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