The full story – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 25, 2013

Shortly after having the mystery of the swerving bicyclist resolved by the sight of the little gray and white dog that followed him, we came across this bridge over the Main River in Frankfurt, Germany.

Locks on Bridge - Frankfurt, GermanyThe locks you see attached to the railing follow a trend started in Paris on a bridge over the River Seine. Couples write their names on the locks, attach them to the bridge, then throw the keys into the river to signify their undying love and commitment. In Paris, they get so many that they have to remove the railings every six months or so to keep the bridge from collapsing. My guess is that many of the locks outlast the relationships, but that’s another story.

Today, these locks remind me of a different kind of relationship.

We decided to visit Frankfurt on this vacation to Europe for one reason: to see the couple that have been family friends of ours for longer than I’ve been around.

I say “friends” but they are more than that. They are a couple, now in their 80’s and 90’s that my aunt and uncle first met in the 1950’s when the husband worked as a driver for one of the major car companies in Europe. He escorted not only my aunt and uncle but diplomats, business people and even famous actors all over the continent before opting for a more settled way of living with his wife in the 1960’s.

I spent my junior year in college, studying in Germany. Before classes began, I stayed with this couple for several months. Some of my best memories of that time in my life revolve around them. Now, decades later, my wife and two sons and I get to spend the day with them. We catch up on the present, remember the past and realize that, at their age, how uncertain the future seems.

We talk and talk. Later, we take a break in the afternoon to let them rest. That’s when we wandered along the river and saw the bridge, the locks, the bicyclist and his little gray and white dog.

During our conversations with them, we cover a range of subjects. At one point in our talk, I make, what I assume to be a mere statement of fact. I tell them that when I explain to friends at home why we’re in Frankfurt it is to visit, “my German parents.”

Simple words. An innocent phrase that is already familiar to me through usage at home. But to them, this is the first they have heard it. To them, it means much more than a mere description.

The wife tears up. She walks over and stands behind her sitting husband. She grips his shoulder. Leans in close so he can hear. Repeats the words just to be sure, “He said we are his German parents…” Together, they just nod for several silent moments. She then tells me the story of the son they had, born not long after I was. The son who died shortly after birth. Their only child.

“We are his German parents,” she says one more time to the husband. The fullness of her meaning is lost on none of us.


Because of the geographic distance and their advanced age, I don’t know if this is the last time we will see each other. The thought pierces and saddens me. Yet as I reflect on that, I know that our time together was enough.

Enough to say what needed to be said. To convey emotions always felt but never before overtly expressed.

We don’t always get to see the end of the story. On too many trips we’re left hanging and we have to trust God to complete what we cannot. But sometimes, as on this day, we’re given a gift.

Sometimes, we get to see the full story, be part of it. Tie up the loose ends. Experience completion.

Sometimes, like today, we get to see the little gray and white dog.


 If you haven’t yet, you should check out Part 1 and especially, Part 2

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The full story – Part 2

by Steve Brock on September 20, 2013

So there we are in Frankfurt, Germany. Walking along the Main River on this lovely promenade, taking in the plane trees and being thankful to find such beauty where we didn’t expect it.

And then the man rides past me on his bicycle.

Plane Trees and Bike - FrankfurtBetween the spot where you see him in the photo and where he passed me, he does something very odd.


He rides the bike constantly looking behind him. At first, I think he is looking at me, not pleased that I am taking his picture. But he never quite turns fully in my direction as I stand in the middle of the pathway. Instead, if the end of the path is twelve o’clock, he keeps looking at about 7:30. I turn as well to see what he might be peering at, but I can’t see anything other than the surrounding park.

Remember the bicycling adage, “Where you stare is where you steer?” That doesn’t apply here in the sense that he steers completely opposite his initial direction. But this constant turning does cause him to swerve and meander all over the path like a drunk walking in the wind.

He seems to be doing a loose slalom, following an invisible oversized DNA helix along the path, looking forward, looking back, swerving. Finally, when he reaches the end of this section of treed archway, he veers to the right and is gone. “Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Swerve,” I think.

Trips are filled with incomplete moments. We experience people and situations that pique our interest but leave us unfulfilled because we leave them too soon. The norm tends to be coming home with partial stories and a lot of curiosity that never gets resolved.

But sometimes, we are blessed to get to see more. Obtain a fuller picture. Witness the end of the story.

My family and I stroll quite a ways along the promenade before deciding it is time to head away from the river. We want to observe the downtown corridor and search out the old part of town. As we turn toward the stairs leading up the embankment, a voice catches my attention.

I don’t recognize the words, but I do their owner: the bicyclist. Our paths have again crossed. This time, his swerves and rearward glances are more controlled. In fact, as he passes to our side, he doesn’t even turn around. He pedals, seemingly talking to himself.

But he’s not.

As he shoots around a corner, I now see both the recipient of his words and the reason for his previous turning.

Running about a dozen feet behind the bicycle is a little gray and white dog.

Dog and Bike - FrankfurtI barely got my camera up in time to snap the picture to the right. But even this quick shot captures the resolution of my earlier mystery. 

This isn’t a big moment on this trip. I would chalk it up as one of those “Oh, I get it now” experiences. But sometimes what sticks with us aren’t the big moments. What becomes meaningful are little gray and white dogs and meandering bikes. It’s the combination of factors, known and unknown, that fill in a fuller story.

Even this revelation, however, the sighting of the little gray and white dog, isn’t the full story that day. For that, you’ll have to wait.

Sort of like I did when I first saw the man on the bike…

To be continued…

Read Part 1 here if you haven’t already

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The full story – Part 1

by Steve Brock on September 12, 2013

Trips abound with incompleteness. You see something, you wonder what it means or the history of a place or the connection to you or others and then…viola! You’re gone. Off to someplace else. You don’t get the full story because you’re only in a place for a snippet. You drift through a part of a narrative whose final page you will likely never read.

But sometimes…

Plane Trees - FrankfurtI’m in Frankfurt, Germany this summer with my family. Most people visit Frankfurt for work or for its airport, just passing through. It isn’t high on tourist destination lists for its scenic content which is a shame since, as we found out, some areas are exquisite. I think it gets a bad rap from the past but much has changed even in the last few decades as Frankfurt has continued to transform itself, in this case into a very green city (in every sense of the word).

Like most major cities in Germany, Frankfurt was pretty much leveled during WWII. Each city was given a choice after the war: rebuild the way you were or the way you want to be. Recreate the past (as cities such as Dresden or Munich have done) or start from scratch. Frankfurt’s a scratcher. All modern and shiny. And now, green.

I was here in college, staying with the friends who have become the reason we’re here now. But this is a very different city even from when I was here last. I expected the high rises and German-engineered buildings of bright metal and glass that reflect the city’s status as the financial capital of Europe. But I didn’t expect the trees.

The friends we’re visiting (more on them in Part 3) live only a few blocks from the main river in town which, conveniently, is called the Main River (alas, pronounced like “mine”). Down along the river are a series of beautiful promenades lined by pollarded plane trees that, in summer, form an arch of gnarled branches and leaves above the pathways. The photo above shows a typical stretch of the promenade.

So here we are, ambling along this pathway under these lovely trees, and suddenly a man rides past me on a bicycle. That may not seem unusual until I tell you what he was doing.

But I won’t.

Not today.

You see, that’s my point: You don’t always get the full story, on a trip or even here at The Meaningful Traveler. Sometimes you’re left hanging. Often you never find out what happens.

But assuming I’m still alive and writing next week, I’ll tell you then. The full story.

Or at least the next part of it…

To be continued…

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Stories beyond words – Part 7

by Steve Brock May 2, 2013

When telling stories with your photos about your trip, don’t forget to include images that tell the “how” of your journey.

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Stories beyond words – Part 6

by Steve Brock April 26, 2013

We finally reveal where this series of photos was shot and look at a summary of how to tell better stories with images on a trip.

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Stories beyond words – Part 5

by Steve Brock April 23, 2013

Taking better travel photos and telling a better story with them sometimes means focusing on details and painting a fuller picture through multiple images rather than on iconic shot.

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Stories beyond words – Part 4

by Steve Brock April 18, 2013

Ever take a picture that seems rather blah with boring, faded colors? Convert it to black & white and tell a better story at the same time!

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