Germany and its culture, although thousands of miles across the ocean, has always been near and dear to me. It could have been sitting around my Omi’s (grandma) dining room table eating Rouladen, a delicious German beef dish, listening to my mom and her siblings speaking a language I did not know or perhaps it was sitting in a Christmas Eve service where “Silent Night” was “Stille Nacht.”
Or maybe it was setting my shoes on the windowsill every December 5th knowing that when I would wake up on December 6th my shoes would be filled with presents and chocolates because St. Nikolas came and filled them up during the night.
To be honest I cannot pinpoint a time when I fell in love with the country and culture of Germany. I have been surrounded with it my whole life so it became a cornerstone to who I am. As a child I had a strong desire to learn more about my heritage so I continually raised questions to my Omi. She and my mom would share stories with me and introduce me to old photos with family members I had never met. Some had passed away, but yet others lived their lives across the ocean speaking another language and living in a culture I only knew from stories.
Much of my family history is fairly hazy. My Omi was just a child during World War II, but she would speak of stories and situations that most Americans had only heard stories of. My Omi remembers catching the last train with her mother out of the village she lived in because the Russian tanks were coming into her town. After weeks of searching for a safe haven, they found an American refugee camp near Munchen (Munich). After the war, my Omi reconnected with her brothers and father and realized how blessed they were because they had lost no one. It was still a difficult time, but they had each other.
Years later, in 2011, my family and I had the chance to experience Germany for ourselves. I met family for the first time, saw the town my Omi found refuge in during the war and ate my first true German Bratwurst. Through all of this, a desire to learn more about the language ignited within my stomach and I knew I would come back sometime in my life.
Never did I think I would have the chance to come and live in Germany for a summer though. Through these six weeks, I have studied the language that is my mom’s native tongue. I have seen the old castles and giant forests I had once only heard stories about and best of all, I found the love I had seen in my family’s eyes my whole life.
I knew I would see my family who lives in Hanover when I was here, but I did not expect to meet more family. My sister got married a week before I left for Germany and at the wedding I was talking to one of my distant Aunts about my future studies in Leipzig. She heard Leipzig and was so excited because there was a family in Leipzig I was related to. It is not uncommon for family ties to be lost in the German culture because of the war, so I did not know about them before this. My aunt got the family and I connected and I could never thank her enough for this. This is the Paul family. The parent’s names are Dianna and Henry and their daughters are Celine and Juliette. The first time I met them, they embraced me in open arms and truly made me feel at home 5,000 miles away from home. Dinner was complete with a German BQQ, and of course Bratwurst were included. (I am telling you, I am obsessed) Celine turned 18 during my stay in Leipzig and I had the chance to celebrate with her. Juliette is an extremely talented drum player and I got to listen to her and was absolutely amazed by her talent. I could never quite explain the feeling of standing in a room with family you have never met, but feeling right at home. All I can say is that it is pretty amazing. Thank you Paul family. Thank you for picking me up when I went to the wrong train station and for becoming my family in Leipzig. I love you all so much.
For the first three weeks, I attended a language immersion program. A couple of nights a week we would have events that would allow us to become acquainted with the German culture. One of these nights was a board game nights. Every year, there is a Geman board game competition, Spiel des Jahres, to find the board game of the year. This just proves how board games are a vital part in the German culture. Before I left for the event, I was texting my mom and told her about the event. She told me to keep my eye out for this one game she and her sibiling played while growing up called Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht.
Just think of the American board game “Sorry”, they are very similar. I did not think I would find it because it was an older game, but to my surprise, there it was sitting on the top of the pile of board games. I gathered my group of friends and we all played it. I know it is incredibly simple, but the simplest of things can connect you to your family and your heritage and for me, it was this board game.
I am now done with my program in Leipzig and Berlin and will be heading to Hanover Germany to spend two weeks with my family there. I could not be more excited because I love them so much. A few years back, Lisa, the daughter in the family, lived with my family for 6 months. So she saw all of Kansas City, and now I get to experience their hometown.
I am beyond blessed I got to experience this country and culture I have heard about my whole life. I definitely see myself coming back.