My cross-country grandpa

Grandpa and me, Christmas, probably 1989.

Grandpa and me, Christmas, probably 1989.

When I was born, my grandfather was only 48. “You weighed no more than a loaf of rye bread”, he used to tell me about how he first meet me. I was his first grandchild.

I spent lots of holidays with grandpa and grandma. Grandpa worked in his own company that was right behind the house. I used to come in, sit down on his lap and wish him a good day, marveling at the office stationery. (Always had a thing for staplers and paper clips. Not to mention all the copies of my hands I made on his company’s copier.)

As I grew older, grandpa told me, “If you ever get in trouble with your mom, you get on a train to Osnabrück and grandpa will pick you up anytime”. Even though this was clearly an act of undermining my mother’s authority, I think it was a brilliant thing to say as a grandpa. I never had to get on a train for that reason but it happened that I stranded in a remote village and grandpa sat down in his old Mercedes and came to pick me up, just like he had promised. In his later days, he used to call himself a “cross-country grandpa”.

The only fight I ever remembered was when I was in my teens and I wanted to watch a daily soap desperately. Grandpa insisted on watching “Tagesschau”, the national news, at exactly the same time. I was furious but there was no way I was gaining control of the remote. Today, I love watching “Tagesschau”.

During the 27 years I got to spend with him, he coined lots of funny sayings and expressions, often in Low German which was his mother tongue. When I told him of a new friend, he used to ask, “Kann man mit der gut kramen?” (“Is she fun to get along with?”)

He also gave compliments by saying (in Low German) “You will get rid of that girl without paying a dowry”. But he nevertheless always reminded me to beware of superficialities because “You cannot eat from a pretty plate, there must be something on it, too”.

He could be very funny and I remember how we last year talked about how some people are difficult to connect with. “I just can’t talk to them”, I said. “How do you do it?” “Well”, grandpa replied, “I am in the lucky position to be able to talk to a pig if I must”.

For me, grandpa was not an old man who was living in the past. He knew a lot about geography and was very interested in politics. He cut out newspaper articles and gave them to me so that we could discuss the matter. He loved provoking me with bold political and religious theses.

He knew what was going on in the world and despite his life being spent in a limited radius in a small village, he had a global mindset. As a new wave of refugees came to Germany and the question caused a political stir, my grandpa said, “I don’t understand why we have to be hard on those refugees. Does anyone truly think those people came here voluntarily? They have fled from war and destruction and we act like we could not afford to help them”.

When I struggled with deciding which country I should live in, I brought up the subject to grandpa and he said, all global citizen, “It does not matter. Nowadays, it is irrelevant where you live. You can travel anywhere”.  As I stood before job decisions, he nodded confidently and advised me, “Even if you don’t feel it, you need to tell yourself before you go into an interview: Ei äm ze grrrätest. [I am the greatest].”

After my grandma’s death, I often used to visit him on Sundays. Grandpa sat in his garden which he called “the paradise” and offered me apple cake. When I did not come during coffee time, he gave me dark bread with cheese and milk, the most delicious simple meal I know, forever nostalgically connected to grandpa. The times when I stayed the night, we sat and watched the late night talk show and grandpa got some apples that he cut up for us.


He loved singing, just like me, but our taste in music did differ. Grandpa liked old songs and shanty choirs. For his last birthday in the beginning of March, I asked Ingrid to draw a birthday card for him. It pictured a shanty choir made up of his 14 grandchildren singing happy birthday.

After two heart attacks, he was scheduled for a surgery on March 10th. I called him before and said I would light a candle for him, something he used to do for us in special situations. “I’ll light a candle so that you get well soon”, I said. He answered: “And if I don’t, keep me in fond memory”.

I sure will. He put the grand in grandfather.

“I go, heart at rest inside me,

to a world elsewhere

You’ll find me again,

you will see, it isn’t over

You’ll find the way, I know it in my heart

And I’ll be waiting there.”

(I’ll be waiting there/I gott bevar, Kristina från Duvemåla)

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