the castle, but we were able to check out the Apothecary Museum (way cooler than it sounds) and the two giant barrels of wine kept in the cellar there. My dad was impressed.
Having "the best cake ever" before heading up to the castle:
On Wednesday we took it easy, going for a bike ride in Tübingen and doing a bit of shopping. In the afternoon, I took Joseph to nearby Reutlingen to sit in on a seventh grade English class that one of my Fulbright friends, Lauren, teaches. It was a great experience for him and I think the German students enjoyed themselves as well. Wednesday night was, of course, time to show them the wonder that is the Besenwirtschaft. After an enormous meal of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, Schweinebraten, and plenty of good wine, we sampled the homemade liqueurs. I highly recommend the cinnamon one.
Thursday we had a mini family reunion in Ulm. The weather was terrible, but the company was so good that it didn’t matter. We met up with about ten of our relatives and had a lovely German lunch, followed by a trip to the Ulmer Munster so that Joseph could say he climbed the cathedral with the tallest tower in the world. Then we had cake and coffee at Tante Irmgard’s. (She made me tiramisu! Again!) We got back to Tübingen around 9, which was bed time for the travelers and just in time for me to meet up with some friends and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day . . .
With my relatives in Ulm:
We spent their last day in Germany doing a tour of Bebenhausen, the monastery just outside of Tübingen. The English audio tour was surprisingly really fascinating--it was narrated in story form by a monk in the 1500s, who took us around all of the rooms, speaking in a hushed voice and making the whole experience come to life. We also took a tour of the hunting castle, which was not in English or German but Schwäbisch, so I had a good time working on understanding local dialect while my parents and Joseph tried to follow along in their guide books.
After saying our goodbyes on Saturday morning, my family headed to London to visit my brother, and I headed home to pack for the Fulbright conference in Berlin.
So here I am, sitting at our hostel in Berlin and enjoying the free wireless, which is allowing me to deliver this blog post to you. I’ll be back in Tübingen on Sunday, with just enough time to write a post about this past week and pack up for another trip . . . Barcelona, here I come!
Miss you guys already:
If you know me, you know that there's no way I could be talking about basketball. (That is the right sport for March Madness, right?) But the month of March starts today, which marks the beginning of a crazy, fun-filled, slightly overwhelming six weeks of visitors and traveling for me. In other words, I am precisely in my element!
This coming Friday, one of my best friends from college is coming to visit for nine days. She's never been out of the United States, so I cannot wait to show her what Germany has to offer! The day after she heads back to business school at Wake Forest, my parents and little brother Joseph arrive in Tübingen. Joseph started learning German this year, so I'm excited for him to practice his skills at ordering some Käsespätzle or a bratwurst! The day after my family heads to London to visit my other brother, Will, I leave for a five day Fulbright conference in Berlin. My Tübingen friends are planning on coming to visit me in Berlin after that for the weekend, which brings us to the 27th of March. Things should be winding down, right? Wrong. There's more! The following Wednesday, Gwen and I will jet off to Barcelona for an eight day adventure in Spain. The Monday after we return from the beach, school starts again! And the day after school starts, my brother Will is coming to visit from London.
When he leaves on the 16th of April to meet up with his girlfriend in Amsterdam, I will probably need a little extra sleep. And some time to breathe, and read a book or something. Or, wait, I seem to recall something about some letters . . . ?
Just kidding. I've been keeping up with my research, and working a little bit harder even to try and get ahead before the madness begins on Friday. Yesterday, I actually finished reading the letters from my great-grandfather, which means that to date, I have transcribed well over two hundred letters from 1942-1943. Success! Now it's time to revise those transcriptions and lay the groundwork for the annotations and translations I'll be working on this spring. Oh, and the second collection of letters, from the 1970s-1990s, written by my grandmother about her experiences after her move to the United States. And I'm only here until July?!
A few weekends ago, I visited my relatives in Ulm for a day. Tante Irmgard found some more letters for me, as well as two incredible pictures taken in 1994 of four generations of women:
Of course, knowing me, it hasn't been all work and no play for the last couple of weeks. I went on a fantastic day trip to Zurich and found myself surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen . . .
My friend Kaelan from high school came to visit and we hiked up to Castle Hohenneuffen, located just an hour outside of Tübingen . . .
The German version of the Mardi Gras parade came to town and I tried not to run away in fear. Instead of scantily clad women, there were monsters running around the cobblestoned streets, chasing unsuspecting people and hitting them with brooms . . .
And this past weekend, my friends Johannes and Julia from Regensburg came to visit. It was so good to see them again, and the time passed far too quickly . . .
Unfortunately, those two weren't the only ones I had to say good bye to last weekend. My friend Sabine from Belgium ended her semester abroad here and headed back home. Sabine, you will be missed!
As many of you know, I spent the past month or so obsessing about the latest challenge in my new and important life as a Fulbright scholar: The Dreaded Lecture. I had to give a 20-40 minute presentation on the findings of my project so far to a room full of very accomplished professors and PhD candidates in the Department of Modern History here. As you might imagine, I was a little bit nervous. And that, my dear friends, is an understatement of epic proportions. You see, I did not actually study history. Ever. I don't know much about methodology, and my understanding of the intricate complexity that is the European past is often a bit on the fuzzy side. So a part of me felt like an impostor, standing in front of a class full of intelligent people under the grand title of "Fulbright Scholar," and presuming that I might be able to teach them anything that they didn't already know.
But to make a long story short, the presentation went better than I could have possibly imagined in my wildest (nerdiest) dreams. After the lecture, and over drinks with my professors, I learned that they will be putting me in contact with the National Archive in Ulm to help with my upcoming research, and that they are interested in having me write an article for the newspaper. Whether or not that actually comes to pass (my family is a bit sensitive about that idea, which I completely understand), I am flattered that they asked. And so, without further ado! You can read my lecture, in its entirety, HERE.
This past weekend, I went to Ulm to visit my grandmother's sister, Tante Irmgard. I was also going to meet my sorority sister and good friend Kathleen Fuchs there. It really is a small world: Kathleen, who has spent the semester studying in Spain, also has relatives (whom she had never met) in Ulm. We discovered the connection while we were at Vanderbilt at some point last year, and vowed to make the trip there together. And we did!
Here's an excerpt from my journal about the weekend:
23. Mai 2009
"Today was completely surreal--I don't know how else to put it. I took the 7:46 train from Regensburg and arrived just before 11 am. Tante Irmgard and Onkel Gerhard met me at the train station, and we waited for Kathleen to arrive. Introductions were made and Tante Irmgard tirelessly attempted to use her English to communicate with Kathleen. It was pretty good--I was impressed.
"We got home and Tante Irmgard cooked us lunch--Spätzle, chicken and mushrooms, and a deliciously fresh salad with the best dressing. Then we had vanilla ice cream with hot fruit compote (complete with red currants from her garden) on the balcony.
"Around 2:30 we went into the Altstadt. We climbed the Ulmer Munster (the tallest cathedral in the world)--all 768 steps up, and then of course down again. Then we went to a chocolate shop and bought a famous "Ulmerspatz" each to eat, and I bought some Bosch Wibele that I am currently savoring. We walked by Irmgard and Gerhard's old home on the Stadtmauer [Medieval city wall] and ran into Gerhard's older sister (the home's current resident) and her family having coffee in the garden.
"Later, we brought Kathleen to her relatives' house in Tomerdingen. We made plans for lunch with everyone tomorrow and then drove home.
"After a light dinner of bread, butter, and caprese salad, we sat out on the balcony and Irmgard showed me the letters they found locked and hidden within the framework of the house when they knocked out a wall a few years ago to renovate. The letters are from World War II, when my great-grandmother and father corresponded before Josef's death in 1943. The letters are very difficult for my aunt [Tante Irmgard] to read because Emilie [her mother] never mentioned Josef to her children--the topic was utterly taboo. I had a lot of trouble with the handwriting, but some letters were written with a typewriter, including the letter Irmgard's father wrote to Emilie's father, asking his permission to marry Emilie. It was eloquent and talked of love and fate."
The trip to Ulm was filled with moments that were utterly miraculous. Sitting on my great-aunt's balcony in a small town in Germany with Kathleen, catching up on life, was one such moment. Reading the letters was also incredible. I'm trying to convince Tante Irmgard of the importance of scanning the letters so that we have them on file should anything happen--the collection is enormous, and in the unlikely event of something happening to them, the loss would be devastating to my family. Besides, I would love to translate them someday. Who knows, maybe I'll even write a book...
When we went up to the attic to put the letters back, we found other treasures. Irmgard tried on a top hat we got out of a very old-looking hat box, and I saw the dollhouse my grandma's older sister used to play with when she was a child. I also found another collection of letters I will have to read someday: the letters my own grandmother wrote to Irmgard when she moved to the United States as a nineteen-year-old, engaged to my grandfather, a US soldier stationed there after the war. Who, as it turns out, owned the only white jaguar in the entire town of Ulm. I bet that caused quite a stir in its day...
This weekend, I was able to literally reach out and touch my family's past, and it left me aching to know more. Both Irmgard and Gerhard are filled with stories of life in Germany during the war, and are willing to share them with me. The letters beckon me back. There's no question about it: I have to go back to Ulm, soon. Falling asleep on the fold-out bed in the guest room Saturday night, I was ready to move in--move into the house my grandmother lived in as a girl, the house my own mother spent her summers in during her childhood. It's such a beautiful old house, and with so many memories. I've got to go back.