I’m a big city girl and always have been ever since I graduated from high school and moved to Hamburg. However whenever I travel I find myself drawn to little beach towns, charming villages, and the countryside in equal measure as well. To me these little, everyday places are not only worthwhile to visit, but also worthwhile to write about. That is, when they are in a foreign country. Whenever I go to my home town in Germany, Bad Hersfeld, to visit my father, I only go because of him and because it is home, but never with a traveler’s curiosity of wanting to explore a charming small spa town.
Last weekend was different. I think I just felt the need to have a proper trip and not just a weekend at home. My Thailand trip is already three months ago and how long can a Travelette be without, well, travel? So I changed my mindset and turned my last trip home into a mini holiday. I had the best intentions of putting on my nice travel outfit to go with my beautiful weekender bag, had my toe nails polished and even the weather was playing along, allowing for flip flops to show them off. Just five minutes before my taxi was due to arrive I caught my dress on the door handle and tore open the entire left side of it. Have I mentioned that despite all good intentions I have a habit of getting to the airport/ train station really late? So I only spent a minute on cursing my door handle and the fact that travel outfit choice number two was unfortunately not ironed. Number three, while not up to par to the others and my standards of an “I’m going on a proper mini holiday”-outfit, was at least wrinkle free and unharmed.
Four hours later I arrived home. Bad Hersfeld by all standards deserves a trip if you are into culture and little towns full of historical stories and buildings. It was formed by the monks Storm and Lullus in 769 and just reading that number again, I think wow, that’s old! Upon his death Lullus was canonized and ever since the day he died, October 16th, has been celebrated with a week-long festival, the Lullusfest. The oldest folk fest in Germany is still going strong these days with a parade, celebrations throughout town, a fair, and of course its own schnapps. In addition a big fire is lit and closely watched, because legend has it, should the fire go out within this week, the festival will move to the adjacent city Fulda where Lullus also spent some time. Obviously that hasn’t happened ever, partly due to luck and partly due to skillful firemen and eager kids who feed the flames with all the chestnuts Bad Hersfeld has to offer.
Over the years Luther passed by and so did Napoleon’s army, who had ordered destruction of the city. It was barely saved by Lingg von Linggenfeld who disobeyed his leader’s instructions. Two important Konrads are remembered as well: Duden published his “Complete Orthographic Dictionary of the German Language” here and Zuse built the first programmable computer. All of them are remembered with statues and places, streets, and buildings named after them with proud tour guides (or fathers) telling you all their stories. Quite frankly a history buff’s dream come true that little town of mine is.
While I love history and the fact that at least in hindsight my home town has a lot more to offer than I realized as a constantly bored teenager, I come for mainly two reasons in the summer. One is to pick raspberries in our garden, the only ‘household’ task I never tried to avoid as a child. I love raspberries and spiders or not, there is nothing better than stuffing my face with still warm berries while walking around barefoot on the prickly leaves.
The other reason is the Bad Hersfelder Festspiele, a theatre and opera festival that happens each summer in the Stiftsruine, the city’s monastery ruin which is said to be Europe’s biggest Romanesque church ruin. For almost seventy years now each summer the ruin is transformed, fitted with a stage and seating, and brought back to life for this theatre festival. The plays are usually excellent and quite some big German actors love performing here, because the setting is just so special.
In case you can’t tell you are looking at 16-year-old me dancing and fighting my little heart out in Romeo and Juliet. I was an extra for a couple of years, because that was of course the only acceptable summer job a girl who dreamt of the stage would ever want. Mind you, I didn’t care for the for little money, the hours of rehearsal were too long and the schedule of performances too extensive – but how did I love every moment of it! The excitement backstage, down below in the crypt of the ruin, being allowed to sit at the real actors’ table, sharing drinks and flirts before and after the show, being on stage in the spotlight, hearing the applause, and sometimes feeling the rain – only the audience can be covered in the Stiftsruine, the stage is always exposed, rain or shine.
This time I was to be amongst the audience with my father, who had gotten us tickets for Maria Stuart. I was a bit apprehensive, because while I always enjoyed the story of the Queen of Scots, the Schiller version was a bit of a never-ending nightmare for me in high school. Nevertheless the setting in the Stiftsruine is so magnificent, even from the audience’s point of view, that a play can actually not be dull within these very old walls.
Talk about a trip down memory lane…Even though my ‘acting days’ are more than fifteen years gone, I was still surprised to walk around the ruin and not know anyone. I was waiting to see familiar faces to wave or call me over, I wanted to wonder the grounds behind the ruin where we used hang out till the performance started, and most of all I longed to go in by the backdoor that leads to stage.
A tradition in our family is to take my dad’s Peruvian wool poncho might it get cold (which we did not need and neither did we need a roof!) and a drink beforehand at the canteen and we did. And while I got a good dose of nostalgia while hearing the familiar trumpets that announce the start of the play, I was content to walk poncho and dad over to the audience entrance and take my place on that side of the curtain.
With this so-called mini holiday of mine, I realized that as much as I love going new places, big and small, sometimes there is nothing better than going home. Because there I can see, that regardless of where I go next, how far I have already come.