Almost every American say’s they’re “X” ancestry. Italian, English, Taiwanese, whatever, all of our families have a story. But, as Grant’s buddy Chad has often told him, “buddy, if you aren’t American (*ancestry), no one is.” It’s true. His family, on both sides, have been in the States since at least 1856. American bred, corn fed, stars and stripes, blah blah blah. That said, with a heavy German influence on both his maternal and paternal sides, there’s always been a connection, a desire to visit, to see the place “his people” came from. Well, with a lot of help from family members who have spent years researching the family history, making connections, and drinking countless bottles of wine in the name of international family bonding, we were able not only to walk the grounds of that history but meet the people with whom we share that common history.
That’s the context. And now, the rest of the story… (H/T: Paul Harvey)
Up early on a Sunday morning we left a dreary Venice, Italy behind and headed for Treviso Airport just outside town. I won’t go into the glories of RyanAir, but safe to say, American airlines could learn a thing or two from their Irish brethren. RyanAir delivered us 2 hours north into Frankfurt airport for a whopping $76, that’s for both of us.
Having 5 days in Germany before we were to meet up with the family, we took the recommendation of a few fellow wine-o’s and headed to the nearby Mosel Valley, ground zero for German wine production, for a few days of R&R. After Arriving at our AirBnB in Pommern on the Mosel we found out it was, for the second weekend in a row on our trip, FESTIVAL WEEKEND!
We’ve still no clue what we were celebrating, but less than 5 hours after arriving in country we were happily swilling wine with jovial locals, listening to oompah music, and generally carousing German style. It was the perfect welcome.
The next four days were spent in R&R mode.We visited a few tourist sights like the 10th Century Berg Eltz…
We hung out in cool wine towns like Cochem (and saw more castles!)…
and on Wednesday transferred down to Trier. Trier was once a very important outpost in the Roman empire and for a split second in time, served as the seat of the empire during the reign of Constantine. Trier has the world’s oldest original Roman city gate, the Porta Nigra, a feat all the more impressive considering the town was left in smoldering ruins thanks to Allied bombers in WW2.
Here’s a good picture of Trier from Grant’s Instagram too: https://instagram.com/p/3OXtM6I4NS/?taken-by=tradingparadises
In between all of this we ate lots, both finished books, and got up late and went to bed early. It was great R&R.
By Thursday however, the anticipation was at a crescendo for the real reason we were in Germany. Our visit to the “Gerhardt cousins” we’d met only via email was only days away. We knew they were close with several of our American relatives, but the questions still remained: Would we connect? What were they like? Should we be planning activities for ourselves during this time?
Well, by 5:30 Friday afternoon Grant was on his 3rd schnitzel, we’d opened beer I don’t know how many, and were laughing and enjoying each other’s company like old friends. It was clear this was going to be the weekend we’d hoped for.
Our gracious hosts were Wolfgang & Anita Schnaiter. Anita is a cousin from Grant’s mother’s side of the family. She is, in the most classic sense, a mother. The weekend was a constant stream of, have you had enough? Here eat one more! What can I get you? Her graciousness as a hostess (and her idea of, “just a small breakfast”) should be the thing of legend. Wolfgang, her husband, led with, “I’ve got cold one’s waiting in the fridge,” when we met. We knew we were to be great friends right there.
By day one we’d visited the “old Gerhardt home place” where our ancestors had left one cold morning in the mid 1800’s in such a hurry to make their transit to America that they left a huge stack of wafers for their journey sitting on the counter as they rushed away. Or so the legend goes…. We took in hilltop views of the villages where the “Gerhardt immigration story” began and the visits continue (Tutschfelden) and relatives home’s today (Broggingen). And of course, we stopped for strawberries. The strawberries and cherries we had in those 3 days may end up being the best thing we eat on this trip.
We settled into a wonderful routine for the next three days. Up late, we’d start a breakfast around 10 that seemed to last until noon each morning. We’d eat, talk, eat some more, talk, eat more, on and on. Finally, we’d realize it was noon and we’d probably best get on with our day. It was a perfect way to get to know each other.
In a pleasant surprise we were able to work in a short visit to the Alsace region of France, checking the country off the “life list.” We’re sure to be back someday but if not, welp, we made it that far. For all of the fun we like to poke at France, the villages we visited were beautiful, the pastries were perfect, and that horrendously stinky muenster cheese was blow-your-mind delicious.
After five hours zipping around France (for those of you who know Wolfgang, you’ll know “zipping around” isn’t a euphemism) we returned to Germany for our third festival weekend in a row. Told you Europe loves us 🙂
All of this took place in more or less the first thirty hours of our visit. Plus, of course, countless hours on the patio chatting before heading back in for “Wolfgang’s detour,” an almost religious pilgrimage, from what we’re told, to his liquor cabinet before turning in for a night cap. Every night. Everyone participates. It is a tradition Grant has already slated for adoption… plus finding some of that Kirschwasser in the States.
By day three (which was meal 70 it feels like 🙂 ) we were all in the mood for some physical activity, so Kate and Wolgang settled on a hiking trip. To a castle. With a patio. That hiked through vineyards. And ended with a panoramic view. And wine. Lot of wine. See a pattern here?
Upon arrival at the top we were happy to hear we’d be joined by more family! Hienz and Beatrix Schmidt, Anita’s brother and sister-in-law.
After letting the afternoon and conversation get away from us a bit, we realized we were late for the dinner plans we’d been excited about from the first night when we were told of it. White asparagus and seasonal restaurants are neither totally foreign nor well known in the states. This place combined both. A top flight restaurant that opens for only 6 weeks in the spring during the white asparagus harvest and featuring the main ingredient in all dishes. Grant wasn’t aware he could eat as much as he did that evening.
To top it off, the visit was made all the more special as we were joined by Anita’s father, Walter.
This was the perfect trip. We saw Grant’s (and now our) roots, met all the family and walked in the foot steps of hundreds of years of family. In Grant’s case, he even climbed in the branches of them a little… The best cherries are always a little higher up after all.
Our plans had us up early and on to Munich Monday morning and we thought our family time would come to an end there. A happy surprise however, Anita & Wolfgang’s two daughters, both about our age were living in Munich. Naturally, we made plans to meet, drink, and eat.
Let’s just get this out of the way. Munich is 100% deserving of it’s countless rankings as one of the world’s most livable cities. The city is architecturally beautiful, has a rich and sometimes dark history, is wonderfully walkable, full of parks, and despite it’s million plus residents feels like a small town. (Top to bottom: Munich skyline, city hall, and The English Gardens).
We met up with Miriam shortly after arriving in Munich and immediately set to enjoying the city’s most famous son, it’s delicious beer. A couple of liters in (that’s not a typo, the English may go for pints, but the Germans go for liters!) it was clear this visit was going to go every bit as well as our time with her parents. We met up with her sister, Julia, for dinner before heading to the world famous Haufbrauhaus.
We celebrated our new found family friendship into the wee hours. So wee hours we had to cab it home having outlasted the public transit schedule. Proud of that.
Day two was our “tourist” day visiting most of the sights in the pictures above on a nearly 5 hour city walking tour. Exhausted from our long day, we did what any sensible person would. We emailed our new friends and set a date for the English Gardens. While the Gardens isn’t as famous as the Haufbrauhaus, it was our favorite place to sit and enjoy friend’s company while watching the world go by.
Day three was a little darker, but a big reason we came to Munich in the first place. We visited the nearby Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial on the grounds of the former hell on earth.
We learned a lot, had our assumptions challenged in lots of places, and generally had a more somber but equally fulfilling day.
The next morning brought our train out of Germany as we were headed South for Salzburg, Austria, but fret not, we squeezed in one more stop for lunch at the Augustiner Gardens…well, beer gardens 🙂
We both want to reemphasize how wonderful our hosts were in Germany. Miriam & Julia, you made our visit to Munich unforgettable. We’re so glad we met you and looking forward to many more late nights together.
Anita & Wolfgang, we are endlessly grateful for your generosity, hospitality, and for all the detours! You really made us feel at home, so many thousand miles away. It was everything we’d imagined it to be and more. It was good to be “home.”
Grant & Kate