This is part twenty-one of the Homey and Me Love Story. It is when I was living life as a divorced mom – a little while before I met Homey – but an important part of the story, nonetheless. (I promise we’ll be getting to Homey soon!!!!)
It was the night before I’d be boarding a plane to Frankfurt, Germany. I had never been out of the country before, so I was excited. Markus lived about an hour and a half south of Frankfurt in a town called Linkenheim, so we’d spend most of our time around there and in another town called Karlsruhe (where he went to university). I knew that his best friend would be getting married, and that we’d be able to attend all kinds of festivities involving the marriage. It was the best possible scenario for me. I’d be able to go visit another country with a person who was native to that land. Instead of feeling like a tourist, I’d be able to see an intimate side of Germany. It was the chance of a lifetime.
Even though I was so excited, I still had some reservations. I knew that Markus was in love with me, and I also knew that I wasn’t in love with him. For some reason, I had the bright idea to call up Snoop. I hadn’t spoken with him in ages. I had kind of written him off. But, I found myself bored. I was scrolling through my contacts, saw his name, and pushed send. I wanted to hang up, but I didn’t. It went to voicemail…thank goodness.
The rest of the evening, I packed–cute clothes (even though I wasn’t in love with Markus anymore didn’t mean that I wanted to dress like a slob!), camera, books, and cd’s. I packed my “Learn to Speak German the Fast and Fun Way”–I guess I thought I could learn German on the flight. Then I packed clothes and supplies for my daughters (they stayed at my Mom’s house). It didn’t take me long to pack, so I found myself antsy as my kids slept, and I waited for sleep to come to me. My flight would leave the next night.
Around ten or so, my phone rang. Who could be calling me now? I thought.
I looked at my phone, and it was Snoopy. Yikes! I had almost forgotten that I had tried calling Snoopy earlier that night. I answered.
“Hey.” I tried to act like he was calling me out of nowhere.
“How’s it going?” He asked.
“Ughhhh…I just got finished with this long study session. I have a few huge exams coming up. Plus I have to get some papers in so I can have an internship at a law office next semester.”
“So…law school is…hard…”
“Yeah. I mean, some of it is. Some of it is just tedious. I don’t know. I’m a first year, and they treat the first year law students like we’re all idiots.”
“Man, I’m sorry.”
“It’s no problem. My first year is almost over, thank goodness. It’s just so stressful.”
“Yeah. That stinks…”
“So, what’s up? I saw that you called earlier.”
“Well. Nothing much. Just getting ready for bed. I go out of town tomorrow.”
“Really? Where are you going?”
“It’s kind of funny, actually. I’m going to Germany – even though I don’t speak German, and I never imagined that I’d ever go to Germany.”
“Wow. Germany. That sounds like it will be fun.”
“Yeah. I hope so. I’m really looking forward to it, but in some ways, I’m also really worried.”
“To be honest, it’s because of this dude.” (ahhhh! What was I saying? Why did I call Snoop? Why was I doing this?)
“Yeah. There was a guy in the singles ward that I was dating here for several months. He was from Germany and was here in PA for an internship. He went home about a month and a half ago, and…well…now I’m going to visit him in Germany.”
“That sounds pretty awesome. Are you excited?”
“In some ways yes, in some ways not really.”
“Well. He’s in love with me, but I’m not sure if I’m in love with him.”
“And yet you’re traveling to the other side of the world to see him?” Snoop had a point. I knew it, too. I felt like such an idiot.
“When I first made the plane reservation, I really thought that I lo…(I didn’t want to say that I loved another man to Snoop)…I thought that maybe there was something there, but now I’m not so sure.).”
“But your’e going to Germany to be with him?”
“I guess. Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve got the plane ticket. It leaves tomorrow. There’s no turning back now.”
“Well, have fun.”
AAAGGGGGGHHHHHHH! I didn’t know why I had called Snoop. It made me feel worse, though. It made me realize that I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing Markus, but only looking forward to seeing a new place. I realized that I was a jerk for calling Snoop and telling him about this. I could have pretended like “nothing was up”; that I dialed his number by accident. Anything. But, I told him, and I can’t imagine that it had felt good for Snoop. I was getting very tired, so I put my head on my pillow and began to realize that maybe calling Snoop was my subconscious’s way of telling me that everything with Markus was over.
Germany was…Amazing. Instead of trying to recount every memory; everything that happened, I will share a few pictures and a few key events.
When I got to Germany, it was nice to see Markus’ familiar face. But I was sooooo jet-lagged. Markus took me to this town called Bad Hambourg – a little north of Frankfurt. It was so cute, so amazing. It was just as I imagined Europe to be. The town was bustling with people getting their coffees and, well, whatever people do in the morning. I just wanted to walk around and drink in the experience. We stopped and got some breakfast. Despite the fact I was tired, the town seemed to infuse me with energy. I was happy. And with Markus with me, I was feeling in love…with him? with life? I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t care to decipher my feelings, either.
After walking around the town, we headed down to Linkenheim. The drive took over an hour, and the humming of Markus’ fiat on the Autobahn was mesmerizing…as in sleep-inducing. He kept trying to wake me up reminding me that the only way to get over the jet lag was to stay up until it was time to go to bed. I tried my best.
When we got to Markus’ house, he set me up in a spare bedroom. He wanted to take a picture of me, insisting that I was beautiful. I was starting to get annoyed. The charm of Bad Hambourg had worn off, and I was left with jet-lag and annoyance. I hid it well, explaining that I was tired. I needed just a short nap. Markus granted me half an hour, then we explored his town.
Markus was attending a university in Karlsruhe and had a few classes while I was visiting. One of the days I stayed back in Linkenheim – I went for a run, ate flammkuchen for breakfast, then explored around the town.
Another time, I went into Karlsruhe, which is a bigger city. (Linkenheim has a population of about 11,000 people; Karlsruhe – 300,000). While Markus went to his classes, I hung around the city. It was amazing. I went to the palace and took pictures of it’s intense statues. I walked in and out of shops (not really buying anything other than more flammkuchen and/or chocolate).
I hung out in a public garden and read the Book of Mormon. It was beautiful and absolutely peaceful. Again, I was filled with this energy that I hadn’t felt very often in the U.S. I dreamed of bringing my children here, learning to speak German, and living in a small European town where I’d walk and ride my bike every day–forever.
As I sat in the garden, two people approached me, speaking in German. Despite my best effort on the plane to learn German the fast and fun way, all I really knew was “entschuldigen Sie, bitte” (excuse me); “eine Flammkuchen, bitte” (One flammkuchen, please); “Dank” (Thanks); “tschüß!” (see ya!); most importantly, as I said to this couple,
“Sorry…Ich spreche kein Deutsche.”
They handed me a Jehovah’s witness pamphlet, and I showed them my Book of Mormon.
We smiled at each other, and they left.
I stayed on the park bench, admiring the flowers, basking in the sun on a chilly spring day. And loving life, life without Markus, but in Germany. It was confusing, but I didn’t want that to impact how much I loved being in Europe.
Strasbourg and Wissembourg
One of the days, we decided to Strasbourg, France. I was especially excited to go because I had been taking French lessons at work. Additionally, Markus would be a great person to have in France because he served a mission there, so he could speak French fluently. It would be fun. Strasbourg is only about an hour away from Linkenheim, so we decided to make the trek. First, we went to Karslruhe to rent a car…
That’s right. I’m going to take a break to brag about how I rented a car and drove on the Autobahn in Germany. It was spectacular, amazing…wunderbar. I rented a volkswagen Touran, which isn’t the best car nor is it the worst car. the fastest I dared drive was 200 km/hr. (about 125 mph). The roads were smooth. The drivers, perfect. I mean, I realized, right away, that here in the US we’d never be able to have unlimited speeds because we are horrible drivers. In Germany, people drive. The most amazing thing of all is that while I was driving along at a cool 200 km/hr, I’d notice a porsche coming along, so I’d pull into the right lane to let the porsche overtake me. (Which you must do LONG before they get close to you, so they don’t have to slow down). There is no way that the porsche was going less than 250 km/hr. Probably faster. I want to go back to Germany…and next time rent a porsche.
When we got closer to Strasbourg, I was counting on Markus to navigate. It took about ten minutes for me to realize that we were going in circles. He had no idea where we were supposed to go.
“I thought you said you knew where we were going?” I asked.
“Well, I thought I did.”
“Why didn’t you get a map? Don’t you guys have a map?”
“I was going to, but then ended up forgetting.”
“When was the last time you were here?”
“When I was nine?”
I was incredulous. “Nine! That was like 15 years ago. How can you say that you knew where you were going?”
Markus started to apologize or explain, I don’t know which, when I cut him off, “Look. You have to stop talking because I have to pay attention to where I’m going.”
Thankfully, I knew a little bit of French (and had experience in Spanish), so I could understand a lot of the words I read on signs. I followed the instructions to get to “centre-ville” then found places with signage showing a big “P”. We arrived into Strasbourg, but the tension was still quite thick. Markus was moping.
“Are you mad at me?” I finally asked.
“Well, it seems like you are mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you.”
“It seems like you are.”
“Why? Because I was a little frustrated in the car?”
“Look, I was getting flustered because we were lost, and I’m driving in another country. Before we left, you assured me that you knew where we were going. I even asked you if we had a map before-hand, and you acted like we didn’t need it. I figured that you had been here loads of times…”
He just looked at me. Dejected.
“And it’s okay to get lost, I’m okay with that. But then, when we’re in the car, and you said that you hadn’t been here since you were nine, that irritated me. It felt like you had lied to me earlier. Why didn’t you just say that you didn’t know where we were going? It isn’t a big deal that you don’t know. Then we could have googled instructions, or as I thought you were going to do bring a map. I’m not annoyed that we got lost. I’m annoyed that you acted like you knew where we were going/what we were doing, when clearly you didn’t.”
Still, he brooded.
“And I’m over it now. It’s not a big deal. We’re here. We’re safe. I had to stop talking in the car because I knew that since you didn’t know where we were going, I needed to pay attention. Not only did we need to get here, but we’re going to have to be able to drive out of this town, too. So, I had to pay attention to where I was going so I can remember it for later.”
He wasn’t convinced.
“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It was just a stressful situation. You know what it’s like to drive when you’re lost.”
He kept moping, so I chose to ignore it as we started walking into town.
We toured the cathedral, and I tried to take artsy pictures (which really didn’t work out well considering I had a crappy camera). Markus was still quiet, and I couldn’t take it any longer.
“Markus…what’s the matter?”
“Are you still mad about the drive in?”
He looked at me.
“Look. I apologized, and I’ll apologize again. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I’m not mad at you, so please don’t be mad at me. Let’s just wipe that from the slate and enjoy the day. Look at this! Look at where we are! It’s amazing here. Let’s not ruin it!” I hugged him and kissed him, and he seemed genuinely convinced, and transformed into a much better mood almost instantly.
The rest of the day was amazing. We went to a small restaurant where I had steak frites. (I forced myself to branch out…even though the flammekuchen was so tempting). We walked around town, taking pictures (lamps, doors, buildings…oh my!), shopping, and, of course, eating more (eclairs and croissants from a small patisserie? Oui! Fromage et du pain? EUH…OUI!!!).
It didn’t take long for me to be in love again. In love with Europe, avec la France, and some of that spilled over into Markus. By the end of the afternoon, he was feeling more confident, as I was becoming more affectionate and happy.
“Isn’t this the best? Isn’t hanging out in a town in France, just the best?!”
He simply hugged me.
“I want to live here. I could live here forever. The kids and I would move here, live in some small apartment above a boulangerie. Every morning, I’d walk and purchase some cheese, fruit, and bread for breakfast and take the kids to school. I’d have a poodle and a cat. Then I’d spend the day walking around, painting, reading, studying,…”
Markus continued to hug me. He whispered in my ear, “You know…life could be like this.”
“Well, life is like this – right now!”
“No…I mean, it could be like this every day.” In an ironic twist, Markus’ promises were dashing my dreams.
“How? I mean, really? I’m crazy. Sure, I could move here, but it wouldn’t really be like this every day.”
“Catania, don’t you see. If we got married, this could be the life we live every day.”
Without thinking, I responded, “No, Markus. If we got married, our lives would be a lot more like the drive into Strasbourg.”
BAM! I then dashed his dream, shredded it, into thousands of tiny specks. He was sad. “Why would you say that?”
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be mean. I mean to be realistic. Today is beautiful. But it’s vacation. Life…life is beautiful, for sure, but it is full of stress. For me, there are children to support, bosses to please, bills to pay. Life is like the drive into Strasbourg. You don’t know where you’re going, and you sometimes even get a little frustrated.”
Markus looked even worse than he had that morning.
“But that’s the thing, Markus…after a horrible drive in, you finally arrive to a place like this. Life wouldn’t be beautiful if we didn’t also have ugly experiences. The thing is marriage is like the ride in it is hard, there are times of frustration and miscommunication. You get lost. And the trick is to be happy – even while you’re lost. It’s easy to be in love in Strasbourg. The real test is to be in love when you’re in a car driving around in circles.”
I was sick of this balancing act. I knew that my honesty was hurting Markus. And his reaction was difficult for me to stomach. But then, I noticed this amazing Cobalt blue door.
“I need a picture of this door.”
As I began to take the picture, Markus insisted that I stand in front of the door.
“But I just want a picture of the door.”
“Why would you want just a picture of a door?”
“Well, look at it!”
Markus looked at it, and before we got in another argument, I handed him the camera and stood in front of the door. He happily took a picture of me.
“Now, take a picture of me in front of the door.”
I obliged, and now I have a picture of Markus standing in front of un porte bleu et trés jolie.
After spending the day in Strasbourg, we headed home, but took a little detour through a small town, Wissembourg, France (population 8,000). I bought beautiful Alsace pottery, and we walked through the town while I took picture after picture.
Vive la france.
While in Wissembourg, we ate dinner–the most amazing, creamy asparagus soup ever, more fammekuchen (Tarte flambée when you’re in France), and this delectable chocolate lava cake thing. After dinner, we walked around, then headed back to Linkenheim to rest up for the upcoming wedding.
A German Wedding
One of the main events to take place while I was in Germany was the wedding of Markus’ best friend Daniel. Markus was the best man. The wedding was pretty much the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life.
The night before the wedding, we went to a large Mormon chapel in Darmstadt (I believe it was there…can’t really remember). They had hired a döner truck, so I was able to eat my second favorite German food (I had eaten a döner earlier when visiting Karlsruhe…Btw, my third favorite german food? Totally, Bratwurst with curry ketchup…which I ate for lunch a few times at a biergarten in Linkenheim…not sure why I’m able to remember what I ate with no problem whatseover. 😉 ). The German people were festive and happy. They put on skits, danced, and played live music. Though this was at a Mormon Church, no funeral potatoes were to be found–only exquisite, rich, chocolatey German desserts, and I thought I was in food-heaven.
The next day, the couple was married at a courthouse in Heidelberg, Germany. (All couples are married in a courthouse in Germany first, then they can do religious services afterward). Heidelberg is absolutely beautiful. After the marriage, the bride and groom walked out of the courthouse, where children sang and played violins, others threw flower-petals, and finally someone released a flock of white doves.
The entire time I wondered, “am I in a princess movie?”
I can’t explain how amazing this wedding was. After the ceremony, we went to Heidelberg Castle where we ate, danced, and celebrated the marriage. Yes…Heidelberg Castle – on the top of a mountain overlooking the Rhine river and the rest of the town. Castles, doves, children playing violins…even though I didn’t understand a lick of German, I knew that this was the most beautiful event I’d ever attend in my life, and I loved every single second of it. By then, I was used to not being able to understand the language. I was also amazed at how much I could understand through body language, etc. I was finally starting to get used to the rhythm of the German language, even though I didn’t know what much of it meant.
For the most part, Markus didn’t translate. I just sat there, feeling dumb. And every once in a while, he’d take the time to tell me what was going on. Of course, it seemed like he only told me what people were saying when it was something that I could understand. I was starting to get a little frustrated. I felt like a trophy on his arm. A mute woman. I was feeling belittled and powerless. I felt like Markus’ American Girlfriend, like he had the power to be able to translate for me at his will, I felt like a stupid pet.
I hated it.
As the day progressed, I found reasons to stand on my own.
“Go…be with your friends. I’m happy to sit here right now and watch what is going on.” I honestly said this, too. I’d rather watch what was going on than made to feel like an imbecile.
After the reception, we drove up to Frankfurt. I had rented a car and was able to drive on the Autobahn again. This car, however, was no porsche. 😦 Two of Markus’ friends rode with us. They spoke perfect English (one of them had served a mission in the U.S.) It was refreshing to be able to hear and speak my own language. I noticed how often Markus tried to speak for me–well, everyone noticed.
“Markus, I think that Catania can answer for herself, can she not?”
“I can.” I said, resolutely.
It wasn’t a big deal, so I laughed and made jokes with Markus’ friends while we drove up to the Temple.
The temple marriage was beautiful.
After the temple, a small group of us–only the closest friends to the bride and groom–went out to eat at a favorite Pizza place. It ended up being the highlight of my trip.
Of course, I sat there, unable to really understand what was going on. I didn’t mind either, I didn’t expect people to speak English to me. This was Daniel and Jana’s wedding day, I wasn’t going to be pouty or annoying about the fact that I didn’t understand German. So I sat there, listening and enjoying the experience.
At one point, one of Markus’ friends started singing a song…in English. I could understand! It was refreshing to hear my tongue! After a second, though, I was confused again. Even though they were singing a song in English, I had never heard of it.
“What song are you singing?”
“Looking for Freedom.”
“Oohhh….”I was stumped. “Who sings it?”
I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. “Are you serious?”
“So…It’s true! Germans truly do love David Hasselhoff!” I was amazed.
“Haven’t you heard the song?”
“No. Never heard it.”
“But David Hasselhoff is American.”
“Yeah, I know, but he hasn’t released any albums there…most Americans think of him…kind of as a joke.”
“But he was on Baywatch.”
“Yeah…I know…we make fun of that, too.”
“So, Americans don’t really like David Hasselhoff?”
“I wouldn’t say that we don’t like him, but we kind of make fun of him. We like him in an ironic way.”
“I’m just amazed that Germans do like him so much! Why?”
Everyone was silent for a few seconds. One of Markus’ friends offered, “Well, he has really great chest hair.”
Everyone laughed…the Germans in agreement–not much to argue with. Me because, well, c’mon. You’re laughing, too. And we left it at that. The Germans, David Hasselhoff, and Chest Hair was a cultural disparity that simply wouldn’t be solved…ever.
On the way home from the wedding, Markus and I got into a huge argument. He was disappointed with me (can’t remember why), and I told him how I hated the way I felt when I was with him and his German friends. It was not pretty, and I won’t recount the argument. The point is: it was over. We both knew it.
The next day, Markus dutifully took me to the airport. He was still sad from the argument the night before. I kissed his cheek, then turned to leave-without looking back.
Markus was a good guy, a great guy. So much of me wanted more, but it wasn’t meant to be. I was confident about this choice. I knew it meant that I was back to being single–possibly forever, but I was okay with it. I was okay with being independent. I was happy. I had great experiences in Germany: I had driven on the Autobahn, gotten lost in france, ate loads of food, and (most importantly) I knew why Germans loved David Hasselhoff.
It was time to go home.