Since I have a sweet little baby girl, I’ve learned two important terms of endearment used for babies and little kids:
kleine Maus or kleines Mäuschen, meaning little mouse and
Wonneproppen, meaning a cute, plump, roly-poly baby.
(It’s also translated as a little lump of sweetness on the Leo Dictionary website!)
Rosebud was fawned over and heard these terms again and again over the Easter weekend.
Easter has always been a family holiday for me. So, we decided to travel to Köln (Cologne) to visit the families I stayed with as an exchange student. We were all amazed when we realized that it has been fifteen years since I was an exchange student, when I first started learning German!
Everyone was happy to see us, and we were welcomed with open arms. Rosebud was so sweet and patient with everyone – she met so many new people and was constantly doted upon. She loved it, of course, but I am sure it was tiring for her. Our travel went smoothly, but it made for a long day. We took the regional train from Bad Tölz to München, then from München to Mannheim and Würzburg on the way back; from Mannheim to Köln, on ICE trains; and then a regional train from Köln to Stommeln.
Rosebud got to visit with her three German Omas (grandmothers). I knew we would see Omas Margret and Ilse, but it was a lovely surprise to also see Oma Pepita. I suppose now would be a good time to write a little about my year as an exchange student and the families with whom I lived.
I was an exchange student through the Rotary Youth Exchange program (Rotary Youth Exchange and Rotary Jugenddienst), which gives students the opportunity to live with at least two different families during their year-long stay. I stayed with three families (well, four, actually, but… the fourth family didn’t work out so well) during my year. They were all very different families and I had excellent experiences with each one.
My first and second families live in Stommeln, a small town connected to Köln by train, and not far from Dormagen. Stommeln is roughly halfway between Köln and Düsseldorf; I attended school nearby in the town of Hackenbroich at the Leibniz-Gymnasium, even though I had already finished high school and had been accepted at Lawrence University. My third family lived in Köln-Worringen.
Here’s a map of the region:
The first family I stayed with as an exchange student sent their son Jens to Penfield, NY, the town next to where I grew up; Jens was sponsored by the club that sent me to the Köln area – this is unusual that we had a direct exchange, but it was a pretty neat coincidence. The parents are Margret and Gerhard; their older son is Marc and then of course their younger son in Jens. Neither Marc nor Jens are married/have kids, so Margret and Gerhard were especially thrilled to see Rosebud and play with her. Margret in particular kept gushing about how sweet Rosebud is. I think she would love to have her own grandkids someday, but in the meantime, she is happy to dote on Rosebud.
Rosebud loved playing in their garden, as there was so much to see.
Sitting with Dad is good, too:
A note on German gardens, while I’m thinking about it – the word Garten can be used to mean something like a vegetable or flower garden, or a green public space with walkways, but it can also mean someone’s yard. Since space is at a premium here, gardens/yards are usually smaller than what we are used to in the US. Most families have hedges bordering their gardens for privacy, too. When one lives so close to one’s neighbors, one can understand why gardens are commonly hedged in.
Ilse and Klaus are the parents in my second family. Their three sons are quite a bit older than me and all of them now have children. So, Klaus and Ilse are experienced grandparents! Rosebud is quite chatty these days and once she does start speaking her first words, she is going to talk up a storm, I think. When we were having dinner with Klaus and Ilse, Rosebud had quite a lot to say. Klaus said to her: “yes, you are right! No one can argue with that! You are the boss!” It was adorable. Here are some pictures of Rosebud and Ilse in their garden:
We dined with Klaus and Ilse on Good Friday, called Karfreitag here. They are wine collectors and they certainly pulled out all the stops as far as that goes. We tasted a few excellent varieties of German wine from wineries in Kaiserstuhl and Ihringen, near the city of Freiburg im Breisgau. We hope to do a winery tour in the fall, and they were able to give us some recommendations of where we should go.
We also had Easter dinner with Klaus and Ilse, Kläuschen (little Klaus, their youngest son who is also the tallest son), and two of their grandchildren. Dinner, by the way, was perfectly roasted duck breast served with pommes frites (French fries). After Easter dinner, we went for a walk in Tannenbusch, which is an animal park. ( At some later date, I will have to devote an entry on the German tradition of walking, hiking and Wanderlust).
Rosebud napped a bit at first in the Tierpark (animal park), but once she awoke, she was fascinated by the goats:
We also saw tortoises sunning themselves, and a rare black swan:
In case you’re wondering, the red outfit Rosebud is wearing here is her baby Dirndl. My host families thought she looked very sweet in her Dirndl. We brought a little reminder of Bavaria with us to the Rheinland!
My third set of host parents were Leo and Pepita. Pepita actually comes from near Barcelona, interestingly. They have four children, close in age to me. I have not been in touch with Leo and Pepita that much, so I was thrilled when Pepita invited us to her house for coffee and cake (Kaffee und Kuchen). I was so happy to talk with her and show off our daughter. She offered some typical German cakes but also made an apple cake from her region, which was delicious. She too was thrilled to see Rosebud.
We also had tea and biscuits with Herr and Frau Düssel. Herr Düssel was my counselor when I was an exchange student. He had a lot of experience working with exchange students and did a fantastic job arranging my stay. He even helped me find a few orchestras to play in when I was a student (I ended up being a member of three different community orchestras). He has long since retired, but he too was glad to see me and meet David and Rosebud.
I really enjoyed returning to the Rheinland region of Germany. We were so busy visiting that we didn’t have time to see Köln, but that was just as well. A week ago Saturday, David broke his small toe; walking is still somewhat on the painful side for him although his toe is getting better. At any rate, a walking tour of Köln would probably have been too much for him. We know we will return to visit with my families, so we will plan a visit to Köln at a later time.
Visiting my German families and introducing Rosebud to her “Omas” was beneficial in many ways. We got to rest a little from parenting duties and we spoke German nearly all the time. I was glad that David got to practice his German and that Rosebud got to hear a lot of German. Most of all, it was good for me to chat with my German mothers about parenting/raising kids. As a new mother, I always appreciate getting suggestions and ideas from other experienced mothers.
All in all, it was a busy but wonderful weekend. We are looking forward to when we can visit everyone again!