Returning To My Mother’s Hometown in Germany
Not all of us have the chance to see where our parents came from. Like everyone, they’re shaped by where they grew up and as their children we only see the outcome. It’s only when we grow older that we start to learn about our parents as complete people with a full history. I was fortunate enough to be able to do just that and visit my mother’s hometown of Neuenrade, Germany over Christmas.
Neuenrade is a small, hilly town in the Sauerland region of North Rhine-Westphalia with a population of over 12,000. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Cologne and Dusseldorf and an hour drive from Wuppertal and Dortmund. One of my aunts still lives there, so we visited her while staying in a charming Airbnb that was built in 1732 and renovated in 1990.
Having not been to Neuenrade in years, we took a walk around town to see what had changed and what was the same. It’s easy to fall in love with the charming homes with their deeply sloped roofs, intricate lace curtains, flower boxes, and Tudor style—the smaller homes bring to mind fairytale dwarves or Lord of the Rings hobbits. Not to mention that everything is extremely clean, from the streets to the Airbnb where we stayed. We stopped by the school my mother attended, which was exactly as it had been when she was younger. We also visited her childhood home and attended Christmas Day church service at the Lutheran church she went to as a child. According to her, the church appeared exactly as it was in her youth, including the detailed woodwork and upper balcony where she and her friends got into trouble during services. Apart from the addition of more homes and relatively new Turkish residents, Neuenrade was pretty much unchanged since her youth.
We also visited the neighboring town of Altena, which is known for Burg Altena, a 12th-century medieval hilltop castle and home of the world’s first youth hostel. We took a few hours to walk through the castle and see the exhibits inside, including a panoramic view of the town from the castle’s rear courtyard. Afterwards, we took a stroll through the town itself which, like Neuenrade, has plenty of cute, very old homes that look like they came straight out of a fairytale. The small towns of Neuenrade and Altena may not be on many people’s must-visit list, but they show a part of German life and history you can’t necessarily get from visiting a big city.