We rented a car today at the Frankfurt train station. It was t VW Touran. I liked the vehicle. It fit all five of us as well as our luggage comfortably, but was still smaller than a mini-van. After getting the car, we set off into the wilds of Germany with my mother driving, myself navigating from the passenger seat, my sister and grandmother suffering the effects of jet-lag in the back, and my grandfather being amazed by everything that passed his window. Our destination was the area surrounding Hahn, where my father was stationed during his time in the Air Force, and the area where my sister and I were born. We left Germany before I was even 2 years old and Megan sister was not yet three. The base in Hahn is no longer in use, but the runways have been converted into the Frankfurt-Hahn airport.
We arrived too early to check into our hotel, so we took a driving tour around the towns in the area. She told us stories about her time there and the places she frequented; places I had been to as well, but was too young to remember.
When my parents lived in Germany, they rented a basement apartment in the little village of Laufersweiler. They became good friends with their landlords Gunter and Monica who lived right above them. We had tried getting in contact with Gunter and Monica before coming, but our letters never received a response.
My sister’s suitcase key fell into a compartment on the floor of the car, so we needed a screwdriver to get it out. My mom suggested that we go into a hardware store where Monica had worked when we lived there almost 20 years ago. She was also curious as to whether or not Monica still worked there. Sure enough, when we walked in the door, Monica was behind the counter helping a customer. I could tell my mother was nervous; Megan and I were nervous as well. This is a woman whose name is very familiar to us, but we have absolutely no memory of. After the customer was gone, my mother shyly walked up to the counter. All she said was “Monica?” It took a few seconds, but I could literally see the recognition come across Monica’s face. She was so excited that she forgot any English that she knew. Luckily her colleague helped her out, and she invited us to their house that evening. It turns out that our letters had never arrived because the zip code has changed, so Monica had no idea we were going to be coming. Imagine her surprise. It was a day like any other, working at the same place that she has been for almost 30 years, when out of the blue your American friends whom you haven’t seen for almost 20 years show up in front of you. No wonder she was speechless!
It was such a wonderful experience to meet Gunter, Monica, and their family, and to see the apartment where my family lived when I was an infant. I feel as though these people are part of my story. They knew me before any of my family outside of my sister and parents had ever even met me. As a child I would often boast that I was born in Germany. It made me unique among and slightly exotic among my Nebraska playmates. Germany was an idealized world to me, with fictional characters, my forgotten past. I had no memory of anything there, but I always treasured the stories my parents would tell me, no matter how many times I'd heard them before. Going back to Hahn and meeting Gunter and Monica for what felt like the first time, was like discovering that your favorite storybook was a reality; my own reality.