It’s hard to put into words how meaningful the week we spent with our relatives in Zeilhard, Germany was, but I suppose I can try.
We left Amsterdam on a bus (and happened to see our friend, Darren on the bus too!) for a 6 hour ride to Frankfurt, Germany. From there we had to take a quick train ride to Darmstadt where relatives we hadn’t seen in over 15 years would be waiting to pick us up. I remember thinking about how this could so easily go south, ‘We haven’t seen these people in over half my life. What if they don’t like us? What if this is really awkward? Will we even know who they are at the train station?!’.
After getting off the train we looked up from the train platforms and there were these people smiling, waving and taking pictures. We all looked behind us, ‘Were those people waving at us?’. We continued to walk towards them and I recognized our cousin, Gela, who we had been arranging this whole visit with us via Facebook and her dad, Ingolf. They said they recognized us right away because of our big backpacks (dead giveaway for tourists). We were all greeted with hugs and also got to meet Gela’s two sons for the first time, Leonas and Janis. My worries disappeared and never came back, this felt right. Even though we were across the ocean from our homes and families, this felt like being at home.
We then went to Ingolf’s house, where we would be staying for the week. We were greeted by Ursula, Ingolf’s wife, with big hugs, beers, and even a flagstaff with USA and Nebraska flags flying in the wind. Gela speaks English very well, but Ingolf and Ursula speak it very little. This never mattered; there were nights Caleb, Emily and I were in deep conversations with Ingolf and Ursula despite the fact they didn’t know much English and we know about 5 words in German.
The next day we helped Ingolf pick up Leonas from Kindergarten and spent the day sightseeing in Darmstadt with everyone, including Gela’s husband, Marc. In Darmstadt we saw the ‘Wedding Tower’ which was commissioned by the Grand Duke of Hesse, Ernst Ludwig, as a monument to commemorate his second marriage to Princess Eleonore. We also visited Tsar Nikolas II Russian Orthodox Chapel. He married the princess of Darmstadt and had the ground and stones of the foundation imported from Russia so “he could worship on the grounds of Russia while visiting in Germany.” We walked around these areas that surrounded the Wedding Tower. We topped off our tourist day with amazing ice cream or “eis” as the boys tried to tell us. The boys are young and despite not speaking the same language, warmed up to us quickly. There were times they would repeat themselves over and over again, slower and louder each time until we correctly guessed what they were asking or someone would interpret for us. Their adorable voices as they worked on our names throughout the stay made us smile every time.
That night Gela and her husband, Marc, took us to a small music festival they had in their town. We met up with their friends beforehand, Javid and Jenny. We connected right away with their friends as well and got to meet their adorable two kids, Georgia and Santiago. The music festival was a blast. It had multiple stages of different genres of music and different delicious food options to choose from (and of course booze options as well). The music was fun for us, as they mostly sang English songs (even a Queen cover band) but they still sounded ‘funny’ to us as they had they had a distinct accent. The night was full of fun and amazing conversations and we felt like we had known these people much longer than a few hours.
The following day, Ingolf and Ursula had a party in their beautiful backyard where we met up with even more family, including Gela’s sister, Anja (who we hadn’t seen in about 15 years) and her beautiful and fun family. We spent the day swimming in their pool, drinking beers and apfelwein (apple wine) and eating delicious food. Again, the language barrier was not an issue; it’s amazing how much we can all communicate without needing a common language. We went to bed that night with full hearts and already feeling like we didn’t want to leave.
On Sunday we had a ‘lazy day’ where we spent the day lounging by the pool, drinking. Sunday night we all met up with Jenny, Javid and their kids. We went to a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Odenwald Mountains, Hundermorgan Stubchen, with traditional German food. That night back at Ingolf and Ursula’s we looked through old pictures with Ursula while Caleb and Ingolf talked American History until about 1:30 am.
On Monday, Caleb, Emily and I spent the day lounging in the backyard, drinking (of course), while Ingolf and Ursula waited on us hand and foot (we offered to help, Mom, don’t worry). Emily proceeded to give herself a nice sunburn complete with a tan line from holding her beer on her stomach. Monday night ended with dinner at Gela and Marc’s with the boys entertaining us (and getting out their gray Nike tennis shoes so they could match Caleb’s).
Every day and night was full of us being spoiled beyond reason. Ingolf was always refilling drinks, preparing the backyard, asking if everything was okay. Ursula was always cooking for us and had to deal with our clothes that hadn’t been washed in two weeks and worn more than once (or twice, or three times…) and us invading their home. Gela carted us around, translated for us, had to deal with our insentient questions and opened her home and family to us. Its overwhelming how much love there was. Emily and I couldn’t help but feel like we were at Grandma’s house the whole time.
The last day Gela took us into town to get some essentials and then (clearly knowing us well enough) took us to Otzberg Castle and a bird preservation to walk around. Thanks to no open container laws we also took some drinks along with us. We got to see some storks that our residential bird nerd/expert, Caleb, had never seen but in zoos. That night Ursula made us phenomenal dinner and we all ate outside in the backyard. We capped off our night by trying on some traditional lederhosen. That night was bittersweet for us…we weren’t ready to leave! Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the next day Ingolf took us to the bus station so we could journey on.
It’s truly an amazing experience to be an ocean away from home and feel like you’re at home. I don’t know how to express my appreciation for all that everyone did for us, except to say that I hope they let us return the favor and spoil them silly in Nebraska.