Updated: Jun 22, 2020
I arrived in a place that seemed so foreign to me, yet somewhat familiar to my mom. A land that I had dreamed about visiting, while my mom dreamed about returning. A place that my mom explored way before I was even a thought.
As a child, my mother always told me about the few years she spent living in Germany during the Cold War. She told me about her school trips to Nürnberg’s Christmas Market, her camping trips in the Black Forest, and her experience visiting the wall that divided a historical land. This place of my mother’s past turned into my dream destination.
After many years of dreaming, I finally made it. My family and I are beginning our road trip through Germany and our first stop is Nürnberg.
As we start the morning with a stroll around the city, we find ourselves in the middle of Nürnberg’s Hauptmarkt among red and white striped stands selling fruits, veggies, flowers, and baked goods. While walking through and buying fresh grapes and lebkuchen, I remember my mom’s story about her trip to the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt. I begin envisioning the stands selling sweet treats and Christmas décor. I see my mom with her classmates eating pretzels and buying prune men and Räuchermännchen. She’s enjoying the Christmas décor put up all around the Hauptmarkt and singing Christmas songs in German. I suddenly come back to reality with the nut-filled bite of lebkuchen. I look up and I see the beautiful 14th century Frauenkirche with the Männleinlaufen, a clock that was stored away during World War II, staring back at me. Although it is now 9:30 am and I just ate breakfast (a delicious, somewhat sweet apple pastry) on my way to the Hauptmarkt, my brother and I decide to follow the lead of the locals and each get a scoop of stracciatella gelato at a nearby café.
Later in the day, we decide to walk to the Imperial Castle, which is perched on a hill overlooking the city. As we are making our way toward the castle, we listen to the grumbles in our stomachs and stop at Bratwursthäusle, one of the oldest restaurants in Nürnberg that serves Nurnberger sausages. These flavorful German sausages, similar to bratwurst, have been around for at least 700 years and they are regulated by a council to be a certain size. I eat six of them with a side of German potato salad, brotchen, and a pretzel before continuing our journey to the castle. During our walk, our mouths are still watering from the delicious meal we just ate.
“It was delicious, I could eat it every day,” I say as my family nods in agreement. “And it was so cheap for the amount of food that we got. For the four of us it was 22 euros total,” my mom replies, to which my brother adds, “This place is awesome. Can we live here?"
We finally make it up to the roughly 960-year-old castle, where we see some of the most amazing views of Nürnberg and learn all about the historical city which faced the dark side during World War II. A grand wall surrounding a large area separates Nürnberg’s Old Town from the rest of the metropolis.
As we say goodbye to Nürnberg, we’re starting with a fresh slate. We’re on the road to Bamberg. We decided to rent a car and drive because we believe that’s the best way to explore a place. Let me just say, the Autobahn is awesome! As a native Texan, I’m used to driving fast, I’ve been in parts of Texas where the speed limit is 85 mph (of course Texans were going at least 90 mph), but the Autobahn is totally different. Germans take driving very seriously; no eating, drinking, or talking on the phone while driving. They don’t cut other cars off, they don’t drive (except to pass) in the left lane, and semis (which are much different than 18-wheelers in the US) do not go above a certain speed or drive in the left lane. We’ve all heard that the Autobahn doesn’t have a speed limit, which is true to some extent. As we’re driving and listening to “Feels” by Calvin Harris (which seems to come on the radio every five minutes), speeds at different points along the road are being changed in accordance with traffic. We hit an area with no traffic and suddenly there is no speed. At this point, we reach 100 mph in the middle lane, while we watch other vehicles pass us going 120 mph in the left lane.
We finally reach Bamberg, a place none of us know about. Apparently, it’s a city known for its beer. My dad is the only person in the family who likes beer, so we took everyone else’s word and decided to learn about the city’s history and do a little shopping. I find a little shoe store and buy myself the most comfortable sandals I’ve ever walked in, then we find another store selling umbrellas because Mother Nature decided to drench us. As we’re walking along cobblestone streets lined by buildings older than my country, I realize that it’s the middle of the day and groups of students are walking around (German students are still in school at this time). I’m confused, so I ask my mom if they’re on a field trip, to which she responds “Possibly, I went on field trips all the time in Germany. German schools aren’t boring like American schools though. They could be off for lunch and able to eat at a café.” She explained to me that when she was in school in Germany, she engaged in more hands-on activities than when she was in school in America. She went ice skating and skiing to learn about gravity, she went camping in the Black Forest to learn about nature, and she visited farms to learn about animals.
Our next stop on the road trip is Fulda. As we’re driving through the city, I notice that Fulda is different from the other cities I visited. It’s smaller than the other cities and it doesn’t have all the hustle and bustle because it is not a popular travel destination. After driving through a neighborhood trying to find my mom’s old house that she vaguely remembers, we decide to just drive down the street to the apartment that she lived in the longest. We finally find it and I can see the emotion in her face. She gets super excited and starts telling stories about playing in the garden behind the apartment with her brother and how they would steal the top of neighbor’s metal trash cans and use them as sleds in the winter. We walk down a hill to her old school as she is telling us that all the students would put on house shoes as soon as they arrived. Seeing my mom’s face as we’re standing in front of a place she loved so much makes me smile.
After a morning full of smiles, we decide that it is time to eat and we plop ourselves at an outdoor café in the middle of town. “Oh! Sausage platter,” we all say as we remember the amazing sausages we ate in Nürnberg. Our sausage platter arrives and it seems like everyone at the restaurant is staring at us; it is not exactly what we thought it would be. It’s an array of cold sausages…. Now, I’m not afraid of trying new foods. I love trying different foods when I travel, I feel like that is part of the experience. But… some of the sausages were not so good and one of them seriously looked like jelly with cubes of meat in it. We eat about a third of the giant sausage platter and decide to grab some croissants on the way to the Dom. The 18th century Dom towers over you as you walk across the domplatz. Inside the neighboring Cathedral museum, we stand in awe in front of the heads of Saint Boniface and Saint Sturmius. You can see the outline of the eye sockets and nose cavities on the 1,200-year-old skulls. As we are exiting the museum, we look into a hole in the floor where an undetonated World War II bomb landed.
On our way out of Fulda, we stop by Point Alpha to explore more recent history of Germany. We walk up to the remaining stretch of the Inner German Border and see cardboard guards and guard dogs as my mom begins explaining her experience visiting this wall during the Cold War. “I remember seeing the fence and the guards with all of their guns, watching you the whole time. They put up little crosses to show the places where people were trying to cross over and they were shot down,” my mom tells us. “There used to be an underwear factory nearby and they built the wall while many people were working at the factory. Well, those people were stuck on the eastern side and separated from their families because they lived on the western side and couldn’t cross over.” On that sad note, we decide to leave as the sun sets on the long day.
Our last destination on the German road trip is Bacharach, which is a small town on the Rhine River. As we are exploring and becoming familiar with Bacharach, we come across an antique store and decide to go in. When we tell the middle-aged owner, dressed in a dirndl, that we are interested in antique lighting, she says, “Come to my house and I will show you antique lights I have!” Everyone in my family looks at each other surprised as we reply “okay!” The woman introduces herself as “Yvonne” while we’re walking down the street to her house, which she lets us know was built in 1420. My jaw drops and I look at my mom, “her house is older than our country!” We just laugh in shock.
As Yvonne is showing us around her house and digging antique light fixtures out of storage, I am thinking about several things. Obviously, Yvonne is older than my mom and has lived in Germany longer, but how has her life been in Germany? My mom had a whole life before me, part of which she spent adapting to the German ways of life. Did Yvonne grow up in a German lifestyle similar to my mom’s or was my mom’s different because she is American? While visiting Yvonne’s house, which also has an old well, she tells us that she will friend us on Facebook and invites us to stay at her B & B next time we are in Germany.
The next morning, we head northwest to the airport in Düsseldorf to end our road trip through Germany. It was then that I realized that I will forever cherish and remember moments from this trip. Germany impacted my mom’s life when she was little and she always talks about living in this beautiful country. Although I’ve only spent a couple of weeks here, traveling throughout Germany and reliving my mom’s past will impact my life in the same way and I too will talk about this amazing experience for the rest of my life.