Chapter Seven
November - December, 1999

Weary and bedraggled, but otherwise intact and all accounted for, this maverick bunch came home from Mallorca.

Wait a minute. . . Home?

If we'd gone on a vacation to the Mediterranean, and "coming home" meant "returning to Bad Neuenahr," then maybe living in Bad Neuenahr didn't qualify as a vacation.

This was our reality.

So, we came home and life settled into a sort of routine. There was soup and chips at the Irish pub, walks along the Ahr, and trips to the market for milk and orange juice. We went to dinner at the Italian place around the corner so frequently that the waiter knew we'd always order a pitcher of water with our meal. Meanwhile, all the books we had brought with us from the States were still in their shipping boxes, stacked in the corner, as there was no place to put them in the apartment. It made no sense to buy a bookcase since we always expected to be moving at the end of the week.

But the end of the week came and went each time, and we still lived in our temporary apartment, waiting for the arrangements for our permanent home to come to a conclusion. The periodic news was always promising, that everything would be resolved in a couple of weeks, but still November stretched on.

Nothing had changed by the arrival of December, and so Ian and I headed south to München (Munich), to visit some friends and to catch a concert. München is in the Bavarian region of Germany, the home of most things considered typically German by Americans: lederhosen, blond buxom barmaids, huge moustaches, beer steins, and noisy restaurants so densely packed with people that you can't see between the tables when you peek in through the window. It's colder and snowier there, despite the fact that it's southerly, as the Alps are just over the horizon.

Casey and Lauren are old friends from the Santa Barbara area who left California a year ago for a tour of Europe. When we caught up with them again, they were living on the outskirts of München, in a big house on a quiet street in a sleepy little town built on the cleverness of some farmers who sold their fields at a very good price to the future München airport. The house was the living and working space for a cyberbusiness, a sort of miniature example of the project our own group had come to Germany to begin.

It was a bit like getting a sample spoon of ice cream at 31 Flavors after hearing how wonderful ice cream is; there's this idea in your mind about how good it's going to be and then you get the smallest taste, and it is better than good. Now you know that it's definitely something you want. Our week with Casey and Lauren was teasing promise: our project would be a great thing, but it was still unrealized. Our time in Germany so far had been spent in pause, waiting in our temporary residential hotel-apartments in Bad Neuenahr for details to be agreed upon by the people who had brought us here.

So we reveled in the warm homeiness of it all. Our days were spent in a blur of good food and good conversation, group meals in a shared kitchen followed by long rambling discussions on all sorts of topics: the current WTO riots in Seattle, Washington, the best place to buy prosciutto in Italy, the merits of clear versus brown tequila. Ian and I had almost forgotten how much fun a house can be.

It seemed a living thing, that house. It's newest resident had just moved in and there were still boxes in the hallway as things were still getting shuffled around. A couple of cats had also just joined the community, although they hadn't yet seemed to have settled on their opinion of the place just yet. People came and went, some dropping in just to say hi, like the woman from the bakery across the street, and others spending several hours at the kitchen table, filling up ashtrays. Lauren made an Italian feast for our first night there, and a few days later, she and I swapped muffin baking stories while consuming the results of her latest experiments in reading German cookbooks.

The evening of the Pet Shop Boys concert, the four of us bundled ourselves in layers and headed off to the local S-Bahn (a German equivalent to lightrail) stop and rode into town. We made the complicated U-Bahn (subway) connections with the guidence of some locals who were also heading to the show. By the time we arrived, we were a large group crossing vast industrial parking lots in what felt like the middle of nowhere. The venue itself was a large warehouse that probably could have manufactured cars during daylight hours. The Boys appeared on stage in their current costume, complete with dominating eyebrows, electrified hair and silver trench coats. They opened with one of their all-time biggest hits, then announced that the rest of the show was going to be a mix of their music from the fifteen years since that one single. I suddenly felt old.

Casey, Lauren, Ian and I went exploring München several times, eating hot roasted chestnuts to keep our fingers warm and checking out the diverse arrangement of culinary treasures in the year-round, open-air Viktualienmarkt. We also meandered through a couple of the little towns around München, including a late night run to the airport for ice cream. One excursion included dinner at a Mexican restaurant, or at least a German interpretation of a Mexican restaurant, where there were torches on the yellow walls and sombrero-capped lights hanging from the ceiling. We dined on fajitas, enchiladas and tequila-beer, then stepped outside into a snow flurry. This was storybook snow, large fluffy flakes tumbling out of the sky and coating everything outside in a blanket of silent white. The world had been frosted. We walked through the town, playing in the snow and catching snowflakes on our tongues, our tummies full of Mexican sunshine.

Snow is a bit of a new experience for me. I'd never seen it falling from the sky the soft way it has been described. I've played in fallen snow, but this was fresh . . . I'd pass a low-hanging branch, shake the snow off of it to watch the branch spring up higher, the wet weight removed, then watch the snow fall onto the limb, weighing it down again. I rolled a snowball across a lawn to see it grow in size and then turned to watch the mud and grass exposed slowly turn white again. I threw a snowball in a canal and discovered that they float, much with the same proportions of an iceberg, 90% below water, when they don't fall apart. Ian and I went for a midnight walk one evening after the snow stopped falling, marvelling in the silence of the world tucked in and asleep under its blanket of snow. By the side of the duckpond in the local park, which was frozen and duckless, I built a snowbunny with a muddy nose and floppy ears. I must have pointed out and marveled at every tree with snow caught in the branches and every fence with a layer of snow on top.

With snow falling outside, it seemed even warmer and homier inside, almost festive, with candles and cups of cocoa. We spent our indoor hours gathered in the kitchen, snacking on Spanish tangerines like they were candy, and swapping stories of our adventures so far. It was almost like being home for the holidays; I nearly expected full stockings one morning. Keeping with the feeling, Hannukah arrived while we were there, as did Casey's birthday, and we celebrated both with a typical Jewish holiday dinner, as Casey remembers it. He and Lauren outdid themselves with a first course of breads, spreads and lox and a second course that included latkas (potato pancakes) and cheese blintzes, a variation on the crêpe. And although it's not necessarily very Jewish, I couldn't let the "real kitchen" opportunity slip by me, so I added an apple pie to the table.
Before we knew it, and before we were ready, the week had spent itself and it was time to return to our home in Bad Neuenahr, now sure to feel more temporary than ever. We spent the daylight hours of our train ride north watching the snow disappear from alongside the tracks as the various towns slipped by. By the time we missed our connection in Remagen, the snow was gone and it was maybe two degrees warmer, but still too cold to wait on the platform for the next train. We found a cafe serving heise milch mit honig (hot milk with honey) and Bailey's hot chocolate and had a quiet moment while our associates in Bad Neuenahr, unbeknownst to us, were out celebrating the end of the temporariness.

Our new home and the first workspace for our own cyberbusiness was ours for real; the sellers, the buyers, the lawyers and the bankers were finally satisfied down to the last detail on the last piece of paper and the deal was done. Burg Rheineck was ours!

Of course, there was still much to do before the moving in could begin: getting the heaters working and the toilets flushing after four years of neglect, putting phones in, and installing basic furnishings so no one would have to sleep on the floor. But those details almost didn't matter; Ian and I drove up to the castle just to look at it and say, "This is our new home." The certainty was there, an end to the waiting. Maybe we could move in before the end of the year. With this in mind, Ian and I set about the serious business of having a Christmas.

Chapter Eight

Ian Gilman / Germany Journal
DolciDeleria / Germany Journal
Copyright 1998-2013, Ian Gilman & Christina Willott