Because I’ve been so wretchedly behind on everything, this is going to take a bit of table setting.
I continued to plug along with the other parts of my life while I waited to get the dang visa, though many things were held up by that. The project that wasn’t totally on hold was my social life, and therefore, my crazy online dating experiences. Sometime back in January I traded a few messages with a girl, Alex, who had lived in Texas for a few years. Her step-father was a chef there, and she graduated from UNT of all places, only to realize that it would be cheaper, better, and easier to continue her education back in her hometown of Munich.
We met for Tapas, and had a good time. We kept meeting, and kept having good times. We made Angel Food cake together, she met some of my friends, she saw my wretched apartment, in short, we dated.
Without really noticing it, we’d been dating for about 2 months when my mom came to visit. I was only too happy to have Alex join us for a meal, and even though my friends here raised their eyebrows and said, “ooo, getting serious?” it just seemed like the natural thing to do to me. Alex met mom and I at a museum, and after touring the galleries some girl in all black with pink hair passed us. My mom leaned over to Alex and said, “you know, when Stuart told me he had a European girlfriend, that’s what I imagined you’d look like.”
A few days later I was talking with Alex, and I’ve never really been anxious about whatever that formless, vague transition between dating and girlfriend, but I don’t know how it is in Germany, and since she spent a decent amount of time in the states I didn’t know where she stood on the whole thing. But I said, “I’m certainly not dating anyone else, and I don’t really want to, so whatever girlfriend is, that’s just about where we are at.” She agreed, and not long after invited me to spend Easter with her family.
Now that gave me some anxiety. I polled the Germans that I know. What are the traditions?! What should I be ready for? How do I ensure that I will only eat traditional easter meals, and not find my foot in my mouth?
I was warned the one must be in a dour mood on Good Friday, I was cautioned that I should try and speak as much good, confident German when I meet the family to impress them. I was very focused on making sure I wasn’t under-dressed, as I imagined we’d probably need to go to church at some point.
I spent good Friday on my bike, in the beautifully developing spring weather, racing to avoid some light rain. Saturday afternoon I met Alex and her sister, Stefanie, at the east train station, we were on our way to Rosenheim, where Alex’s mother and step father live in a lovely little apartment. Alex’s mom picked us up form the train station and I got a quick tour of Rosenheim, which seems like a lovely little town with rivers from the Alps twisting through it’s Innenstadt. We arrived at the apartment, it’s a perfect little German apartment. Bedroom, living room, kitchen. Simple, clean, functional. I slowly started to notice the Texas decorations everywhere, magnets on the fridge, postcards on the wall. We dyed eggs with fruit juices. The family kept saying they would go into the Easter Nests. I didn’t know what that meant, exactly.
As we were winding down the dying project, Alex’s step-dad-, John, came home. We shook hands, someone remarked on the two Texans in the same place. Alex’s mother came back to Germany when she was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, she came here to be with family and for her treatment. John followed, he’s had trouble nailing down a chef job, but now he’s managing a large kitchen for a Senior Home near Rosenheim. He’s only been at it since February, and the long stretch of holidays for easter (Friday-Sunday) caught him off guard. I have a hard time making sure i’ve got food for one, and he’s feeding a good number of old folks that I’m sure can tell when the ordering has fallen down.
He told me about some of his problems and successes, his step-daughters teasing him that my German is better than his. Then suddenly it was time to go to Oma and Opa’s house. We piled in the car and drove to Bernau. This is a small town on the edge of the Chiemsee, Alex’s great-great-grandfather bought a house there in 1907, and her great-grandfather was some kind of world traveller. He filled the house with fascinating and ancient items from Asia, Egypt, there’s a uniform for a Bellhop hanging as a piece of decoration on one of the porches. Laced through all this are little pieces of art from the family. Alex’s grandfather has had everyone in the family paint a portrait of grass and has hung them all together around a bookshelf that looks like it’s from Turkey, there’s a soldier painted on one of the doors.
I immediately fell in love with her grandfather. He apologized for speaking Bavarian, a tricky German dialect, and promised to try and stick to “Hoch Deutsch” high german, which is the universal standard dialect. Clear, and easy to grapple with. He almost immediately fell back into Bavarian, but I didn’t care. I understood some of his stories, but the best thing was to watch him as he built to a punch line and as he arrived watch a mischievous grin rise up on his face. He smiled like he was getting away with something.
Alex and Stefanie told me the he was quite proud of his “Oxford English” but I didn’t hear a word of it. Alex’s Grandmother had been warned that I was a German learner, so English was forbidden in the house from the moment of my arrival. Alex and I had to whisper in English when I didn’t understand something, and even though this little grey haired woman would hear us from a floor up, and you could hear her clearly, “Deutsche, bitte!” German, please! Later when I could see her when she hollered this, the sentence was followed with the same lovely little grin of her husband.
We set the table for easter breakfast, and drank wine in the larger living room. The family interrupts each other too much for me to fully follow everything, but Alex’s grandfather is very serious about not serving anyone alcohol who is going to be driving. At his age, even the lightest presence of booze, and your license is taken away. Soon Alex’s mother and grand parents had to go to church. We were staying behind. Alex’s grandfather told us to feel at home, and we were allow to do “alles” from across the room Alex’s grandmother shouted “FAST alles!” Almost everything. Alex and I sat drinking wine and waiting for the church bells to start ringing. Alex said the Easter service starts in the dark and as they light the candles one by one the bells start ringing. The church wasn’t more than 100 meters away.
The next morning was the beginning of the real family traditions. Everyone, adults, children, etc. have Easter baskets, these are the nests we were talking about the day before. Each basket has a few dyed eggs and a lot of chocolate in it. Alex’s grandfather had retired a few years ago form the cold, thankless task of hiding the baskets, and Alex had taken up for him. In past years when there was snow on Easter she’d put false tracks in the snow, and hidden baskets in diabolical places. The family kept insisting that Alex take it easy on them this year. She had to give me 3 hints before I found mine. Her uncle had to climb up in a tree and pull a piece of bark out of the way to find his basket.
After they were all found the entire family spread out between two small dining rooms and had breakfast. 3 Cousins, Alex and her sister, mom and step-dad, aunt and uncle, Oma und Opa, and somewhere weird guy from Texas. The next tradition was egg fights. You hold your dyed egg like a dart and crack it against another’s egg. The “loser” with the broken egg gets to eat, the winner must carry on, hoping to find an egg that will crack theirs open. Once my egg was open, then came the bread and butter and german caviar and coffee and conversation. I had to constantly ask for things to be repeated slowly, but I answered in my best German and we talked a bit about films and Germany, and how long ago German was spoken in what is now the Czech Republic.
After breakfast the cousins and I went for a walk down to the Chiemsee, everything was nice and quiet, people out walking, on bikes, we talked mostly in English about accents. We played a bit on a playground in the cool weather. It felt like Thanksgiving.
We walked back and found everyone sitting out in the garden in the sun. We all slowly worked out way from some of our easter nest loot, and we drank champagne. Then it was time to go, but first Alex and I had to harvest some spices and leaves from her grandparents garden. The final centerpiece meal was still ahead of us. Lamb.
Grandparents stayed at home, uncle and aunt drove off to Italy, but Alex, her cousins, and her parents and I went back to Rosenheim. We drank coffee, Alex’s cousin Lukas was experimenting with raspberries and bourbon, so I helped in the tasting phase of those experiments, and after a few hours of drinking and talking and watching German nature documentaries out came the Prinzessbohnen, Lamm, und Kartoffeln au Gratin. It was delicious, and we argued about 2001: A Space Odyssey, and other films and a few books. Mostly in English by now. Soon it was dark, and Alex’s mother insisted on driving us back to Munich. I was exhausted, but I woke up the next day to a bright blue sky. Totally filled with the warmth the family had shown me.
I’ve put a lot of applications and messages out there, and I’m going to be putting more out soon, I move into a new apartment on May first, and though my chest is tight with anxiety that I’ll get no responses, that I’ll have to be a tour guide or a english teacher, I’m excited. I kept thanking Alex, but I’m not sure if I made it clear how wonderful the weekend was, how great and interesting her family is, how grateful I am that my decisions and her generosity led me to such an incredible experience.