"The hills are alive!" These words. This song. This movie. The Sound of Music is what initially sparked my love affair with Europe – Austria and Germany in particular. Even as a small girl, while I danced around my house pretending to be Liesl or demanded I be called Brigitta (either one would do!), I dreamed of visiting this faraway place. I wanted to dance in the rain in a gazebo while being courted by a gentleman, maybe sing and put on performances with my siblings…who knows. But I did know I had to go there at some point in my life. The hills looked so alive and I was determined to experience it firsthand.
Lucky for me, my Aunt Nora and her family were stationed in Nuremberg, Germany while my Uncle Paul was in the army. My mom, the queen of travel, jumped at the opportunity to bring us kids over the pond for a visit. I could not wait! The trip was full of new, exciting experiences. Yes, there was the occasional meltdown from jetlag – and also because traveling with your brothers tends to bring these on! There were new (interesting) foods, sausage, cheese and more cheese, schnitzel and the like. I wasn't complaining! We went to a "schwimmbad" and had a ball. This is a German swimming pool or water park to some extent. I couldn't contain my laughter flying down the slides in the beating sun with the unbelievable views around me. I couldn't tell if the hysterics were from the fun I was having or not being able to handle all the tiny Speedos around me. The people there are certainly not shy to show a little skin! Gypsies followed us around in one town, and our stroller was almost taken by one! Just think I could've been an actual gypsy...Alas, my mom and Nora made sure we were safe, even if they debated on selling us all off once or twice. I learned what an autobahn was. It’s similar to what we call a highway/freeway here, but the main difference is there are no speed limits. This made for long, thrilling and sometimes terrifying road trips, through those hills I had so badly wanted to see. It wasn't quite what I expected when I was crammed into a gigantic van with my brothers, cousins and luggage to the brim, but they still felt alive to me and we kids were lucky we got out alive (sorry Momo)!
I was fortunate enough to go back in 8th grade with a few more cousins and then again this past year. Every time I have had the opportunity to travel to Germany I have learned so much about this beautiful country and its culture, its rich and sometimes painful history, its food, people and of course now its delicious lagers. This past time, I was really able to do Germany to the fullest with 20+ crazy Irish relatives, and it’s a trip I will never forget. Fingers crossed we are all still welcome back!
At a family party a few years ago, my Aunt Judy and Aunt Molly decided it was time for a big Mullins Family Trip – anyone that could make it work was welcome. Financially I knew I probably shouldn't go on the trip, BUT I couldn't fathom the idea of missing out on this one: a tour bus taking a crew of over 20 friends and family members, exploring the country sides and cities of Germany. I would start a side business, I would walk dogs, I would start a juice stand - I would do anything it took to get on this trip. Let’s be honest, I didn't do any of these things, but when it came down to it I got myself onto that trip!
We arrived in Munich first. There we met our tour guide/our papa/our dictator. Wiktor. He was quite the treat and led us on our journey for the next 10 days. He was accompanied by our bus driver Said. Those two personalities combined with the 24 of us made it that much more of an entertaining trip. In Munich, we ate delicious cheese soups, pretzels and never had a hand stein-less. We also saw so much of the city by foot, bike and bus. Some people on foot more than others (sorry Kevin)! We were immediately grounded visiting some areas where the Holocaust has forever left its mark. Although there is so much beauty in this country, there are also very unsettling and difficult reminders of what the country and the people have gone through, which can be seen in the WWII monuments, buildings and artifacts. It was important for us to see the good and the bad while there - to learn, absorb and never forget.
From Munich we went to Freiburg, Heidelberg and Boppard. The highlights of the trip included: the views at Eagles Nest, the walking trip through the quaint, cute city in Garmisch and the bus breaking down several times, which actually worked out great for us. These times turned into parking lot parties, exploring wherever we broke down, drinking games in our one of a kind koozies, dance parties, and songs on repeat (@Judas). Other trip standouts include visiting the "Cinderella" castle Neuschwanstein built by Mad King Ludwig, the Red- Walled Castle and Ruins, breweries in Heidelberg, our tour guide in Heidelberg (!) and our lovely hotel in Heidelberg. It had its own beer garten, lit up with twinkling lights under the trees. Us "kids" named this the kindergarten and spent the majority of the time out here playing Cards Against Humanity and making the other guests feel right at home! Being called a "Chicky Micky" the entire trip duration was a new one, a name I did come to embrace in the end. The adorable town of Rottenberg was a favorite of mine. All of the buildings looked like they had not changed in 1,000 years. It felt like we were in a life-size ancient snow globe and I loved it. Then there was our unique hotel in Boppard. It used to be a monastery and then was converted into a golf course and hotel. It was situated on the Rhein River and had breath taking views. The founder was the maker of Haribo gummy bears, so you could find these in every place you sat or wandered too. To keep things a little more random and exciting it even had an Africa themed floor with its own Safari and wildlife museum. Now THAT is one eclectic hotel and I wouldn't want it any other way. Finally, to close out the 10 days of laughter, exhaustion and cheese to last a lifetime, we had a final booze cruise down the Rhein River. Family bonding at its finest. It was a sunny day, all of us together, with full steins, snacks, castles everywhere you looked and smiles on every face, especially Papa Wiktor’s. I couldn't have asked for a better way to close out this wild ride.
Germany, thank you for the memories, thank you for the best soft pretzels ever made, thank you for the profound and humbling history lessons, thank you for the all the stunning castles (one will be mine one day), thank you for the people we met that shared their cities with us, thank you for being so welcoming. Also, I'm sorry about that beer drought you are now facing in the aftermath of Mullins Takeover 2013. I’m already dreaming of being back in those hills that are truly ALIVE.