I'm enveloped in green. This should come as no surprise, given the fact that I'm riding a 15-mile bike trail called "The Green Wreath." It's fresh after a light fall rain, and the winding dirt trails are a little sticky, but boy, are the colors amazing. A brisk headwind is keeping me from going too fast, and that's a good thing. I'm forced to take in the lush, gently rolling countryside and the tunnels of trees that herald my solo, sense-awakening journey. The scenes, though familiar to most anyone in the Midwest, are thousands of miles from the Heartland. I'm in the Münsterland region of Germany.
More specifically, I'm in the cute village of Albersloh where my grandparents have lived for many years. My mother was born and raised in Germany, and she met my Kansas-born father while he was teaching English as part of an exchange program in Bocholt. She happened to teach at the same school. Long story short, the happy couple flew back to the United States, got married in my paternal grandparents' living room in Des Moines, and started a new life together. There's no question that my mom experienced a culture shock when she first visited the United States, but there were also plenty of things that felt like home. I'm reminded of this on today's bike ride as I see endless rows of fertile crops, cattle grazing in the vast expanse and a couple of wind turbines silently dominating the view.
It’s not just the landscape that brings me home. Münsterlanders (the title given to residents of this region) value family above all else. They work incredibly hard but also take time to savor the land and life around them. And nobody makes a foreigner feel welcome like a Münsterlander … except for maybe a Midwesterner. It's no wonder so many Germans chose to settle in the Midwest.
There are, of course, some differences. Before I visit, I have to mentally—and physically—prepare for meals that regularly last 90 minutes or more. Beer is often cheaper than a soft drink. And it’s always hard to say good-bye to the freshly baked hard rolls.
Despite the cultural and culinary differences, Germany feels comfortable. In some ways, it’s another world—and that’s why it makes for a great getaway. But there’s enough Midwest spirit to make you feel right at home.
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