Traveling from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA to Berlin, Germany takes about ten hours in total–there is the two hour bus ride from downtown Milwaukee to Chicago O’Hare airport, the seven hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, and then the additional one hour jaunt over to Berlin. By the time I grabbed my luggage in baggage claim all I wanted was a shower and a nap and another dose of antibiotics (I’ve been battling a sinus infection). But my entire mood changed when I saw Oma Ella waiting for me just beyond baggage claim.

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She is real! (I mean, I knew she was real, but there’s always a hint of skepticism when you only know someone from the online world.) She and her lovely grandson Jo were waiting for me with a heartfelt hand-made sign and a little bouquet of flowers. It was the nicest airport reception that I’ve ever had and I’ll never forget it.

Jo (who lives with Ella and his partner Andreas) packed us all into his car and we sped off through Berlin. There was a light rain falling. He translated for Ella as we drove (her English is very limited) and pointed out landmarks. We entered the Tegel section of the city, a beautiful forested area. I noticed that the leaves on the birch trees were an almost otherworldly green, glimmering in the rain. (I’ll be running in the forest today.)

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Jo dropped Ella off at the house, a lovely little place that’s pushed back from the main road. I stayed at the Hotel Igel a couple of blocks away. While eating a bratwurst and some potatoes at the Igel’s restaurant (which overlooks a pretty lake) I met the owner and some of her family members. Igel is the family’s last name. It means hedgehog in German, which explains the various hedgehog figurines throughout the property. She and the restaurant’s staff were preparing for a large birthday celebration to be held on the patio. They were putting fresh-cut flowers in small vases on the tables. It looked like it would be a good party, but I had plans for the evening: Bavarian Night at the Hofbrauhaus downtown Berlin. And Jo had even found a dirndl for me to wear.

Ella was done up in her dirndl when I arrived at the house.

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Her color scheme was a light, dusty blue. She even had a feather headband in her soft, white hair. She looked darling. My dirndl was black with a red apron. I wasn’t sure if I’d put the outfit on correctly, but the guys said I looked German, so I guess I had figured it out. Jo and Andreas wore leiderhosen with rich, suede knickers. Everyone looked great.

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We arrived at the Hofbrauhaus where we were met by several of Ella’s friends. They were all ecstatic to see her, showering the lady with hugs and kisses. She is truly loved. There were huge beers and sing-a-longs and prosting. I sat next to Ella and we prosted many times. She had a constant smile on her face. Jo entered us in the Dirndl Queen competition, a beauty pageant of sorts. Soon we were lining up behind the Hofbrauhaus’s stage, ready to strut our stuff. Ella catwalked with the best of them, waving to the crowd and rubbing her hand over her heart to show how much the applause meant to her. I did my best to win over the crowd, but, alas, I wasn’t chosen as the Dirndl Queen. (You can’t win them all!) Later, Ella, her friends, and I danced to the haus band and even shopped for dirndls in the haus’ on-site store. By the time we headed back to Tegel it was nearly 1 a.m. Jo, ever the tour guide, stopped at the Brandenburg Gate so that I could snap a picture. Then he continued the drive home. Both Ella and I fell asleep in the car, smiles on our faces.

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