Tuesday, August 23 – Thursday, August 25
From Tuesday to Thursday, I took my last trip–to visit my dear friend Uschi in Oldenburg, about 1 1/2 hours southwest of Hamburg. It was an extra special visit for two reasons: I was invited for Uschi’s 80th birthday (Wednesday, August 25, exactly a week after my mom) and my mom was invited, too, so I got to see her before my departure on Friday.
I arrived from Hamburg by train (uneventful ride) in the late morning on Tuesday and Uschi and I walked from the train station across Oldenburg’s small downtown area, which is mostly pedestrian, to Uschi’s home almost directly on the other end of downtown, across from a beautiful park, the former palace gardens belonging to the residential palace where the princes of Oldenburg lived once upon a time when it was its own little mini state (it is a museum now–fronting a plaza, with the park behind it, and otherwise surrounded by many imposing old city and county buildings). Uschi’s house is a townhome from the gilded age (Gründerzeit) in a residential area dominated by beautiful homes built for the affluent Oldenburg merchants in the 19th century, and now gorgeously restored and renovated for modern residential use. Uschi’s apartment is lovely, with a front and a back balcony and lots of space for guests and the art work and photographs that she has gathered over time, and the front view of an especially fancy villa, built in 1907 by a wealthy distiller, and now used by the local electric works as their top-level office building, never ceases to delight me.
We had a quick lunch at home after my arrival and later drove into the countryside because Uschi had some errands to run in the town where she used to live when she was raising kids with her husband Fritz in the 1960s and 1970s. We drove past a remodeled (now very dilapidated) country school house where the family lived early on, and then past the house in the teeny town of Grossenkneten where I often visited Uschi in the 1980s when our two families first formed our friendship, and then to the cemetery, where a natural stone (actually dug out when the foundation for that house in Grossenkneten was excavated) functions as the family memorial stone, for Fritz (who died in 2001) and for Wolfi, Uschi’s middle son, who was my age (and a friend), and who died completely unexpectedly in 2003, in his late 30s.
Then it was time to get my mom from the local train station (there is a direct train from Osnabrück to Oldenburg, and it stops in the teeny town of Ahlhorn, where I often got out when I came to visit Uschi), and together we had a lovely dinner at home on Uschi’s balcony, with soup and bread and various appetizers, and then later went to a gelateria right on the old market square by Oldenburg’s main church, for ice cream and people watching. But we were all quite tired and went to bed early.
The next morning, Wednesday, Uschi’s 80th birthday, we got up quite early—and I offered to go get some rolls for my mom and me—I knew that Uschi wanted only tea for breakfast. We sat on the balcony and gave her our birthday cards (my mom also had a book for Uschi), and then Imke and I went for a walk in Oldenburg’s beautiful Schlossgarten while Uschi took care of some logistics. We were back (as instructed) at 9:15, and then we were all ready to leave for our day on the coast. It only takes about an hour to get from Oldenburg to Schillig, a town on the Atlantic just outside Wilhelmshaven, directly where the mouth of the river Weser on its way past Bremen and Bremerhaven meets the open sea. We found a parking lot near the dog beach, and went to the less manicured but gorgeous are to the left (in this case, west, since this is the beginning of the German cost that is truly North-facing, so the small strip of beach with a dyke and a promenade behind it runs east-west). We walked with our feet in the water (one of my favorite things), and sat on the beach for a while. The water was quite warm after all these hot days (for the Atlantic, at any rate), and very shallow but PRESENT (i.e. the tide was in, but very likely moving out, because when we walked back, it was even more shallow—I was basically ankle-deep 50 feet away from the coast, and there were people further out who had gotten no deeper). It was sunny and warm and just all-around wonderful to be at the seaside one more time. For a while, we walked on the dyke behind the beach proper, where sheep are grazing, and the view of the beach and also two of the little islands ahead of the coastline is better.
Then Uschi drove us to a restaurant one village further down the coast, Sielhook, called Die Muschel (The Seashell) and had salads and fish and an alcoholic beverage by accident (Uschi and Imke didn’t know that a “spritz” always has alcohol in it, and I wasn’t sure myself). I watered it down quite a bit since it made me dizzy, but I still didn’t finish it! But it was lovely to sit in this cafe in the shade and chat and eat. We took a brief peek at the beach and dyke nearby, but it was now 3 pm and quite hot, plus the tide was going out and there was mostly mud and not as much water.
So we took off again pretty soon and Uschi drove us back to her house. Everybody rested for a little bit, and Uschi and I walked the few hundred yards to the city center to get some appetizers and little bites (Italian and Turkish) for dinner at home. We set up dinner on the balcony and had a wonderful time; a friend of Uschi’s stopped by to say Happy Birthday, and she listened to some of her messages and read some of her cards (even a letter from the mayor of Oldenburg!). And once Uschi’s friend left, we still had a whole project ahead of us that Uschi had suggested: for Imke and Uschi to talk about their 8 decades, 1942-2022, in decade-size chunks. It took us quite a long time once we got going—the first recording was just 6 minutes long, but we got up to 8, then 10, and ended with a long 18-minute sequence, so I recorded almost 2 hours (in 8 chunks). Many stories / things I had heard before, since I know them both so well, but it was still really interesting, especially when it came to the paralells and the differences between two women who were born a week apart in completely different areas of the country. They got married around the same time and had kids in the same decade (1962-1972), and they also got divorced around the same time (in the early 1990s). Their former husbands passed away in the 2000s, and they both traveled a lot with later partners they lost (my stepfather Hermann and Uschi’s long-time companion Wolfgang). Nonetheless, talking about the last two decades were by no means all doom and gloom, but filled with joy and laughter about grandchildren and great-grandchildren, travel and fulfilling time with friends and people in need. What a lovely wrap-up to a lovely day.
The next morning (Thursday), I took two more turns through the Schlossgarten, the most manicured large public park I have ever been to, once alone and once with my mom, and then we all took off by bus for the train station: Imke was headed home; Uschi to visit a friend in Karlsruhe, and I back to Andrea and Peter’s, on my last regional train trip of this vacation. The goodbyes were a little rushed, because I ended up taking an earlier train than planned, but that was better than a long drawn-out goodbye. I was so happy I had this last mini vacation with Uschi and Imke.
Andrea and Peter celebrated our last day with one last walk to have coffee and huge ice cream creations at their favorite ice cream shop (it was truly excellent), and otherwise spent the afternoon talking and trying to stay cool on yet another pretty toasty sunny day. Andrea made us a stir fry with chicken and ciabatta bread for dinner (her home-made dinners have been my favorite meals on this trip; restaurant meals have truly paled by comparison). We chatted a bit more, about art in particular (partly because they had just attended a huge art exhibition yesterday, the NordArt in Rendsburg) and had a good time. (I didn’t sleep too well because tomorrow is travel day, but podcasts helped.)