It started with a dream. After living in Greece for five years, we returned home to Colorado and our precious families. That was eight years ago and in 2019 we started feeling the itch to live abroad again for a short time.
We began to explore possibilities for living in Germany, specifically Bavaria. My husband had lived in Germany in his childhood and always wanted to return for an extended stay. I prefer southern Europe but was easily persuaded when I noted that my beloved island of Crete was a short hop from the European continent wherever we ended up. We did agree on one important thing though. Neither one of us wanted to go as typical tourists. Instead, we longed to seek community, discover God’s heart in that place and engage with and serve those He put in our path.
We connected with a small house church in Munich called Gateway Church whose heart was community outreach, building relationships and serving those in need.
Perfect, we thought! And now to plan our trip!
But life drastically changed for us with my son’s unexpected death in November 2019. Grief is a tricky thing. Somedays I still feel like I’m underwater – things are distorted and fuzzy. Other days I feel like I’m swimming strong towards a goal. Either way it’s a lot of work.
And then, the pandemic hit and I was forced to sit still and deal with my grief without the benefit of distraction. Which was actually a good thing. When I allowed myself to dream, I wondered when, or even IF, we’d travel again.
This January, after things started opening up again, we contacted Gateway Church and told them we were ready to visit in the spring. Through a home swapping network, we found a good match with a woman in Munich who wanted to swap our house in Colorado but our dates didn’t sync. As we visited on Zoom and got to know a little about each other, we began to feel comfortable with her, so when she invited us to come anyway, and live with her in her apartment, we thought, “Why not?” Worst case scenario, if we just don’t get along, we can always move into an Air BnB for a short while.
As it turns out, not only did we get along, we count each other as family now.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story begins in Munich, with side trips to Amsterdam, Wales and Crete over 10 weeks. But Munich was our home base – even better. It quickly became “HOME.”
We pulled into Munich after a seven-hour train ride from Amsterdam on May 1. Our hostess Gül, met us at the train station in Ismaning a quiet suburb of Munich, and whisked us straight away to the local biergarten – THE PLACE TO BE in Bavaria especially on public holidays like May Day. The garden across from the location of the local Maypole, was filled with celebrants sporting traditional Bavarian costumes (dirndls for women; lederhosen for men). Under a big tent a local music group was singing happy beer-swigging party songs accompanied by lively accordion music. Some picnic tables were laden with bratwurst sausages, fries, roasted chicken, and giant pretzels. Others had elaborate picnic dinners from home spread out on the tables.
Gül started unpacking the picnic she had prepared for us and it quickly became obvious that she loved to prepare meals. “Food, glorious food. Hot sausage and mustard!” What a spread! Special meats, cheeses, veggies and fruits all locally sourced, adorned the table including a traditional Bavarian “dip” called Obatzda – a soft cheese made with Camembert, butter and paprika. (Special note: NO disposables could be found anywhere. All the dishes, utensils and glasses were reusable.) The one thing that every single table had in common was copious amounts of beer. “Mass” beer (a full liter) was the typical heavy glass mug. “Real men” drink Mass. And, it turns out, many “real women” do, too.
Our first initiation into Bavarian life was from the seat of a picnic table groaning with delicious food and beer, under the shade of giant chestnut trees, with a new friend and festivities going on all around us. In a word…Gemütlichkeit!*
*a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness and good cheer