2017 was a busy year for me and I got to travel to a lot of interesting places and shoot a lot of interesting things. But the photos that I’ll remember long after those other images have faded will be the photos I shot of a trip that my wife, Judy and I took to Germany with my parents. My mom is from Germany; she met my dad there when he was stationed in Frankfurt in the military and I was born there. My parents and I have been back many times since we moved back to the states in the mid 60’s. Judy and I try to get back every three years or so to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins, but my parents haven’t been back in about ten years. Some of my mom’s siblings have been here to visit in those ten years, but there’s no guarantee they will be making any more trips across the pond.
My parents had been toying with making a trip back for the last few years, but for one reason or another, they always backed out. A year ago we thought we had them convinced to take a river cruise through Germany with us, but we couldn’t get them locked in and then they told us to just go by ourselves and have fun. They feared that they would just slow us down.
In early summer, a fellow Wisconsin commercial and editorial photographer, David Jackson, documented a trip he and his family made with his mom to her native Norway in a very similar situation to my parents. Looking at his great story telling photos documenting those priceless moments, I knew we needed to put the hard sell on my parents. I’m not sure we put all that much pressure on my parents, but we did work hard on convincing them we really wanted their company, and that would make the trip even more special for us. In late June to my surprise, they gave me the go ahead to buy them tickets and I wasted no time booking the flights that day. I know once they had spent the money, they wouldn’t back out.
So there it was: a two week trip straddling Labor Day weekend. We got hold of all the family members in Germany and set up our whirlwind tour with one little side-trip for a shoot I needed to do for an industrial photography client. The first few days, we spent time in Frankfurt near my mom’s hometown of Hanau with her sibling, in-laws and nieces and nephews in the area, just taking in the city where my parents met and started a family. From there, we traveled south towards Eichstätt so my mom could spend time with a cousin she grew very close to when they both became displaced from their homes in WWII. From there, it was on to the Allgäu region so I could take care of the one shooting day I had scheduled during the trip. My mom’s sister and her husband met us in the storybook city of Wangen in Allgäu and they got to reminisce and act like sisters, alternately arguing and hugging at random times. From there, it was up to Bad Kissingen, a small little spa and retirement town on the southeastern side of Germany; there my mom spent more time with her sister at her home. To finish up the trip, we went back to Frankfurt and visited with family there while staying with one of my mom’s brothers. We finished the trip with one last, big family meal and even a drive past the tiny house my parents lived in when my brother and I were born. My mom stayed very strong through all these good-byes and was ready to move on, but the story telling emotion was of her siblings.
My mom’s not big on having her picture taken -as is most of her family – but in general, they were good sports as they knew I was documenting the visit. I only got the stink eye once and shoo’d away a couple times. All along, I knew I would create a book of the trip as a gift for my parents. My dad kind of figured that out since I had done one for a cruise we took for their 50th wedding anniversary, so my mom may have given me more access since she knew how much that book meant to her.
Judy and I head down to my parents’ winter home in Florida every other year and this is going to be an off year. We did meet at my brother’s house in Colorado for Thanksgiving, so I made sure to have the book done as an early Christmas gift. Having my parents look through the book as I watched made all the effort worthwhile. I had additional copies of the book made and shipped them off to family in Germany so they would get them for Christmas. I’m looking forward to getting their reaction. I know this will be a present my parents will enjoy for years to come and one I will cherish as well.
Here are some of my favorite story telling photos from the trip.
Thanks for looking!