It’s funny how life offers you the chance to reflect. The very first weekend we moved to Germany – more than ten years ago – we drove out from Heidelberg along the usually very beautiful Neckar valley. It was March, freezing cold with sleety rain, the trees were bare and there was no sign of spring arriving. We had left hot, sunny South Africa and were preparing to start a new life in Europe. I remember crying and thinking I could never love this strange, inhospitable land with its naked trees, brown uninviting hills and boxy-housed villages.
This weekend we walked along the spine of hills that looks down on the Neckar. Then we took a path that led us on a carpet of damp autumn leaves down through tall trees to the wide body of water. We crossed the river on a weir, watched a barge go through the lock, and walked along the river towards the town of Neckarsteinach. The four ruined castles that hang onto the hills made an appealing backdrop above the colourful town. We passed sleeping ducks, some sitting fatly on the ground, others balanced on one leg, and made our way towards a restaurant where we rested our own feet, ate some lovely soup, drank wine and beer, and prepared for the return walk up the hill.
Once across the river, we took another, steeper, path, and, puffing, made our way to a hill village. There we looked in at a Christmas display, drank some mulled wine and ate stollen cake. We also visited a chocolate shop. We walked on ancient cobblestones, passed through the old town wall and bounced home, our breath mixing with the smell of cinnamon and pine trees.
As I drove home today, back through the river valley, I thought that the last ten years have been very good to me. I may be nicht von hier, but my children are. I have lovely friends. We have made a happy home. I have a life that pleases me. The landscape is now dear to my eye, no longer threateningly strange. I love the wide river, the pleasing hills, the quaint towns and villages. I love the old-fashioned restaurants that serve the same food that they would have done thirty years ago and have not bothered to update their decor either. I love the way Christmas is celebrated. I love the way women can walk out into the woods for a day and be safe. I love the mix of old and new. While South Africa may be in my blood and under my skin, Germany has made its way into my heart.