25 Jun 2010
Last weekend we arranged to have my girlfriend’s German grandparents visit us in Munich. They’d been threatening to pay Lisa and I a visit for more than five years before they finally showed up at our front door, having been taxied the 330km from Baden-Baden by Lisa’s mom.
In her 77 years Oma had not once set foot in Munich and 81 year old Opa was proud to announce that he knew Munich well from his visit some 40 odd years ago. Based on the number of times he mentioned his two day Munich visit more than 4 decades ago, the city must have made quite an impression on him! It was with the beaming pride of a small child that he shook his walking stick with delight at the old buildings and monuments that he claimed to recall from his previous visit.
Lisa’s Opa likes nothing more than to share heroic tales of his worldly adventures in days gone by. Lisa’s family is completely baffled as to how he could possibly have seen or done even half the things that he claims, especially since he has spent the vast majority of his life at home with his family and caring for his treasured vineyard in the green hills around Baden-Baden.
Of course his credibility is not helped by the fact that he is most communicative with a shandy or a strong spritzer mix in his hand, which he drinks as a water substitute to keep hydrated throughout the day. His stories are invariably met with incredulous stares and the rolling of eyes, yet he never fails to keep the family entertained. Although I am often left wondering if it is the content of his stories, or the way he roars with laughter at his own jokes that attracts more attention. Over the weekend, I couldn’t help but sympathize with Oma as she shook her head in resignation while he told exaggerated stories of days gone by, that she’d no doubt endured countless times before.
After two days of tortoise walking around Munich taking in the sights, and plenty of conversation and laughs during our cafe, restaurant and beer garden pit stops, we waved them on their way on Sunday afternoon. I’m not sure who was more exhausted at the time, but Opa certainly appeared to be in great form after his fifth spritzer of the day. As their car disappeared around the corner, Lisa and I looked at each other with a big smile and an unmistakable sense of accomplishment for having survived the family weekend intact.
After a few hours recovering on the couch and catching up on the football, I began questioning Lisa about her grandparents. I was interested to know more about their childhood during World War II and what Lisa knew about her grandparents’ siblings and her great-grandparents. With all my questions, a strange thing occurred to Lisa. Despite Opa’s constant ramblings about the old days, there were so many things about her family that she didn’t know and she doubted that anyone in her family had taken the time to document basic family information, let alone any of the many stories that Opa so enjoyed telling. It suddenly dawned on her that her grandparents would not be around forever, so if she ever wanted to know more about her family or preserve her family history for her own children, there was no better time for it than now.
Without question, the best and easiest way to learn more about your family is to interview your relatives. Perhaps like Lisa, you might not have thought much about asking members of your family about their lives or what they remember of the generations that came before them. Few of us have, in any depth. Sometimes the opportunity has been there to ask questions, but by the time we realize we’re interested in the answers it may be too late to ask.
Lisa decided that the next time she visits her family in Baden-Baden she will be armed with a list of questions for her grandparents. After this weekend she also knows that it will be best to interview Opa in the morning before his spritzer fuelled imagination gets the better of him!
If you’d like to know more about your family then look out for my upcoming post about good family interview questions to help you learn more about your family history and build your family tree.