When I was about to graduate high school, my parents graciously offered me a trip in celebration of making the leap to college.
Now, if I had said Mars or Nepal or somewhere a bit off the map, my mom probably would’ve reined me in. But, “anywhere,” she said. “It’s your trip.”
Looking back, I wonder if I should have given it some more thought. Yet, at the time, I didn’t even need five minutes. “Puerto Rico,” was the ready response.
Puerto Rico is where my mom came from. Surrounded by water, made up of cobble-stone streets filled with Spanish speakers, it was about as different from Arkansas as you can get. And I longed to see it. I longed to see where I came from.
But this post is about the other side of that coin.
After all my last name is Bauman, which is clearly not Puerto Rican. And the Baumanns (we dropped and “n” somewhere between the home country and Ellis Island to make us seem less German, you know) come from the Rhineland, or so my father tells me.
So, naturally, my heart’s been longing to see the second piece of what perhaps used to be mine for a while now.
Last weekend took me to Cologne (Köln), a stunning, ancient town spilling out from both banks of the River Rhine.
I have no idea where in the Rhine valley my surname calls home, but I hope to one day. Until then, I’ll be content with seeing as much German country as I can.
The train ride from Brussels to Cologne took me through some beautiful valleys and hills. My Mizzou travel buddies and I reached our final stop at the Cologne station late afternoon on Friday, grabbed our backpacks and stepped outside.
A stunning view of the cathedral every postcard in Cologne features greeted us, basked in golden 5 p.m. light. We meandered to our hostel, which I’d highly recommend, before making our way to a local beer hall, of which Cologne is famous for.
One very German meal later – filled with mashed potatoes, sausage and the city beer, kölsch – and we were ready to roll (literally) into our bunk beds.
Fantastic weather stayed with us all weekend. We started our day at a chocolate museum (I was cast in the role of Augustus Gloop. I smashed it), got lost in the streets surrounding the river and boarded a river cruise for the afternoon.
As the sun started to droop, spreading it’s rays into the depths of the Rhine, our boat circled back toward the cathedral.
Though thousands of miles separate me from my family, whom I very much so miss, in that moment I couldn’t help but feel at home.