They say you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family, however that hasn’t been my experience. When you don’t meet your first relative (other than your mother and brother) until you’re 22 years-old, having family is very much a choice. With complete honesty, I can say that finding and getting to know my family has been without exception the most personally gratifying and fulfilling decision I have ever made. I think that’s why I’m so devastated by the loss of my uncle, the man I’ll always think of as the burgermeister
From the very first time we met, me an undergraduate student and the daughter of one of his oldest sisters kicking around Europe, he, in his midthirties and a father to two young children, he always made me know I was family. There was never an instant that wasn’t apparent in the subsequent years and the times we shared.
Between that initial introduction and his recent death we probably were together on a dozen different occasions. He and his wife visited Albany, we met in NYC on the very day my own cancer was determined to require additional treatment, we traveled together in Europe. Three of my last four trips to Europe involved spending time with him and those are some memories that I’ll take out and shine until they gleam gold.
We stayed in the town where he lived twice in recent years and it was truly wonderful to witness the affection with which he was greeted everywhere we went. It was so obvious that he was a beloved member of his community – from the bakery to the Italian restaurant where he still occasionally worked when they needed a hand, he was met with humor and warmth and I was honored to claim him as my uncle. I always felt safe with him and I’m convinced there was nothing in this world with which he couldn’t contend. Except cancer.
As I was proud of him, he was proud of the life he had created. He had been a competitive athlete representing his country in the biathlon. Since learning that part of his history, I’ve loved cross country skiing even more, like it’s our family’s sport. During our visit in April he shared the medals he had won and his unabating love for winter sports was apparent. His home actually overlooks a ski jump used in international competitions, (which he helped with, of course) and we toured a local museum dedicated to the history of Nordic skiing.
My uncle, the unofficial burgermeister, was a great man and the loss of him, despite the thousands of miles between us, feels almost unbearable. How incredibly lucky was I to have seen him so recently? How kind of the universe to have cooperated by putting so much of my family in one place to celebrate Easter just two months ago. I know the ache in my heart will dull and the tears will dry but I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing him. As the marker on his final resting place states, he was a gift from Heaven.
Hug your dads, uncles, husbands and sons and know how fortunate you are.
We’ve been back for about 10 days and there are some really positive impressions from our trip that I thought to share. How about one for each day we were there?
1. Roads. I don’t think I’d mind paying a 19% VAT if the money went into highways and other infrastructure. We traveled a few hundred miles on the autobahn and those roads are beautifully maintained.
2. Groceries. In Berlin we shopped at Lidl which is similar to Aldi. For less than $9 I bought the following: a fresh pineapple (fair trade), a quart of apple juice, 2 croissant, a package of sliced gouda, a large plain yogurt, a small fruit yogurt and a pint of chocolate milk.
3. Beer. I almost exclusively drank hefeweizen, although I had the occasional shandy and in Berlin I drank a specialty beer called Berliner Weiße mit Schuss. It’s wheat beer with a shot of woodruff. Kind of sweet but a nice way to end the night, I thought.
4. Public transit. It’s available, easy to understand and cheap. A day ticket cost approximately $7.50 and my son rode with me for free.
5. Cleanliness. The streets, the bathrooms, the trains, with only one exception (a bathroom at a big tourist spot) all were immaculate.
6. Markets. The Munsterplatz is the place to be if you’re looking for produce, flowers, cheese, meats and prepared foods. We also checked out some markets that were more like American flea markets, also. Good deals were all over the place.
7. Flowers. Germans like their gardens and even in early spring, most homes have tended plots of land. The lilacs bursting open everywhere were lovely, too.
8. Ice cream and cake. There’s an acceptance level of these sort of items perceived by Americans as “treats,” and both were included in our afternoons.
9. Coffee. Dark, strong and delicious.
10. Punctuality. The only clock I’ve ever seen not tell accurate time in Germany was the battery operated one in our rented apartment. I love counting on the church bells and public clocks to keep track of time for me.
A bonus thing: DOGS! They were everywhere – restaurants, cafes, trains, stores, yet, not once did I see any piles of poop.
The only that I didn’t appreciate was the prevalence of cigarette smoking that still goes on. It seems like smoking is much more pervasive in Germany than in the States. I suppose I could complain that the weather wasn’t great either, but, really…spring is a crap shoot in Albany, too. At least the hail that fell on me was German hail.
When I was a child I often heard about my Oma with whom my mother had a strained relationship. The complaint my mother frequently made was that Oma treated her sons and daughters very differently. Sons were useful and contributed to the family’s existence and thus were to be indulged, while daughters were primarily useful only for assistance in taking care of the boys. Even though this was one of my mother’s greatest criticisms of her own childhood, you’re probably not surprised to hear that she herself was guilty of repeating the same behavior. Habits are hard to break.
I met some family members on my trip with whom I had never before crossed paths. It’s an odd thing meeting someone you’re related to after living five decades on this planet without ever encountering them. What’s even odder is when you realize how many remarkably similar experiences you share despite not having ever known each other.
Did you know that the word “cousin” is the same in both English and German? That fact makes me smile.
My cousin and I sat across the table from one another and told the stories of our lives, our relationships, our health and our mothers. At times the thread of our conversation was so personal and intimate that it was impossible to believe we hadn’t before met. There’s never been a time when I felt so firmly that someone understood exactly what I was talking about when I shared some moments from my own mother-daughter highlight reel. Why? Because she had experienced the same sort of unhealthy situations.
Our mothers, sisters that they are, had not really grown up together since my mother is more than a decade older and had left home when she was in her early teens. Despite the lack of time the two of them shared, what they did share was their own mother and that left a mark on each of them which they in turn, left upon their own daughters.
Neither my cousin nor I ever knew our fathers. When we were sick or injured as children, often we had to seek care on our own because our mothers were unavailable to us. We each have witnessed the astonishing deception of our parent in the way they conduct themselves with other adults and children while neglecting the very children they delivered. It is uncanny.
My cousin and I responded to our mothers’ disregard for us by growing into strong and capable women. We became educated and learned to understand that our mothers are frustrated, narcissists who will never perceive our own success as anything but an affront to their own unsatisfying lives. We severed our ties to these women not to hurt them, but to protect ourselves, and we’ve struggled with allowing others into our hearts and souls after suffering the disappointment and pain of what should have been a primary relationship in our lives.
I learned that my cousin has a physical condition very much like my own – we both have extremely low heart rates and a genuine need for vigorous exercise. She runs, too. Maybe that’s how we have learned to keep our blood flowing and our hearts alive. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that meeting her has changed me. Something good has come from something less than positive. I think my ability to recognize that is what makes me fundamentally different from my mother – and like my cousin.
A couple of weeks before my trip I splurged on a pair of pricey slippers. When I say “pricey,” I’m talking like more expensive than most of the shoes in my closet, not including Frye’s and running shoes. Yes, they were a bit of an indulgence for sure.
When they first came in the mail I didn’t know if I was going to keep them. They were a little tight and I wasn’t sure if I could justify the price unless they were absolutely perfectly comfortable. I gave them a couple of days of wear around the house, they began to conform to the shape of my foot and the rest is history – $90 Ugg slippers are my new favorite way to say home.
When it comes to reading, I’m old school. I still like a print book even when it is ridiculously heavy.* After wanting to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for more than a year, I finally got my hands on a copy (Thanks, Maria!), and I couldn’t have picked a better book for this trip. I’m nearly to the halfway point of the story and the novel is as good as I had imagined it to be.
What I somehow missed in my packing was tweezers. I think I erred when I started mixing around with my toiletries bags, believing that I had a pair always at the ready for the errant hair in my make-up bag, which I do. Unfortunately, though, I neglected to bring that particular bag opting for a smaller one. I’ll be stopping in an Apotheke today to rectify the situation. There’s a stray brow hair that making me crazy!
What are your musts when packing? What’s the worst thing you ever forgot to bring on a trip?
*I stashed it in Q’s luggage. Hey – his was lighter!
I know there’s some kind of Jersey saying about gym, tan and something else, but I’m a New York girl, not a New Jersey one, so my trio of activities is a bit different.
First, I took a run. In all honesty, I wasn’t too excited about getting outside again not knowing what the weather was going to bring after a morning that included heavy, wet snow. I motivated myself with the knowledge that this very day might be the only day in my entire life that I would have this opportunity. I was rewarded for my commitment to living when the sky got blue and it became warmer than it had been in days. I hit it just right.
My plan was to follow the wall around the oldest part of the city. I went in a clockwise direction, which eased me into things by beginning in a downhill direction. Keeping the wall to my right, I circled the oldest parts of this beautiful city, pausing to pet a puppy or take a photo when I found it necessary. The route took me past the hauptbahnhof, through grassy paths and across water. It was a run that will stay with me even though my running app neglected to record it.
After the run, I gave Quinn the secret code word to gain access to the hotel room, grabbed my swimsuit and went to the sauna. God, I love a sauna! That dry heat just does it for me and even though I was decidedly overdressed, I thoroughly enjoyed stretching out and taking a little time to relax. Someday I may get beyond my American puritanical sensibilities and go bare, but I’m just not there.
My final stop was the hotel bar for a beer to bring to our room. The Franziskaner Weissbier provided the perfect buzz and I’m feeling remarkably mellow. Vacation and its magical combination of getting away, yet being in the moment, is really working for me. Life is good and I know how lucky I am to have this life. Next up, yet another S – soccer. Go Bayern Munchen!
When I was a child, Easter meant a new dress and shoes, chocolate for breakfast and ham for dinner and maybe an egg hunt. Those were good days, but there was never a better Easter than the one I had this year.
The day started with mass in the magnificent cathedral in Neustadt. This was the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to attend services in the Munster which dominates the skyline of this town of 10,000. Now that I think about it, the last time I went to church may have been here on Easter Sunday, 2013.
I’m not really all that religious, but I do love a good ceremony and that’s exactly what I got yesterday. From the rich tones of the ringing bells calling all to worship, to the full choir and orchestra, it was a service that fed my soul. I think I was even more taken by the familiar rituals because they reflected tradition while incorporating contemporary aesthetic – there were more girls than boys serving mass, including one with hair in a vivid shade of blue, and the priest sported an earring. There was a pragmatism present that somehow in no way diminished the miracle being celebrated and I walked out feeling as if I had just attended an opera. Wonderful.
I’ve been known to claim that I practice religion when I’m outdoors and I followed my organized religious observance with a run that took me on grass covered trails and paths in a mist that made me appreciate that I had subbed contact lenses in for my usual glasses. I reached the highest part of town where a tall metal crucifix honors those lost in WWI and couldn’t resist pausing to take photos and catch my breath. The run down felt like flying and had we not had dinner plans, I could have happily gone farther, maybe even to TitiseeDinner was an amazing treat – better than any amount of jellybeans ever. My family took over 4 tables in a local Italian place and it was simply the best time. Quinn and I bounced from table to table catching up, sharing history and just laughing with the simple joy of being together. We had three generations – 2 sisters and 3 brothers, 6 cousins and 5 second cousins, all together on the evening of a holiday that signifies rebirth. Spirit refreshed, body exercised and heart filled beats a bunny in a basket anytime.
Filed under aging, Europe, Events, family, favorites, Germany, holidays, musings, Observations, relationships, running, Spring, travel, vacation
Eat and drink
See new things
Spend time with family
Experience a different way of life
How about you?