I grew up privileged enough to take fabulous vacations with my family. We would go one of two, maybe three, destinations every year: Lake Superior or Germany. Usually Lake Superior; we saw family in a city in northern MN called Duluth, but we also traveled as far as Canada and Michigan on our trips. Making the pilgrimage to Germany was rite of passage in our family, as well as a tradition. My mom was born on an army base in Bavaria, so I guess she had a leg up on all of us, but my dad and older siblings made fairly frequent trips. The first time I was able to go was when I was twelve years old.
I think twelve was the perfect age to go for the first time. I was enough of a kid and an introvert to prefer the company of my dad and the other adults on the trip (it was a church exchange) to the teens and pre-teens that were there. I gleefully filled up on all the delicious chocolate I could get my hands on and soaked up the language like a sponge. I’ve had a lifelong love of collecting a particular type of German toy called Steiff and on this trip my dad took me to a large German department store and brought me to the room that was shelf after shelf filled with these gorgeous Steiff critters. “What do you want?” Dad asked, which was basically like all twelve of my Christmases and birthdays combined into one magical afternoon on the Steiff store.
Since we were with a large group Dad and I dutifully went along with the cultural activities that were planned and we different families that hosted us. I stayed in a cute and very typical German house with a single mom and her two daughters. The elder daughter, Britta, was just a little older than I was, but light years ahead of me in terms of music, clothes, and personal fashion tastes. I could tell that she found me juvenile and was doing her level best to be polite to the annoying Amerincan she got stuck with. The younger sister, Pia, was about eight and was a lot friendlier. I think if I had been any older I would have had a hard time staying there, but I was mostly blissfully unaware of the awkwardness between Britta and myself, and Britta’s mom was very good at mothering me in her German way. In the end, I loved it.
On a weekend the rest of the group decided to take the bullet train to Paris for a whirlwind sightseeing trip. Paris! HOw glamorous! At that point I had no French (I ended taking French for four years in high school and I still try to keep up with it) but the idea of going to another European country was quite romantic. However, Dad had other ideas, and so as everyone else got on their bullet train to Paris, Dad and I got on a train north to a region of Germany on the Baltic Sea called Pommerania. Aka the Mother Land where that side of the family originates. Now, let me explain: you know that family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The one that speaks Greek at home, goes to Greek class, and has a subtle tribute to the Greek flag on their garage? Yeah, that’s us, except we’re German, not Greek. My parents’ garage code if the year the family emigrated from Deutschland to the USA. It’s also my phone code, one of my brother’s, and my Dad’s phone code. Anyway, so as a twelve year old I had a hard time at first skipping Paris for Pommerania, but as soon as the Baltic Sea came in sight and the medieval looking town appeared I came around to the idea. Of course it was a wonderful day trip, and of course I’m so glad we went. Isn’t it great to sometimes go along with someone else’s ideas? *Sometimes*
Berlin was an exciting town and a big change from sleepy little Paderborn, where we had spent the first part of the trip. We visited official buildings, a cathedral, took a river boat tour, and saw some of the Berlin Wall remains. I pocketed a piece of the wall, not thinking much of it at the time. That chunk of history is long gone now. I wish I still had it. One of my favorite parts of Berlin was visiting the Pergamon Museum. You can’t tell from my face in the photo, but for a kid and her Dad who both love history, it was a thrilling afternoon.
I have traveled with my Dad since then- we make excellent travel companions- and have even been back to Germany with him. I know most kinds aren’t lucky enough to take fantastic trips like this, or if they are, they go in a big group while their parents stay home. I think if you’re a kid enjoy the trips your parents care enough to take you on, and if you’re a parent, don’t just leave the kids at home because “they won’t appreciate it”. You never know what’s going to stick, but boy did this trip stick with me. It’s fifteen years later and I’m still thinking about it (and writing about it!)