When I was in Europe I spent half the time with family, half the time alone. It was a good mixture. Too much of one without the other can make you go crazy… some Buddhists believe in a two-directional type of solitude, whereby you go off and be alone in order to come back and be more fully present to the people in your life. I abide by that entirely. Especially with travel.
On one leg of the journey, I was with family in Bavaria, a large state in southern Germany. Bavaria is a distinct region of Germany, almost its own country. It’s the land of beer and lederhosen, the Catholic Church, BMW and Audi. It’s also where the Nazi party originated in the 1920s, in the loud and frothy beer halls of Munich.*
In many ways, Bavaria reminds me of Texas. Bavarians call themselves Bavarian first, then German, much in the same way that Texans belong to The Lonestar State. Actually, many Bavarians identify on even more of a micro-level, since each village has its own dialect- a dialect that might as well be a different language to someone living only 10 or 15 miles away. Neither Texas nor Bavaria is exactly cosmopolitan, either, despite having several major cities.** Their politics are conservative, reflecting their rural, hinterland backdrop.
My mom’s dad’s dad came from a small town in Bavaria called Obermässing about 30 miles south of Nuremberg. Great-grandpa Karl Kremel was a blacksmith and served during WWI (for the Germans) taking care of horses. Later he emigrated to Milwaukee. One story his son, my grandfather, likes to tell is how when Karl was living in America and heard about the GI Bill and all the benefits it provided to veterans, he applied. A few weeks later, he received a courteous yet frank letter from Uncle Sam, stating that the GI Bill applied only to soldiers who fought for the United States.
Today, Obermässing has 738 inhabitants, about 38 of whom are my distant relatives. When my family and I came to visit them, they gave us coffee and cake, a tour of the town, and dinner at a beer hall with live Bavarian folk music and steady currents of cold beer. I had a conversation over the long wooden table with Albert, who wore glasses, resembled one of my cousins back in the States, and was one of the few residents who left Obermässing for Cologne, studying to get a PhD. (Southern Germany, somewhat anachronistically, still practices primogeniture; Albert is the second son to his brother Stefan.)***
He asked me why I was recording everything. I told him about my blog. He asked me why I did my blog, who was I doing it for. I said it was its own reward. He was baffled. He asked if a lot of people in the States do things for the hell of it without anyone telling them to. I said some people do, but not everyone. He asked if I was ever going to stop. I said it was an ongoing process of indeterminate nature, that I am committed to every step of the Way, while simultaneously questioning the entire endeavor.
I said it’s like a relationship or job- you keep going with faith despite the fact that you know one day you may not. He asked if a lot of people in America see things that way. I said no, I guess not, people think something has to last forever or it can’t be meaningful at all. Why else balk at atheism?
* This is not an overstatement. In 1923, Hitler and the nascent Nazi Party tried to seize power in a coup that started, like many of their meetings, in a beer hall. Hence the ‘Beer Hall Putsch‘.
**San Antonio, Dallas and Houston all have populations in the millions. Likewise for Nuremberg and Munich. Additionally, both states have a lot of cash, due to oil and the automobile industry, respectively.
***Primogeniture: The right of the eldest child, especially the eldest son, to inherit the entire estate of one or both parents.