Even though Bernie flew many Pan Am flights to Germany, the kids and I had never gone along as a family. It was June of 1987, and we thought it was about time to take our kids to meet their European relatives, the Giere’s, of Bremen, Germany. Bernie’s dad, Rudy, said he’d be delighted to be our tour guide. Lisa was a flight attendant with Delta and Paul had just graduated from college. I was teaching and had the summer off.
Rudy was born in Bremen–an ancient city straddling the Weiser River–and emigrated to Chicago as a young man in 1927. He was happy to show us around his home city and introduce us to his younger brother and 3 sisters and their children. I was fun to see how easily the kids got along with their new cousins, who spoke English, including their parents. Opa’s sisters said he still talked in a perfect northern German dialect, and at 82, he couldn’t have been prouder.
During our stay in Bremen, Rudy suggested we drive up to Cuxhaven, a favorite vacation spot of the Gieres. His younger brother and three sisters went with us. “We’ll take a walk when we get there,” Rudy said. It sounded good to me, a way to let the food settle.
At long last we arrived and stepped out onto the wide, paved path along the beach. I was surprised to see so many beachgoers oblivious of the overcast skies and muggy atmosphere. Grown-ups sat in colorful beach chairs, while kids, in various stages of undress, scurried around, hooping, and laughing.
I thought it could have been any beach in New Jersey or the Hamptons, except for the massive ships I spied in the distance, moving through their sea lanes on their way to port. It made me think of Rudy and how he’d been raised near the water, taking boat trips with his parents as a small boy, and then his significant ocean crossing to America. Rudy had lived in Chicago’s near-north side on Lake Michigan for 66 years, and later moved in with us in our Hamptons home–where he could hear the Atlantic Ocean roar from our front porch.
The squad in front of us chatted as their pace quickened. I was glad to see Lisa and Paul keeping up in their midst. Bernie and I followed in back, and I kept wondering, Why are they in such a hurry? The walkway seemed as endless as the sea itself–mile after mile with no end in sight. My feet hurt. At long last, Bernie said, “Let’s catch up,” humoring me along until we joined and linked arms with the others.
Bernie told me how the Germans love to hike and walk, leisurely, or on a “volksmarch” which is a part of their culture. The spacious path along the sea was full of visitors. I asked Bernie in a whisper, “Why doesn’t our gang slow down to enjoy the view.”
He smiled and said,” They’ve seen it all before, and besides, there’s probably food at the finish line.”
We passed a line of hotels and finally stopped in front of one and went in for Kaffee and Kuchen (coffee and cake). Bernie was right. It was 4:00, the correct time. I slipped my shoes off under the table, quickly forgetting about my aching feet when our waiter placed before me a piece of Triple-Tiered Black Forest Cherry Cake. How could I resist? It was yummy, and immediately rose to the top of my German Foodie List. Sitting around the big table was a delight. It warmed me up as I watched Rudy, our translator, strive to keep up with our chatter. The hike was worth it, after all.
On our drive back to Bremen Opa said, “That’s the historical landmark of Cuxhaven, known as the Kugelbake, a beacon once used as a lighthouse.” I gazed out the window at the funny shaped structure and had to laugh at the thought of a lovely place such as this, acclaimed for being like a baked pudding, a “kugel.”
Our trip ended too soon. I gained a few pounds but after two weeks, I didn’t care one bit. We’d enlarged our family with just one trip to Germany and I was thankful and enriched by the experience. Opa Rudy stayed on for another week.
When we four took our leave, he said, “How lucky we are, all together in one place, and for the first time.” I hoped it wouldn’t be our last time, but it was, as his brother and sisters eventually died, leaving Opa, the oldest sibling, the only one who emigrated to America, to live on for 20 more years, dying at age 102 in 2007.
I miss Opa Rudy dearly, and remember all that he taught us, especially about how to overcome obstacles and persevere toward your goal, as he had done so many times during his lifetime. Rudy was going down memory lane as he walked and talked for miles along the North Sea, while shepherding his grandchildren into the flock. Our speed-walking excursion proved to be just as delicious as the desserts that awaited us at journey’s end. Perhaps even better.