2020 – Looking Back

December 31, 2019 seemed like a lifetime ago. There we were, packed in a corner of Ristorante Milano with about two dozen of our best friends and children. We were all dressed as if we were straight out of The Great Gatsby, excited to bring in this millennium’s “Roaring 20s.” We took a taxi home where our friends joined us for karaoke until midnight, where then we were interrupted with fireworks over the next few hours. 2020 was going to be our year. We’d been in Germany for three years, and by now we think we figured everything out. We knew how to get anywhere by plane, train, and automobile, and we also had a decent following on Kaiserslautern Day Tripper. 2020 was going to be lit.

We had it perfectly planned. We would start the year off with our winter trips to Garmisch followed by Chamonix. The spring would make way for an epic Spring Break trip in Switzerland and Italy. We would catch the tulips at the perfect time in Keukenhof, then head down to Stuttgart for Frühlingsfest. After our annual Cinco de Mayo bash at the house, we would spend the first week of June at World Club Dome in Frankfurt. We would be greeted with a Spanish Summer with different trips to Barcelona and Ibiza. We’d spend fall in Switzerland again and probably rent two tables again at some Oktoberfest celebration. In November and December, we would see more Christmas Markets than reasonable, and I’d spend the time in between searching for the best slopes. Damn, 2020 was going to be awesome.

Everything started off better than planned. We took our January trip to Garmisch, followed by another ski trip to Chamonix in February. We even squeezed in a trip to the Bruges Beer Festival and two trips to Paris. Then BAM! It seems like the world stopped. Even if I “wanted” to travel during a pandemic, a series of Host nation rules and military General Orders ensured I wouldn’t be going far.

We had a pretty modest Kaiserslautern Day Tripper following, and I had no idea how I could sustain the page during the pandemic. The core of our page was “Weekend Edition,” which I canceled as Germany began to shut down. When Germany shut down in March 2020, we had no idea how long the pandemic would last, or if we would ever be able to travel Europe again.

I remember writing a blog post in March about how we were going to approach the lockdown. We tried to be optimistic and see 2020 as a year for personal growth. I think we’ve accomplished that this year, and I’d like to share with you how we’ve turned 2020 into opportunity.

We love getting out and meeting new people, but 2020 has been a great opportunity to strengthen our existing friendships. With rules constantly changing for individual contacts, we saw it best to keep our circle small and focus on our friends this year. While still in a strict lockdown in April, we were bummed about having to cancel our Stuttgart Frühlingsfest reservation. Instead, we had a Zoom Frühlingsfest with about a dozen friends. Even friends that had already returned stateside were able to join in the fun. I’m sure our neighbors looked upon with laughter as I stood on my lawn chair with my beer stein raised high. It was a great 2-hour experience catching up with our current and past friendships.

We’ve also looked for unique ways to spend time in person with our friends. With relaxed restrictions in the early fall, we celebrated Oktoberfest at home. Dressed in Lederhosens and Dirndls, our closest friends came over as we tried to recreate our annual fall experience. Then there’s a new tradition we started called a progressive dinner, where we walk from house to house drinking and eating. Mostly drinking. We’ve also taken the opportunity to travel with our friends when possible. We’ve done last minute and mostly unplanned weekend trips to Paris, the Rhine River, the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, and the Black Forest with our friends.

Many of you have read our Post-Quarantine series, where I pretty much talk about what it was like to travel as we all emerged out of the lockdown period. There’s something that felt sweeter about traveling when you believed you never would again. The Post-Quarantine (or more appropriately the Inter-Quarantine) Europe also made way for much cheaper travel. Under normal circumstances, there is no way we could have afforded three nights in Garmisch followed by eight nights next to St. Tropez. Then, weeks later a few nights next to the Eiffel Tower, and a few weeks after that, three nights right on the Adriatic. While we did have lots to spend from our previously canceled trips, the cheaper rates for lodging made way for experiences we would have never had.

The best gift 2020 has given us is greater opportunity to explore much more of the Kaiserslautern area. The spring made way for really great weather, and we used the opportunity to explore Germany in a different way. We’ve always enjoyed hiking, but our hikes before were centered on bucket-list hikes. I can’t believe it took three years of living here and a pandemic to make us realize how much there is to see around here. Without much fanfare, the Palatinate Forest is rich with medieval castles just waiting for you to visit! I was amazed at how we just walked into and roamed around Burg Falkenstein, a well preserved castle with an Amphitheater. I awed at the massiveness of the Dahn Castle complex. I imagined how it felt to look upon your subjects as I stared out of Burg Neidenfels.

The great outdoors and great weather also made way for other great places to explore. I remember back in May when we were stuck to a 100km limit, how we drove as far as possible to Bacharach. We biked to Bingen and back, stopping to explore the castles that lined the Rhine River. I remember mid and late October gave us the most colorful fall colors, which absolutely stunned us as we visited Adlerbogen and hiked Donnersberg.

In a time where it almost felt like there was nothing to do, Nellie and I wanted to show everyone how much you could still enjoy exploring the area. Every time someone hollered at us at the Shoppette that they did one of our hikes, it seemed worth the time and energy we put into Kaiserslautern Day Tripper.

I’m currently reading the book “The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris,” and I recently read about how Europe braced for decades as the world struggled with Cholera Morbus. A year ago, I didn’t even know what COVID-19 was, and today the vaccine has lifted the world with hope. Despite what the Facebook memes tell us, 2021 looks promising, and we all are excited for the day we can travel without having to quarantine or have a Q-tip jammed up our noses.

Until then, we will undoubtedly have periods in 2021 where we will be grasping for new things to do. Just know, your new experiences may be a virtual festival with your friends, walking house to house with drinks, planning a spontaneous trip when the restrictions are suddenly lifted, or just wandering deep into the forest. My prayer is that we can all soon return to our old normal. If it takes a while though, I’m sure 2021 will make way for a ton of new opportunities for you. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!