When my daughter began German classes in middle school, we couldn’t have imagined how much the experience would add to our lives. Four years later, we hosted a student from Germany; we were preparing for my daughter to go there when the coronavirus pandemic spoiled everyone’s plans.
In the summer before she started college, we decided to recreate part of that canceled tour, and I got to go, too.
We knew the student who had stayed with us, but now both of us would be staying with her family, so we were excited and a bit nervous. The wide smiles and warm hugs that greeted us in Frankfurt set the tone for a marvelous adventure.
We usually sleep flying east and stay awake flying west to help us adjust to the new time zone. With that in mind, I told our host mom we could hit the ground running, so she loaded us into her car and drove us to nearby Wiesbaden for the afternoon.
This was a swanky town for centuries because of its hot springs. Also here are a high-rolling casino and a shopping district spread through historic cobbled streets. Cafes offer outdoor seating, and metal sculptures along the route are 3D replica maps of the town’s center. We walked through a lush green park lined by elegant old mansions and eventually came upon a water-powered funicular from 1888 that takes visitors up Neroberg hill for a view of Frankfurt Rhine-Main that is unparalleled.
Our second day in Germany was a workday for our host mom, so she booked a tour of Mainz for us with a guide who explained the city’s rich and complicated 2,000-year history. We learned that Gutenberg perfected his printing press by modifying the presses his family had used to prepare grapes in this wine-rich region. We also learned that Mainzer Dom, the city’s magnificent cathedral, was the only place outside the Vatican ever to be a Holy See—from 975 until 1011. Outside the church, we paused at a wide wooden post covered in nails sold as a fundraiser for World War I widows.
After our tour, we noshed on sausages baked into pretzels with cheese from street vendor Ditsch, then headed to the Gutenberg Museum to see the famous Bible and watch a demonstration of how the original press operated. The presentation was in German, so my daughter and her host sister translated the high points, and later, the docent gave us the document he had pressed.
On our way home, we popped into a modern mall, where we found an archaeological dig of a temple devoted to Isis that was discovered during the mall’s creation. We also stopped at the ruins of a coliseum that once held 10,000 Roman visitors who came annually to celebrate Drusus, an important military hero in the first decade B.C. A modern train station nestles against them now, and a silent video is on constant display to show how it once looked and how the ruins have been preserved.
Later, we drove up a winding hill to Laubenheimer Hohe winery to taste local Reinhessen wines. The sun set and the moon rose over the vineyards where we ate dinner and watched the twinkling lights of Frankfurt come alive on the horizon. Vinegar, local handkase cheese, and onions on bread went well with our riesling and pinot gris wines, and a soft pretzel dipped in savory spundekas was divine.
With Frankfurt just a short train ride away, that was our next destination. Our daughters joined us for lunch in the oldest part of the city before going off on their own.
“I just love to meander and find new places,” our exchange mom told me, so that’s exactly what we did.
Twenty thousand steps later, we had visited a beautiful old church where a glowing bride swept down the aisle on her father’s arm, watched an artist weave bubbles in the air for delighted children by an old city fountain, and paused to take in the city skyline from Eiserner Steg, an iron bridge from 1869 where engraved padlocks clipped to railings forever lock in their owners’ love.
Behind the beauty, however, remains a real element of responsibility and renewal in each of these cities and towns where the fingers of history are long and often painful. They were heavily bombed at the end of World War II, when Allied forces intentionally saved only churches and large buildings to use as landmarks for bombing raids, but much effort has been made to rebuild. New buildings are remade to look like their predecessors or incorporate fragments of statues or detailing that recalls the past while looking toward the future.
As for us—we are looking to the future, too. Not every foreign exchange experience provides lifelong friends, but in Germany, we found people who will be forever family.
When You Go
International travel rules are in constant flux, so be proactive in knowing requirements. Vaccination cards and/or negative COVID test results may be required for many activities and to board a flight back into the United States. Testing centers are widely available.
Casino Wiesbaden: Spielbank-wiesbaden.de/en
Nerobergbahn (funicular): Nerobergbahn.de/home.html
Gutenberg Museum: Mainz.de/microsite/gutenberg-museum-en/index.php
Laubenheimer Hohe Winery: Rheinhessen.de/en/to-eat-and-drink/a-hofgut-laubenheimer-hoehe-1
Lesley Sauls Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Creators.com