Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Our guide in Speyer was surprised when I asked him to leave us at the Memorial Church. He couldn’t know that ten years ago this church and its stature helped carry me through a difficult week.
It was July, 2011, and I had just arrived for a week of study in this small German town at the start of my Fulbright year, leaving my husband in a hospital bed, recovering from a bone marrow transplant. He insisted that I go. So John stayed at his side and I flew to Germany.
In the entrance to this church stands a statue of Martin Luther, surrounded by the six princes who protested when the Holy Roman Emperor tried to silence his teaching. “Here I stand, “ the inscription states, “I can do no other. God help me, Amen.”
He stood up to the strongest powers in Europe and changed history. I took strength from reflecting on that. And now John and Christo could see what I saw.
At the end of that week in Speyer, ten years ago, I spent a weekend with my friend Carine in Krautergersheim, Alsace. Knowing that our cruise ship would stop in Strasbourg on Sunday, I messaged Carine. And there she was waiting for us at the dock with open arms. She spent the whole day showing us her favorite places.
Carine, Chuck, and I became close friends in 2008, while studying German together in Berlin. We’ve visited each other’s homes many times since. This time, she took John, Christo, and me to Mount Sainte-Odile, in the Vosges, where we enjoyed the sunshine, the story of the sacred spring, and the affection of a friendly dog.
Then Carine showed us the old Celtic walls in the forest, mossy but solid, where she used to take her children. Then to to the old walled town of Obernai to see— yes, Christmas markets, but also the carousel. I have a picture of Chuck standing there from our last visit. We took our picture and remembered.
It was not only a day of pilgrimage, but a day of reunion. We enjoyed a hearty Alsatian dinner of sausage and sauerkraut with Carine’s family and admired her political efforts to maintain the integrity of Alsace in the midst of a federal reorganization.
In the evening we headed into Strasbourg to experience the “Capital of Christmas” before making it back to the ship at 7:13, two minutes before they raised the gangplank. Tomorrow we’ll go to Freiburg and on Tuesday to Bern to get that passport taken care of so that John can fly home with us for Christmas.