the year 1999..my aunt(a) now lives in Germany with her family and has moved here for a few years from California. she offers to send me a return ticket from Germany because i seem to be languishing in my home in Kolkata. till date i haven't forgotten their kindness. i of course botch up with the passport application form causing my two month trip to be reduced to a one month trip. in any case the passport application was eventually traced thanks to my fathers police connections and i applied for my visa and after submitting a series of documents received a schengen visa.
i seem to have kept a journal of the days i spent there. a good friend of mine or so i thought lived nearby with her family and of course we were all excited and happy. my parents and youngest bro came to the airport and my other bro was now living and studying in Australia. i landed in Delhi on an air India flight and had planned for a friend of mine to meet me at the domestic airport and help me with the transfer to the international airport. with due respect to him he
was waiting outside the airport and we proceeded towards the international airport. i had carried a myriad of gifts for my friend's family and mine. i do recall being very emotional about leaving familiar shores for Germany, the Lufthansa flight was uneventful and next morning i was in Frankfurt waiting for a and uncle to receive me. my friend came too with the children and family and i got some roses from them. we set off for Schriesheim where a lived and my uncle worked with ABB in Mannheim. i do remember being tired and going off to sleep on their couch. also vividly recall driving to Mannheim where we ordered a sofa cum bed. i came to understand that Mannheim was completely re-built post the wars as it had been reduced to rubble. the Heidelberg university was spared because an American general who was in charge of operations had studied there. the rest had been destroyed. Mannheim-Schriesheim-Heidelberg were all on the oeg network and formed a triangle.
the next morning started with sausages for breakfast followed by ham for lunch and we set off to explore the town. we arrived at the town centre and i couldn't help
but notice how quaint it all was. the cottages, cobbled streets and vineyards. the houses so immaculate, the roads perfect and some history dotting it all. in Schriesheim there was a brewery of historical importance and eventually i would explore this bit of town. cafe Majer where all the cake i would eat would come from and the little shops where i would pick up simple but perfect gifts for me and everyone back at home. a showed me how to access the internet and i would remain connected with everyone. she had a part time job at the university and my cousin was studying at the international school in Heidelberg. the next day as per my journal my uncle was in Switzerland, i checked my mail, chatted with the same friend living in Steinfischbach and made myself breakfast. i can still see myself in the kitchen, doing the dishes, cooking and chatting at the kitchen table. the kitchen overlooked a balcony and other homes, the balcony and this wall of the house were stacked up a hill and a had built her garden vertically against it. it was so beautiful. today we would go to Walmart and I started
the momentous amount of shopping that i would eventually end up doing.
i would over the next month watch several movies including a video on Boeing, read several books from a's resplendent collection of books and try various cuisines. a would start handing out a string of gifts, money, clothes etc for me to either use or take home with me. it was Tuesday 5th October and a would show me how to use the oeg to get to Heidelberg, show me some shops and buy me some more cake and coffee. Heidelberg is so picturesque and an ancient university town. makes me want to take up a course of study there even today. it was on the river Neckar and had the traditional bridge as well as modern bridges connecting the two banks. I still remember the red roofs against the green trees making such a pretty picture.
Wednesday 6th my routine life takes over, i wake up, make myself breakfast and chat with my friend, watch a movie, check my mail and take a bath. lunch follows and then a walk about town. it is cold, very cold.
Thursday 7th i go to Heidelberg and
in my own words in the journal 'shop mountains' i would buy gifts, something at least for everyone in my moms family and dads too! a lot of stuff for my youngest bro and for me too. nothing for friends! so somehow i must have seen the basic flaws in all friendships, at least of mine! one of the days possibly today while i walked back from Schreisheim Bahnhof to home, i was so laden with packets that i dropped and misplaced one or two items. one of the days i was also not able to manage the key to the house and a's neighbour's daughter had to help out. on the 7th afternoon we drove to Frankfurt and my cousin had to get to Amerika Hans. we reached the airport and changed several trains to get there. we had dinner at this nice restaurant and I remember seeing the Opera House. I wish I could remember more details.
on the 8th a would drive my cousin to her piano class in Oberflokenbach, which literally means over the hills. it was an amazingly pretty drive through meadows and cows grazing to reach this cottage where my sister spent some
time studying music and we drove back.
Saturday 9th we drove to Heidelberg and watched a movie on Bangladesh at the film festival at the university platz. next we bought some Turkish food and as per my journal i would shop for some good stuff for my bro.
sometime around this stage i find out that i will not be able to reschedule my departure since i have started the first leg of the journey and that throws my life out of gear. i am insistent and get frustrated when clearly nothing can be done about it. my friend explodes because it means i will spend very little time with her and she is upset with her own situation too and this doesn't help. Sunday 10th we go for a walk in the vineyard, another aunt and uncle who are also in the same part of the country visit us and stay for one night. we chat about Kolkata times and i wake up late the next morning. i remember their voices in the living room as they all chatted and i sneaked into the bathroom. it is written in my journal that at some point i would
go the station and shop again. at the station?? so that would be Monday 11th October.
Tuesday 12th October saw me back on the oeg to Heidelberg. some high speed snaps clicked with a's camera came out very well as my friend pointed out later. i walked to the castle and shopped for souvenirs. on one of these sightseeing trips I would go into the University building to see the world's oldest book. in the baroque part of the city a heritage property has now been converted to a luxury hotel named Hotel Ritter and a points that out to me. in the evening my cousin's friend came over. on one of our drives to Heidelberg my uncle and a would talk about the autobahn. the original ones were built around this place by Hitler during the war. it is also the region where Martin Luther initiated Protestanism as well as the place where Gutenberg was born. He would invent the printing press and hence Heidelberg is still considered the printing capital of the world. on my trip to Strasbourg the French of course had a different opinion on where Gutenberg originated from..from France it seems!
my friend came to pick me up and she wants me to stay longer at her place and that displeases my aunt and as my husband now points out i am not able to manage my relationships. at that point of time I didn't have his sage advice with me. so we fight. anyways we had a nice drive back from a's place through the woods to her place, a nice house and i meet her mother-in-law who gives me some chocolates. we go for a walk in the woods in front of her house with the dog Maya and its lovely. the house is unique, its large, has a sauna and has a garden at the road level whereas the entry to the house is at a lower level. i also meet her neighbours. i wrote in my journal that i found the house depressing, maybe it was reflecting the mundaneness in her marriage and life, something we should cherish but it obviously bothered her because she expected more. maybe it was not heated that well, although there was this amazing oven which you could sit by and it would warm you. so two emotionally vulnerable people in a helpless situation turn against each other and that's what happened.
Thursday 14th we went to Ikea and i shopped a bit and then on Friday 15th we fought more because i wanted to leave on Tuesday and she would have nothing of that. we go to a grocery store, pick up her daughter from the kindergarten and then visit her boyfriend!!! in the evening she drove us to Wiesbaden because all she really wanted was to spend time with me and show me many places. i can understand that.
Saturday at home we have this huge fight and our combined frustrations lead to a lot of abusive language and hurt and recrimination thrown at each other and i call a and ask her to pick me up and my friend also arranges for me to leave immediately and her husband drives me home. i wrote about it to my mom and then we drove to Gaiberg. a and me discuss the situation and i realise i too have made mistakes in handling the entire situation.
Sunday morning i receive an email from my mom and i call my friend and hopefully i have apologised, i can't recall the next few interactions because they were not the same and till date maybe our relationship has suffered because of that day. so am embarrassed and my hosts are a bit uncomfortable and i wish it wasn't this way but it was.
Monday 18th October i go to Mannheim and there is an accident on oeg so we are transferred to a bus and then back on to the oeg. i go to Mannheim via Weinheim and come back via Heidelberg.
Tuesday 19th October a came home early and we went to laimen and to the familacenter and she buys me some chocolates. gosh how they pamper me and I'm getting used to this. it only gets better. later i go for a walk.
Wednesday 20th October i walked to Schriesheim centre again and bought a few things. i still cherish some or most of the things i bought. of special mention would be a turtle with a lovely straw tied around its neck, a mouse with a bow-tie, two delectable rabbits, a santa claus, shot glasses with Heidelberg on them, ashtrays and coin purses. I'd buy a lot of cosmetics, nailpolishes, shampoos, body lotions, soaps and creams. also a pastel pullover, a stuffed toy, 3 bags of which id give away one to another aunt. a watch for dad and clothes, cassettes, tracks and windcheater for my bro. I also have a curio of a small boy from wiesbaden, an angel christmas tree dropping, a german doll and earrings, lots of them. a presented one to me too. my grandmom had visited a the previous year and she too had brought back bags, pouches, earrings, a vase and a pot of soup magnet i still cherish.
Thursday 21st my friend calls and says shes not going to be able to come for the birthday party my aunt has planned for me on 23rd so that's a day of odds and evens according to my journal. i guess i should have been expecting this and somewhere although i understand what she was trying to do i cant help but think there is a lot of selfishness in it. from India my dad writes saying the return journey is booked for my air India flight home. at this point i hope alls well that ends well. i know i was a confused 27 year old but there was some underlying wisdom and intelligence to it all. i leave for Swetzingen and its biting cold. from Heidelberg i take a bus and when they announce Swetzingen Schlossplatz i know its my turn to alight from the bus. the tour guide takes us around the palace and i walk a bit in the garden and it's very cold.
Friday 22nd in my own words a blissful day. I'm so happy to be left on my own in the kitchen and house, making my own meals, watching movies, spending time with myself and just being me. a drives me to Ladenburg where i get an outside glimpse of the Karl Benz museum and a part of the roman wall. some more cake follows.
Saturday 23rd i wake up to a phone call from Australia from my brother and one from home. my friend calls too and her father is visiting her and he wishes me too. right on the dining table were a pile of gifts, there were 27 chocolates, a puzzle, postcards, a card and biscuits. a had baked muffins and made some traditional birthday kheer. we drove down to Strasbourg and on my birthday I officially drove down to France. we toured the cathedral and i took a boat ride, we bought burgers and i clicked many photographs before we drove home, drove to Heidelberg for dinner at a Persian restaurant and finally ended by blowing out candles on my 27th birthday cake. what a birthday! is how my journal ends the day. a topped it all with some more souvenirs from France since it was my birthday!
my next journal entry is 7 days later. i think there was clearly an issue with bringing home all the junk i bought. a was a bit peeved with the mounds of trivia i had bought for everyone. Monday 25th i walked to Dossenheim, it was the next village and from the oeg i would speed past this shop which had a pizza plate on the display window. i walked back to buy that pizza dish for my mom and some more stuff and took the oeg back.
Tuesday 26th according to my journal i had packed and re-packed everything and that led to some amount of tension. it was obvious a would have to carry some stuff on her next trip to India. in the evening we drove to Heidelberg and to pro-markt for some more coffee and cake. a and I also went to Walmart. my friend calls and says shes coming over for lunch on Friday, a re conciliatory move or so it seemed now.
Wednesday 27th i trooped to Heidelberg and to the castle, the cellar, walked across the old bridge and climbed up to Philosophenweg. the climb took the breath out of me. walked down Philosophenweg which is named so because philosophers liked to take a walk there and think while being surrounded by the beauty of it. in the evening we drove to Oberflokenbach again and a short walk there followed. according to my journal I'm getting increasingly worried about my luggage and reaching home safe and sound. part of an international holiday are the days after when you display all the gifts and start distributing them. or so it was in the old days. i have switched over to a's suitcase.
Thursday a and me would cook some chicken and make chocolate mousse. i decide to bring some packets of mousse home. on some of my walks i would click photographs of the vineyards, grapes in a cluster, the window dressing in some of the homes and pictures of the town. some of the windows were so pretty with lace and dolls. as someone rightly pointed out it was like in toyland! i walk down to the photo shop to pick up my albums and buy a few more things it seems. incorrigible! but now that i think about it i wont be back in the next 14 years. things one can do at 27, at 41 impossible! of course in my post-purchase dissonance and intense scrutiny of everything i have regrets and at times i feel i did the right thing. totally over the top which is the way to enjoy life to begin with. now if i go to Europe i will shop less and do more sightseeing and i hardly have anyone to bring things back for.
Friday 29th October, my friend comes over with the kids, we have lunch, she carries gifts for me, soaps and chocs, cosmetics etc. very nice gesture on her part and i loved it. we go for a short walk and we pass the church where we see a couple getting married. lovely! my friend leaves and i accompany a to her friend's place in Ladenburg for coffee and cake. some lovely cheesecake follows and we drive back.
Saturday 30th, my last weekend at a's house i am glad to be going home. there's no place quite like home. imagine if they had to put up with me for another month! maybe then it would have been more even and my friend wouldn't have complained so much. maybe. some research done by me and we head out to Heiligenberg. a Celtic monastery ruins in the middle of the forest and an amphitheatre where Nazis conducted meetings and inflammatory speeches. their choice of venue intrinsically linked to the historical and ethnic content. a steep climb up the amphitheatre and we roamed around the ruins and drove to Heidelberg for pizzas and groceries. we end the Saturday by watching patriot games starring Harrison ford.
Sunday 31st we had an American lunch of fried chicken and a German dinner of sausages and mashed potatoes. in the afternoon we walked to Strahlenberg and got a view of the amazing fall colours. at some point we now discuss how we may go to Frankfurt on 2nd to drop off my luggage and i may go the airport on my own from Heidelberg on 3rd.
Monday 1st November, my journal says i can't believe its November already, but then Ive been holidaying haven't i? i have some last moment shopping to do. i know u must hate me by now, how can i shop more? I'm a compulsive list maker, i have lists of things to be repaired when I'm home and of things I'm leaving behind with a and lists of all the shopping. some days a would give me extra money for the tram and for lunch and she would give me another 100DM. i go to Tivoli, Rhein Neckar Zentrum and buy a perfume for my mom. i have doubts if she will appreciate. after dinner i go for a walk again.
Tuesday 2nd i make plans to go to Heidelberg a last time,a gives me the museum fees for me to see the Kurpfalz museum in Heidelberg and as i come out of the museum i see these adorable Christmas decorations and two snow figures for 5 marks only, how i wish i had the money to buy those two and two more vases for 5 marks i had seen in Schresheim. i still recall these things but it wasn't meant to be and I'm back home.
Wednesday 3rd, my uncle has arranged for a collect service to pick us up with luggage and they drop us to the airport. i call my friends aunt and chat with her for sometime. i walk a to her stop at the airport and we're both teary eyed, this is my family at the end of the day and through thick and thin we stand by each other. they have given me a holiday i will never forget at a time which was so difficult for me. i did enjoy myself in spite of everything. i watched movies, walked, cried, shopped but all in all i was myself. the flight back home grounded me to realities specially when i saw people crouching on the floor at the airport, people from my country. an obnoxious Sardarji sitting next to me was the only part i can remember and i managed to be home with almost everything intact. good to see the folks again and return all the foreign exchange which was immediately shipped out to my bro in Australia.
14 years later as i sit in my home in Bangalore i am far more organised and am at the initial stages of planning a holiday in Germany as it all comes back and for sometime i am overwhelmed by it all. however we now manage ourselves and others far better so its more comfortable now. let's see what the future holds for us. in India we have a saying 'on every morsel your name is inscribed'. we live by that.
so far i have received a quote of 77.5K for round trip tickets for hubby and me on sri lankan airlines. that's where i am now.
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