Just take a look at the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Look at the ancient castle surrounded by woods, look at the houses below with their pretty red roofs and at the majestic bridge crossing the famous river of Neckar. Wouldn’t you be happy to live in Heidelberg?
As a teenager, when I visited my relatives in Heidelberg, I thought there could be no better place on earth to live in. I so much enjoyed exploring the castle and its surrounding woods with my cousin or walking the Upper or Lower Philosopher’s Path which presented beautiful views of the castle across the river. Even biking through these picturesque streets was a pleasure for me.
So it comes as no surprise when I tell you that I was quite sad when I sat in the train going north back to my hometown of Münster which I now know is equally beautiful. At that time I did not think so. I felt like being thrown out of Paradise when my relatives had said goodbye and I sat alone in the train compartment.
Then, just before the train moved, the door was opened hastily and a father, a mother and two teenagers came in with lots of luggage and an enormous picnic basket. The luggage went up into the luggage rack. The picnic basket stayed on one of the seats. As the train moved out of the station, out of beautiful Heidelberg, I turned my face to the opposite window so that they could not see the tears rolling down my cheeks.
I heard them open the basket and smelled the comforting smell of freshly grilled chicken and of coffee. I couldn’t help look at them, this friendly smiling, loud and comfortably plump family, behaving so different from my quiet and refined professorial relatives in Heidelberg. They offered me chicken. hot dogs, potato salad and even coffee. I declined but they did not take no for an answer and soon I joined them as they feasted on the food. I even drank coffee which I was normally not allowed to drink but Mama said that she had some “real” coffee for Papa in one of the thermos flasks, strong and dark, and some other coffee for herself and the kids with plenty of milk and sugar.
As we ate we talked about beautiful Heidelberg and then about the gifts we brought for our families and then about our families and then some more. As the train moved forward, it became dark outside and we dozed for a while. Then Mama brought out same cake from the picnic basket and more coffee and we feasted again. In the meantime, we came closer and closer to their destination, one of the coal towns of the Ruhr district. As the train slowed down moving through the town, Papa opened the window. The air was cold and smelled of coal and chemicals. From the train, the houses looked black against a fiery sky. A shudder ran down my spine as I saw it. For me, this looked like the forecourt to hell. “Mama, do you smell the air?” Papa asked. “Yes”, Mama said, “it smells like home.”
They got out of the train with their luggage and the almost empty picnic basket, all cheerful and smiling. They wished me a happy return home and stayed as long as the train stayed in the station. When the trained moved, we all waved to each other until we could not see each other any more. How I loved that family! How I still love them!
How happy they were being back in their home town of dark houses and high chimneys, coal dust and fiery night skies. You don’t need to live in Heidelberg in order to be happy. Home is where the loved ones are. Home is where the heart is.