Surprise – There’s a Part 6 after all! Who would have thought! This Tuesday was Activity Group Night at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, a German Cultural and Events Center here that has given me personally a home when I most needed one. The members of the Phoenix Club welcomed me with open arms as soon as I showed up. They have truly become my German family away from Germany and made it possible for me to have a stronghold amidst the chaos that has been reigning my life.
In Part 1-5 I have focused on counting our blessings, my immigration story, how I became a divorced weekend mom because I forgot how to count those blessings, and how I remembered to count those blessings again. This part takes a bit of a different approach. While I am still proud to be an American, I think it is possible for me to say that because I have first learned how to be a proud German. I have learned that if I don’t embrace who I’ve always been, if I don’t embrace my innate culture and roots, then I am just sort of lost, always looking for an identity. And while it would make sense to look for that identity within the American culture now, deep in my heart I am German (because I was exclusively German for the first 21 years of my life). It’s just that I am a German who’s been in the U.S. for the past 9 years. So – I now proudly call myself (and my son) a German American. Because that’s truly what we are.
Does that make me less American? No! It just adds on perspective. And in our global community, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the ability to see things from different perspectives. So when you’re at the Phoenix Club, it’s like you’re in Germany. Ladies in Dirndl and men in Lederhosen, drinking authentic beer and eating authentic brats, while listening to German music in an environment that looks like Germany. The Phoenix Club was founded, after all, by German immigrants who, just like me, needed to have a home here and a place to get together. Just that today, you’ll hear half the people there speak English, not German. Most of them CAN speak German, but they’ve been here for 50ish years, so English often comes out more easily. And of course there are a lot of members now who have no German roots at all and they’re married into a German family, or simply like Germany.
This place has become my home here. With no family members of my own (other than my son) in the U.S., that’s exactly what I needed to stay sane. To remind me who I am. For the first time in my life, I bought a Dirndl, and within a year, I acquired another one. I’ve never had a Dirndl since I was 5 and we went on a family vacation to Bavaria (only a small percentage of Germans actually wear Dirndls and Lederhosen, you must know). Now I suddenly identify through them as German. Because no one at the club is from my home state, no one speaks my dialect and I really had to practice my proper German. Because of that, my spoken German is better than ever before! I am back in touch with the hobby my family had in Germany – German Mardi Gras. When I am at the club, I am home. And it really feels like home.
All that being said, the Phoenix Club is still in the U.S. So it feels like you’re in Germany, but you’re really in the U.S. The waiters who barely so know the German menu in the restaurant will always remind you of it, if no one else does. You step back outside the club, and you’re back in “the other home.” I went from feeling like I no longer have any home for the longest time, to having two homes now. Getting back in touch with my German roots and being happy to be German was the prerequisite for me to accept that where I am now (the U.S) has to be home now. Once I had fully embraced my German heritage, I could also embrace the American part of me.
Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I have to go back. Because there’s no need – Germany is right here. I CAN have both. I liked being a military wife in Germany because I had the best of both worlds: I was in Germany, but I could always hop on base and be in America. I loved that. Ever since we moved here from Germany, I wanted to go back to that. I felt like losing Germany was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I wanted to go back to Germany, but not lose America altogether. I wanted to go back to the military life THERE. And that just wasn’t possible and feeling like I had to let go of Germany was a major breaking point in my life. But now, it just so dawned on me that the Phoenix Club makes this feeling of “the best of both worlds” possible again; it’s just the other way around. I am in America, but I can always hop in the Phoenix Club and be in Germany. I, once again, get the best of both worlds. Granted, my family and old friends aren’t there, but my new, adopted family is. There are sisters and brothers and moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas. I have plenty of everything. And many of them speak German as well.
So last night, at the activity groups night, I really cherished the atmosphere. Young and old came together to barbeque and enjoy some German performances from our own groups. Even the German consul general came to visit and spoke to us about Germany’s economy thriving again, how Europe has been coming together and because of that, there is no more need for Americans to go into Europe and die because they’re trying to end wars. Europe is now a united front just like the United States and together now, we fight the evils of the world – Germany no longer being one of them. He ended his speech by saying that it is wonderful that Germans and Americans can work together now and that the Phoenix Club is a beacon for the German-American friendship.
And while I applaud our consul general’s sentiments (and his speech was so eloquent, it actually made me tear up); to me, the Phoenix Club is so much more than a beacon for German-American friendship. To ME, it is the lighthouse that showed me the way back home. Home being Germany AND the U.S. It’s not only home, it’s my happy place (apart from Disneyland, which is only five minutes down the road) and when I’m there, the world is good. Not many people can truly say that they have two homes. I can. And while havoc is reigning in my life, that’s one of the biggest blessings I am counting every day now.