Ten years ago, as a young couple, we lived in Germany. Our first child was born there just ten days before we wrapped her up and returned to the U.S.A.
Ten years later we found the perfect time to go back and introduce our daughter to her birthplace, and show her and her seven-year-old brother our favorite haunts.
I confess, I had hoped our kids would enjoy stepping squarely into the footprints my husband and I had left years ago. Instead, a huge dancing mess of little prints grew around the larger ones. And not surprisingly, they insisted on making their own footprints.
They transformed our time in Germany into an adventure of conquering towers.
Any signage with “Schloss” (castle), “Feste” (stronghold), or “Burg” (fortress) sent our car careening in that direction as if driven by the giggling youth in the backseat. Without exception we would climb to the upmost height of the ruin, up the cramped, damp, spiral stairs to the lookout tower.
These Ruins–unlike American historic sites—lacked the warning signs, the guardrails, the attendants and the guides. There were no disclaimers posted, no emergency phones available if help were needed, no brochure map to navigate the castle ruin’s maze. The kids sprinting from dungeon to teetering tower were solely under the protection of their parents.
We kept a close eye on ours and were frequently winded in the process. Hide-and-go-seek was a challenge I’d rather not repeat. Without exception the children would beat my husband and me to the top, where in their imagination they would declare the takeover complete.
Our country drive to idyllic Baden-Baden was filled with pristine views and would have been relaxing if one could ignore the daredevil leather-clad motorcyclists who would appear out of nowhere and pass us in a blur. We stopped for lunch at a little roadside “Imbiss” (café) and soaked in the beauty. Our hotel right in the center of Baden-Baden made walking the old streets easy and the only driving required was to the old castle Hohenbaden, circa 1120, now a ruin one can freely explore.
I could see that my fear of heights was to be sorely challenged on this trip that the kids had re-designed right under our noses.
Figuratively, though, the kids were holding my hands.
In chasing after them, I would forget to be afraid. They were coaxing me not to succumb to the bubbling anxiety I felt over the great distance that lay between the earth and me. Their free spirits begged me not to worry about someone getting hurt, but instead to catch a glimmer of their joy in the moment.
So, I followed. I focused on putting one foot squarely in front of the other. One step at a time. I joined them at the top to enjoy the fruitful rewards of a breathtaking landscape only visible to those who have taken the necessary risks.
Looking out and away, I found a new appreciation for the pastoral German landscape. But the kids didn’t allow for interminable gazing. One step at a time, I scrambled back down to earth after them.
And so it was. One step at a time, one tower at a time.
We leisurely made our way to Heidelberg, the famous university city along the Neckar River which boasts one of the world’s most photographed castles. We checked into the Goldener Falke, situated right on the Marktplatz (city square) with the grand city hall and the old cathedral visible from our window.
Heidelberg would have been incomplete without a visit to its famed castle, the only official tour we took. But it wasn’t an epic moment for the kids. The clean, orderly tour cramped their style, restraining their ambitions to rout out the invisible enemy. The renowned castle paid dearly for it—the kids gave the castle an embarrassingly low rating in their private evaluations.
What was least rewarding for the kids was proportionately costly for the parents. Lesson learned.
Thanks to the kids, a more muscular picture of Germany developed. And a more muscular family emerged: our sense of family identity strengthened while our raw muscle mass grew. My husband and I fit the paradigm of the older generation learning from the younger.
Children are synonymous with the unexpected. As this trip to Germany crystallized, the surprises arrived daily. They arrived as challenges to stay flexible, practice humility, and yet laugh.
The muscles emerging were frankly unfamiliar to us as parents. They were muscles we didn’t know existed when we were that childless couple of yesterday living in Germany. How could we have known?
Writer, traveler, mom and wife, Kathryn Streeter is highly mobile–she’s moved 22 times in 23 years. Her writing has appeared in publications including BLUNTmoms, Mamalode, The Briar Cliff Review and CSMonitor. You can find more of her work at Kathryn Streeter.
Photo: ashraful kadir