Eva’s Germany

The village of Schiltach in the Black Forest, GermanyWe’d met these people only once on their visit to California a few years earlier. When they heard about our European trip, they insisted we stay with them. Werner and Hanna seemed like old friends the moment I met them. Hanna had a constant smile on her sweet face and seemed to be excited about everything. Her natural enthusiasm for life was infectious. One look at her face brought back that pleasant memory. Werner was an exceptionally kind man that seemed more like a guy from California than uber serious Germany.

We rambled down a simple two-lane highway separated by a meridian with overgrown brush. “Is this the Autobahn?” Alex asked from the back seat.

Werner laughed. I laughed too, certain the Autobahn would look like some high-tech, multi-lane wave-of-the-future engineering marvel built to facilitate unbridled speed.

“Where is the Autobahn.” I asked.

Werner leaned toward me. “This is it.” He whispered.

Seriously, we could have been driving any interstate in any American city. It was no more than two lanes north – a meridian – two lanes south, and forest on either side. I wondered what inspired Kraftwerk to tribute electronic music to this. It seemed more appropriate for Woodie Guthrie.

A Mercedes whizzed by us and disappeared into the horizon. “That lane is for passing only,” Werner said, thumbing to his left.  To demonstrate, he floored his little Fiat and changed lanes to pass the eighteen-wheeler in front of us. Within seconds headlights flashed behind us – a car was already on our tail. Werner merged back to the driving lane, barely clearing the front of the truck. My heart raced. In twenty years of driving the LA freeways, I’d seen nothing like that. Werner smiled and belted out another laugh.

* * *

We pulled into the driveway of the large brick house settled into a huge yard that seemed like an oasis among smaller residential homes. After unpacking, we gathered on the back patio for coffee. Hanna laid out a black and white aerial photo on the vinyl tablecloth. It was taken during World War II.   “Our farm” she said. The land was littered with pock marks – each representing a bomb. “This was their target,” She pointing to a blackened area just above their property. It was the Hamm rail station, one of the largest in northern Germany and located only meters beyond the fir trees.

“Errant bombs completely destroyed the original house.”

“Anybody hurt?” Donna asked.

Hanna shook her head. “They had time to vacate” She was nonchalant, as if showing us photos of Yellowstone.  Werner’s family rebuilt the house in 1950s. Later, a British team was commissioned to ensure that no active bombs still existed in residential areas. They spent several weeks combing their property.

I took my eyes off the photo and looked across the yard where our kids now played soccer with Neils, their son. Beyond the concrete patio, apple trees paraded across the lawn. Sheep grazed quietly in a small nearby pasture. The dull thud of a soccer ball landing on grass was the type of sound more befitting to this serene setting, not freaking bombs.

Werner arrived with a chilled bottle of wine and two large brown beer bottles. After pouring wine for the ladies, he anchored one of the bottles in front of him then raised his other in a fashion I reckoned he uses all day explaining the laws of physics to his high school students. Leveling his palm, he hacked the ceramic top off the beer bottle, resulting in a satisfying popping sound. His eyes got wide and he grinned like an excited kid. “That is important for the flower.”

“Flower?”

Werner filled my glass then pointed to the foam. “It’s better when that is gone.  Wait about seven minutes.” He placed his fists under his bearded chin.

Seven minutes? This would never fly with the Coors Light lovers back home.

* * *

Of their three children, only the teen-aged Neil’s still lived at home with his parents. We’d never met their oldest son, he was off at college some place. Their daughter Eva was responsible for this friendship. Donna’s brother Dan and his family hosted her as an exchange student for a year. Covering the walls of their home was an assortment of family photos. “I always loved this one” Donna said, standing up to point it out. It was a professional sitting of Dan’s family with Eva. “She was part of the family from the day she arrived.”

Hanna smiled proudly.

NEXT: Eva’s Family

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