Thirty-two years ago, I was a 21-year-old woman at a crossroads. Without skipping a beat and with a certainty I envied, most of my friends went off to graduate schools or jobs. I, on the other hand, felt as though a bus had just dropped me off in a strange town and I had no idea where to go or what to do next. Until, that is, I decided to follow in the footsteps of the young 19th Century European men of privilege and embark on my own version of the Grand Tour. In September 1978, I hopped aboard a Swiss Air flight to Zurich and after a long flight and an equally long train ride, disembarked in the Luneburger Heide, the heathland of northern Germany. As luck would have it, my first destination choice – Munster – had fallen through when the two-month intensive German-language session at the Goethe Institute there filled up early. So, I opted for my second choice – Luneburg – an old salt town just a short distance southeast of Hamburg. And, in the words of Mr. Frost, “that has made all the difference.”
On the first day of classes at Luneburg’s Goethe Institute, I met the man who would become my husband. Many memories of those amazing two months in Luneburg are still very vivid, but it was not until recently, when I read my diary from that time to my husband that I realized tea’s role in that life-altering adventure. In my very first entry on September 27, 1978 while overnighting at the Zurich Youth Hostel, I described being taken to tea (NOT coffee) by a man I met at the hostel. Then, the very next day found me sipping two glasses of tea at the Konditorei Schurter on Niederdorf Strasse in Zurich. On the nearly 12-hour train trip from Zurich to Luneburg, I subsisted on a meager breakfast of “raisins and tea,” but once I reached the youth hostel in Luneburg, I enjoyed a Belegtes Brot (light supper) that impressed me not for the quality of the food, but rather for the tea, which I described as “the special part, like a warm cranberry juice.”
In fact, nearly all of the meals I described included tea. But it was the entry on October 3, 1978 that brought the biggest smile to my face. That was my first day of classes and the day I met my husband. The first time I ever wrote his name was when I wrote “tea with Erol.”
This journey back in time has reaffirmed for me that the tea path is the one I was meant to travel.