The Warmth of Family

It is amazing to think that words like cousins, aunts and uncles mean so much. For most of my life I have not had any cousins, aunt/uncles or grandparents living in the same community never mind the same country. And when you meet these people connected to you by blood it is different than meeting kind folk, a feeling I have not often felt in my life because of not living in Germany or Holland. Instantly you are ‘special’ and there is a genuine excitement that you are going to be spending time with them. “Like” doesn’t need to be earned, only practiced. It was there before you even got there.

My cousin mentioned during our first days in Copenhagen that the family in Germany are all very excited to meet you all. At first my reaction was “Why?” Now that I am a sitting on a train heading to Berlin with all the memories of the last 10 days it all makes sense. My aunt touring us for the last week in Denmark and Oldenburg with daily enthusiasm and patience, my cousin opening up his flat for us to invade for 4 days, touring homes of my other cousins taking time to share details of their decisions and choices, coffee times, special meal preparation times, a large family BBQ get together and all the conversations that are filled with questions about who we are and what we are about. I will cherish this family feeling.

Looking back we have seen and done many interesting things. My photos albums of Copenhagen, the afternoon in Sweden, Oldenburg, Handsapark, Hamburg and family are posted on facebook. Another new item in my life. I understand now how this social networking has been successful. It is great to communicate in easy way through viewing, liking and commenting. A connection to home.

First impressions are powerful and Copenhagen was that. Our first European city but a wonderful one to begin with. I felt comfortable and safe there. Overall people seemed at ease with no desire to want to cause any harm or discomfort for any reason. The vast majority of people were attractive, fit and trim and took good care of themselves. I don’t think I have ever seen that in any city before. Biking to and from work, social gatherings and errands is common. Thus, the fit and at ease community breathing in all that fresh air with daily exercise. I would love to return there again and stay longer. Cost of living was definitely more expensive. An average coffee was $4 from 7-11 or a street corner. The atmosphere, scenic buildings and variety of activities is magnetic.

Top things we did in Copenhagen: #1 rent bikes #2 eat at Ny Haven #3 talk through the Christiana area #4 Climbing the stairs up to the top of the Christ our Saviour Baroque Church.

I will look back at Oldenburg as a relaxing place by the Baltic Sea with beautiful brick vintage houses and warm memories with family. Hamburg has a mixture of old and new with an extensive harbour and historic building reclaimed for modern purposes. Food is amazing. When crossing from Denmark to Germany the people climate changed quickly, it was evident that Germany people have wonderful food that is hard to resist. We have enjoyed a lot of it.

Thanks for the Inspiration

“I won’t let life’s stresses take hold of me anymore.” These were words Margret spoke to me several days ago. Life’s worries whether small or great can so easily control us and do so overtly or can weave their caustic fingers into our very being and world view. Margret aims to live life with a greater serenity which will not allow issues to stick and fester. She aims to have her mind, heart, and soul at peace. She lives generously. She is a wise and warm person. She’s an inspiration.

Imagine having 2 mothers, 2 fathers, and 3 siblings from 2 families all living together under 1 roof. To that imagining, add an aunt and grandparents living only minutes away with whom you all get together several times each week. This is a glimpse into the lives of our cousins’ children. Our cousins Rebecca, Iza, and Rachel, together with their families, have banded together in support of each other in the face of challenging life events. Each person within this extended family plays a unique role, complementing each other’s talents and abilities. Their love for and commitment to each other is tangible. The adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” is truly practised here. Although living closely in community together, these are also independent and self-assured people. The selflessness of their cohabitation and the strength of their individual resolve are also an inspiration.

I’m honoured to be a part of this extraordinary family.

Crypts and Contemplation

My visit today to the crypt under St. Michael’s Church was fascinating. The fact that graves from the 1600s and 1700s were there under my feet was remarkable. Carl Bach is buried there. As noted in one of the pictures I took, he and Georg Telleman had been music directors in this church and Brahms had been baptized here. I have never found visits to burial places to be uncomfortable for me. In fact, I usually feel quite the opposite. There are told and untold stories and lives represented by the inscriptions on tomb stones and on the heavy slabs of stone that sealed each crypt I saw today.

On my mind often over the past years are the thoughts of one’s fragility and impermanence in this world. I think of the following quotes on the topic…

“At twenty, a man is full of fight and hope. He wants to reform the world. When he is seventy, he still wants to reform the world but he knows he can’t.” – Clarence Darrow

“Bodily decay is gloomy in prospect but of all human contemplations, the most abhorrent is body without mind.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Old age is no place for sissies.” – Bette Davis

“…almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs

The prayer reading that was included in the crypt (I’ve included a picture of it in the Germany picture gallery), is a beautiful yearning for wholeness in this life.

As I’ve heard before, it’s not our date of birth nor our date of death on our tombstone that tell our life story, it’s how we spent the “dash” in between those numbers that tells it.

There’s my challenge…to live a life of intention, reflection, and commitment to the people I love and to the values with which I wish to live my life.

Hmmm, maybe it’s because life goes by so quickly that the line between our birth and death dates is called a “dash”.

WWII Bomb Disrupts Our Travel

Yes, that’s right! Following a 2 hour train ride to Hamburg today, together with Margret, Melanie, and Katelin, we wanted to transfer to another train in the city. We were told, however, that the train wasn’t running due to a 250 kilogram WWII bomb having been found at a construction site in the part of the city we hoped to travel to. Apparently, this same sort of thing had happened about a week ago and isn’t a rare event. So, we were directed to take a bus instead. Getting onto one was an adventure since several hundred people were hoping for the same. We finally boarded one but were the last ones on and had to take care not to have the doors hit us in the back as we squeezed in. We transferred from the train to the buses to the U-Bahn to the S-Bahn and back numerous times throughout the day.

In Hamburg, we went to the harbour where we enjoyed a lunch on the wharf, then to the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum which tells the stories of how and when emigrants left from Germany during the past few hundred years. This place would have the same historical significance as Pier 21 in Canada or Ellis Island in the United States. The kids then went to a Dialogue in the Dark tour in the old warehouse district while Margret, Mary-Anna, and I went to the St. Michael’s Church, an icon of the city. Finally, we went for an Italian dinner near the main train station before heading back to Oldenburg at 10:15 p.m.

Pictures I took of some of these places are featured in my Germany Gallery on the right side of this page.

Viel Spaß!

During our time in Oldenburg in Holstein, we visited a museum which features historic buildings and articles from the Slavs who settled this land in previous millenia. We also went to the Baltic Sea to stroll the beach. We spent a day at Hansa Park, a large amusement park nearby. We visited at Mary-Anna’s cousin’s place, a house which was built in 1864! We’ve had a tonne of fun with our aunt, uncle, cousins and their families! It’s been a blast!

Oldenburg in Holstein: A Homecoming

A brief history of the Kutriebs (Mary-Anna’s mother’s family):
Prior to WWI, the Kutriebs lived south of Danzig in what was then part of Germany. Between the wars, this area was part of Poland until Germany regained this area in WWII. As WWII progressed, Russian armies advanced into the German territory which resulted in the German populous fleeing further west. As part of this exodus, the Kutrieb family, including Mary-Anna’s grandparents, uncles and aunts and her mother, left their home in the dead of winter, only taking with them what they could carry. Living in the shelter of forests, the family fled toward the Baltic Sea where German ships waited to carry citizens into territory still held by Germany. They were witness to numerous horrific events of war during this time. The ship they took, brought them to Puttgarden, a short distance from where they settled in the village of Oldenburg. Mary-Anna’s grandparents lived in Oldenburg in Holstein until their deaths. Her aunt Margret and several cousins and their families still live there. For Mary-Anna, it’s been a homecoming of sorts. Perhaps somewhere, stars line up when descendents visit significant places of their ancestry.

Mary-Anna’s relatives are wonderful people! We have experienced warm and meaningful times with them all!