“You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.” This phrase couldn’t have felt more true this weekend as Ingo introduced me to the island in southern Germany where he grew up for part of his childhood. Athough Reichenau is only an hour by train/bus/ferry from Zurich, it felt a bit like when I drive from Omaha or Denver back to my ranch. As the miles go by, I transport to another world—one that seemed much farther away than a four hour drive. My chest feels less tight and the grunge and bustle of the city fade away alongside any worry I had while living there. I felt this same sense of happiness and calm on our recent trip to Reichenau, as I watched the city blur into green hills through the train window and finally open up onto the wide grey-blue expanse that is Lake Constance.
The island of Reichenau is home to about 3,000 people. Although it is much bigger than my hometown of 700 people, the same small town feeling is apparent wherever you go on the island. People wave and say hello. They stop to chat in the street. They hug and ask after family members. Don’t get me wrong, I love the excitement and opportunity of Berlin. But like all big cities, a sense of community seems to get lost among all the other things to do. Friendliness and patience often go out the window when you know in all of these people, your grandmother won’t hear how impolite you were to someone before you even get home. I have a feeling that in Reichenau, just like in my hometown, they would…
I also believe that we probably received some special treatment because Ingo’s aunt is as Reichenauer as they come. Her family has been on the island for generations. We were newcomers, but she wasn’t, which is probably why they suffered my terrible German better than they would another American tourist. In fact, I was able to practice my German more in Reichenau than I have in several months here in Berlin. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the comfort of being around people who knew Ingo as a kid, and maybe it was the prosecco glass Ingo’s aunt always made sure was full, but I wasn’t nearly as shy as I usually am in Berlin. People patiently waited for my butchered sentences to slowly come out and would correct me without insulting me when I made mistakes. My brain was working very hard all weekend, as many of the conversations we had were in German, but I was grateful for the practice and have returned to Berlin feeling a little bit more confident than before. It also helped that Ingo’s incredibly kind (if not totally truthful) aunt would tell me how well I could speak German.
We spent the weekend biking around the island, chatting to people who recognized Ingo, and always stopping to sit under shade trees, peer into ancient churches, and skip stones on the lake. One of my favorite spots, was the little café on a hill that overlooks the lake and offers you a front seat view of Switzerland, which is just on the other side of the water. We also went to Ingo’s favorite seafood restaurant where the friends we met at the party the night before were working behind the bar. They greeted us warmly between whisking out plates of steaming hot and fresh from the lake seafood to the guests who jammed every table.
The highlight of every day was coming back from our adventures for an afternoon cake and coffee time with the family. Among her many talents, Ingo’s aunt is an exceptional baker, and we were treated to cakes made with the freshest ingredients on the island. I learned that traditional Germans are just as serious about their “tea time” as any Brit. As I stuffed my face full of rhubarb tart and strawberry cake, I couldn’t help but think these buttery, fruit-laden delicacies could give even the most golden of British scones a run for their money.
Another highlight was accidentally planning our visit alongside one of the island’s festivals. The youth organized bands to come in from around the region, and they even had an infectiously energetic band in from Rome called Veebelfetzer.
Unlike the venues in Berlin which like any city is packed to the limits, we had tons of space to enjoy the concert. The place was perfect, with an outdoor bar and a spot right on the lake shore. Between the tuba player and the disco balls hung from the trees to the lantern lights glistening off the water, it felt like a place of magic that we stumbled across by accident.
The weekend went by much too quickly and within a couple of hours, we had traded vegetable gardens for the cobblestone streets of our Berlin neighborhood. As I write this blog post now, I already feel myself longing to go back. Like I said, I do love our home in Berlin, but the country girl in me lost her heart to a small island in southern Germany. Luckily, I have a feeling we will be back.