“Eile mit Weile” (“Make haste with leisure”) – Unknown, German proverb.
If I understand correctly, this proverb is about the importance of balance. It is important o have goals, but if you are too focused on achieving and not taking time to smell the roses, then you’re missing out. So, in the spirit of all things German, it was time for another vacation! What better way to ring in the beginning of December?
We had an 8 am flight to Hannover and arrived midday. Waiting at the airport was Leonie- she is my German niece/ other daughter: she stayed with two of my best friends as a host daughter for a year a few years back and together, we had a lot of fun when she lived in Canada. Now, it was my turn to visit her and meet her family. Our first stop was Leonie’s house for a quick snack (homemade cake!) and then we drove into Braunschweig.
We met up with Leonie’s sweetie, Vincent, and the four of us walked past picturesque parks, the theatre, and a mall whose facade has been recreated to look like the grand palace that once stood there. We spent most of our evening taking in the Weihnachtsmarkt (not to brag, but it’s the largest Christmas market in Northern Germany). 😉 It was a drizzly night but we didn’t mind; I’d never been to a proper Christmas market and it was everything I thought it would be: hot beverages, a plethora of food, and a range of gifts including intricate chocolates and beautiful handmade wooden puzzles and ornaments. I’m resisting the urge to write just about the food!
On Friday, we woke up in a leisurely fashion (read: we all slept in) and had breakfast at the house. If you’ve heard rumours about all Europeans eating all the bread that ever there was, they are true! The best part was having the bread with homemade jam and homemade apple juice. We were treated to we went into the city again to meet up with Vincent. He and Leonie had a gift they needed to drop off to a teacher of theirs from last year, so Troy and I got to see a German high school- specifically one that Hitler had built. It was once in the shape of a swastika, but Leonie explained where pieces of the building had been demolished to change it. In Germany, they spent their last two years in a cohort that stays together for their studies, and has one main classroom, so it’s a very different style of education. Of course, I was fascinated with the school, but Leonie and Vincent had big plans for us! We were off to the Autostadt.
To ensure that we were in fighting form for the day, our first stop once we were in the Autostadt was the restaurant for Currywurst, a massive hotdog with a curry style sauce. Here is the crazy part though: the restaurant is inside the Volkswagen dealership! The Autostadt is a giant auto mall, and VW is the star of the show (although there are places where you can view other cars). In the winter, they create an incredible winter wonderland, complete with a massive Christmas tree, skating rink, ice shows, market stalls and food. There was even a covered light bridge, very much like what they have at Canuck Place in Vancouver. In the evening, it was beautiful, spanning across a small creek with the lights reflecting in the water.
Our main event was ice skating, which T and I had never done before and which I hadn’t done in at least a year, and never outside. T was the smart one who at one point said “I think I should stop now before I hurt myself.” I decided on one last go around, and of course that is when I fell straight forward onto both knees. I think he was onto something.
That seemed like our cue to get hot beverages and head over to the other rink for the ice shows. The talent was impressive to say the least, and we had a few laughs because so many of the songs were American! I was singing and dancing along, much to the amusement of some elderly Germans standing beside me.
When the shows were over, it was evening and we were all a bit cold, so we made our way out. We stopped to try a game on the ice: it looked a lot like curling but with different handles on the rocks, no sweeping, and rubberized shoe grips on both feet as you stand in place to throw the rocks (at least, in curling they are called rocks; I don’t know if the German version has a different name).
Then it was a quick walk over the river to the outlet mall for some Lindt chocolates and then back to the house. Waiting at home for us, a beautiful dinner had been laid out by Leonie’s family. We got to meet her Grandma and her sister, and along with her parents, we had a traditional dinner, complete with homemade salads, bread, meat and cheese, and a perfect, eat-two-helpings-even-though-you’re-stuffed homemade quiche. It’s so hard to think back now and explain the feeling of that dinner: there was conversation in English, and in German. I understood a surprising amount more than I expected, though I couldn’t answer much (must learn German!). It was a highlight of the trip, to have been welcomed so warmly. Eating and laughing are universal, and sharing the two is the most amazing thing.
Saturday was nice and quiet in the morning. We had no set plans, so we helped get the Christmas lights on the tree in the front yard, I wrote some postcards, and Troy and I were dropped off at a museum where we spent some time discovering Otzi: the iceman. If you haven’t heard of him, I highly recommend taking some time to read up! His body was found in 1991, remarkably preserved (complete with skin, showing tattoos that are believed to be linked to pain relief). As a result, he has revealed a wealth of knowledge about life and the environment around 3300 BC. T and I were amazed. He lived before Stonehenge, before the Great Wall was built, before the Egyptian pyramids.
After the museum, we met up with Vincent and Leonie. We returned to the market for snacks and a little more shopping before going to explore some of the eclectic buildings, stopping in at a church, and pausing for a mini photoshoot in the park.
We checked out a Germany grocery store (thank you Knorr hollandaise sauce for being the closest thing to McCormick that we’ve found!). Then it was time for what T and I agree was the highlight of the trip: the Christmas party in Schulenrode village. Held in the town hall, we got to take in a visit from Santa Claus, a Christmas story, German Christmas carols, and a fantastic spread of food and desserts. The friends of Leonie’s family who we sat with gave us a warm welcome. T and I agree that these moments are the best: when you get to experience life as it would be if you lived there.
Sunday was suddenly upon us. Early in the morning, we said our goodbyes to the Schultz family, and said hello to Inga! Inga was my host daughter in 2012. She spent part of her year with me, and part with my friends who would later host Leonie. Inga is the reason any of us became involved in the homestay program. I hadn’t seen her since her last visit to Canada and we planned to spend our last day in Germany together. It was so special for me to meet her family and to see her home, after having seen photos and hearing her stories. Inga planned beautifully to make the most of our too-short time together. We started with a really lovely brunch in her village of Peine, where Inga showed us metal cobblestones in the pavement (sidewalk) that have been laid to honour those who died in the holocaust. They are called Stolpersteine, and are part of a project that began more than 20 years ago now. I think this was the most important part of our trip, fun and loved ones aside. It was a sobering reminder of the countries past, but also a beautiful symbol of learning and remembering to honour those who died. This is why it is the only link I am sharing in this post: I very much hope each of you will take a few minutes to read more here about this meaningful project. ❤
From there, we explored the village and the local Christmas market. Though it was tiny, I loved that it had a hut entirely for those with challenges who were given workshop time to make things that they sell in the market to support themselves.
We picked up a couple of handmade wooden ornaments before heading back to the house. And Inga took us to a chocolate factory!! We saw a chocolate volcano that must have been at least 8 feet tall, an even taller bunny made of chocolate bunnies, and we saw a video about how the chocolate is made. One thing I loved was the room that was set up like an old chocolate shop, with a glass counter featuring vintage chocolate boxes, and beautiful antique chocolate vending machines.
When we went back to the house, we were treated to lunch: homemade and hearty, and including cooked beets and gravy, so I was thrilled. Again, we were welcomed at the table of family who we’d never met but who treated us so warmly that I didn’t feel like a stranger. It was a perfect last day to a trip that went far too quickly. We hadn’t even left and I was already thinking ahead to next time I’d get to see my favourite German girls (young ladies now!).
Inga and Leonie- thank you to you and your families for your hospitality. We could not have dreamed up a better trip, and each of you made it so special for both of us. I love you! xoxoxo