An eight hour bus ride, two rest stops, and a short car ride later, I finally, after twelve years, returned to my family’s small German town of Goch. Revisiting Goch proved perhaps the most eerie and wonderful experience in all of my travels thus far. Not only did I get the incredible privilege of staying with my cousin Achim and his wife Eva, two of the kindest people I have ever met, but I saw family, places, and things that I had been separated from for over a decade.
One thing to note about Goch, and something I forget, is that it is incredibly small. The morning after I arrived, Achim took me out for a traditional German breakfast, brötchen with various toppings, at one of his favorite cafes. Afterwards, he said he would leave me for a few hours to explore by myself. Stunned, I wondered how he could possibly trust me to roam about the town alone; it had been twelve years since I last explored it, and even then it was with the comfort of my parents. However, once I began my ventures, I realized why he was so trusting. In the span of about three hours, I circled around the whole town twice. Once again, Goch is very small.
Despite its small size, the town is incredibly charming. Imagine a German version of St Andrews in Scotland, only smaller and without a university. That is as close to a description of Goch I can provide without simply stating it must be experienced. My face rested in a permanent smile as I frolicked up and down the cobblestone streets, popping into almost every shop just because I could. I will admit, for being so small, Goch had perhaps the best shopping that I had yet to see. Every purse, souvenir, or clothing item I touched, I wanted; controlling my shopaholic urges took a bit more effort than normal.
The thing about Goch I loved most, trumped only by the fact I got to spend time with family, was that I actually spoke German there. Berlin, while incredible, is definitely too tourist friendly for anyone wanting to practice their language skills. Goch, however, being a small town, allowed for me to stumble through my German. Many times, I would try to say something in English, and almost happily discover the person I wanted to converse with did not understand me, giving me an excuse to wrack my brain for vocabulary words and verb conjugations I stored away long ago. I felt so at home the entire time I walked those tiny streets. From speaking the language, to knowing my Oma once ruled this town, Goch played with my heart strings. The charming houses and old world architecture created the most beautiful and picturesque place.
Reuniting with Achim, for almost everything I could possibly want to see in Goch I had, we ventured to Xanten, another small town about an hour outside of Goch. Roman and medieval influences literally divide Xanten, with roman ruins on one half of the town, and medieval architecture on the other. Walking about the roman ruins, suddenly the largest sense of deja vu washed over me, as I realized that I roamed these same ruins twelve years ago. However, my amazement for the monument diminished not, for my much older and wiser mind could lend the proper amount of appreciation.
A few selfies and bomb panarama pictures later, we continued on to the medieval streets; a part of Xanten which was either foreign to me, or I had forgotten about. The medieval part of Xanten reminded me of Goch, but perhaps like it’s older, and wiser, sibling. Once again, I felt transported back in time, as if in a living history book. While I truly enjoyed every part of Xanten, I must admit the highlight was at the end, when Achim, Eva, and I ducked into a cafe, where I consumed the most delicious Apple Strudel I have ever eaten. To this day, I fantasize about it.
The next day contained just as much excitement, adventure, walking, and eerie familiarity as the last. Since Goch had already been explored, and Xanten experienced as well, Achim and I once again took to the road, making the hour journey to Cologne to visit my cousin Tanja. While Goch remains the most favorite place I have travelled due to its charm, Cologne may be the most comfortable. Not as big as Berlin, but just as exciting, as soon as I arrived in Cologne I could already tell I would want to return one day. The people were friendly, the buildings beautiful, and the city alight.
My feet once again silently resented me, as another day of wandering ensued, and once again with a vague sense of a previous acquaintance. Beginning the day with the infamous Cathedral, I felt as though a dream stood before me. The Cathedral was perhaps the most magnificent and bewildering thing I had yet to witness in my presence. From its massive height, to incredibly ornate details, I felt as though I could stare at it for hours and never truly be satisfied or lose interest. My obsessive romance with the monument only grew once I stepped inside, where once again, my head became frozen in a permanent state of “up.” I could feel my eyes widen and grow, creating new and minute wrinkles as I desperately tried to take it all in. Though I knew I had been there before, as the Cathedral was yet another ghost of sites past, nothing about it’s glory paled. The only thing which perhaps brought me back down to earth in my love, was ironically climbing up. With the nagging memory that twelve years ago, my fear of heights and strong winds prevented me from completing the some five hundred step journey to the top of the Cathedral, I huffed and puffed my way to the top with my family in tow. Laughing and jokingly complaining the entire way, we finally reached the top where the beauty rendered us stupidly silent. The entire city could be seen, and it was the most magnificent view. Even though the next day my legs burned with a passion, I regret only that I could not procure a better selfie at the top.
After carefully venturing back to the bottom of the Cathedral, we moved on to experience more of the city, walking across the lock bridge. Now, I know the “love lock” bridge is most famous in Paris, which hopefully I will see soon enough, the one in Cologne still lent images of love. Although, it did not last for long. My family’s somewhat morbid sense of humor shattered illusions of love, replacing them with the statement, “How many of these locks do you think are now useless because they broke up or got divorced?” A sad realization, but if you appreciate such humor like myself, a hilarious one.
A walk down the bridge, some family pictures, and an instagram worthy photo later, once again hunger ruled our decisions… And I can now happily confess I have eaten real German schnitzel (although apparently the dish actually originates from Austria… psh, details, details)
With the sun set and the day over, I gave my goodbyes to Cologne and my cousin Tanja, high on life, and thankful for my new cherished memories.
Saturday morning, after three incredible days in Goch and a week in Germany, the time to return to my adopted Scottish home arrived. Driving to the Weeze airport, I enjoyed a final breakfast and coffee with Achim and Eva before another bittersweet goodbye forced me to realize my time in Germany had officially home to a close.
Boarding the plane back to Edinburgh, various emotions washed over me. Before my German romance, a few tepid feelings of anxiety and unease danced around my mind, not at my adopted home city, but other elements about my program. However, refreshed and energized from the love and attention of a family which existed thousands and miles away from my Californian one, I made the hour journey to Scotland in the air, ready to once again live in the Athens of the North.