Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Holiday - part the second (with some brief family history thrown in)

My grandmother used to be an author. She is 89 and pretty cool, in a laugh about farts sort of way. She was born in India, and raised partly in the UK and partly in Nyasaland, now Malawi. This is where she met my grandfather and where my mother and aunt were born.
She lives in Cornwall now and so we trekked down there for a couple of days to visit and be buffeted about by the wind. We stayed in a little B&B out in the magical woods. 

She stays in a lovely big old house right by the sea that is a care home or assisted living or whatever the euphemism is nowadays for God's waiting room. She's been there a few years but seems to think she's just arrived and seems to quite like it so....
We walked in the woods, ate seafood, got wet by waves crashing on rocks, told the same stories manymany times (she's a little forgetful now, my granny) and spoke about the past (she remembers all this perfectly). Oh and laughed. Lots. 

Then we hit the road proper. 

Drove from Worcester in the UK down to the coast, hopped on the ferry in Dover, arrived in Calais, reprogrammed our brains for driving on the other side of the road, dusted off my schoolgirl French and up up and away! 

Destination Shnakenburg, Northern Germany. Where my 90 year old grandfather lives.  That first day we started off in England, then drove through France, Belgium and Holland and the next day into Germany. Sheesh! 

My grandfather is 90 going on 70. Must be all the berries he eats. He is seriously fit - it's a bit freaky actually! He took us on a guided tour of his (and my dad's) hometown. His other son, my dad's brother, came to be there too. To help with the language and all. Because otherwise there would have been an awful lot of smiling and nodding. And awkward silences. This is a side of my family I don't really know, you see. My father left Germany for Africa when he was 20ish and I think this is only the third time I've met my grandfather; my uncle I'd only met once before. And their other sibling, Geli? Have I ever properly in real life met you?? Don't think so. So yes, I have German heritage but I don't speak the language nor do I really know much about this heritage. Time to redress that I reckon.

There he is striding forth, we could barely keep up with him!

Shnakenburg is tiny old town on the river Elbe halfway between Hamburg and Berlin. Surrounded by huge forests. You look across the river into what used to be east Germany and it looks so peaceful now you can't really imagine the patrol boats ready to shoot people on sight if they tried to swim across. 

He also took us to see an old section of the fence between east and west. Where a small village was demolished to make way for it, the residents given a few hours to move out. Gruelling to think, but again, such a weirdly peaceful spot.

The houses are all oldold with gaps in between them for the cows to walk through. Some have shrapnel pockmarks. They are beautiful, and mostly really well maintained, 

with a few old crumbling buildings, overgrown with ivy. 

We went inside one that a friend of theirs was renovating and its amazing to see how they were built, all straw and mud and beams. And to have survived all these years. The termites can't be as bad as the ones here, surely? 

And an 800 year old church that apparently no-one really attends. I found that odd, I'm not sure why.

Oh I could go on and on and on but I can feel you all shifting boredly in your seats, stifling a yawn. Lots of stories and pictures I have. But we still have France to get through! 


JoeinVegas said...

Ooo - France!
I hope you did have a good time with all the old people.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed very much learning a little about your family history. Very interesting to me as I've always been fascinated by the migrations of some families. By the way, my folks got married in Blantyre.

So looking forward to more!

spacedlaw said...

That was quite a trip you took!

Lemon Gloria said...

I am loving this trip! What a great, happy adventure! And what a grown up girl you have traveling with you!

Miranda said...

JoeinVegas - Yes, France next! Yes it was good fun actually!

Rob - Oh how cool! What were they doing in Blantyre? I went to school there. There's a Zim connection with you too, right??

Specedlaw - oh indeed it was!

Lisa - Indeed, see how she's reading up about great deals? There was a picture of Buzz Lightyear on one of the pages that she just stared at for hours and hours!

Anonymous said...

Miranda, Dad was a junior engineer on the copper mines based in Ndola and Mum moved from Wales to work for the British Forestry Commission. Dad went to work in Blantyre so they were married there, then settled in Kitwe. Later Dad was transferred to East London, SA and many places around Southern Africa after that.

Spiny Marshmallow said...

Goodness I have enjoyed your trip so far - thanks. Look forward to france

Lori ann said...

You lucky girl! this was fun, glad you got to see the family, always enjoy your writing so much, but the best part is baby gal. She is SO cute.

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

this sounds like a brilliant trip, lots of adventure and history and sightseeing. Happy travels!