When I was living in London, I resolutely avoided Germany. Even though I studied German at school and at one point even at university, the idea of Germany was very much less appealing than the sunshine, beaches and olive oil of the south of France and Italy.
I travelled every opportunity I could as a student but the cheap train fares and summer jobs always took me south, and I never once set foot in the land of bier, wurst and Beethoven. And in the end, when I realised that I could read the works of Goethe and Schiller, but could order neither a bier nor a wurst in their native language I gave up studying German too.
Aside from an unplanned trip to a rebuilding Berlin when I was first going out with the Husband, I had no real desire to travel to Germany, and when the lovely Veronika Miller invited me to go on BlogTour to the Ambiente gift and tabletop show in Frankfurt I must confess that I wasn’t entirely convinced.
We spent most of our five days there gliding along the moving walkways and wandering the gigantic hangar-sized halls of the Messe Frankfurt (of which much more in other posts), but for one day of our trip we were taken to visit Oppenheim and Mainz along the banks of the Rhine and I realised quite how foolish I had been all these years. These German towns were really rather lovely and the cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and gothic churches spoke tenderly to that part of my soul that requires extravagant doses of ancient buildings to keep it fully alive.
My Italian mother would hang a little sprig of mistletoe over our back door to ward off evil spirits.
We are supposed to tour the catacombs in the little town of Oppenheim, but I decide not to join the group and instead spend time wandering through the antique streets in a sort of photographic daze, bedazzled by the extraordinary creamy light. Everything is beautiful.
Would YOU go underground with this bunch?
The layers, textures and shapes are almost overwhelming – rough wood, bumpy stones, pointed spires and gables and arches, the wacky tartans of the half-timbered houses and the hard, intricate curlicues of stone, wrought iron and gothic-fonted street signs. In Seattle buildings are new and smooth, modern towers of granite, metal and glass and the wooden houses are carefully painted. I’ve missed the worn and weatherbeaten so much.
And to cap it all it is karneval time. Kids and adults, monks and jesters, clowns and executioners, even – displaying a less PC sensibility – lady cannibals in Ugg boots, are gathering in the streets, their very costumes reflecting a sense of history that is missing nowadays from Halloween in the US and UK.
An old woman approaches me and talks to me in German – I think my fur collared jacket makes me look like I belong. Her speech is fast and guttural and I reach deep into the dusty, cobwebbed German library that’s tucked somewhere in my brain to understand her. Using that same library I tell her how charming I find her town to be. She beams with pride and we nod and smile, and I realise sadly that we’re actually mostly communicating through facial expressions.
But yet, in this country I’ve hardly visited, surrounded by people I can hardly understand, I feel a sense of belonging and connection that I rarely feel in the US. The history of this little town is MY history, these cobbles and cathedrals, monks and jesters are MY heritage. I’m back in Europe and in a very real, very visceral way, this European girl is back home.