Monday, January 25, 2010

Goin' Home

I don’t get lost, per se, when I return home to Maryland for visits, which is where I am writing from now over the 2009 holidays. I learned to drive on these streets many moons ago when driver’s ed. was still a part of the offered high school curriculum. Some new roads have been added over the ages and a few have been redirected and modified (ol’ #32 used to be a two-lane country road and is now a multi-lane thruway) but not so much that I end up on the Eastern Shore when I’m trying instead to get to Frederick.

What I do find, unlike my friends who were born and raised in the same area and have lived there all of their lives is that while the roads will always be familiar to me the names do fade away. It is the classic “I know where I’m going but couldn’t tell ya how to get there” scenario. I remember the street we lived on but have forgotten most of the roads around it. I remember the main road leading to our neighborhood but only when I see the street sign do I remember the road number. On a trip to Europe I discovered the same thing.

Some years ago I was heading to Switzerland on business and had a unique opportunity to return to the army bases around Stuttgart where I grew up during the Cold War 70s in what was then West Germany. A friend of mine was in the military at the time and stationed in Germany. He agreed to meet me at the main train station and use his military access to take us both back down memory lane.

If GPS devices were available then we certainly didn’t have one. Everything was a fuzzy but certain memory from the station to the first stop on our tour, Robinson Barracks in the middle of town and situated on a massif overlooking the heart of the city. We knew that the main road leading to “Mach’s Nicht’s Corner,” the name all military personnal called the massive six-road intersection at the bottom of the hill, was to the north leading up and away from the valley where the Hauptbahnhof sits. After some dead reckoning and dusty memories from what was then 18 years of separation Robinson Barracks was quickly found, right where we left it.

The military presence in Stuttgart today is significant but not what it was during the days of Brezhnev and N.A.T.O. vs. the Warsaw Pact. “R.B.” is now a housing base only where it was once the unquestioned hub of life for the entire valley, including offices, schools and shopping. Enough of it remained to pull many wistful memories as did the other kasernes we visited that day, Kelly Barracks, Patch Barracks and Boeblingen Kaserne. Eight years of my life were spent in Stuttgart, off and on from 18 months of age to the seasoned veteran teenager of 15. Not having a license and relying on buses and parents to get me around back in the day I’d say served my friend and I pretty well that nostalgic afternoon.

Neither of us could remember a single street name but we knew where they were in relation to each other and got turned around only once because they had re-located a highway on ramp from where I remembered it had been. Today I not only have the memories and the photos but the benefits of Google Maps as well to bring it all back.

The road leading “up the hill” to R.B. as we used to say is not as steep as we remembered it to be. What road is? The name is the same though; it is Auerbachstrasse.

Gotta go.

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