P1020849.JPGThe House at Heckenmunster

Once upon a time I lived in Germany. Twice, in fact. When I was a boy – from 1957-60 and 1965-67. My father was an Air Force officer stationed at Spangdahlem Air Force Base. I was a second grader in 1957. Because there were no vacancies in base housing when we arrived, we had to rent lodging in a surrounding community. My parents chose a secluded house near the tiny village of Heckenmunster. My sister, Ingrid, was born (at the base hospital) while we lived there. Heckenmunster was a muddy collection of ancient, manure-splattered houses and barns, populated by rubber-booted farmers and plump, kerchiefed frauen who pulled little wagons with wooden spokes. Germany was still on the mend from the devastation of WWII in those days.

I was doubtful I could find the old house. Heckenmunster is so small it isn’t on most maps but we finally did find it and surprisingly, the old house was right where I remembered it – just outside the village and along a small creek. The house looked like it is vacant now but recently lived in. It looked much as I remember it, fifty-seven years ago.

Heckenmunster is still a small village of perhaps twenty or thirty houses and one enormous church. But the manure-splattered houses of old are now very nice modern houses with flowery yards and nice cars in the driveways. I think it has become a retirement village for prosperous middle-class retirees.

I had less success with the two other homes we had in various towns. Wittlich was a charming little city where we lived in an apartment above a bakery and tavern in a building that was at least 500 years old (no kidding!). Wittlich is much changed. It is still a charming place but now it is self-consciously charming and appears to cater to tourists; i.e., it out-Leavenworths Leavenworth.

After asking around we located what I think was our old apartment building in the Altstadt (old city.) I remember that the building had three or four stories with a cobblestoned courtyard in the rear and a slate roof. This building fits that description:

P1020847.JPGThe Wittlich Residence

Bitburg, where we lived for many years when I was in high school, I thought would be the easiest town in which to find the old home. Not so. The airbase from which I expected to orient myself was closed down in 1993 and I could find no trace of it. I was completely baffled by the town. I recognized nothing except the brewery and was unable to find our old house.

The next day we drove along the winding Mosel River where the steep slopes are covered with vineyards and castles. Quite beautiful. I remembered my parents talking about a place called Burg Eltz so we stopped there and hiked along a forested path up to the coolest castle ever:

P1020857.JPGBurg Eltz

After spending a comfortable night in our car because we couldn’t find a campground near Burg Eltz we drove into Koblenz to pick up some supplies then hit the autobahn south toward Ulm where my sister-in-law Hilde’s relatives live.

Everything you’ve heard about crazy German drivers is true. 100 mph is nothing for those Mercedes and BMWs. To pass a truck at 60 mph you’ve got to get the hell out of the passing lane or get run over. You see a tiny black dot in the rearview mirror and in mere seconds you see the same black dot, now an angry BMW, inches from your rear bumper! And these speeders aren’t the exception, they’re the rule.

The plan from here is to travel during our first month (we plan to be here a total of two months) and settle down for the second. The sister of my sister-in-law, Waltraud, whom we are now visting in Ulm, advised us that a town near the Alps called Sonthofen may be what we’re looking for. We’ll check it out and then do some hiking in the mountains there. Tschuss! (German for bye!)