I’d been dreaming about moving to Germany for years, but I also had other places in mind, like San Francisco, or Chicago, or New Orleans or Seattle. Then one night in 2008, as I was with my sister on the George Washington Bridge driving from New York City to her house in New Jersey, we started talking about a German cousin of ours who we’d never met, but had heard (from another cousin) was currently a best-selling author in Berlin. It was a crime novel. She had also written a short story about our great-grandfather Rudolph Knapp.
Rudy, as he was called, was born in Steinwenden, a very small town in Rheinland-Pfalz, the biggest wine-growing region in Germany. His father owned a hotel and restaurant and butcher shop that’s all in the same building and Rudy, being the oldest son, stood to inherit the place, but in about 1900, he impregnated a maid who worked there. The problem with that was that he had a girlfriend who he apparently loved and who apparently forgave him. She was Catholic and he was Protestant and that was also a problem. So one night at about 3 a.m., Rudy raided the cash register at the hotel, covered the hooves of the family horse with rags and towels, and stole very quietly into the dark streets and clopped off to Bremen where he and his girlfriend boarded the U.S.S. Bremen and sailed to New York City. They then made their way to the Chicago area and Rudy opened a butcher shop in Oswego, had a daughter (my grandmother), sold the butcher shop and became a very successful and much-loved wiener salesman, of all things, for Oscar Meyer. He also repaid the money he stole from the cash register, but he never met the son he’d had with the maid. He had the chance to on one of his trips back to Germany, but refused. He’d made up his mind.
My father was in the S & L business in the 70s and 80s, and when that went under, he moved our family from the Chicago area to Florida almost as abruptly as Rudy moved from Germany to the Chicago. That was in 1985. In 2008, as I drove with my sister over the George Washington Bridge and heard the tale of Rudy and of my best-selling author cousin, I scratched all those big American cities off my list of places I wanted to move to, and decided Germany was the place. Germany will make a better story, I told myself. It’s more extreme. It’s the antithesis of Florida. It’ll make up for all the years I sat in a little gas-soaked shop with a drained and decomposing soul. And who knows? Maybe my best-selling author cousin will open a door for me.
3 years later, in 2011, I exorcised myself of everything and moved to Berlin. A year after that a pregnancy happened, and things weren’t ideal at first, but I didn’t run away. I didn’t Rudy anyone. I’ve made Rudy a verb, by the way. It means to impregnate someone and to jump ship to another country to avoid the consequences. I didn’t do that. But, when my 5-year-old son gets old enough, I will warn him about maids. There’s no need for the cycle – Germany-Chicago-Florida-Germany – to repeat itself in future generations, is there?
Anyhow, I’m still in Berlin and have yet to meet my best-selling author cousin of the German crime novel.
I did however go to Rheinland-Pfalz and visit the hotel/restaurant/butcher shop that Rudy stood to inherit. It’s no longer owned by anyone in my family, but I do have relatives still living on the property, in the ancient little house next door.
It was a Saturday afternoon at about 4 p.m. when I arrived at the hotel. I’d made a reservation and was staying there for one night, but when I walked into the place, there was no one around. I walked through the restaurant and looked at all the trinkets and lace tablecloths and little German decorations. I walked past the butcher shop and looked in. No one was there. I went up to the second floor and walked the halls and didn’t see anyone. Finally, I came back down to the restaurant and sat down at a table and waited for someone to appear. A minute or so later, the radio came on. It was the Bellamy Brothers, Let Your Love Flow. It was as if the spirit of Rudy had come into the building and was telling me something through the lyrics.
So let that feelin’ grab you deep inside
And send you reelin’ where your love can’t hide
And then go stealin’ through the moonlit nights
With your lover
Just let your love flow like a mountain stream
And let your love grow with the smallest of dreams
And let your love show and you’ll know what I mean
It’s the season