Greta’s Reflection on a Year Abroad

While we are no longer actively writing on this blog – Ruth has started her own, and Jason continues to write on his – we thought it was appropriate to share a piece of Greta’s writing here. She had an assignment in 7th grade Langauge Arts to write an essay about something significant in her life, and she wrote the following about her year abroad. It’s particularly timely to share it now, as we leave for 3 weeks back in Germany tomorrow! 

The Year That Changed my Life: Abroad in Göttingen, Germany

Greta Hardy-Mittell

When I was little, I never imagined I would live anywhere but the small town of East Middlebury, Vermont, let alone a country far across the sea. But years later, after living in Göttingen, Germany for eleven months, looking back, I know it was the most significant year of my life, and I will never be the same because of it. I knew from the start that living in Göttingen would change my life, but I did not fully grasp how difficult it would be. I thought it would all be one big, enjoyable adventure, a day at the beach. But suddenly, when I was in a German school, fully surrounded by a different language, I realized how hard the year would actually be. I would have to learn a lot, but I knew that it would be worth it. I was right: although it was tough, I had a great year, traveling Europe and having many amazing experiences. I am lucky to have been there, for living in Germany influenced my life in so many ways, and it made me an improved person. I overcame a lot of vigorous challenges, including learning German, becoming more aware of myself and others, and acquiring a better understanding of the world, but my challenges were what altered my life for the better.

Before I lived in Göttingen, I didn’t know the German language very much; I had been tutored, but I had only learned simple things, vocabulary and grammar that would provide a foundation for the language. Tutoring once a week was not much compared to school in another language every day, though, so I was obliged to learn German through immersion if I wanted to understand anything. That process is what made a difference in my life. I had to be persistent, even though it was hard and often very frustrating–imagine not being able to communicate freely with friends, not comprehending the teacher’s instructions, not being able to be independent in practically anything. I had to keep trying, stay motivated, refuse to give up. It took long, hard work, but suddenly everything clicked–I realized I had caught on to the language. I began to participate more often in class, and even started to help other people with work. Learning a language made me more confident in myself, because I realized that if I could do it, anything was possible. I benefited so much from the process, and now, as a result, I am bilingual, which will continue to affect my life. Learning German was hard, but it taught me not to give up, especially faced with a challenge, and I learned about myself through my struggles.

Having more challenging experiences, like being engrossed in the German language, taught me more about myself and what I could do. While in Germany, I learned to become more independent, because I could not rely on others to help me through all my problems. I also had to persevere, even through the hard tasks that I had to accomplish, like writing in German or making friends in a new school. Before I went to Germany, most of the toughest challenges I had were only minor, like playing an especially difficult piece of music, playing against a particularly good soccer team, finishing an onerous homework assignment. Living in another country trumped all that. I experienced greater challenges than I had gone through before, but learned that I could rise to the occasion, so I became more certain in myself. My conflicts also helped me to understand that life is a winding road, and you never know what will be around the next turn. Many people have to endure hard times regularly, and it is not easy. Being put in a challenging situation made me more aware of that, and gave me sympathy for those people who struggle much more than I had. Thus, living in Germany not only helped me to be more aware of myself, but of the whole world, as well.

Furthermore, living in somewhere other than Vermont opened my eyes to how immense and diverse the world  really is. While in Europe, I got to see new and exciting places up close: Rome, Paris, Berlin, cities with buildings so old they crumbled before my eyes, landscapes littered with castles and gently flowing rivers, gardens scented with flowers of every kind. Visiting these areas showed me how different communities can be than a small town in Vermont or even an average-sized German city. Actually living in a different country made me see what life is like somewhere else outside of the museums and palaces. It made me fully grasp that normal, everyday activity goes on in other towns, they are not just sites to visit on vacation. The way of life in Göttingen was very different than I was used to, but in some ways, it was also the same. Kids still went to school, adults still went to work, life still went on. The regions of the world may be distinct, but they are in many ways not so different after all. My year in Germany helped me understand this and acquire a broader perspective of the world.

Living in Göttingen had an even bigger impact on my life than I thought it would, because in the end, it changed who I was and how I looked at the world; I became a more understanding and mature person. Göttingen has become a special place for me, a second home, because I went through so much there. Learning German, becoming more confident in myself and gaining a more full view on the world have all enhanced my life, all because of that fateful day I boarded the plane overseas. My year abroad was enormously enriching for me, and I will always remember that time as the most significant year of my life.

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Friendship Bracelet

On Anya’s last day of school in Göttingen, I went into her school to bring a cake and stickers for the class, as a way of saying good-bye and thank you. I listened as Anya said her farewell to the class, amazed that my shy, worried girl had come so far that she could stand up and make a speech in German to a group of kids who were now her friends, but had quite recently been strangers.

As Anya talked, one of the girls tied a lavender-colored friendship bracelet around my wrist. She said, “Für dich, bitte vergiss mich nicht.” For you, please don’t forget me.

That friendship bracelet quickly became a symbol for me, to not only remember this little girl and all of Anya’s dear friends, but to remember Göttingen and our family’s year there. I often have found myself twisting the thin yarn as I remember how to weave my way through the city’s medieval streets, or how to ask for a kilo of Kartoffeln at the market. I was determined to keep the bracelet for as long as possible so that I would not forget.

Friends of ours in Göttingen, who themselves had just returned from 16 months abroad in Toronto, told us that they often dreamed of walking around their Toronto neighborhood, and that as time passed the entire experience felt like a dream. I’ve found that too, as I day-dream of riding my bike on damp cobblestone streets in my black leather jacket, when in reality I’m stuck in a small-town traffic jam, trapped in my mini-van and an old fleece sweatshirt. (The grass may literally be greener in Vermont, but the clothes and modes of transportation are definitely cooler in Europe!) As I snap out of my dream, I feel for the string on my right wrist. Still there, it did all happen.

Today, while stacking wood and working in my yard, I lost the bracelet. Now greyish-brown and stretched thin, it must have slipped off as I pulled weeds or piled firewood. I’m trying hard not to make too much of it, but I’m a sucker for symbols. Will I now forget which church is which, how to get to our favorite Spielplätze, or the German names for everything I bought at the Wochenmarkt?

I will forget names, I always do, and words too. But I don’t think I’ll forget the streets or houses or spaces and directions. I won’t forget the smells and sounds and faces of people I knew. I don’t need the bracelet to conjure up these memories in my day dreams. But, just in case, I may write to Anya’s friend and ask her if she could make me another bracelet. Just to be sure I won’t forget.

______________________________________________________________________________

This will be my last blog post about our adventures in Germany and beyond. Maybe I’ll break that rule if we go back for a visit and something interesting happens. But perhaps this should be it.

We’ve been home now for over three months. And though the first few weeks were very strange, we did quickly readjust to our life here in Vermont. We all miss things, but do our best to keep in touch with friends and memories and things we learned. The girls and I continue to speak German with each other, often prompted by me saying something horribly wrong and they proceeding to correct me. But the strategy works and we are speaking German.

One after-effect that has surprised me is that the kids now know very keenly about how quickly time passes. Before we went abroad, the passage of time for the kids was masked by the rhythm of our lives here, the changes in the seasons, the passing of holidays, one into another. But now they have each remarked about how short a year is. A year is now measured by the time we spent in Germany.

Anya, who’s had the most difficult time being back, Skypes with friends, writes adorable letters, and even takes her German books to school each day in case she finds time to do a page or two. This morning, while I was stacking wood, she was Skyping into the birthday party of one of her closest friends in Göttingen. I walked in the house and the excited squeals of German girls filled the air, and it was so wonderful!

We’ve had visitors from Göttingen, the graduate student who sought Jason out at a conference in Zurich over three years ago, a meeting that eventually led to an invitation and then our year in Germany. That he and his wife were our first visitors after our return home seemed right. A full circle. He brought us Gummibärchen and a book about Gauß, the famous mathematician and astronomer in whose observatory were the offices for Jason’s fellowship.

Coming home has perhaps been hardest for me, as I’ve found myself fighting reintegration. Ambivalence about life here has hit me hard. It’s been three months feeling like the day after Christmas.

A friend of mine here, who returned from a year abroad in England with her family just days after we left for Germany, told me that it took her a full nine months before she felt alright about being home. And still, she says she often longs for that year and time and place again.

If I’m to stay within that nine-month window, then I will have to do something to shake my ambivalence. Writing this blog helped me to get through some of our most difficult times being abroad — broken bones, a horrible kindergarten and its aftermath, the weight of history. It also helped me relay some of our greatest joys and coolest adventures.

And still, there were many topics about which I wanted to write, but couldn’t find the time or hook — trees, playgrounds, wine, women’s history, more about schools. I’ve been thinking that perhaps my own blog may help wring me of ambivalence, and provide me an avenue to relay my thoughts on these topics and more. We’ll see. Perhaps just a good vacation, good book, good cause or good class would do the trick too. I’m working on these too.

For now, I’ll say good-bye and Tchüss, be well and Alles gute. Thank you to all of the people who supported our year abroad through reading this blog, providing comments or just letting me know you were following our time there. It meant a lot to me that so many new and old friends, family members and strangers read my words and helped me to celebrate and process our experiences in Germany. Perhaps even more than a friendship bracelet, I have this blog to help me remember the time we had in Göttingen. Danke.

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Bittersweet

We leave Göttingen tomorrow, eleven months to the day from when we arrived. It’s perhaps trite to say that we are a different family now than we were then, but it is certainly true. And I think we may only now be beginning to see evidence of this. When we return home to our once familiar environment, I think we’ll start to see more of how this year has affected us, as a family and individuals. Or, actually, I hope this is so.

For now, we are immersed in a swirl of emotions that is beyond my ability to accurately describe. This past week has been one of our most difficult weeks here — saying good-bye without really knowing when or if we’ll see our German friends and home again. Knowing that on Monday, friends here will be back sitting in their seats in class, while we’ll be sitting on a plane flying across an ocean. That new people will be lying in our beds already on Monday night. Knowing that life will go on here, without us.

But, we will also be returning to our friends and Gramma, our lovely house and giant garden, our supportive and familiar community, our beautiful state of Vermont. We miss it, like glimpses of precious memories that float through our minds. These images are comforting, and dear, and part of our core.

Last night at dinner, Greta said, “I know that deep down, I will be happy to be back in Vermont. It is my home, and I love it there. But now, on the surface, my feelings are even stronger that I want to stay here. Now Göttingen feels like my home, and I love it here. How am I supposed to figure this out?”

Aside from the fact that of course we are still in Göttingen, and of course the present is always the most vivid, I think the reason that at this point we’re all wishing more that we could stay rather than go, is that we have worked really hard to make this our home. Fitting in, figuring things out, finding our way did not come easily, so our friends and our place here is that much more precious because we have earned it.

We have had to learn a new language and culture, and we have had to overcome so much to have the many friends and familiarities we have here. For the kids, their friends in Vermont have, for the most part, been part of their lives since very early, many since birth. Greta’s best friends going into middle school were her best friends in preschool. Many of the kids’ friends are the children of friends and colleagues of Jason’s and mine. They fell into many of their friends. And they are lucky, because they are fantastic friends and wonderful children.

But here, they had no past to join them to friends, not even a common language. So, they had to learn the language and work to build relationships and special moments. And it wasn’t always easy–in fact it was often extremely difficult. But they now have lots of friends and rituals and bonds with children here. And the hard work has made the friendships perhaps a bit sweeter.

So, the bittersweet taste in our mouths is both a result of sadness at our departure, of leaving friends we earned by overcoming so much, and excitement at our arrival and the welcome home from friends we’ve always had in our hearts.

We will miss a lot from this year. Of course friends, and lots of good foods and drinks. Walter will miss the architecture, especially the churches. One of his favorite daily rituals is walking atop the medieval city wall and examining the steeples of the city’s two biggest churches. He will miss his big buddy, Niko, too.

Walter and Niko

Anya’s Gaggle of Girls

Anya will miss the amazing tight-knit group of girls in her class, with whom she is always getting together, enjoying celebrations, calling on the phone. She has certainly been the most well-connected of the kids this year. She will also miss the dark, rich breads, abundant sweet treats, and the assortment of interesting cold cuts and meats.

Greta will miss her fabulous school, its student community, top-notch teachers and challenging classes. She has been lucky to be in a school that is a perfect fit for her needs as a non-native speaker and dedicated student. She will also miss the freedom that is afforded to kids her age here, allowing them see and do more on their own.

Greta’s Class – 5bil at Felix-Klein-Gymnasium

Jason & the Girls in front of his Office – Gauß’s Sternwarte

Jason will miss the incredible opportunity to focus so closely on his research and writing, while at the same time making connections with other scholars from around the world in his own field and others. The time to think big thoughts, discuss them, revise them, write them down, and then travel around a new continent and present them, is a true gift. Add to that the daily ritual of walking in an old European city, and the year was a dream in many ways.

Me & Karl at “My Wineshop”

I will miss the Wochenmarkt and the many vendors with whom I’ve become friends, and who have helped me not only feed my family but gain confidence in my German. I will miss my wine shop and the wonderful wines I’ve drunk this year, running across the street to say hi and flirt and get a bottle of wine. I will miss riding my bike through the streets of this beautiful city. My bike has been my practical method for hauling just about anything, but mostly I love the opportunity to pedal through the glowing city at night across the cobble stones with the breeze on my face. I feel free and young and lucky.

We will all miss the opportunity to travel so easily. The kids and I have traveled in four different countries this year, seeing each of the capital cities, beautiful mountains, farmlands and coasts, as well. Jason has traveled even more. We will miss speaking and hearing German every day. The girls are both fluent in German, and their nearly flawless, age-appropriate German has become ingrained in who they are, and how they think. And Walter is on his way too. And I will miss the puzzle, and the pride I feel when I finally figure out how to say something!

Seeing Things from a Different Perspective

Lastly, we will miss the ready opportunity to see something new everyday, to have an adventure of language or culture or architecture or art. We will miss seeing things from a different perspective so frequently. We will hold these things, and more, dear. There is nothing like the opportunity to spend a year with your family in another country. It alters time, and reality, and the bonds of a family to each other and the world around them.

We are not ready to leave, we’d like to stay. I know though that we will quickly reconnect with our friends and community in Vermont. And soon the bitterness will fade, and the sweet memories of the year will remain. Things will never be the same, this year has made sure of that. But we have all learned, that you have to get through the bitter to get to the sweet. Both with the welcome and the farewell.

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What we told the kids about it…

This is an essay about what we have told our children about the Holocaust. I have tried to write several different versions of a post about the Holocaust and our experiences, thoughts and feelings as a half-Jewish family living in Germany for the year. I have not been able to strike what seems an appropriate balance between innumerable factors. So much has been written about the Holocaust and German history and culture, by people much more qualified than me, that I had given up trying to write a piece. But then my brother asked me to comment on a concern a friend of his had about her third grader learning about the Holocaust. “After a year in Germany with your kids, what do you think?” he asked. So I came back to the topic I know best, parenting my children and helping them learn about the world around them.

We are a non-practicing, half-Jewish family, like many other academics we know. We celebrate Hanukkah and Passover, mostly for the food and ritual. My latkes and matzoh balls are comfort-food extraordinaire, and there is no meal all year I look forward to more than a Passover Seder around a giant table filled with friends. It is I, the goy in the relationship, who keeps the Jewish traditions, however basic, going in our family—Jason is Jewish by heritage and atheist by practice, but is very resistant to religion and religious rituals. Mothers, I suppose, generally keep most traditions going, sustaining the past and molding the future to create a family thread for generations to come.

But despite my efforts to continue family recipes and stories, we are not a Jewish family, nor are we Christian, although I was raised Presbyterian. We are still figuring it all out. But, culturally, the children are half-Jewish, and they know this. So, when we were preparing to live in Germany for a year, where not so long ago families like ours would have been at best driven into hiding and at worst torn apart and murdered, we weren’t sure what we should tell the kids about this horrific chapter in German history.

I talked to lots of people to gather opinions—teachers, Jewish friends, German friends, family members, anyone whose opinion I thought might be valuable. I received a mix of advice, but the consistent theme was that my Jewish friends thought my children were too young to know about the Holocaust, even Greta at age ten, and my German friends thought that especially Greta, at age ten, should know about the Holocaust.

When I was in sixth grade I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” with my first Jewish teacher, Mrs. Shapiro. Mrs. Shapiro with her shiny curls, broad smile and sharp wit was a beacon for me during a difficult year, and reading Anne’s diary with Mrs. Shapiro was incredible. I was both terrified and excited. Terrified to discover Anne’s tragic story and the horrors of the Holocaust, but excited to be reading the words of an intelligent girl who loved to write and read to help her deal with an impossibly difficult situation.

I had thought that perhaps Greta could learn about the Holocaust in the same way I did, through Anne’s words. But I learned that “The Diary of Anne Frank” is now not recommended for children until at least eighth grade, and my Jewish friends and children’s teachers could recommend no appropriate books for younger children. But, I also knew, from talking to my German friends, that fifth graders in Germany would know about the Holocaust, and Jason and I didn’t want Greta hearing about it for the first time in her German school or from deciphering messages on Holocaust memorials in Germany, especially as she was still learning the language and culture.

So Jason and I told Greta about the Holocaust a few months before we left for Germany. We didn’t go into great detail, but we told her that before and during World War II, the Germans rounded up and killed millions of Jewish people and others who were not deemed human in Nazi eyes. We told her briefly about the concentration camps, and that the victims included the very old and the very young. But we didn’t want her to be scared to go to Germany, so we also emphasized that it was a long time ago, that Germans were not like that anymore, and that she would be safe in Germany.

Of course she was scared, as everyone should be terrified by the knowledge of the Holocaust. But incredibly, she understood the idea that things can change and now she would be safe in Germany. But she was frustrated and sad by the weight of this new knowledge, by the understanding of just how horrific the world can be. She cried and got angry and did a lot of thinking, and she told us that she needed to do something good, something to make the world better to help counteract the fact that she now knew about one of the most horrible events in human history.

She wanted to do something aimed at children that would help them do good things for the world. So, she worked with Jason and some of his students and a group of her friends to make this video, which teaches kids about climate change and what they can do to prevent it from getting worse. The video has nothing to do with the Holocaust, but it was a project that she could help accomplish, that would work on a problem that is important to many people she knows, and that would engage her friends and other kids like them.

I was impressed and proud that Greta used the anger and frustration and sadness she felt after learning about the Holocaust to jumpstart and complete a project that was fun and proactive, and something that speaks to tangible things people can actually do every day to make the world a better place. She took something incomprehensible and transformed it into something concrete and doable – an important lesson to learn.

And beyond this lesson, we made the right decision to tell Greta about the Holocaust. In fact, kids her age here do know about the Holocaust. I’m not sure exactly when or how most kids learn about it here, but it’s not hidden from their young eyes and ears. Greta’s history teacher here mentioned the Holocaust early in the year when he gave an overview of what they would be covering over the next couple years, and in her school yard is a memorial to the Jewish teachers and students from the Felix-Klein-Gymnasium who were murdered in the Holocaust.

Memorial at Greta’s School, Felix-Klein Gymnasium

Two of my closest German friends have suggested that Jason and I take Greta to visit a concentration camp so that she can learn more first-hand about the Holocaust. In fact, Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died, is not too far from Göttingen. But neither Jason nor I could bring ourselves to undertake the weight of such a visit, or to deal with the emotional upheaval it would cause for us, let alone for Greta. Perhaps as she gets older, reads more, and processes more of the good and evil in the world, we can take such a trip. For now, our mother-daughter excursion was to visit the wonders of the North Sea and its unique coast, where we sank our toes in mud and reveled in the beauty of Germany, rather than its horrors.

We did not choose to tell Anya and Walter about the Holocaust before we came to Germany, thinking that it was an unlikely and inappropriate topic for second grade or Kindergarten. But we have also not shied away from the topic of World War II when it’s come up, as it has many times. The kids have learned that nearly every German city was heavily bombed during WWII, hearing first from friends about the devastation in nearby Kassel that was nearly completely destroyed, killing tens of thousands of people in a single night. They have also seen the pre- and post-War models of Hannover, to our north, that show how that city was nearly completely destroyed as well.

During our trip to Berlin, they learned about the burned Reichstag, bombed buildings, bunkers protecting invaluable ancient art, bullet holes in statues, and of course the Wall that the split city during the Cold War. Walter, who has become keenly interested in architecture this year, continually speculates about whether churches were bombed during the War and how domes and steeples could have been rebuilt. Dramatic stories of destroyed cities have become, for Walter, part of the story of Germany that fascinates him the most. And he knows that many of the bombs were dropped on Germany by the United States, but that is not as relevant to him as whether the bricks and mortar are original or reconstructed.

For Anya, who cares more about procuring the appropriate ingredients for a family meal or celebration than she does about the construction of a church, realized that it was difficult for me to find a Menorah and appropriate candles for Hanukkah, or matzoh and matzoh meal for Passover. When she inquired, I told her that it’s because there are no longer many Jewish people in Germany that most of them left or were killed during the War. We ended up using wine bottles and Christmas tree candles for a Menorah, and importing our matzoh from Paris during a pre-Passover trip there. But the fact that there are no longer many Jews in Germany left Anya wondering.

Walter & Greta in the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

We have seen memorials to the victims of the Holocaust in Germany, most dramatically, the vast acreage of concrete and metal cubes in Berlin that the kids ran through, playing a quick game of hide-and-seek on a bitter cold January day. And we saw the cattle cars that were included in the exhibit of German railroad history in the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin. Walter, thankfully more interested in the cool modern trains that came next, did not stop to look at these wagons, but I stood inside one and cried.

And in Berlin, we also learned about Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones, small plaques placed in the sidewalks outside locations where Jewish people were abducted and then taken to their deaths in concentration camps. Jewish friends of ours, living in Berlin for the year, have stumbled over many of these plaques during their time there. The first such stone was installed in Göttingen just last month, but thousands can be found all over Europe.

And each time we see or learn about such reminders of the Holocaust, Jason or I tell Greta a little bit more about what happened. And she seems ready to learn more, in small doses. And she, like me, tries to piece together how such a thing could have happened in this country we have all grown so fond of. I don’t think Greta has talked to friends here about the Holocaust or the War; the topic is simply too immense for children her age to chat about. Even I have had precious few conversations about it. The three most in depth conversations I’ve had about it have elicited a friend’s anger at her country’s cruelty, another friend’s tears for the victims and the devastating ripple effects three generations later, and the gift of an incredible memoir of a Holocaust survivor – “The Seventh Well” by Fred Wander.

Jason has talked about it quite a bit with the colleagues from the University and other visiting fellows, but such conversations have been more focused on historical details than emotional impact—how Göttingen saw far fewer Jews murdered as most Jewish professors were fired in the early 1930s and left the country; how Jews were treated differently in Denmark despite their cooperation with the Nazis; how Germans only began to talk openly about the Nazi era in the 1970s; and how long it took for German academia to recover after the war. In fact, arguably, the recovery is still taking place, with programs like Jason’s fellowship as part of that process.

Greta knows that information about the Holocaust should not be carelessly shared with her younger siblings. But last week, as the kids and I were wandering around town, we finally happened upon the memorial that has been erected in Göttingen for the victims of the Holocaust, on the site where the synagogue once stood before it was burned down during Kristallnacht. I knew the memorial was there, but hadn’t been to see it yet. Greta and Jason had seen it, but not Walter or Anya.

Platz der Synagogue, Göttingen

The memorial rises up out of what might have been the foundation of the temple, with metal criss-crossing triangles forming a spiral steeple. When one looks up through the spires from the ground, a Star of David can be seen. Around the inside walls of the foundation are the names of all the Jewish Göttingers who were killed in the Holocaust. I find the memorial beautiful and effective, and of course sad. Also sad is the fact that in the official Göttingen literature about sites and history that are given out at tourist locations throughout the City, the memorial is not listed as a site to visit. I think most people don’t even know it’s there.

But our family visited the memorial, and the kids and I talked about why it’s there. We read the names and found Walters and Ruths and last names that are the same as family members and friends. I told Anya and Walter that the names were of Jewish people from Göttingen who were killed in World War II, and that this was the site of their synagogue, before it was burned down.

Star of David in Synagogue Memorial in Göttingen

Walter asked if the people died because the temple was bombed and they were inside:  “Mama, did a bomb hit the synagogue when they were having a service?” I told him no, that the people were forced to leave their homes and move to horrible camps, and that in these camps they were killed. “Who killed them?” he asked. I told him they were killed by other Germans who were called Nazis. “Why?” asked Anya. “Because they were Jewish,” responded Greta. Anya then asked, “Is that why there aren’t very many Jewish people in Germany now?” Both Greta and I said together, “Yes, Anya, that is why.”

Anya at the Göttingen Memorial

The kids then quietly studied the shadows created by the metal angles on a sunny morning. I snapped some pictures of them, reminiscent of photos my mother took of my siblings and me when we were children, visiting the graves of great-grandparents on Memorial Day. We moved on, walking along the medieval wall that still surrounds much of Göttingen. We didn’t talk more about the memorial, or the War, or the many Jewish people from Göttingen who were killed. We enjoyed our afternoon together in our beautiful adopted city.

So now all of my children have heard about the Holocaust, as they should, after living in Germany for a year. The enormity of it certainly still escapes them, even Greta, who understands the most. I think Walter just took the information in as historical fact, like a city that was bombed and then rebuilt. The implications of such things don’t occur to him yet, which is as it should be for a six-year-old. Anya is pondering, I can tell, as she processes the absence of Jewish people here. And Greta, I’m not sure. She always wants to think the best of people, so perhaps in her own diary, she is figuring out a way to reconcile the present with the past. Trying to figure out how a half-Jewish girl like her can love present-day Germany despite its horrific past.

Our children all understand the Holocaust at a level and in a context that is appropriate for their ages and our circumstances. As parents, Jason and I rarely shy away from difficult topics like death and war and oppression. We always try to be honest with our kids about the world they live in, and then to help them understand the complexities surrounding a situation. There are very few topics as difficult as the Holocaust, but that makes it even more important to discuss honestly, so that we and our children can do our part to make sure it never happens again.

More images of the memorials, below:

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Wahlbach

Twice in my life I have lived with a family of mine in Germany. The first time, I was a sixteen-year-old AFS exchange student who was assigned to Germany for my summer exchange experience. I had been hoping to go either to someplace “exotic,” in the eyes of a small town American girl, or someplace French-speaking, since I had just started to learn French in school. Perhaps the Ivory Coast would have been the ideal locale?

Instead, when the placement letter came it said I’d be going to Germany. I remember being a little disappointed, but figured anywhere would be an adventure compared to my own small town, and I quickly got to work trying to learn German. My tutor was a local college professor from Stuttgart whom I met with weekly for three months. I remember sitting in Victoria’s sun-filled kitchen drinking tea and learning to count, name animals, and conjugate common verbs in German. She suggested I label common objects at home with their German names, so our house was soon filled with little notes that said “das Fenster,” “der Tisch,” or “die Tür;” these labels adorned our windows, tables and doors for many months even after my return from Germany.

About a month before I was to leave, I found out my German host family was to be a farming family with three small children in a tiny town called Wahlbach, nestled between the Rhein and Mosel Rivers in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz. The match was quite the opposite of exotic. I would be exchanging my small-town life with three siblings who, until recently, had had lots of farm animals, in the midst of the upstate New York lake and wine district, for pretty much the same thing in Germany!

But the fact that my summer in Wahlbach was not exotic didn’t prevent it from being somewhat magical. I spent my time playing with and learning German from Yvonne and Martin who were about the same ages as Anya and Walter are now. I rode horses, put up hay, milked cows, collected eggs. I took long walks to explore the countryside; I played cards many evenings with my host-parents; I changed three-month-old Michael’s diapers and played with him on a blanket in the garden; I joked around with Opa and helped Oma weed her garden.

I learned enough German to have slow but meaningful conversations with my host parents Renate and Friedhelm. I met some kids my own age through AFS, a church youth-group, and three weeks in the local Gymnasium (high school). We took a few day trips to visit castles, the rivers, fairs and swimming holes. But the summer wasn’t about hanging out with teenagers like me or traveling around like a tourist. The summer was about getting to know what life is like for an actual family in an actual town in Germany, and to learn this on my own, without my “real” family navigating or interpreting.

And I learned that life there was incredibly similar to the life that I knew, and that was good and comforting. Despite being in a country far away, with a history that had fairly recently intersected so horrifically with the history of my own country, I realized that people are essentially the same all over the world. The everyday tasks of raising a family and earning a living are more-or-less universal.

At the end of the summer I didn’t want to go back home; my time in this tiny German town with this lovely family had been much too short. But the magic of that summer stayed with me. Despite living in many places where cows are abundant, the aroma of cows has always brought me back to Wahlbach, and when I smelled the dark, sourdough bread and tasted the rich, creamy yogurt here for the first time last August, I thought of Wahlbach as well. And when I began to learn German again, 25 years later, the sound of my host-family’s voices echoed in my head as I pronounced the words.

In addition to the sensory memories, gaining a view of the world as both a large and small planet, and the ability to navigate the complexities of cultural differences with both confidence and sensitivity, have served me well. Finally, I knew that when I brought my own family here, the best strategy would be to immerse ourselves in the life of people here, people and the institutions and routines they inhabit. Yes, seeing lots of art and architecture and sites has been magnificent, there is no denying that most of our trips have been highlights of this year. But, our time here has been defined by the everyday life of a family in Germany, just like my summer in Wahlbach.

After my summer with the Konrads in 1986, I visited them for a few days five years later, and then kept in touch via Christmas letters and occasional cards, but we hadn’t been in touch much over the last decade. When we came to Germany last summer, I knew I wanted to visit them, but I was afraid that they might not remember who I was, or that my summer with them hadn’t left much impression on their busy lives of raising children, growing up, and running a farm.

Konrad’s Kitchen Window

But when I sent them a Christmas card from Göttingen telling them that I was living here for the year with my family, Renate and Friedhelm responded that there was no question but that all five of us should come visit them. And in mid-April, when our mutual schedules finally allowed for a visit, I walked in their house and instantly the smells, tastes, sounds and sights of that summer came rushing back to me, like I was visiting one of my childhood homes whose rooms are etched distinctly in my mind. And on their wall of family photos was a picture of me from that summer, raking rows in a field with a view of tiny Wahlbach behind me. I may have only been there a few months, but I was part of their family story.

Kids & Friedhelm on the Tractor

I was struck by all of the small things that hadn’t changed, but also by the obvious things that had. Of course the kids are grown, the baby whom I changed is now 26-years-old, but they each made arrangements to see me during my first, or then second, visit. Most of the cows and other animals are gone, as Friedhelm has drastically scaled back his farm operations, but a friendly dog and the lowing of the remaining cows from the barn still greeted us. Oma and Opa have passed away. A few houses have been built in the tiny town, the horizon is filled with windmills and the rooftops with solar panels.

Family Meal

Hearing my own children’s voices ringing through the house speaking German, seeing them look at the “Where’s Waldo” books I brought Yvonne and Martin in 1986, watching them excitedly help look after the cows and chickens or lend a hand in the kitchen, was poignant for me. The last time I was there, the children’s voices ringing through the house were those of my host siblings; now my own children from another country were echoing their sounds. My kids immediately felt at home with the Konrads, especially Anya and Walter, knowing that I’d once lived there, but also again surrounded by the fields, animals, and comfortable clutter of a truly lived-in home – all things they’ve missed this year.

Renate & Ruth

During our first visit in mid-April, we spent the two days catching up and getting to know each other again. We ate, cooked, looked after the cows and played games.  I met the adult versions of my host-brothers, and the kids enjoyed playing with the children of good friends of Renate and Friedhelm.  Greta and Friedhelm and I took a long walk through the fields and woods where I’d wandered by foot and on horseback three decades ago.

When it was time to go, Anya and Walter were keen to stay, and for the next six weeks would beg me to let them go back.  At the end of May, while Jason was giving lectures in Sweden, the kids and I returned to Wahlbach for two more days with the Konrads.  This time we included a couple excursions to the Mittelalterisches Spectaculum in Oberwesel, a fabulous medieval festival set in a beautiful town on the Rhein River, and to Burg Eltz, a castle nestled in the hills above the Mosel River.

Mittelalterisches Spectaculum in Oberwesel

We went to the festival with the same friends we’d met on our first visit, so my kids had some other kids with whom to share the fun. Oberwesel is a well-preserved medieval town, an ideal setting for such a festival. After making our way through the crowds, we enjoyed watching the hundreds of costumed locals acting out life in medieval Germany, including the prevalent games, crafts, foods, revelry, and professions of the time. We climbed up to the top of the town’s old medieval wall to view the boats on the Rhein River, the grape groves on the surrounding hills, and Schönburg Castle on the hilltop above. That night the kids and their new friends stayed up well-past the late sunset to play and eat and grill Stockbrot in the garden, while the adults did more-or-less the same.

Greta & Walter with Friedhelm at Burg Eltz

The next day, Friedhelm took Greta, Walter and me to Burg Eltz, while Anya stayed home to bake and play with my host-sister Yvonne and her adorable dog Toffee. Like in Paris during our visit to the Eifel Tower, Anya’s love of cooking and human interaction far outweighs her desire to see old buildings! Burg Eltz is many people’s favorite castle in all of Europe. It’s remained in the same family for 33 generations, and is nearly perfectly preserved, thanks in large part to the fact that it’s never been under attack. Greta, especially, enjoyed the official tour and then a look into the treasure exhibit, before the kids had fun skipping rocks and dipping their feet into the brook that runs beside the castle. When we got home, Anya treated us to muffins and a fantastic magic show that she and Yvonne had created.

My Kids Favorite Cow

The next day we had to again bid farewell, but not without having gained a renewed sense of a home and family in Wahlbach. Walter said that Wahlbach and the Konrad’s home was almost the best house in the world, second only to our house in tiny East Middlebury. All the kids were sad to say good-bye to the dogs and cows and fields, but comforted by the fact that soon they will be back in the similar environs of Vermont. I was especially happy to meet Yvonne again, with hopes of a continuing friendship as adults, and to reconnect with Renate and Friedhelm, who enabled me to gain a broader perspective on the world while being a part of their family so many summers ago.

Sunset on Wahlbach

I have often wondered what the impact of this year will be on my family, as well as the people we have met here. One year in the life of a family is ever so brief, as the years fly by while children grow up. But if my even briefer time in Germany three decades ago has left such a lasting impression on me and the family with whom I shared my time here, then I am certain that my family’s time here will engrave even deeper mutual memories. When I or my children or my grandchildren come to Göttingen several decades hence, perhaps there will be a picture of our family hanging on the wall of another family’s home, marking our contribution to the lives of others.

More pictures in the slide-show below:

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Parenting Without Pedals

I’ve spent a lot of time this year sorting through my thoughts about parenting, my own and others.  Of my own parenting, I’ve been both proud and embarrassed, depending on the crisis I’ve navigated or the public temper-tantrum I’ve endured. But mostly I’ve simply been humbled. Humbled by the endless dozens of questions I cannot answer for my children, and by their ability to generally accept this ambiguity and figure things out for themselves.

The first part of our year here, when I guided my children through injury, integration into new schools, learning German, and a horrible kindergarten experience and its aftermath, I nearly burst from the emotional strength all of this required. As I translated the world, reassured my children of their own strength and value, and encouraged them to take the necessary risks to make friends and learn a new language, I had to constantly reassure myself that I could do all this too.

With my broken German, I spoke to doctors, teachers, vendors and other parents with as much confidence as I could muster. Explain to me why my daughter might need surgery or why my son is having trouble at school, and then listen to me as I try to outline my concerns. Because my children were so often worried, I was determined to show no fear.

But all the while, an interesting shift was taking place, one that I was not completely aware of. My kids were becoming more confident about their place here, perhaps more than I – first Greta, then Anya, and now finally even little Walter. In large part this has to do with the incredible pace at which the girls have learned German. But it has also been the product of the independence and confidence that living in a small German city has brought.

This gradual, but definitive shift in linguistic and cultural authority has been humbling, but also gratifying. That they understand another language and culture better than I do, including the slang, gestures and cultural norms they learn every day in school, helps them to fit in here and also gives them an opportunity to teach me about life in Germany.

While I participate in every parent meeting and conference, I don’t know how many things work. In Vermont, I was an involved parent at nearly every level, including as an elected school board member who had the principals on speed dial, but here often my girls have to figure things out for themselves. They have to ask the details of a field trip or special project, and they often have to translate details for me, so there is a shift in educational, or at least in logistical authority, as well.

In writing about parenting, I have no interest in entering into the all-too-common debate about which kinds of parents are the best kinds of parents. This discussion almost always devolves into a hurtful, counter-productive indictment of mothers, one in which some mothers feel holier-than-thou and others feel like crap. I will say though, that living in another country leads one to compare everything to how it is “back home,” which is certainly why books like Bringing Up Bébé and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which apparently preach the superiority French or Chinese mothering, were written.

I haven’t read either book, although I’ve read excerpts, reviews, commentary, and Facebook updates about the books, and mostly what I’ve read has convinced me that these books have served to force tons of mothers to wonder why they aren’t good enough. What I already knew, and what has been endlessly confirmed for me this year is that parenting, and perhaps especially mothering, is situational, and so influenced by culture, educational systems, and society that it’s difficult to make the easy comparisons many people seem eager to roll out. It is impossible to have it all because parenting is also about making choices, and every choice means that taking one option is giving up another.

Like I said, I haven’t read these books, or others like them; I don’t need more reason to feel insecure about my mothering.  Perhaps the books do talk about the complexities of culture, finances, schooling and how these factors and others make it impossible to say one kind of mothering is better than another. Perhaps only the media has clung to the simple, clichéd summary of the books. Given all the support French mothers get – highly subsidized childcare, health care, modest work weeks, more vacation, longer lunches, not to mention the cultural imperative to drink wine – it’s probably easier to be an average mother in France than an average mother in the United States.

But, all of this isn’t to say that I don’t think we can’t learn a lot from watching how other cultures parent, which is what I have tried to do this year. One example of the type of observation I mean is this NYT Motherlode blog post that outlines what American parents could learn from French parents about bestowing a loving and healthy attitude regarding food upon their children. Food is deeply embedded in French culture in a way that is not true for most American families.

The post doesn’t claim that French parents are superior in every way, but it does outline how French parents are good at a specific aspect of parenting, while also critiquing them on their ability to bestow other important traits upon their children. Not every French parent is good at this task, or good at it all the time; I saw more than one French kid have a food-related meltdown during a week in Paris this spring.

But, if French parents are really good at imbuing a culturally beloved tradition of enjoying a healthy attitude toward outstanding food, German parents are really good at injecting their children with self-sufficiency and independence. Kids in Germany are often thrown into challenging situations and taught that they’d better swim because drowning is really not an option—and I mean both literally and figuratively, given the time I’ve spent at the local swimming pool.

A good example is how parents here teach their children to ride a bike. Almost as soon as kids can walk they are up on tiny two-wheeled cycles without pedals, moving themselves along with their feet. Once they’ve got this down, they get bikes with pedals, which they ride on the sidewalk while parents ride parallel to them on the streets. It’s extremely rare to see training wheels or parents running along beside (unless they are Americans living here for the year!).

Kids learn really early to look at corners and street crossings, to navigate traffic, to commute on their bicycles. I’ve watched dozens of families ride by on their bikes this year, observing how parents instruct their children through challenging spots, but leave the actual bike riding to the kids. The kids become confident, and therefore safer, young bike riders. While struggling to teach two children to ride bicycles here, I’ve been envious of how seamless the process appears for native parents and children.

I’ve mentioned before how parents here let their children play with minimal adult interference. Similarly, they let them go to and be in school with minimal interference. Most children generally walk, bike, bus, and even take the train to school on their own, starting often in first grade, and schools strongly encourage this. There are no frustrating, smog-producing, time-sucking car lines outside of schools here.

Furthermore, parents in the school buildings are quite rare, except for during scheduled parent meetings, open houses, conferences or fundraisers. In-class volunteers and chaperones are seemingly non-existent. Anya’s second grade class went on an overnight field trip during the first month of school; two teachers went with twenty kids. No parents joined them, and the teachers slept in their own rooms, separate from the kids. Greta’s fifth grade class went on a week-long class trip during the first month of school, with two teachers, 27 kids, and no parents – a stark contrast from the fifth grade week-long trip in Middlebury where tons of parents help chaperone.

All of this independence leads children here to know how to take care of themselves at a much younger age. By fifth grade children are generally managing their own schedules and responsibilities much more than fifth graders in the States. But this doesn’t mean that parents aren’t involved here, it doesn’t mean that parents don’t advocate for their children, and do all that they can to get the best for their children. It just means that there is a clear sense that children need to learn to take care of themselves and their lives, and that a parent’s job is to teach kids how to do this at a young age. Often teaching children how to do something means letting them figure it out on their own.

On the flipside, generally speaking and as compared to the parents and schools I know in the States, Germans could do a better job at teaching and employing empathy, support, and acceptance of difference, as the sink-or-swim ethos is often taken a bit too far. We’ve been the great beneficiaries of extremely supportive teachers for Greta and friends and parents-of-friends for Anya, both of which have helped the girls succeed here. Although some people have reached out to help, we’ve also been at the receiving end of some stereotypical Northern German coldness, especially but not solely, in the face of Walter’s crisis.

This seeming coldness may be a trade-off for the self-sufficiency and independence that German schools and parents are so good at enforcing. I can’t tell. My attempts at cultural analysis are now failing me, but where my own children and their experiences are concerned, I’m hoping that the combination of living in a culture that so values childhood self-sufficiency, as well as having parents who were simply not able to hold their hands tightly through often challenging experiences, has led them to an ingrained self-confidence that will take them through the often bumpy road of life.

Additionally, perhaps because they have now had the experience of so clearly needing support and empathy, and sometimes only partially receiving it, this will further ingrain a sense of empathy and acceptance into their outlook on the world and the people within it. At least in a partial sense, they all know what it’s like to be different, to be misunderstood, confused, scared, alone, and they have all gotten through it to the point where they are able to now truly shine here. But to get to this point, they’ve each had to gain self-sufficiency and confidence, seek support, and employ empathy, for themselves especially.

And for me, the humbling experience of having my children surpass some of my abilities is certainly one of the most important lessons any parent can learn. That I am not the sole authority (although I am still in charge), and am no longer the only one who speaks for the family, is surely a parental shift that will help ease me into parenting teenagers (if in fact “ease” and “teenagers” can be written in the same sentence). So, I’m humbled and gratified, and ready for the next parental shift. I think.

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Family Visitors

For eight weeks of our eleven months in Germany we have hosted family visitors in our adopted home. We’ve had a few other short-term guests, friends who have been in Europe and made Göttingen a stop on their route, but our family guests came to Germany specifically to share part of our adventure. Their presence has shaped a significant portion of our lives in Göttingen, enriching our family’s perspective on life here, sharing in discoveries, and adding to our omnipresent pile of laundry!

Our four family guests spanned several seasons – from late fall to mid-winter to spring. Two shared trips to wonderful German cities, one shared several major holidays, and two shared our fabulous birthday season. Their time with us marks the progression of our lives here, through both challenging and celebratory occasions.

Gramma Mimi

My mother was here with us for most of November. Before coming to Göttingen, she shared a relaxing week with close friends in Zurich, Switzerland. So, luckily she came to us rested and ready for some intense time with the grandchildren. In many ways, November was a difficult month for our family, especially Walter, since the Kindergarten fiasco had come to a head and we pulled him out of his miserable school. Thankfully he had Gramma to comfort him – she spent many hours with him playing Legos, visiting neighborhood bakeries, and watching Star Wars movies.

Gramma Mimi & Walter

Gramma Mimi also shared St. Martin’s Day, Thanksgiving and the start of Advent with us, which included the opening of the fabulous Weihnachtsmarkt. Because our walking pace and distance was difficult for my mother, she tended to stick to our neighborhood and the immediate downtown area. But always friendly and chatty, despite language barriers, Mimi made friends with many local shopkeepers and bakery workers. During her time here she was a familiar site in the neighborhood, coaxing even the most stoic Germans to smile and say hallo.

Late Fall Walk with Gramma

She was fortunate to be able to experience a true German Christmas Market, made even more special by seeing Anya sing with her school choir during the opening ceremony. She visited the Weihnachtsmarkt often and went home with a suitcase full of German Christmas crafts and goodies for herself and friends. She also went with the girls and me to see a wonderful performance of Der Kleine Prinz presented by the Deutsches Theater and the Göttingen Symphony Orchestra (GSO), and to the Medieval Göttingen exhibit at the Städtisches Museum. Mostly, Gramma Mimi shared our lives here on a daily basis – school, work and play, as we continued to figure things out and settle in a new place.

Uncle Rob

My brother Rob was with us for three weeks during the end of January through mid-February. Up until his arrival, the winter here had been fairly warm, and I was sure that he’d be exchanging the frigid Upper Midwest United States for mild Central Europe. Unfortunately it was quite the opposite, as during his time here the temperature rarely peaked above freezing, while his Minnesota home was downright warm. But Rob didn’t let the cold deter his daily outings to explore the history, architecture, hiking trails and gastronomy in Göttingen!

After spending a sabbatical year in England with his wife and two boys, Rob was generally familiar with our situation, so he blended right into our lives here, helping out and delighting in the rhythm of our days. He was not shy about venturing off on his own – with his basic knowledge of German and his in-depth knowledge of history (and speedy internet searches), he discovered much about Göttingen and Germany that we had not yet figured out.

Rob Meeting the Locals — Göttingen Physicist Georg-Christoph Lichtenberg

Rob really enjoyed the beer here, which is much cheaper than beer back home, as well as the food, especially a great meal of Bregenwurst (which no longer actually contains brains!) and Grünkohl (kale) at a nearby castle, and a meal of Strauss (ostrich meat) at a local African restaurant (after which he, Jason and Greta saw the GSO perform Strauss, and Brahms). And he cooked for us a bit, making dozens of birthday pizzas for Greta and her friends, and bagels (one of the few baked goods we’ve been missing here) for us all.

Ruth & Rob at Brandenburger Tor

During his first week here, we took a family trip to Berlin where Rob, Greta and I got a huge dose of amazing museums. As a classical historian, Rob was especially eager to see the Pergamon Museum and the famous Altar within, and he was the perfect museum guide for budding classicist Greta, who delighted in studying the art with Rob as her partner. Despite the bitter cold, we were able to see quite a bit in Berlin – sculpture, Legos, airplanes & trains, fish, paintings, monuments and domes.

Greta & Rob at the Bismarckturm

Back in Göttingen, Rob took extended walks every day, including six treks through the woods to the Bismarckturm, a late 19th century tower erected in honor of Otto von Bismarck, once a law student in Göttingen and later Chancellor of the German Empire. He took his own daytrip to Erfurt where he wandered the deserted, snowy streets, and visited two spectacular churches and a recently excavated 13th century synagogue. Rob and I also hiked to the local castle Plesseburg, the city cemetery where numerous Nobel Prize winners are buried, and to a fascinating church in tiny Nikolausberg. Since Jason was busy with work, and the kids, including finally Walter, were settled in school, it was great for me to have a buddy with whom to explore and more deeply experience Göttingen and its surrounding area.

Aunt Clara

My sister Clara was our only family visitor who had been to Germany before, having visited a friend in the other beautiful university town, Heidelberg. She came this time for a week to be a part of our birthday season, including to celebrate her own birthday, this year the Big 4-0.  Clara often comes up to Vermont to share February birthday celebrations with her nieces, so she this year she extended her tradition to another continent.

Clara arrived a couple days before her birthday, while Rob was still here, so we had three days with three of the four Hardy Siblings together. We used the occasion to catch up and frankly, to eat a lot! We also got a chance to bring our brother Jim into the picture via an amusing skype call. Our eating excursions included dinner out at Kartoffelhaus, where they serve lots of potatoes, and morning birthday cake at Göttingen’s famous Cron und Lanz Konditorei where we’ve taken all of our family guests for fancy and delicious cake and coffees. Clara, who couldn’t quite wrap her mouth around the name, called the café, Croo Lala, which has become our pet name for one of our favorite places here.

A Blurry Sibling Toast for Clara’s Birthday

Clara spent a lot of time playing with the kids, who absolutely adore her unique wackiness. The girls and she spent a fun-filled afternoon at the swimming complex down the street, and she helped me host Anya’s birthday party. Finally, Clara spent lots of time poking into shops looking for wooden incense-burning smoking men (I’m really not sure what they are called – Rauchermännchen?). She collects these guys so she was happy to find several unique ones here. And then, in a puff of smoke, Clara was gone.

Grandma Omi

Jason’s mother Naomi came for a bit over a week at the end of April, beginning of May. She was lucky to enjoy near perfect weather and our family nicely adjusted to the life and language in Göttingen.

Greta & Omi in the Garden

The day after her arrival we headed north for a long weekend, including a brief stop in Hannover to see the amazing Herrenhäuser Gärten, before heading up to the port city of Hamburg.

In Hamburg we enjoyed the amazing harbor with its constant activity of ships, cranes, trains, people and birds going about their business.

Aboard the Historic Rickmer Rickmers in Hamburg

We toured the Rickmer Rickmers, an historic cargo sailing ship; took a ferry ride around the harbor; walked around the beautiful city lakes and canals; and visited several fabulous Spielplätze. We also visited Beatlemania, the unofficial Beatles museum in Beatles-Platz near Reeperbahn and the Cavern Club where the Beatles got their start. The kids especially loved climbing around the Yellow Submarine room.

Finally, we spent a fabulous afternoon in Miniatur Wunderland, which is billed as the largest model train exhibit in the world, but it’s a lot more than that. It includes numerous rooms of intricately detailed miniature models of Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, the United States, and a fantasy land called Knuffingen. The airport includes planes that take-off and land, the Alps are three stories high and can be seen from above and below, a Swiss chocolate factory produces candy for those patient enough to wait, buildings burn, trucks honk, fans cheer, the sun even rises and sets. The place is absolutely incredible, and indescribable, and detailed beyond belief. It’s cooler than reality, in miniature form.

After a wonderful few days in beautiful Hamburg, we returned to Göttingen, where we showed Naomi the sites of our own small city, including of course, a stop at Croo Lala, as well as walks in the old botanical garden and around the lake. She got a good view of our lives here, and just how settled we are now in our adopted home.

My Fab Four

For those of you interested in more photos, here’s an entire slide-show of pictures spanning our time with our four family visitors:

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