This is me taking the Panorama feature on my iPhone one photo too far. Too close, dimly lit, after a German beer or two. I may have captured the moment, but I certainly didn’t capture everyone’s face.
This moment was two Saturdays ago in Speyer, Germany . My sister Beth and brother in law Matt were on the front end of a two week kid-less vacation through Europe. Flying from Seattle to Frankfurt, they decided to make their first stop Germany. As many people do, they assumed they’d be able to catch the tail end of Oktoberfest – only to soon realize that the real Oktoberfest is 8 hours away in Munich. However, German beer is good (the Schnaps, not so much) wherever you are, and especially good in a place where people know your name.
Speyer is the oldest town in Germany (many towns seem to make this claim), and currently the home to my older cousin Andre. Andre runs the US Defense Department’s largest distribution facility (nearby in Germersheim) on the European continent supplying materials to warfighters serving through Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It’s kind of a big job. He didn’t tell us that. We only know that because we saw the acres and acres that the distribution center covers. What Andre however has never been shy about sharing is that Beth is his favorite cousin. I get it though. She’s pretty awesome.
Speyer is equidistant between Heidelberg and Mannheim, and two hours and fifteen minutes away from Luxembourg. Brett and I left the kids at home alone for an overnight for the first time to meet up with “the blood” for the weekend. (I don’t know if “the blood” is an Italian expression or a family one, but is oozes out of the mouths of all Baldanzas.) We do most all travel together as a family, but we rightly reasoned that a return journey with seven people in our small car on the Autobahn would not be advisable. (The boys, though crazy about their Aunt and Uncle, were naturally over the moon about this home alone plan.)
One of the parts Andre loves about his job is that his distribution center is staffed by German civilians, making him the lone US serviceman living in the charming town of Speyer. It’s a good gig if you’re willing to speak the language and embrace the culture. Andre is willing, and it was a treat for all of us to see him in his element. He loves his little town, and they love him. Never before had our shared Italian Poppop who was the ultimate connector been more obvious. He took us around Speyer. He took us to Heidelberg to see the Castle which is home to a pharmacy/drug museum and the largest wine barrel in the world. And, he didn’t let us ruin our Wurst with ketchup.
The highlight of the weekend was getting to meet Andre’s local friends. Three of his friends joined us for dinner at Andre’s favorite hangout -- the Domhof Hausbrauerei. Delightful and warm, we were especially mesmerized by one of his friends who learned perfect, unaccented English in the bars while living in California for a few years. His friends explained how best to eat pork knuckle (whatever works), how Bavaria is like the Texas of Germany, and what may or may not happen on most Thursday nights.
It was like this little window into our cousin’s life. A window that can’t be accessed over the Internet. Pictures, even bad ones, may capture a moment but they’ll never be able to pan around the fullness of life enjoyed together.
Xxxxoooo because I’m sure the Italians made that shorthand up.