I, like all other women everywhere, have a notoriously bad sense of direction. Joe makes fun of and, I think, dreads my tried-and-trusted-just-enough-for-me-to-keep-using-it “General Direction Theory,” in which, when placed behind the wheel of a car, I just feel the way to go. It’s a very intuitive, almost spiritual practice, which you probably wouldn’t understand, what with your GPS systems and your maps.
This is why I was pleased to find myself placed, eight months ago (why isn’t my German better?!), in a small town practically made to be navigated by GDT, thanks to a plethora of prominent landmarks. Need to get to the train station?
Just walk towards the river. Need to get to the other train station? Just walk towards the other river. My favorite restaurant? Right below that steeple. My school? Take a left at the castle. My house? Over the vineyard, and beside a second steeple. I’m generally not the one to be trusted when your goal is to reach a destination, but with my family’s arrival looming, I was ready. I was ready to impress them with my knowledge of which cemeteries you can cut through to get to the Old Town, which windy alleyways and pedestrian tunnels you can use to get to the gardens, how I hand-picked our hotel thanks to its proximity to an ice cream shop. ”We have trained her well,” my parents would say to each other over very conveniently located ice cream. ”She is now ready to make her way in the world.”
Then we left Bingen. Vienna is not like Bingen. Plus, we had a car, which is not like a train. The next two weeks, then, were marked by referencing and cross-referencing guide books (five of them), sorting through maps, guessing at what impenetrable street signs might mean, continually losing and finding each other, blind stabs at which way our restaurant might be, trying to follow the conflicting demands of both (both!) of our GPS systems, long train trips to remote city suburbs, trying to find a parking garage that always seems to be at the wrong end of a one-way street, and lots and lots of this:
I could wax poetic about how being lost is one of the best parts of travelling, life being about the journey and not the destination and all that, but eh, it’s not. It’s really just sort of aggravating, not to mention time-consuming. Still, it does have its moments; take Baden-Baden.
Baden-Baden is the town my family came from, and so when the whole crew (all nine of us) were gathered one night in Bingen, we made the decision over late-night conveniently-located ice cream to take a day trip there, guided by nothing but a sense of familial ties, hoping to find something. I’m not sure what sign we were looking for – a statue to our great-great grandfather, clearly a town hero? commemorative plaques? our long-lost family, still dressed like Old World immigrants, unable to communicate with us but so pleased to find us that we’d spend a pleasant dinner together, and lacking conversation, we’d bob our heads and beam at each other over heaping plates of homemade schnitzel and spaetzle?
This did not happen, but what we did find upon our arrival (and after getting lost and hopelessly separated, and after weaving through all sorts of detours just for kicks) was a pristine spa town, too rich for our blood, which is probably why our blood left for America. Once reunited, our GDT fully engaged, we headed off in the direction of the main cemetery in town, thinking this would be our best chance of finding some hint of a Binz. Seven of us wandered through town and climbed single-file up the
long, steep hill to where the cemetery perched, lamenting in between wheezes that all our cameras were either lost, broken, or dead by that point in the trip, because it was gorgeous. The cemetery was a labyrinth of well-tended plots, blooming with flowers I had never seen, the massive trees filled with birds, and with lovely Black Forest views. My family fanned out in a blind search, part pilgrimage, part scavenger hunt. We found nothing, and our hopes were double dashed when we talked to lady at the office who said that much of the cemetery had been reused to accommodate for those who had died in WWII, and furthermore, she said the cemetery was used largely for “how do I say this… high society.” Not our family, being the implication.
So we didn’t find what we were looking for, but we at least found something new to contribute to family lore – we have the satisfaction of knowing that our family stretches back to a lovely little spot in Germany, and maybe we wandered the streets that they did, and saw the church they attended, and passed the shops selling Versace that they also couldn’t afford, and sat where they sat prosting with their own family, complaining about the same overpriced restaurants.