Category Archives: Germany

Sweetness

The best honey I’ve ever had.

I made some granola Saturday and used almost the very last drops of a jar of honey that I bought last spring while I was in Germany. I say “almost” because I intentionally saved a teeny bit for a soothing cup or two of tea (with bourbon and lemon) that I will savor during my inevitable and eventual winter cold. I think I’ll need it then.

Honey has kind of become a thing in our house, like refrigerator magnets and miniature models of landmarks. I buy it when I travel and it’s like bringing home a literal sweet reminder of where I was.

Our collection.

The jar that I nearly kicked today was purchased on a drizzly day in April, at the Saturday market in the Munsterplatz in Freiburg. I’ve visited this market a number of times over the years, but, this was the first time my youngest son experienced it. Unimagined by us, it was also the last time I would go there with my uncle.

The beautiful Munster, perpetually wrapped in scaffolding, has stood in that square for centuries providing shelter and comfort to generations. We ate sausages made by the same family who had been selling their delicious wursts in that same spot for decades. The honey, in its squat jar, tasted like pine or cedar and was the best honey I’ve ever eaten. I’m a little embarrassed about how sad I am that it’s nearly gone.

A year ago, my uncle was here, in my home. We visited Olana and attended Oktoberfest.  He, as a consummate German, made himself useful and cleaned my toaster oven.  It was a special time, made even more so retrospectively, after his sudden death.  Like that jar of honey it was sweet and I wish it hadn’t come to an end so damned quickly.

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Filed under family, favorites, Food., Germany, musings, Recommendations, travel

Rounding a corner

I’m feeling reflective as I approach another birthday celebration. You know, considering what I’ve learned, loved and lost in this latest trip around the sun. There’s a lot to think about, but I feel pretty satisfied with the overall picture from my 50th year. There are moments I’d consider doing over and some things I wish I saw more clearly sooner, but it’s been a year well lived. That, to me, is both the goal and the reward. I am a very fortunate person.

I’ve collected experiences – visits in cities near and far, beaches along the Atlantic Coast, runs along lakes and rivers. Twice, I flew solo to spend long weekends in remarkably different, yet equally appealing, cities and I’m hungry to see more new places. I’m proud of my sense of adventure and confidence in negotiating travel alone. I can’t wait to live life.

“Work at being kind” is my takeaway for the year. Loving isn’t always easy; it can hurt and doesn’t always feel worth the resources it consumes. I’ve learned, though, that it always feel better to give than to receive, and love is no different really. My well isn’t bottomless, but it does refill.

My biggest personal loss this year was the death of my uncle. He was such a great traveler, a man passionately in love with his wife, a kind human being. He is missed, yet remains an inspiration and a reminder that true love is possible and that it is wrong to settle for anything less.

 

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Filed under aging, birthdays, Charleston, Chicago, Germany

The burgermeister

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.

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Filed under aging, cancer, Europe, family, Germany, love, Uncategorized, x-country skiing

Are your ducks all in a row?

IMG_2019Have you ever chaperoned a field trip? At this point in my life, I’ve accompanied quite a few bus loads of students to destinations like NYC, Montreal and, as of today, Boston. I take the responsibility pretty seriously and spend an inordinate amount of time counting my charges, hoping to consistently arrive at the same number. Today my magic number was four.

It was a beautiful day for a field trip to Boston. We left before the sun came up knowing we were in for a long day. After contending with typically hideous traffic as we approached the city, we arrived at our first destination, the Museum of Science. I’d never been there before and my small posse was a great group. We had fun exploring the hands on exhibits, checking out the dinosaurs and stumbling upon the lightning storm demonstration as a perfect finale to our visit. On to the next stop – the Duck Tour.

I herded my group, feeling like Mrs. Mallard from Make Way for Ducklings, to our meeting point and we boarded our amphibious vehicle to learn about Boston’s history and get into the river. I checked my email as we sat at yet another red light and gasped at what I read. There had been a very unexpected death in my family. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes. The day changed and memories washed over me in waves larger than any we would see on the Charles.

The uncle I lost was the relative, other than my brother, to whom I felt most connected. He was the first member of my German family that I met, years ago when he arrived at the Hauptbanhof to pick me up and bring me into the mountains where my family lived. He was the youngest of my mother’s brothers, closer in age to me than her, and from that very day he was never less than kind, generous and thoughtful to me and, eventually, my own family. Losing him has shocked me into sadness.

I have memories of him holding my babies, walking with us across the Brooklyn Bridge, sharing meals together in a half dozen countries, hosting us in his home…He and his wife had a marriage that never failed to make me smile. Their love for one another was evident and they enjoyed more adventures in their nearly 20 years as husband and wife than many couples will ever know. That’s the consolation, right? To have loved with passion, lived with spirit, taken advantage of the time given?

Our most recent trip together was less than two months ago. My youngest son and I spent nearly 10 days traveling around Germany with my uncle and aunt. We had what I’m convinced was the best Easter I’ll ever have, eating and drinking with five of my mother’s siblings and nearly a dozen cousins. I never imagined that he’d be gone just weeks later. Our last night together was in Berlin. We had dinner and then reconnected later in the night to have our final drink of vacation together in a little bar popular with the theater crowd. It was quiet and, as always, I felt a little sad to know that our time together was coming to a close, until next time, next year.

A day that began with counting my charges became an evening of gathering memories. I’m really going to miss being able to make more of those with him. Ensuring that all of my ducks are in a row may be something that will always require attention and work, but I’ll take some comfort in knowing that my efforts to know and spend time with my family have been the greatest use of my time, money and energy. Rest In Peace, WM.

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Filed under aging, cancer, family, Germany

German shoes (from New Paltz)

When I travel, my favorite thing to bring home as a souvenir for myself is something practical that I can use or enjoy regularly. On recent trips I’ve returned home with linens, perfume and liquor bought in Duty Free, a hand painted trivet, earrings and scarves. I absolutely love reaching for an accessory to finish an outfit, or setting the dining room table, with an object that comes complete with a memory.

My plan for Germany was to replace a pair of worn out black flats with some new, comfortable walking shoes. And I didn’t mean Birkenstocks, either. I wanted shoes that worked with skirts, as well as jeans and I looked really hard in countless stores in Berlin and Potsdam for the perfect pair. Don’t believe me? Ask Quinn who was remarkably patient as I dragged him in and out of shoe store after shoe store.

While I found a couple of pairs of shoes that tempted me, I wasn’t interested in spending 175 euro for a pair of shoes. Other than my Fryes, I just don’t invest in footwear that expensive. I came home from Germany empty handed, other than a cheap white scarf. No big deal, except that I still needed a new pair of everyday black flats.

Home again, I searched online without success. Nothing grabbed me. Each time I put my crappy black shoes on my feet, I shook my head and hoped no one looked at me below the ankles. Last Sunday, as I was leaving a friend’s house after a lovely brunch, I impulsively steered my car into the town of New Paltz to check out a great shoe store, Pegasus. I trolled the sales rack and found a fantastic pair of wedges that unfortunately were slightly too large, and not at all what I needed. I kept looking.

Anti-stress shoes! Who doesn’t need that?

In the front of the shop there was a display of new arrivals and pair of flats caught my eye. They were simple enough to be versatile, yet super cute with interesting cutouts. They were available in my size and felt comfortable on my feet. They were in my budget and…they were German. Sold.

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Filed under Fashion, Germany, travel, vacation

Things to love about Germany


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.

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Filed under beer, Europe, favorites, Germany, Observations, Spring, travel, vacation

So mothers be good to your daughters too

D0CB0C7D-372C-4FFF-A072-2C34D5F64266-1258-0000011A65462537When 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.

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Filed under Europe, family, Germany, girlhood, moms, musings, relationships, secrets, Uncategorized