Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Year since Deutschland

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Just under a year ago today, this writer returned home after a wonderful 12-day trip to Germany and Austria. It was an unforgettable whirlwind of culture, language, history and fun and my third visit to Europe.

I’m not a last-minute type of person, so booking my plane ticket the month before I left was not something I’m used to. The idea for the trip began when some interesting visitors came to where I live in Jena, Louisiana. They were from Jena, Germany. 
On top of Salzburg Castle in Austria
Last September, I met these visitors, whom extended an invitation for me to visit Jena, Germany whenever I could. I had no idea it would be sooner than later…for I boarded my flight on November 17, 2011.

I began my journey by flying to Munich. I spent the majority of my time there and then headed north to pay my own visit to Jena, Germany. In all, I was able to spend time in Munich, Berlin, Dachau, Nuremberg, Füssen, Schwangau, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm and Salzburg, Austria. It was a full itinerary, but the pace wasn’t bad and I saw nearly everything I had planned to see. In fact, several Germany natives told me that I’ve seen more of their country then they have.

I was in Germany, not only to see the country though, but to visit a friend from college in Munich and my new friends in Jena. I was very lucky to have native guides for the whole trip, which made it extra memorable. The end of November may not seem like the ideal time to visit Europe due to the bare trees and beginnings of a usual wet and cold winter, but it was a perfect time for me. One reason being the weather was unusually warm—mostly sunny with no rain in sight.

The world famous Nuremberg Christmas market
The other reason is an amazing seasonal experience: the opening of the Christmas markets. Just about every city, town and village has one (large cities have dozens). Christmas markets, which are usually held in a prominent outdoor area, open the last week of November and run through Christmas. Locals and tourists alike bundle up and go to buy handmade gifts such as hand-carved wooden toys, glass ornaments and small lit-up ceramic houses and enjoy the atmosphere while sampling a large array of sweets, roasted nuts and a steaming cup of Glühwein to stay warm.  

Stefanie and I wearing dirndls at the Kathrein Dance
I was able to visit Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt on opening day, which is the most famous one in Germany. I tried the city’s famous bratwurst that are small enough to fit through a Medieval keyhole—according to old custom—as well as popular Lebkuchen (gingerbread). It’s made fresh at the Handwerkerhof, a Medieval-style marketplace inside the city’s walls completed in 1452.

There were so many memorable experiences from my trip such as my visit to Dachau’s former concentration camp amid heavy fog and icy cold conditions that sent a tingle down your spine, seeing the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein, or being the only non-German waltzing at the Katherine dance and wearing a traditional women’s dress called a dirndl. (See a short video of the Kathrein dance at the bottom of this post.) 

Since we have just celebrated Thanksgiving though, the memory that comes to mind is spending Thanksgiving crammed into a Jena apartment with two-dozen people of varying nationalities – many Germans, four Americans and two Canadians. It has to be the closest I will ever be to experiencing what the first Thanksgiving was like: a blending of cultures and traditions.

Thanksgiving in Jena
I was blessed when asked to pray before the meal. I never had to tell the couple that I’m a Christian. They apparently knew from what I said about my life, God and perhaps they just saw how I live my life. That makes my heart glad because I want to live my life in such a way that others will see Christ in me.

It was so strange going to Jena, especially when my train arrived and I saw the signs. I was in Jena, but thousands of miles from home. Jena is a university city located in central Germany with a population of over 100,000 people and surrounded by mountains. It’s lovely and I enjoyed my visit there so much.

Recently, I had a pleasant surprise when two more visitors from Jena, Germany found their way to our town. I was notified and got to spend a few minutes with Alex and Norman at town hall to answer their questions and tell them a little bit about my journey to their Jena.

Alex and Norman - Visitors from Jena, Germany to Jena, La.
I never thought I’d feel such a connection to Germany, but seeing these two visitors felt like a bit of a homecoming. Sure, it could just be a reminder of my wonderful trip, but I believe it goes further than that with a connection between the two Jenas and me. I would have not traveled to Germany without meeting those Jena visitors and received their invitation and I would have missed the blessing to go there and the inspiration to write my debut novel that came out of the trip. 
My mementos from Deutschland
When I think of Germany, one word comes to mind: “Gemütlichkeit.” The word represents a sense of belonging and home. That’s the way I feel about Germany and I hope to return someday soon.

Is there some place you have been where you feel a strong connection? What place/s have you been to that inspired your writing?

A video from the traditional Kathrein dance I attended in Munich.
Don't get dizzy. :)


  1. A place that inspired my writing...well...

    I'm noit comfortable in cities, and, to by horror, a visit to Chicago gave me such a powerful resonance that I'm afraid it'll form part of everything I write from now on.

    I wish I knew why. I like to think that it's because there were a lot of people there who knew a yokel when they saw one, and they were kind,

    1. Hi Andrew! :) Thanks for sharing.

      Chicago, hmm...sounds like quite an experience for that much inspiration to come out of it. I have been to Chicago twice but no such inspiration came.

      It is true though that you never know where or when inspiration will strike. Do you agree?

      Have a nice weekend!