An Autumn Return to Germany

Another fall and with it a return trip to visit  friends in Germany. It is hard to believe this was my third trip to Germany in equal number of years; when I first traveled to Germany I never would have anticipated or expected my multiple returns.

I flew into Berlin and planned to spend two days alone in the Thuringia district of Germany before taking the train to Chemnitz to spend five days with Astrid, Björn, and their 8-month-old baby Juilius. The last weekend of my trip would be with Dörte and Marita in Berlin a city I immediately fell in love with and continue to feel inspired by.

From Berlin I took the train through Southern Saxony-Anhalt, past the town of Wittenberg the very heart of the Reformation, past small hills covered in grape vines resting in the shadow of medieval town walls and remaining stone buildings. As the train sped through the countryside draped in colors from the deep ever green pine trees to the multitude of fall hues – red, orange, and golden as if the trees were drenched in liquid light and color, I feel myself being moved not just through space but through time.

For my time in Thuringia I spent one day in the town of Weimar and one afternoon in the town of Erfurt, and to my enjoyment I was able to stay for two nights at Villa Hentzel, a small hotel once the home to Rudolf Steiner. As a former student for nine years of a Waldorf school I can’t explain the feeling to stay in a house that was once the home to someone who has so greatly had an influence and impact in my life and the person I have become. Weimar has been home to more thinkers, philosophers, and artists than could ever be imagined within a compact, walk able, and very inspiring small town next to the Ilm River. I spent my day passing houses that were Goethe’s (both his house and his Garden House), past Schiller’s house, a music academy founded in 1872 by Liszet (complete with violin music wafting on the air), and past the Nietzsche Archive. I sank into life in this heady and intellectual town as if I sank into a novel or film that makes one feel smarter just for holding its cover.

I spent my second day in the town of Erfurt, a town that had captured my imagination since my first trip to Germany when I saw a picture in my Lonely Planet guidebook. The picture is of the Kramerbrucke (merchant bridge); Europe’s longest bridge with houses (120 meters long) and walking the street feels like being transported to when the bridge was first built in 1325. I walked the town seeing the Dom Saint Marien and sat in silent wonder beneath the statures and the stained glass. I saw the striking Barfusserkirche, partially destroyed and what is left a frame with an exposed aisle of Goth arches and a whisper of what it once was. I found the moving Kleine Synagogue and the history of the Jewish culture and people in Erfurt. On every trip to Germany I gather stories of individual Jewish people who once lived in these places, I hold their stories and names as private testaments to what is a moment in history too large and unimaginable for me to fully comprehend; but when in these streets and buildings I find their stories important and alive as they once were within these very places I now stand.

After a weekend alone the real joy of the trip began with my visit to Astrid. Exactly one year after the wedding I was so moved and taken with I returned to Astrid’s home in Chemnitz and an immediate embrace on the train platform where we have had such joyful reunions and sad departures. Returning to her kitchen painted the warm yellow of California sunshine where we spent so much time together felt like such a deep gift. We quickly fell into a comfortable pattern and way of life. We would wake and when Julius saw me each morning happy I was still there he would gleefully quick his legs in excitement and smile more brilliantly than anything I have ever seen. Astrid would make breakfast of bread, cheese, coffee, yogurt and muesli while I would play with Juilius. We would bundle up and go for walks each morning and afternoon and while Julius would nap we talked and talked. We would have tea and coffee in the late afternoon and then dinner after Julius was asleep with Björn. Life felt familiar and comfortable to be here once again.

We took a day trip to the town of Meissen with its still and quiet beauty, that is except for the gentle tinkle of the carillon from the Frauenkirche made of the same porcelain that the town is famous for. We had a picnic in the sun and Julius learned he loved apples. We had more laughter than tears a wonderful change of circumstances from last year. We took a long walk along a river next to cows and under such beautiful fall colors like a tapestry made just for us. I would walk Julius past the apple tree each day and looked at how it is growing and getting sturdy roots just as I am in life, not yet heavy with fruit but not the sapling it was a year ago. As we drove or walked through town I was so deeply reminded of last year and the heaviness and feelings I felt. I can see in such stark comparison the person I was a year ago and the change to this year. Astrid and I discuss the way my hair fell out in large frightening handfuls last year and she would say, “It is life telling you to let go of what is no longer alive in you”. This year I can see small puffs of that same hair growing back (more gray than before and it must be said from my standpoint still a bit thinner) but it is a sign of the life that is growing again in me and in this case on my head.

The one song that Astrid sings in English to calm and soothe Julius to sleep is “WE SHALL OVERCOME”; so on many occasions as we walked or drove through landscape of memories past and memories being made she and I would sing the multitude of choruses together. I could not help on more than one occasion to notice we were by circumstance as different as they might come but by temperament and heart as close as they could be made. Here we were a woman from Germany and one from America, one Lutheran and the other Jewish, one born and raised on the East side of the Berlin Wall a few kilometers from the Czech boarder and the other raised on the far West side of the United States in a city on the California Coast overlooking the Pacific. Here were two woman of such different backgrounds together singing one song about how “We shall over come, we shall live in peace, we shall hold hands” to comfort one baby to sleep and it made me think that the lyrics we were singing might be more than an old folk song one day.

I left Chemnitz to have a weekend in Berlin with Dörte, and a visit with Marita. I changed from dinking countless pots of tea to drinking countless pots of tea and countless cocktails including Absinthe. We went for dinners at W-Imbiss, one of my repeat favorites. We had drinks in Prenzlauer Berg with friends of Dörte’s from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Japan. We went to a place with a doorbell and chic drinks (hence my foray into the world of Absinthe). We had wine at one of the many bars where you pay 2.50 Euro for your glass and help yourself to wine and then pay what you think is a fair price for what you drank. It feels relaxed and effortless and endlessly cool without ever trying, as Berlin it must be said frankly is. I have loved Berlin from my first trip – its vibe and feel is of a New York from a period long ago. The city echoes to me of Brooklyn and San Francisco with a Paris edge and yet it is a city all of its own and wonderful as it is. It has a freedom and a creative vitality seen in everything from the people on the streets, to its graffiti, to its teenagers drinking on their own folding chairs in the street in front of a grocery store on a Friday night. Dörte and I would walk home late under what we noticed was a full moon which shone so bright we thought it was impending dawn a few times (it was 4AM, so not out of the question).

On every trip I take to Berlin I found a place that so reflects me – it is a place that somehow has the creative love and passion I hold in high regard, it has the cool and edgy expression I grew up with and so appreciate, but it also holds the reserve I myself keep at times, it has the sophistication I strive at times to accomplish, and it holds somehow a rebel and a traditionalist so close in one hand that I can see myself clearly in its streets and beneath the colored backdrop of Berlin’s Fernsehturm. Years ago my mother sent me a quote fittingly from Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” This quote has always to my astonishment expressed how I feel about my experiences in Germany. Germany more than reflects back to me as a mirror it challenges me to examine my ideas, my notions both preconceived and evolving, and my actions in life.

I am so grateful for this time here and for my wonderful friends who so graciously all welcome me into their homes and share their lives with me. I can’t wait for another visit!



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11 2010

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  1. Mara #

    Such wonderful pictures!! That baby is so cute!!! I can’t wait to see what’s next…

    Lots of Love!

    YAY GIANTS!!! Your cake looked so yummy 🙂

  2. Robbin #

    Carol forwarded the link to your blog. Thanks so much for doing it! It’s a wonderful way to keep in touch with one that I feel close to, though hardly know.


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