For our 20th anniversary, I managed to make all the pieces fall into place so that my husband and I could take a week-long trip to Berlin. Why Berlin? Airfare was cheap, and it wasn't London (which I love but had been to twice) or Paris (which I am finally admitting is a city I don't love).
But there was a little thought in the back of my head. I've been doing genealogical research on my father's family, and I learned that his great-grandfather emigrated from Germany. I talked my husband into agreeing to an overnight trip to that small town in East Germany. He agreed. It was a 5-hour train ride from Berlin, and we decided to do it right when we arrived in Berlin.
A few weeks before we left for Germany, I found out that my great-great-grandfather had not only the 2 siblings I knew about but a total of 8 siblings, two of whom seemed to have lived into adulthood, both sisters. Armed with their last names, I sent a form letter, written in German with the help of Google translate and a friend, to every person with their last names in the area of their town. I gave them my address and e-mail address and a photo of my great-great-grandfather.
Within the week, I'd received a e-mail from the grandson of my great-great-grandfather's youngest sister. He is my grandfather's second cousin. Actually, his granddaughter (my fourth cousin) wrote the e-mail for him because he does not speak/write English. Hesitantly, I e-mailed back: "I don't mean to surprise you, but I am planning to be in your town next week." The response was surprising: utter and complete excitement. They insisted on meeting us at the train and inviting us to dinner and taking us around the town.
It was wonderful. They were truly wonderful, caring people who had never known their grandmother had siblings who emigrated to the US. It was 24 blurry (we were jet-lagged) but thrilling hours of talking and visiting other relatives and seeing the main spots in town. Here is one view of this beautiful town in Thuringia:
One of my cousins gave me two small porcelain heads made by his grandfather, a toy maker. I have to figure out how to display them. We were given photos and genealogical info and treated so nicely. I wanted to cry, not just for how generous they were but with how I wish my father had been alive to know about all this. I can't wait to share it with my uncle, who is on vacation in an internet-free location.
I'll write another post later about my feelings/education about East Germany, which is where we spent all our time. I was 23 when the Wall fell, and it's been 23 years. My relatives in Thuringia lived under Soviet/DDR rule. When we were in Berlin, we spent most of our time in East Berlin. I'm still trying to process all my thoughts/experiences.