Or maybe I should just say “I’m back” seeing as how many meanings that word home can have.
It’s an odd thing sometimes being first generation American, especially with a mother who wants nothing to do with her family and a father you never met. I met my first relative when I was 22, an age when I was living alone in a city I had chosen to reside in, not merely a place I had landed in haphazardly. I had purposefully chosen an apartment, my nicest one ever, and was making a place for myself away from anyone I knew and finally going to college. I was home.
The sense of being wanted by, and belonging, to a family was new to me and very much welcomed. I’d never before heard stories of my father, of his childhood and his many brothers and sisters, and I cherished each word. These kind and thoughtful Uncles and Aunts invited me into their homes and gave me the sense of being a part of something I had never known before. I was home.
I made contact and visited with my Mother’s family in Germany. I first met them when I was nearly the same age my mother had been when she last saw them. I was taken to her childhood home, where my Opa still lived, and embraced by her brothers and sisters. My joy in meeting them was reflected back to me in the warmth and interest I saw in their eyes. I was home.
For only the second time in my life, I’ve had the chance to see both sides of my family in the same year and it has been a powerful experience. We’ve shared meals and stories and memories. During my time in the countries where my parents were born, I’ve felt a connection – to my relatives, of course, but also to the air, the sky and the earth. It was almost organic. I was home.
What does home really mean? For me, it means being in a place where I want to be and knowing that I am loved and wanted. Home is everywhere.
We’ve all heard of, and perhaps even experienced, the “Continental Breakfast.” On occasion, I’ve encountered it in hotels and it has generally left me unimpressed with its often dried out bread items and unimaginative accompaniments. If I were from “the Continent” and was presented with one of those bastardized versions of what should be the most simple and satisfying meal of the day, I suspect I would be inclined to drop the uber-American phrase “Have a nice day!” liberally, and with increasing sarcasm, throughout the day. You see, bad food makes me cranky.
During our visit with family last month we were spoiled by a version of the Continental breakfast. It began with a trip to the bakery in town where we pointed, with increasingly difficult to maintain restraint, at the array of baked goods in the glass case. Our chosen items were placed in a large, low-sided wicker basket to make keeping track of our selections easier. Personal favorites were the pumpkin seed topped rolls and the pretzel bread. It ain’t all pumpernickel and rye, my friend.
Once back at home, the breads were placed on the table along with a dazzling array of meats and cheeses. The meat selection included a smoky Black Forest cured bacon, ham, pâté, pimento studded bologna, and liverwurst. Basically, more German cold cuts than can be found in any single Capital Region locale other than Rolf’s. Also on the table were some cheeses, although these were primarily French except for a semi-firm Black Forest cheese which was pleasantly mild with a thick thread of smoke in the center. I need to talk to the Cheese Traveler about that one. The other cheeses were a St. Andre triple cream, a bleu and a camembert, each beautifully spreadable and delicious.
To round things out (my stomach, more specifically), there was some fantastic yogurt with way less sugar than its American counterpart, cereal, fruit and some sweet cherry tomatoes from Spain. This type of breakfast is leisurely – one has a small plate and fills it maybe a couple of times. The coffee is strong, with a nice crema layer on top, and each cup is brewed to order. It all has a very Continental feel to it and I think it buries the French petite de jeuner. Frühstück – it’s breakfast.
A big part of traveling, for me at least, is the food. I’ve seen some stuff written recently about Michelin starred restaurants in Germany, but that wasn’t what this trip was about. No, this time with family was more focused on home-style cooking a la Deutschland.
Wandering around Freiburg’s Munsterplatz earned us a delicious sausage sandwich from Meister’s food truck. Topped with beautifully browned onions and a dab of mustard, it was the perfect snack to tide us over until dinner. Next time I’m in Germany I hope to schedule an entire day in Freiburg eating, beginning with strong coffee and pretzel rolls smeared with unsalted butter. I hope to make lunch a leisurely enough event that it will effortlessly flow into the evening’s repast. I think the best way to accomplish this lofty goal would be to begin at the Munsterplatz’s food trucks with some version of wurst, washed down, naturally, with a fine hefeweizen or two.
For dinner, I plan to wander down to the Markthalle (food court) and sample as many different offerings as humanly possible. “Food court” is a bit of a misnomer because this place is nothing like what you might find at Crossgates.
If the broom is out, they’re open!
It’s more like a German version of the restaurants at Eataly except the individual kiosks are each independent and devoted to an eclectic array of international cuisines. There are tables and central gathering spots where one can enjoy a bite to eat and/or a drink and there is a bustling sense of activity akin to that of a bee hive. That’s where I want to be.
Unless, of course, I’ve got wheels and get a little outside of the city and find a Straussen or Broom restaurant. We hit one of these last month in the Markgrafler wine region and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, the local wine and the cozy makeshift dining room in the winery’s tasting room. I had the Flammkuchen and it was delicious – and perfect with the local wine! Flammkuchen, or fire cake, is sort of like a pizza, but instead of tomato sauce, the top is spread with some sort of creamy yumminess. I had mine with diced veggies and it was a satisfying yet not too heavy dinner.
All this food talk and I still haven’t shared any images of our traditional Black Forest breakfasts…until I get to it, imagine plates holding meats and cheeses accompanied by a basket of freshly baked breads and rolls. Yes, save that thought and trust me, morning was definitely not anything to dread.
Those are the three words which most sum up my recent trip to Europe. I’ve been back a week now and finally feel myself getting my mojo back to begin resuming my
frenetic intense schedule of boys, jobs, chores and miles. I imagine I’ll be writing a series of posts to share some of the trip highlights, so stay tuned.
If you recall, when I left for the trip I didn’t really have much lined up in the way of formal plans. Our first few days were spent in the Titisee-Neustadt area, outside of Freiburg. They were very much having a spring similar to the one we are experiencing here in Albany, that is to say, nonexistent. I really didn’t mind because the dusting of snow which welcomed us each morning was beautiful and I feel as if I now have an inkling of what winter must look like in the Black Forest.
Liam and I took a train into Freiburg, primarily to experience the mode of travel, and were thrilled to join (for a brief time) the enthusiastic crowds heading into the city for a
soccer football match featuring the local team. Their chants, cheers and clanking bottles were an excellent soundtrack to accompany the train’s winding through the mountains. I was able to remember the precise spot where the stag leaped over the abyss to escape hunters, and snapped a picture to keep forever.
We spent an afternoon walking around Freiburg, a city with medieval roots and contemporary ideas about living green and education. One of the things which most struck me was the apparently seamless manner in which the modern and the historic are merged. For instance, there are numerous remnants of the original stone wall which encircled the city centuries ago. These relics are treated with respect, yet are incorporated into the current city in a way that is practical – we saw one piece which has been put to use as an interior wall in an ethnic restaurant. Another is part of the structure of a parking garage. I admire the utilitarian approach and wish we Americans did a better job of retaining old edifices and appreciating their contributions to our culture and our communities.
The original city wall now part of a parking garage!
If you’ve never visited Freiburg, I highly recommend it. The market surrounding the cathedral is wonderful and the city bustles with students, residents and tourists. Below are a few more photos – I only wish you could have smelled the wursts grilling, viewed the gorgeous early spring produce and sampled the flavors of this lovely little city. If you ever make it there, be sure to check out the awesome Markthalle or Food Court. Don’t forget to have a beer for me!
Farmers’ market offerings in the Munsterplatz
The stunning age of the homes.
- Um, so when did Christopher Columbus sail the ocean blue? Yeah, after this house was built.
Here are some thoughts about staying in touch while traveling.
Referencing a lyric from an Irish band on a day when I learned so very much about my maternal, German side of the family may seem inconsistent, but it actually couldn’t be any more appropriate. We each are the direct product of two people, yes? Of course, who we truly are involves many more than two individual people, as I was reminded on this very day.
Today I saw a WW II monument in the tiny cemetery where my grandparents are buried, with the name of my Opa’s cousin etched into the stone. Hubert Meder was 20 years-old when he died in service to his country. I saw a photo of my Great Uncle Josef, who I had the opportunity to meet many years ago, in the uniform of Germany’s army in that same war. When I knew him he had an accordion in his hands. There were photos of my Opa’s sisters taken when they were young, before they took their vows and became married to Christ for all of eternity. And I saw my first photos ever of my mother as a young child, in the days when she was presumably permitted to be a toddler before she had to mach schnell with always a purpose.
My eldest aunt shared her memories with me of a life when the sole purpose of girls was to contribute to the family’s income and assist in taking care of the younger children. I learned of the outrageous hypocrisy of a young couple, Ludwig and Rosa, who knew from experience the challenges and burden of becoming parents prior to marriage, yet were comfortable damning their own daughter (their third born child, yet the first to be conceived within the confines of matrimony) for the same sin. I felt the pain of a nearly 80 year-old woman who still did not understand why her parents continued to leave her to be raised by her Oma rather than claim her as their own for any reason other than to demand her wages once she became of age to work.
This afternoon the dining table nearly bowed with the feast spread upon it, but the soul was fed even beyond the belly. Seeing the pictures carefully mounted between onion skin, hearing the stories and knowing something of the people who came first, fills a place which will never again feel empty.
- Taking the bus from economy parking became a sobering experience when the driver explained that we would have to get off the bus and wait for the State Police to inspect the bus with their dog, because a previous passenger had left a piece of luggage behind.
- I’ve flown to Europe many times but don’t recall ever seeing people sleeping with their heads face down on their tray tables. On pillows, of course.
- Like childbirth, the painfulness of traveling with small children is so quickly forgotten only to be brought back instantly with a witnessed tantrum thrown by an exhausted child.
- Carry-on luggage is out of hand! I wish the airlines would abide by the rules they claim to have because allowing fellow passengers to cram their huge backpacks into the entire overhead bin is just plain wrong. And obnoxious.
- The wifi isn’t as impressive as I had imagined, but the dusting of snow we received last night in the Black Forest sure is pretty.