As far as traveling goes, there’s nothing better than getting off the beaten path and seeing a place through the eyes of a local. While in Freiburg, Jack offered to take us on a bicycle tour of Durbach, the small wine village where he used to live and for whom he still plays soccer. Although we were a little apprehensive about the cycling given recent events, it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. The village lies at the heart of German identity, and even now, most Germans live and die in the same village in which their families lived and died for generations. This unbroken chain of habitation has left these little towns steeped in tradition and coated with a rich patina of history. But despite their laid-back charm, they can be a bit impenetrable without the entrée of a local.
Although Jack only lived in Durbach for a year, he so threw himself into the life of the village – working at the local winery, living with a local family, playing for the local soccer team, even dating a local girl – that he quickly achieved honorary local status. Wherever we went, people seemed to know Jack and wanted to stop and chew over the latest bit of town gossip. Every door seemed open to us, and we could hardly exit without first sitting down to a homemade meal or taking home a bottled of local wine.
We had lunch his host family, a nice old Hausfrau and her crotchety old mother, who fed us homemade Spätzle (a fluffy macaroni-and-cheese-style dish) and showed us pictures of Jack’s time with them. We “broke bread,” as the Germans call their light evening meal, with Jack’s girlfriend’s parents and had a rousing conversation about society and politics. And in between, we cycled through the rolling vineyards and blossoming cherry orchards, toured a winery, hiked up a mountain, and took a peak at the Schwarzwald, Germany’s famous, if dwindling, “Black Forest.” All in all, a brilliant day, and the most authentically German experience I can imagine – and with none other than a fellow Arkansan as my guide.