Onward to Germany!

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Onward to Germany!

Today I overloaded my nervous system by renting a car, driving out of Amsterdam and into Germany. At first I worried about driving in Amsterdam, getting lost in Germany and then about finding a place to park once I returned. Oh and I worried about hitting a cyclist, a moped, a pedestrian, a dog, another car, a tram or a baby on a bicycle- without a helmet.
Then all my fears were doubled when I am told that my car is manual. F-ing manual. I haven’t driven a manual in years, and never in a city this size, in a foreign country. I can’t read the traffic signs and Amsterdam’s driving rules/streets seem more than a little objective. But I’m going to do this. No is not an answer.
So I hop in, plug in the GPS and after several tries, I cannot start the car. Sigh. A trip back in and the gentleman helps me unlock the steering wheel. And now I am off, zipping (perhaps more chugging) through the streets, obeying the signs, following the rules. Ok. Once I found myself in the tram lane, but no tram hit me. So that’s good, a victory even.
I lurch out of town, wrestling with the language on the GPS while at stop lights, trying to remember the feel of the clutch-break- gas-change gears dance. I make it onto the freeway and as the miles pass gently by the skyline is doted with unfamiliar trees, golden and bright green from the first touches of spring. Periodically it drizzles, pours rain and stops. Time passes and I feel a bit more relaxed. I am now 15 minutes into my trip.
I am delighted to find a radio station that plays American music, a lovely mix of the Beatles and Gloria Gaynor, ABBA and Ben Folds Five. The crossover from the Netherlands into Germany could not have been any less exciting. Granted I was expecting Nazis wearing stahlhems accompanied by German shepherds to ransack my car. Imagine my surprise when I passed without incident under the sign welcoming me to Deutschland. But, I don’t get out much. The countryside is indeed lovely and not so unlike home with smelly cow and goat pastures, stumpy fat pigs and a small group of the largest brown hares I’ve ever seen. All this grabbed as I whiz along the autobahn at 80 miles an hour. 80 miles per hour- A speed that seemed fast until a black BMW would zoom by as though I was moving backwards.
It becomes necessary to make a pit stop shortly after I’ve crossed into Germany. I try to make the exit, only to discover one of those signs I couldn’t read apparently said THIS exit is closed. So as I begin to approach what I believe to be my exit, I see barricades blocking my way. Dear god now I’m stranded, on what is about as wide as our emergency stopping area, on the autobahn, with a stick shift. I’d like to cry, I’d like to be back at the hotel, I’d like to be in a coffee shop. These are not available options. No is not an option. So, I back up about 300 yards, wait for anything that looks like a break between the cars and I race back on, horns blare, but I’m in the lane- victory.
On and on I drive, I eventually successfully exit the highway and find my way to what I believe to be a truck stop. Here I discover my first indication that I am no longer in a place where, everyone speaks English. I gesture, I say toilet with what I believe to be a German accent. I point. The lady says something in German. I say hopefully “English?” The lady smiled warmly and handed me a key attached to a six foot metal shelf, which I drag dutifully to the ladies room. I think the warm smile was probably more of a laugh. I get everything taken care of here and continue. Victory
After many miles I finally get the command to turn off the motorway and onto a smaller, quieter road that winds through all the tiny villages between Bremen and Hassel. The street is flanked by yellow fragrant flowers. Periodically I catch a glimpse of a wind mill, or a church steeple that appears to be many hundreds of years old.
At long last I see the yellow sign that says “Hassel”. I’ve found it. This tiny spot on a map, and I’ve found it (not without the help of GPS, but still…) victory. I am overcome with emotion, to be in this town where my relatives were centuries ago, at having survived the drive, at saying yes.
The “town” is hardly more than a bus stop though. I search for a church thinking perhaps I’ll find an old grave marker. But I do not. This town could not be more adorable, or a more welcomed sight. What is in the town is hardly even relevant. Just the fact that I made it here is a victory. I drove the car through Amsterdam, into Germany, off the motorway to this tiny village where my great grandmother’s family once lived. I’m feeling as adventurous as Columbus (though decidedly less inclined to commit genocide). I know Gramma Olga would have been proud. I am proud.
I suppose along the way I’ve discovered that I have much more ability to conquer those things that frighten me. I am quite convinced that the choice we all have in life is not about choosing not to be afraid, the choice is about not letting the things that you’re afraid of control you. Choose to do the things that frighten you.

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