Hello friends! We are coming from a travel-packed summer that took us across the U.S. and peaked with an incredible trip to GERMANY. That’s right. We finally did it. After years of wishing, hoping, and having the destination seemingly forever on the “one day” list, we found the perfect opportunity to make this pilgrimage a reality.
But first, if you haven’t been following along, please consider reading this post that is sort of emotional precursor to this one. It’s a chapter in my ongoing intention to share more of my motivations and thoughts behind being a documentary/lifestyle photographer.
To quickly catch y’all up— family photographs have always been a way for me to discover, defragment, and heal especially during childhood years of familial strife and loss. Photos of my Oma, who passed when I was a baby from Marfan’s syndrome, were one’s I cherished greatly. I understood her to be the kind of woman to admire: modern, fun-loving, committed, expressive, and generous. We recently discovered a hidden away box of colorful slide photographs of her time living and getting married to my Opa in Germany. Those slides inspired and ignited an intention to start to plan a trip with seriousness.
Let’s be honest though. Travel to Europe is not cheap. Between Ganer and I the pockets of time we have off between weddings and tournaments rarely line up for a long-enough span of time. Having never been to Europe, the whole idea remained very… improbable.
Then two major things happened: our wedding photographer, Monica Muñoz, let us know she had a booking south of Berlin with a bride that was coincidentally a mutual friend. We started teasing the idea of shooting the wedding with her. The couple, Shannon and Max (LOVELY PEOPLE) agreed. You know if there’s anything to motivate me away from the comfort of home… it’s a wedding. The second critical thing is that I have this friend that has a love of planning and genuinely cares about my growth. Haley knew that this trip would mean a lot to me and that I was being too attached to the impracticalities. She did some quick searches and boom— found us reasonable tickets. **THANK YOU HALEY FOR ALL THAT YOU DO!**
The whole planning process was done within a few weeks of our trip. Ganer was a champ in organizing the flow of our 10 days and, a bit overwhelmed with editing, I really was just along for the ride. My only real priority is that we could visit where my Oma lived, and that we could connect with my cousins if possible.
Without going into crazy detail (because the trip was just that packed and incredible) we arrived in Berlin >> stayed with Moni and Pol in their charming flat. We got to bond and share many laughs as we biked around and sought relief from the heat. Ganer even cooked a couple of meals! It was a blast to spend time with Moni who is so dear to me and seemingly always about 15 hours away.
Following this stretch of quality time, we made our way down to the famous Worlitzer Park to document the wedding festivities for Shannon and Max. These two came to Germany for the second of 2 international celebrations in honor of their recent marriage! Max’s grew up near the venue, and they had an intimate gathering with guests from all over. It was so special to be invited into this sweet day. My first international wedding experience AND ride in a gondola!
^^thank you Moni!
This experience was followed by a quick trip to Munich and a relaxing time in the spa town of Baden Baden. This was definitely the rest and therapy I needed at this point. My back and neck thanked me.
We then made our way to a small village near Kehl to meet my cousin Beatrix’s family (including her father, Helmut, one of my Oma’s only living siblings). We had a lovely afternoon gobbling up pastries and looking at old photo albums (my favorite!). I spotted some of the last ever photos of my Oma. She seemed like she was a delightful wedding guest.
We talked for a while and the clunkiness of translation made for a lot of laughs. I think my granduncle was v. disappointed that I didn’t know more German… but I didn’t have much time to learn! I’ll work on it, Helmut!
The most clarifying, awesome part of the trip was getting to walk the streets of the little city of Kehl (which borders the much larger Strasbourg France where my dad was actually born [hello triple citizenship]). I don’t know what I was expecting, but everything I wanted to see was within about a block of each other. We parked and down the block was the original home of my Oma and many of the cousins that spent time living on one of the 3 stories. I was so caught off guard at how charming, well-maintained and storybook this building still is.
Just around the block, we found the Rathaus (courthouse) that started it all. It has been very much updated and modernized to the point that it is barely recognizable against my grandparents’ photos. My cousin confirmed however that is indeed where it all began!
Finally, a couple streets away, we found my Oma’s first apartment. So crazy to realize that so much of her occupied this close of an area. The idea made me step back. To really think of what an impossibly big leap she made to follow my Opa back to the states, to live in places so different from the little city she called home.
And for me personally, how incredible to be walking the streets of a place that I recognized from black and white photos I’d study as a child. Photos that came from an earlier time, half a world away from me. It was wild to see it in vivid color and full daylight.
We ended our excursion in the small village of Krok enjoying Radlers in a Biergarten. Beatrix showed me where she herself had gotten married (local chapel followed by a parade in the street, so fun). I think it’s on that tone of joyfulness that I would like to end this post on. It’s been decades of piecing the story of a person, of a time, and a place— with only photos and casual anecdotes to go by. I left this experience feeling a lighter, a little more connected, and even more fascinated.
I am lucky to know I have family and friends 5,000 miles (or 8046.72 km) away.
I cherish Ganer for everything he did to make the pilgrimage one I didn’t have to stress over and for his loving documentation for times I was in the moment.
I feel incredibly fortunate for a job that allows me to combine my need for new experiences, love of documentation, and quest for healing.
I am reminded that for every nostalgic yearn, there’s always a new experience to scratch it with.
Thank you for reliving this journey with me. A few more memories for you all: