Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 28, 2013

Family reunions - the same everywhere

Two weeks ago, husband Art and I arrived at our small hotel in Thamsbruck, a Thuringian village of no more than a dozen blocks, an hour later than expected. Our journey had been lengthened to about four hours by an Autobahn "Stau" - traffic jam - and a difference of opinion between Internet sources and our GPS devices about the hotel's location.

In the past, most of our time in that part of Germany was spent traveling through it. Our plan this year involved a Sunday visit to Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther translated the Bible into common German.

But that was just a side trip. The reason we were there was the Filter "Familientreffen" - family reunion. We first met friend Barbel 22 years ago. Then a widow, she met second husband Gunter two years later. We have visited them many times during the subsequent years. We also have come to know her sons Thomas, Stefan, Ulrich and Matthias as well as their families. Barbel's 75th birthday was the following Monday and it added a celebratory note to the whole affair.

Barbel's brother Ulrich, whom we had never met, would be there too. They had grown up in nearby Bollstedt, a village only slightly larger than Thamsbruck, so we were certain there would be a bit of family history on tap as well.

We had just stepped from our car when Barbel, Gunter and Thomas arrived. After hugging, a brief discussion of our respective journeys and agreeing that none of us was getting any younger, we walked together to the combination reception/bar/dining building. It was all perfectly matched to the village's size - meaning we would probably use all of the facility's available accommodations.

I judged our host to be about my age - slender, tall, heavily-tanned with hair pulled back into a pony tail, giving him the appearance of a '60s-era hippie. We would later find him to be a bit of a character and a good fit for our gathering.

Art and I unpacked and then walked part of the town before meeting again with the others for supper. Barbel's son Ulrich, wife Catrin and daughter Sofia joined us soon after. A bit later, Stefan, wife Steffi and daughter Franziska arrived.

Around 10 p.m., after several hours of eating, drinking and talking, we headed to our rooms. We had no more than shut the door when Matthias arrived with young daughters Kassandra and Helena. It was obvious by the girls' enthusiastic hallway banter that they were fully into the weekend that for them was an adventure.

On Saturday, Sebastian - Stefan and Steffi's son - arrived before our mid-morning breakfast. We also learned that Matthias' wife Arlette and their youngest Leander would not be joining us. His cold had progressed to become a possible ear infection that was unlikely to make a family gathering an enjoyable event for either son or mother.

Our trip to Bollstedt was followed by a city tour of nearby Muhlhausen and the two provided reminiscing as well as an education - Johan Sebastian Bach spent a year in Mulhausen as a church organist, and Johan Roebling, the architect who designed the Brooklyn Bridge, was a native.

Family reunions demand an abundance of food, and Saturday evening's meal around one long table filled with plates of grilled meats, potato salad, rolls and assorted drinks did not disappoint.

Sunday morning, we had a breakfast get-together and then we headed our separate ways.

Throughout the weekend, despite a limited ability to follow the many conversations in German, our time together reminded Art and me of the reunions we attended with our families, both as youngsters and as adults. For the adults, there was catching up on what each family member was doing now - Sebastian nearing the completion of his medical doctor's degree, Franziska's upcoming trip for Volkswagen to St. Louis, Stefan and Steffi's trip to Costa Rica, Thomas' latest music composition, Sofia's revelation that a university degree in chemistry was not a good match for her and so on. All the while, Helena and Kassandra played as if there was no tomorrow.

When I was a youngster, I always left our family reunions with a sense of having had a good time and looking forward to when we'd be together again. As an adult, looking forward brings a touch of melancholy, wondering not when, but if we will gather again. Older ones may develop health issues, possibly fatal ones. The young adults are reaching the point where additional demands are made on their time and reunions may not be compatible with those demands.

But mainly, the feeling is of having had a wonderful time together. "Adopted" German daughter Nadja's saying comes back to me at such moments - these times are "a nice little distraction from life."

Upper left: Climbing to the top of the city walls in Muhlhausen; lower left: Kassandra serves as a willing subject for sister Helena's photography efforts while proud father Matthias looks on; upper middle: Sofia (left) and Franziska; lower middle: abandoned train station in Bollstedt where Barbel had boarded the train each school day for her trip to Muhlhausen; upper right: Franziska shows Helena the finer points of making a house from playing cards; lower right: Art (left) and Gunter chat.

Left: J. S. Bach (left) and Stefan share a moment outside the church where Bach had been organist; right: left-to-right, Gunter, Barbel, Sebastian, Stefan, Franziska, Catrin, Barbel's son Ulrich, Thomas looking over the top of his glasses, Sofia behind Steffi, Helena in front of Kassandra, and Matthias.

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