Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Spring Break

Easter is a serious holiday in Germany. The long, cold Winter has passed, Spring has almost fully arrived and the children have two weeks off from school. It’s like someone rang a fire alarm and the entire country runs away. This Easter HH, Mama and I packed ourselves into a small, rented car (and I emphasize the word “small”) and drove the length and breadth of Belgium. For HH and I this was new territory with lots of new experiences. Neither of us had ever been to Belgium. I don’t know how I’d missed it during many transits through this part of the world but I had. This was also the first time I’d taken a road trip in Europe during a major holiday season, needless to say it was also a first for HH.

I had heard of the dreaded “staus”, the monumental traffic jams that flattened autobahns into pastures of gleaming metal for as far as the eye could see, but I’d never been in one. I had, however, driven enough in Germany to witness the insanely high speeds of left-lane Germans in luxury cars but I’ve not yet grown accustomed to seeing civilians driving over 120 miles per hour. We spent the better part of our Easter travel time crawling in the far right lane with the Dutch recreational vehicles.

For HH this was all good. He is deep into the “why” stage of life and there were acres of new reasons for him to pop the question. People often joke about the “why” obsession that toddlers develop – some folks even find it annoying. I’m enjoying it because it makes me think about the world. One needs to consider carefully the answer to each question because first, it will likely be repeated in kindergarten or at your cousin’s dinner table and second, the next question will probably be much like the one before it and you can get yourself into deep trouble by sending a line of questioning into areas that are not yet ripe. The explanation of Easter was one such exchange.

It started with the traffic. We had somehow found ourselves in the middle lane, probably passing a Dutch RV, when a car came flying up from behind us on the left and slammed on his brakes because the car in front of him was unable to get out of his way fast enough. Smoke came streaming up from his tires as his car screeched into our lane. I wouldn’t be writing this today if the other cars around us hadn’t kept their cool while this knucklehead with more horsepower than good sense slid around the crowded autobahn, but they did and here I am.

HH was a little shaken by the encounter and the questioning began rapid-fire; “Is that car broken?”, “Why did that man made that noise?”, “Is he mad at us?” I began by telling him about traffic and cars and car-braking systems and how important it was for him to stay in his car seat and wear his seat belt. Upon further questioning I explained the reason why the road was so full of cars today and that’s when we got on the subject of Easter and why people celebrated that day and didn’t go to work and drove to Belgium instead.

He knew the basic outlines of the story of Christmas and baby Jesus so I started there. The difficult part was explaining the resurrection. In the last few months HH has been asking about what happened to his Opa and where he was and what does it mean to be dead and I had told him that being dead was not like being sick and that when someone dies they go back to nature.

I did my best to explain how the grown-up baby Jesus lived a long time ago and was a really good man and that he had died. But then something remarkable happened and he had come back to life and that he was the only person so far to have done such a thing and that it was such a wonderful event that to this day people celebrate it with the holiday of Easter. I don’t think he understood most of what I said but he didn’t ask why.

Soon he wanted to know if we were in Belgium. Given the traffic load, it took us much longer than we had planned to actually get to Belgium and he was beginning to loose his already strained patience when we started spotting light brown cows, unlike any we had seen in Germany. “Belgian cows”, I said, “Now we are in Belgium.” But the cows weren’t really convincing so the questioning kept up. “Is this Belgium?” The trees began to look different as well, the heavily cropped variety with bushy crew-cut style tops. But trees didn’t do the trick either. “Is this Belgium?”

At some point near Gent the traffic started to thin and the countryside took on a markedly rural flavor and aroma. “It smells different in Belgium” he said. And so it did, the farmers must have been fertilizing the fields that week because the “Eau de Moo” was pungent. It was in this setting that we spotted a beautiful if somewhat run-down Windmill. It was the first I had ever seen outside of a photograph and when I pointed it out to HH he lit up. “It’s just like on the paper Papa”, he reported happily, pointing down to the floor of the car to the paper bag containing his morning brötchen. There on the bag was a Windmill just like the one in the field before us and this served as confirmation enough that we were finally in Belgium. From that point on everything he experienced had a distinctly Belgian quality; the milk tasted different, the fish, the bread and particularly the waffles, which were light and crisp and when smothered in ice cream and chocolate sauce, a memorable experience for a three-year-old.

We spent the next two days riding in long flat boats through the canals of Brugge, sightseeing in Gent and playing in one of the most amazing playgrounds I’ve ever seen in a small resort near the coast in Knokke Heisst. We got home tired and cranky and stiff but this morning when he woke up, HH padded into my room and we looked at the pictures we had taken during our first brief holiday outside of Germany. “Belgium!” he exclaimed “I want to go there again.”

© German Diary 2007

Labels: , ,