As we approach the end of our time visiting family in Germany, it seems fitting that today is the day we travel from Leipzig to Frankfurt on the first part of our trip back to New Mexico. October 3 is a national holiday in Germany–German Unity Day. It is an observance of the event in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany were once again united to become one nation. For me, this trip to Germany has been a wonderful opportunity to reunite with a part of my family that I have been separated from for most of my life.
I was born shortly after World War II. My mother was the only one in her family who left Germany after the war. Everyone else lived in the part of Germany that was designated as East Germany. American citizens were not allowed to visit East Germany and East German citizens were not allowed to visit the West.
As children growing up in Michigan, my siblings and I knew we had grandparents and aunts and uncles in Germany who loved us but we had never met them. We always looked forward to Christmas and our birthdays when we would receive packages from “grandma in Germany.” Everything she sent was exciting and special, nothing like the things we had in the US. As we got older we exchanged letters with our family in Germany. But overseas telephone calls were an unknown luxury in our family. And, of course there was no such thing as the Internet.
It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I met my German family for the first time. My parents and I obtained special visas for a two-week visit. What an eye-opening experience for a naive American college student in the 1970’s to see what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. But also what a thrill to spend time with my grandparents and aunt and uncle.
In the years since my first visit to Germany there have been several other opportunities for the German and American Schwesinger families to meet. Every time has been special and this time was no exception. I have learned a lot this visit about missing years in our shared family history. I hope in the near future to write down more of these stories. Meanwhile, here are a few pictures to illustrate part of the story of this visit.