Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 17, 2011

Little things

"Cuckoo, cuckoo, cu-cu-coo, cu-cu-coo, cuckoo."

I smiled.

We were at the Wies Kirche, the "meadow church" southwest of Munich, Germany. Husband Art, our daughters Mariya and Katie, and I had heard cuckoo birds before. But Mariya's partner Lacey had not.

"Cooool!" she said, with a look of amazement.

That morning, all three girls had been amused by the bleating goats we could hear from our apartment in Obsteig, Austria. They thought it sounded like the goats were agreeing with each other.

"Ye-e-e-ah," Katie said in a high voice, imitating the sound of one.

"Ye-e-e-ah," Lacey responded with a lower tone.

"Ye-e-e-ah," Mariya replied in an even deeper voice.

This interplay continued throughout our trip. Whenever one had an idea she thought was interesting or fun, the three would go through their "Ye-e-e-ah - ye-e-e-ah - ye-e-e-ah" chorus ... and then laugh.

A few days later in Salzburg after we finished the tour of the home where Mozart was born, we heard strange low-pitched rhythmic sounds coming from the area near the cathedral. We discovered a man playing what appeared to be a hollowed-out section of a small tree. Upon further investigation - meaning looking at the CDs he had for sale - we learned it was a didgeridoo, an instrument we had always associated with Australia.

These three incidents are examples of something that happened repeatedly. While most days we had some major site as our goal, small chance discoveries continually intrigued us.

We arrived at the height of the strawberry season, which is not unusual. But sometime between this visit and our last one, it became the fashion for the roadside stands to be shaped and painted as a giant version of the fruit.

One day we visited Burghausen, Europe's longest fortress. But we were almost as fascinated by the huge snails we discovered crawling along the damp ground as by the panoramic views.

Food played an important part in our trip. Rhubarb, raspberry, cherry and poppy seed pastries and Weizenbier - wheat beer - always tempted Art. Lacey was partial to sausages, sauerkraut and Wienerschnitzel. Mariya liked ice cream and strawberries sprinkled with dark chocolate pieces with whipped cream on the side. Katie preferred mango, green apple or raspberry gelato - Italian ice cream. My favorite was the outdoor café aspect. Yet I know that in time, what we had and where we had it will usually fade from our memories.

But not always. One night we ate dinner with Nadja, our former German exchange student, and her boyfriend Tim at a restaurant near Berlin's city hall. Our tables were just outside the periphery of others covered by large umbrellas. Just after our food was served, the wind came up and the rain came ... in buckets. We scrambled for a table under an umbrella, but even that offered minimal protection. Tim, Mariya, Katie and I rushed inside the restaurant while Art, Lacey and Nadja remained. They stayed until the waiters said they had to go inside because of the danger of near-by lightning strikes.

Katie insisted that Art was crazy. But Art said he guaranteed that although we would forget what we ate that night and most of the other restaurants we visited during the trip, we would remember that meal!

And I think we all agreed he was right.

Milder forms of nature entertained us, too.

Before visiting Ludwig II's Linderhof castle, we stopped at the Plansee, a long stretch of lake in northwest Austria. Mariya and Katie skipped rocks along its smooth surface - just as they had done on our last trip. Soon Lacey joined in.

Flowers are more my speed. I love the domesticated roses, petunias and geraniums that fill window boxes and the fields strewn with wild flowers. Of the latter, I like most the bright orange poppies, mixed in with blue, yellow and purple wild flowers. When we first saw them in northern Germany, I said to Art, "Oh, let's stop and get photos."

"But, Mom, you took pictures of poppies the last time we were here," Katie said in an exasperated tone.

"Yes, but the time of day is different, the lighting is different," I responded.

She just shook her head.

I didn't take pictures that day. But a few days later, we combined my love of flowers with another "little" thing Art and I enjoy. Right after East and West Germany were reunited, we took a trip northeast from Fürstenwalde, to an area about 30 miles east of Berlin. Almost hidden in the forest was an impressive Soviet military base. On each subsequent visit, we've made an effort to visit it again to see how it is fading away as a silent memorial to the "Cold War."

But as we neared the place, we encountered fields on fire with poppies. Then we saw another that was a sea of blue wild flowers accented by orange poppies and small white daisies. There was no stopping me from taking photos that time!

I'll also remember the small road Art took us on so I could get a better angle. We both laughed when we discovered it was a bicycle path. But no one came along to tell us to get off.

That cuckoo at the Wies church had marked the beginning of our trip and a late-night ride marked its end. Our friend Matthias had hosted a barbecue our last evening and as the time neared 11 p.m., we headed for the small train station in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. The plan was for Nadja and Tim to ride back to their apartment in Berlin with the girls so they could have one last night together.

The station was dark and there was barely a sound from the moon-lit countryside. Then, just as the timetable predicted, three small bright lights appeared far to the east. Soon the train quietly slowed to a stop. The five got in, the doors closed and almost in silence, the train pulled away heading west.

Then it was just Art and me. We got into our car and drove back to our place, talking along the way about the big and small experiences we'd had. It was great fun to visit such things as King Ludwig II's Bavarian castles, Nuremberg's famous marketplace and Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. But the little things along the way - like the first time we heard the cuckoo, skipped some stones or saw a field overrun with brightly colored wild flowers - were as memorable as the "must-see" tourist sites.

"Ye-e-e-ah - ye-e-e-ah - ye-e-e-ah!"

Left, Art and the girls skipping stones on the Plansee; right, typical roadside
strawberry stand widely seen in southern Germany and parts of Austria.

Left, A man plays a didgeridoo in front of the cathedral in Salzburg.
While thought of as an Australian instrument, he was Turkish;
right, an apartment building in Berlin designed to look as if it is falling apart.

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