Germany

Go ahead, dream

by Steve Brock on June 19, 2014

Rothenburg StreetsThe photo above is a familiar scene to anyone who has been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the most popular of medieval towns along Germany’s famed Romantic Road. My guess is that if you look up the city name in Google Images, you’ll see more shots of this one Y shaped intersection than of any other scene from the picturesque city.

I like the shot (which I augmented with textures to give a bit more of the feel of the place) , but in part due to its popularity, it is far from my favorite of the many photos I took of the town. I have others like these below that I prefer because they bring me back to the exact time and place. All the associations, even of light and temperature flood back when I see these photos because now, they are highly personal.

Rothenburg Fountain

Rothenburg Gate

Rothenburg Sunrise

Yet the location captured by so many others still has a special meaning for me because that was the image that was imprinted in my mind before we visited the town. It was, in short, the image of my dreams.

If you’ve read The Meaningful Traveler for any time, you’ve likely detected the ongoing advice to “live in the present.” On a trip, the present is the trip, the real-time experience you have there. Be present to it with all your senses, and you’ll derive greater joy and satisfaction from your trip.

But before the trip? That is the time of dreaming, of looking to the future with longing. I once read of a woman who’d never left the state in which she was born. Late in life, her adult children decided to take her on a cruise to the Caribbean. They booked the trip a year in advance and over that year, the son noted a profound change in his elderly mother. For the first time in years, she had something to look forward to.

When I read that story, I must confess, I thought it sad that something like a trip was all the woman had to look forward to. But as I get older (and more aware of grace in all aspects of life), I see her anticipation of the trip not as sad, but as beautiful.

I have long recognized that anticipation before and reflection after a trip can be the most meaningful aspects of the journey. But now, as my own family has undergone a very difficult year and my wife and I plan out a trip for next year, I’m reminded of how powerful that anticipation of a trip can be.

We now are entering summer when many of you too will be traveling or looking forward to traveling. As you plan your trips, you’ll find iconic images like the popular one of Rothenburg that will define the place for you in your imagination. Once you get there, you’ll likely notice that the image is close, but not exactly like the reality before you. And that’s fine because the image has served its purpose. It gave you something tangible to hold onto as you think about your trip. Anticipate what you’ll discover. Imagine the wonders you’ll encounter.

So go ahead, enjoy your trip now, before you even finish packing your bags. Enjoy the anticipation. Let it be something you look forward to. Let it forever be a special part of that special trip.

Dream.

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You can go back, but…Part 2

by Steve Brock on March 18, 2014

Freiburg Baechle (mini-canals)I hadn’t planned on having a Part 2 to the last entry on my return – my re-visit – to Freiburg, Germany. But Cathie’s comment to it triggered a thought worth exploring more.

The question was, can you go back to a place you spent a lot of time in years ago and do so with fresh eyes? In general, I would say yes, given that enough time has gone by and that you’re aware of the need to see things anew.

So why wasn’t I able to do that in Freiburg? Because it wasn’t the place itself that created the nostalgia. It was the people I’d known in that place that made it almost impossible to re-visit the same location in an objective manner.

When we have deep emotional ties to people in a place, that place is forever affected in our thinking. As a sad example, we have some friends who recently lost their infant child. Now, they feel compelled to move from their apartment because just the walls of the building remind them of their departed son.

Some places stick to us like that and remind us of the people we can’t help but associate with the locations. I can’t look at the river in Freiburg and not think of times lying on its bank with friends talking about dreams of the future. Or see a particular street and not recall quiet walks with other friends, discussions that today seem both naively idealistic and yet somehow lacking in my busy “adult” life.

I think of racing with other friends late at night, crisscrossing the many Baechle, the water runnels/mini-channels that line the old streets of Freiburg. Or hanging with German friends in a crowded pub whose owner seemed to have an odd obsession with German punk and, curiously, the music of the American singer Steve Winwood. Or enjoying a piping hot bratwurst on a cold afternoon staring up at the cathedral as a friend shared a more private side of himself than I’d ever known before.

All these people, these memories, are tied to this place. So to see it with fresh eyes is not only difficult, but something I may not be even willing to do. Seeing the place anew – creating new memories – runs the risk of erasing or at least diminishing the old ones.

Memory is such a fickle thing that I’m not sure I’m willing to take that risk. Too much good – too many memories of wonderful friends – are tied to that place. I think the older we get, the more tightly we clasp these memories – nurture and protect them – even as we realize how ephemeral and even unreliable they are.

As someone who constantly harps on living in the present, I find this idea of clinging to memories hard to admit. But I think it’s true and it explains why we can’t – or don’t want to – see some old places in new ways.

How about you? Ever been to a place so connected with friends or family you care about that it is hard to separate the place from those people?

We tend to travel to experience the new. But sometimes we find value in the old as well. How we balance these two desires is one of the joys – and challenges – of traveling…and of being human.

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You can go back, but…

by Steve Brock on March 5, 2014

Freiburg Cathedral

Let’s revisit the idea of a re-visit, shall we?

A re-visit is when you go back to a place you’ve visited before. Sometimes, that can be rewarding because you see details or new elements of the place you missed the first time. Other times, it can be disappointing because the wonder and novelty you associated with the place the first round no longer exists. It’s like watching a rerun of your favorite show.

Rerun. When’s the last time you heard that term? I can’t recall when I last saw a rerun of a television episode. I don’t watch enough network TV for that to happen nor am I forced to watch reruns because of a lack of other viewing options, what with Netflix, Amazon, iTunes or others. In short, we have so many other new shows available on demand now that we don’t have to go back and watch even old favorites.

But we still do.

Similarly, we often revisit a special place, somehow convincing ourselves that we can still have that original, magical experience.

So, how was that rerun?

I should talk. That form of denial or misplaced hope may explain why last summer we visited the town in Germany where I spent my junior year in college. The city is Freiburg, located in the heart of Germany’s Black Forest. Initially I tried to avoid going back there – I did try – but then my sons thought it would be fun to see where Dad went to school. Oh, why not? What’s the harm? So back to Freiburg I went, family in tow.

As we approached via car driving in from the East, I found myself remembering places and I found the surrounding countryside even more beautiful than I had recalled. Maybe this will be a good experience after all, I mused. But once we got into town, two things happened that reinforce my belief that revisiting certain places may not lead to the most meaningful of experiences.

Freiburg Street

First, the city both had changed and it hadn’t. How’s that for insightful? What I mean is that much of it was familiar. I recognized many of the streets (like the one above) and even the buildings such as the old city gate with the McDonald’s sign on it.

Freiburg Old Gate with McDonalds sign

In the same way, the Muenster, the Romanesque Cathedral in the heart of the city seemed familiar.

Freiburg Cathedral Candles

I have to admit, however, that I never noticed this, uh, well, unusual gargoyle before.

Freiburg cathedral gargoyles

Yet even what I recognized as being the same, wasn’t. Not exactly. For example, many of the walls around the town, once so quaint and historic, were now covered in graffiti. It was like visiting Disneyland and seeing trash all over the place.

Second, I had both changed and hadn’t. So instead of viewing Freiburg with fresh eyes, I came with this bundle of hope and nostalgia, recollections about the place, the people I’d known there and even who I was then and who I am now. The problem was, I couldn’t see the place for its own sake. Instead, I kept making comparisons which rarely comes off well: No one likes to date someone who is always comparing you to their past flame.

Does this mean you should never revisit a place? Of course not. And is Thomas Wolfe correct that “You can’t go home again” meaning you can’t return to the places of your youth to relive them? On that, I’m not so sure. Perhaps you can. But you need to do so with your eyes wide open knowing that those eyes may be seeing much more…or much less…than is actually there.

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