The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

July 13, 2009

Bob, Beer and Me excerpt — Heidelberg

            While not necessarily known for its beer, Heidelberg, Germany is known for its university and, as everyone who has ever matriculated into an institution of higher education knows, a college town is a beer town.

            We chose Heidelberg as the first stop on a short beer journey in the early spring of 2008 for three reasons:  it is easy to reach via train or bus after flying into Frankfurt; it is known for its historic university-oriented “drinking clubs” as well as Vetter’s Brauhaus, a revered brewer among the drinkerati; and, it has a castle.  Both Bob and I are suckers for castles, having spent hours when our girls were young either climbing over the ruins of castles and abbeys on one of our escapes to another country; reading about the people, both real and mythological, who had inhabited castles in days past; or planning, saving for, and daydreaming about our next trip when we’d be able to go castle hopping again.

            For so many of us Americans, castles are depicted in our minds as imaginary – crayon creations that fade easily into the clouds, or miniature sand structures that wash away before they’re even completed.  That’s one thing so many European children have over America’s kids – castles exist right in many of their back yards.  Their entrances and aprons are rarely roped off and seldom will you find black and yellow safety tape limiting children from climbing the ramparts or peering out through arrow loops or murder holes.  The castles are stone cold real.  And with this reality comes intrinsic connections to two vital pieces of the puzzle that help construct life and life expectations for a child. 

            One is not just a link, but a relationship with the past.  It is tangible.  The evidence is there.  While America’s children have been asked to believe in a combination of the vagaries of an ideological identity shaped by Hollywood, the executive office and the power of pride, the best they can hope for is an occasional en masse field trip to a Civil or Revolutionary War battlefield.  The past is not even past, for so many American kids; it never even existed.  For kids growing up in cities like Heidelberg, with a castle dating from 1214 AD, they need only look over their shoulders to Heidelberger Schloss, to witness scenes from a living history book on a daily basis.  Preservation of the past is an important lesson to learn from our elder countries.

            The other and equally important puzzle piece that castles can offer children is the association of the imaginary with the real.  When castles and palaces and thatched roofs and stone cottages can only be found in story books, it may serve to encapsulate fantasy, imagination and creativity – turning the act of making the impossible possible into a box that can be shut – a book than can be closed – a dream more easily dismissed than believed in.  Maybe castles that we can touch and feel and climb through can serve as reminders that what we imagine can come true no matter how fanciful it may seem.

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