Little did I know my last business trip was, in fact, going to be my last business trip for a while. I’ve recently left my job to take a much needed break and figure out what I want to do next. The reaction from family, friends and colleagues has been incredibly supportive, but I’ve also had more than a few people ask “What about the travel? You love that part of your job!” It’s true. The chance to explore new cities, experience new places and wander thru new locations has certainly been the most fulfilling part of my career in the last few years.
I suppose this last trip was the perfect swan song as I got to visit Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg holds a special place in our family history as my dad was born there and generations of Wiederholds come from the area. When I was studying abroad in college, I had the chance for a short visit with my grandfather’s niece, who was in her 60s at the time. I stayed at her apartment and we went to visit the street my dad lived on – along a canal that was the background for many stories about him as a boy. I also got to see the building where the Wiederhold family furniture store once stood. It was a short visit, but one that ticked all the family history boxes a college student could need.
Returning more than 25 years later I wasn’t sure what what to expect. The last trip had been solely for the family connection. This trip served a different purpose, but I was amazed at how much resonated about who I am and the strong family connections that surrounded me. It was as if I was staring in my own TV episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” Something as simple as seeing the Hamburg flag flying all over the city prompted instant recognition as my dad had one on his boat for years. One of the top tourist destinations in Hamburg is a miniature train museum. Could it really be a coincidence that my dad had a model train set up in our basement throughout my childhood? Knowing it was as much a hobby for him than it ever was a toy for my brother and me, tells me probably not.
The best surprise came in talking to my German colleague who told me about BallinStadt – the emigration museum in Hamburg. The museum focuses on German emigration to the New World and “follows the footsteps of people striving to fulfill their hopes and dreams on their journey to a new homeland”. That is my family’s story! Really, out of all the cities in Europe, it’s Hamburg that has this museum? The “coincidences” were starting to pile up.
Who knows, maybe I was seeking out these connections, but they weren’t hard to find. After the first day, I found myself looking around in wonderment to see what was going to pop out at me next. Ultimately, that is what I want when I travel. I want to find things that resonate and connect me to the place I’m visiting. While this particular city certainly provided a good backdrop for this kind of exploration, there were no guarantees. But taking the time to wander, shaking off the cobwebs of jet lag and being open to what I might see, resulted in a beautifully unexpected part of what could have been a very standard business trip. I’m so glad it was not!