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Stranded and Scared, we Find Ourselves Dependent on the Kindness of (German) Strangers, in Coburg.

Each time I think I've experienced every possible scenario while traveling, I am thrown another curveball. For example, when I lost my phone on our first day in Europe, after a very long journey from Los Angeles, I thought we had gotten the big mishap of this trip out of the way. I was relieved it was behind us. Less than a week into a six-week trip, what was I thinking? I spoke way too soon.


On Sunday morning we were up at what would have been the crack of dawn, if we weren't so far north, where the crack of dawn is well before 5 AM. We packed up, as usual, and headed out on the road to Coburg, the birthplace and childhood home of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's beloved husband. Being the anglophile I am, I rearranged our entire trip so that we could make a stop in Coburg to see the three palaces belonging to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Albert's family.


Our nearly two-hour drive was without incident until we grew close to Veste Coburg, the largest palace of the three and our first stop in Coburg. Garin was in the front seat, navigating, as usual. The other three children were in the back, quarreling as usual. The navigation took us up a strangely narrow and extremely poorly paved road, through what felt like a forest. I mentioned to Garin that I thought something seemed off. There is no way this could be the only way up to the palace, given what a popular tourist sight it is. I told him. The further we drove, the steeper the road became, the more potholes and unpaved portions I encountered, and frankly, the more concerned I grew. The little ones in the back seat were giggling as the car jostled from side to side, as I tried to navigate the craggy road. I was not giggling at all. But there seemed to be no way and nowhere to turn around, so I had no choice but to continue, not knowing what lay ahead. To make matters worse, the rental car we have for this trip is automatic, which I would normally prefer, as opposed to the manual ones we had in Ireland and Scotland last year.


All of a sudden the car wouldn't go. We were stuck and the front wheels were spinning. I could not get any traction and the road had grown extremely steep. Off to the right side was a rather steep drop off, to make matters worse. I made numerous futile attempts, even trying to put on the emergency break and "shift" the car into a lower gear. No luck. Rather, the car was now at an angle and had slid backward. The rear of the car was teetering frighteningly close to the edge where the dropoff was. I was scared and out of ideas. but tried to maintain my composure for the kids. It was time to find help! The car would have to either be pushed out or towed out if that was even possible.


I got everyone out of the car, put them at the side of the "road" and told them to wait while I ran up the hill further to a main road I could hear ahead (probably the road we should have been on, no doubt). My heart was pounding because I could not imagine how I was going to find help. When I reached the top, there was a small parking lot across the street with just 6-8 spaces. In the parking lot, I saw a group of six or so men putting on their helmets and getting ready to ride off on their motorcycles. I didn't even think, I just tore across the street and ran up to them. I could barely speak I was so distraught. I asked them if any of them spoke English and a few nodded their heads. I explained the situation we were in and pleaded with them for help. They immediately agreed to help.


Three of them walked back down the hill with me to assess the situation and try to figure out what to do. They suggested they try to push the car up and out, if possible and I agreed that would most likely be our best bet. One of them took the keys, got in the car, and started it, while the others started to push from behind. If the car had slipped any further over the edge, pushing it would have been impossible. I too got behind the car as well as the kids, and we all pushed, while the skillful driver negotiated the steering as he went up, to avoid the huge muddy ditch I had gotten stuck in to begin with.


My heart pounded as they struggled to get our poor VW Passat up the impossibly steep, poorly paved road. After some time, the car finally reached the top and made it onto the main road. The gentleman driving the car pulled it over to the small lot across the street, where their motorcycles were, and parked it for me. I ran up to each of the men who had helped us and threw my arms around them. I was filled with such deep gratitude for these strangers who stopped what they were doing to help us out of a terrible and frightening situation.


I do not doubt that God was with us that morning. If I had arrived even two minutes later at the top of that hill those men would have been long gone. I could have arrived at the top of the hill and seen no one to ask for help or even encountered a group of little old German ladies (we have seen lots of them on our trip thus far), well-meaning, but incapable of helping. However, instead, I arrived to find a group of burly men on motorcycles all wearing helmets (and halos)!


Later in the day, as we were driving from Coburg to Bamberg, our final destination for the day, we were playing the radio in the car. Let It Be came on the radio. The kids and I all looked at each other with the same thought. This can't possibly be a coincidence. Let It Be is my mom's song, the song she wanted played at her funeral. It always has a way of eerily playing on the most random radio stations and at the strangest times, making it impossible to chalk it up to coincidence. Yesterday was no exception. I knew then that my mom had been there with us on that desolate road earlier that day when we found ourselves stranded. There was simply no other way to explain the good fortune we had in finding our motorbike guardian angels.


In the morning, we packed up our rental car per usual, which we barely fit in, Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, and were on the road for Coburg by 8 as planned, with no idea of what lay ahead.


It was nothing short of a miracle that we (and our trusty VW Passat) made it out unharmed.


Arved, one of the men who helped us, gave us his number as he was leaving. I am so glad he did! We have been texting, almost non-stop, over the last few days, going over the events of that morning as well as sharing details of each other's lives. He shared with me that the man who helped drive our car out was his father, Lars. The other gentleman who helped push the car up the hill is a good friend of his father's, named Jurgen. Arved, who just turned 19 years old, was four to five hours from his hometown when our paths crossed in Coburg. As it turns out, he lives in the same region of Germany (lower Saxony) where my father was born and raised. Like the village where my dad spent his childhood, Arved is also from a small village, about 30 minutes away from my dad's childhood home. What are the chances? Life can be so strange.


Without a doubt, this will be the most memorable story from our trip. Or at least I hope it is!




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