My Erlangen Experience

I was able to take a bus from Prague to Erlangen during the summer of 2015. My San Francisco startup was founded in the Czech Republic and I spent a good portion of that summer in the Prague office.

When I discovered that Erlangen is only a four-hour, 15-euro bus ride from Prague, I embraced the opportunity to spend a weekend exploring the place my grandparents called home from 1982–86. I’d been aware that my grandma, Geraldine, kept a journal during this time, but had not yet read through it.

Flights from California to Central Eastern Europe provide enough free time to do such a thing, so I opened the 243-page PDF that my cousin Megan had so graciously digitized in 2006. The pages that my grandma filled with her notes—her thoughts, frustrations, hopes, and experiences from that time in Germany—had previously been in storage, forgotten.

Geraldine took notes during her adventures and typed them up on her typewriter upon return to her home base of Erlangen. I’m so happy she took the time and effort to tell her story of living out a lifelong dream. She was finally able to explore the places she’d only been able to read about while raising eight children in Michigan. We believe it was written directly for her children; a long, detailed letter full of humor, sadness, and love.

(1) My aunts Molly, Julie, and Claire with my grandpa Leo at my grandparents’ Erlangen apartment, (2) after Mass at St Bonifaz, (3) sunbathing at the pool.

I arrived late at night at the transit station in Erlangen. I was equipped with modern-day technology; Google Maps on my iPhone told me how to walk to the hotel I’d booked on I decided to wander the streets first, without the crutch of technology, to try to get a sense for the place my grandparents called home just before they retired to Michigan.

The streets and shops of Erlangen, then and now. My grandma loved walking up and down these streets daily, running her errands and taking it all in.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a couple that appeared to be in their late 50s/early 60s. They were fashionably dressed in European-style summer clothing; flowy, light colors, and appeared to be excitedly heading somewhere new. When I glanced over at them, they took each other’s hands and smiled, and continued on their way. I immediately felt like I was in the right place, at the right time—a feeling that is difficult to put into words, but it just felt—like I was home.

Shocked at the realization that these two reminded me of the Erlangen version of my grandparents, just before they retired to Northern Michigan, before most of their sixteen grandchildren were born, before they were the versions of themselves that I had known and loved—I looked back over toward the couple, but they were gone.

I don’t know what I saw that night, but I believe that somewhere, somehow, Geraldine and Leo (who passed away in 2013 and 2006, respectively) were with me on that trip. Their memories were living on; their energy and love was encouraging me to keep exploring.

I spent a short, hot (100º F), incredible weekend in Erlangen, walking over 12 miles in one day all over town, seeing everything I could, trying to re-live even just a small piece of what my dear grandparents experienced three decades prior, before I was born.

(1) Café Mengin, one of my grandma’s favorite places for crêpes in Erlangen. Crêpes are no longer on the menu in 2015 · (2) Georg and Elke, my grandparents’ best friends in Germany, at the tobacco shop where my grandpa first met them (then, 1982 and now, 2015). (3) Grandpa Leo, son-in-law Frank (my dad), aunt Claire and my mom Mary, dad’s mom Antoinette stand in the street outside my grandparents’ Erlangen apartment in 1984. Right: the same street in 2015.

View more 1980s Erlangen photos here. A Medium publication called “Until We Meet Again” will showcase my grandma’s journal—all 46 chapters, over one hundred thousand words—and will hopefully include some of the photos she took during those years of adventure.

“I’m glad I decided to write this Journal, early on. Years from now, when my memory has faded, I shall be able to refer to these pages… and the photos, and remember the wonderful, free time… that long vacation in Europe… the friends… the good times.”
Auf Wiedersehen, means… until we meet again. You never know.