By Miranda Metheny
I’m not a big fan of people talking about seeing the “real” Germany, or the “real” Spain, or the “real” whatever. As long as you’ve made it across the border, and aren’t just touring Epcot, you are in the real country. Even the most touristy towns are part of a country’s reality — of a whole made up of all its parts. Germany, for example, is both half timbered houses in picture perfect villages, and trendy, dark Berlin, and it’s also the romantic Rhine River Valley, the industrialized Ruhrgebiet zone, the legendary Black Forest, Oktoberfest in Munich, the palaces of Potsdam and the miles and miles in between anything on the little map in the guide book. It’s all Germany, and it’s all real.*
*Except for the whole Sigfried’s-Dragon-Slaying-Cave scam on the way up to Drachenfels Castle. But then again, it gets as many German visitors as foreign tourists.
I don’t like it when people talk about the “real” Germany, because they use it too exclusively, as if the “real” Germany was a special experience for the privileged few (including themselves, or they wouldn’t have played the card), while what the others see is somehow fake… and that’s not what I want to say at all. Still, I think I understand the basic instinct of those on the hunt for the “real” Germany. They’re in search of the unmapped miles, the places in between. The people and the places that are no more and no less “real” than the tourist hotspots, but are nevertheless rarely acknowledged. I feel this instinct as well, sometimes. Maybe because I’m from a “place in between” myself. While I don’t believe in snubbing capital cities or world class monuments on some misguided elitist principle, I do like to take a little time for the empty spaces on the map, to go somewhere less visited.
I spent a weekend or two exploring North-Rhine Westphalia, my home state here in Germany… as well as some of Lower Saxony, to our north, and I loved it. I saw Essen and Dusseldorf and Wuppertal and Munster, abandoned coal mines and fields of new green wheat. I stayed in an old farm house with a family out in the countyside, attended a vaguely barn-style graduation party in a small town (where, I kid you not, they played Cotton-Eyed-Joe, and I danced my Missouri heart out)
I somehow understand this part of Germany. I’m from Missouri. We’ve got the Arch and they’ve got the Cologne Cathedral. Otherwise it’s a lot of agriculture and industry that might have passed it’s heyday. Some cool cities and a few really good universities. Hills and streams and open places. The Rhine and the Mississippi.
So, for those of you who have the eyes to appreciate it, this is also The Real Germany…