One more round to say good bye.

Berlin - Stolzenburg - Neu Karin

Opel Corsa 1994 - 355km

Five days overdue, crammed into a two door Opel Corsa loaded to the roof, we finally left Berlin. My eagerness to get our trip underway meant I couldn’t appreciate the moment as much as it warranted. It had been an epic past few weeks. Prizing ourselves from the clasp of German bureaucracy; sorting our worldly possessions into what we would store, send, sell or pack; getting our apartment ready for sub-letting; organising a farewell celebration… Difficult enough at the best of times – with a newly mobile ten month old daughter who, despite her sweet appearance, wrought slobbery destruction wherever her chubby fingers could pry, it felt like trying to coax a donkey into a match box. Somehow though, we had done it. Now we sat, surrounded by a still worryingly large amount of stuff, strapped in and ready to go.

There to see us off were a collection of our neighbours, people who over the past seven years had become our beloved community and our kids’ best friends, We met in our communal Hinterhof or backyard, striking up small talk over the rush of the passing S-Bahn while pretending to enjoy the sodden sand “ice creams” which our children thrust into our hands. Over the years, with countless barbecues, cellar-lit poker nights, spontaneous sleepovers, bike trips and summer camping expeditions we created many happy memories and lifelong friendships with our “Backyard Gang”. This wonderful, eclectic crew prove the old Māori proverb: what is the most important thing? The people, the people, the people. They were what made it so hard to leave.

To a chorus of good-byes in at least six different languages, we waved through the gaps in our luggage and set off, tooting as we lurched around the corner. We were off, albeit in the wrong direction. We had a final round of farewells to make which, especially for J, would be the hardest of all.

Our first stop was Stolzenburg, an 800 year old village ringed by corn fields and sunflowers close to the Polish border in the North East of Germany. We were going to pay one last visit to J’s Grandparents with whom she has a very close relationship. I knew this was going to be rough. The night before we were to leave I sat as I had so many times in Oma’s living room, sweating on the couch in front of the hot breath of the radiator. Between shots of vodka and mouthfuls of wheat beer I listened once more to their stories of life in the GDR.

“It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was our system.” Oma said with a defiant jut of her chin.
“Ah Chris my boy,” said Opa shakily pouring me another Schnaps so jung wie Heut kommen wir nicht mehr zusammen.” (we’ll never meet again as young as we are today). Even though I had heard him say it a thousand times before, on this evening it caused a lump to form in my throat.

After a heartbreaking farewell the following morning we made the now familiar drive along the roaring A20 to J’s parents house in Neu Karin. This tiny rural village with a population of around 60 inhabitants had so often been our refuge from city life. Most notably during the Covid lock down, which we spent in one of the holiday apartments, next to a cherry tree in the garden. The stout thatch-roofed house, which J’s father designed himself, is where I spent my first German Weihnachten and many thereafter. It was a warm welcome to Germany (literally thanks to the large crackling oven, underfloor heating and triple glazed windows), a comforting feeling which never wore off. Juicy roast rabbit, bubbling polish soups and a basket of fresh Brötchen every morning: the large wooden table in the Wintergarten is the centre of life in this house.

Over the many visits I grew to appreciate the surrounding area – the stern yet charming villages centred around a reed-ringed pond or centuries old church; the groomed rolling fields home to fox, hare, deer and hawk; the lofty cathedrals of Beech forest; the splashes of wildflowers and tangled black berry which fray the edges. I always found a welcome familiarity in the stillness here, despite the diligent *whoom whoom whoom* of the wind turbines.

With access to wi-fi once more, the couple of days we spent here were fairly busy crossing the last t’s and dotting the last ö’s before our departure. It was also where we would hand over the cramped yet convenient Corsa, which we had borrowed for the past couple of months. From now on we would be travelling by train, carrying everything we need (or not) in our backpacks. Fortunately we did have time for one last trip to the Ostsee – specifically to Rerik, a strip of white sand and tussock just a 15 minute drive from the in-laws’ house – and one last dinner of fish and fried potatoes.

Not people for overt displays of sentimentality, our departure from J’s parents was mercifully undramatic. Standing in front of the dilapidated station building in Neubukow, there were half made promises to visit us in New Zealand. Unlike her step-mother, J’s father, perhaps concerned about rising gas and fuel prices, was reticent. Right on time our red Deutsche Bahn glided into the station.

As we departed, our kids waved to their Oma and Opa through the smeared window. I felt suddenly guilty removing them from the world they knew and loved. What lay in store for them between here and the awaiting arms of their grandparents in New Zealand? We had four months and 18,000 kms to cover before that moment arrived. As our train gathered speed, I took comfort in the knowledge that, no matter what happens, when we return to Neu Karin we will find the thatch-roofed house surrounded by fruit trees exactly as we left it. 

1 comment on “One more round to say good bye.
  1. Daisy says:

    Beautiful writing, i look forward to another xx

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