Mike and I visited a local Oktoberfest celebration this past weekend. Hearing the authentic German band brought back so many memories. Oddly, more of my childhood than of my own wedding just two years ago, which took place at the same site. Old memories trump new, apparently.

You see, I am German on both sides: mom and dad, and all 4 grandparents. My dad was so proud of his German heritage. He knew a smattering of German from his paternal grandmother, who lived with them while he was a child and spoke only German, and he loved German music, amassing a large collection of records (yes, actual vinyl) and later CDs of German marches, polkas, and ballads.

Every Sunday, we ate dinner to “The German Hour” on the radio. The host spoke in German, so we kids didn’t understand a thing, but we all remember his name, “Gerhart Matthias,” his sing-song “Thank you very much, Zhim” to Jim the announcer, and his credits to the program’s sponsor “Hugo’s Fine Foods.” (He sounded a lot like Lawrence Welk, another of my dad’s favorites.)

Between this Sunday music ritual and my dad’s frequent playing of German records, I recognize many German songs, humming the melodies and butchering the words. How fitting that my alma mater, The University of Pittsburgh, has its alma mater set to the melody of the German national anthem.  

Hearing the Oktoberfest band, toasting with the traditional “Zicke-Zacke-Zicke-Zacke Hoy, Hoy, Hoy!”, watching the few (largely older) couples who knew how to dance polkas and such…it was bittersweet, conjuring fond memories of Sunday dinners past and of my dad, now gone nearly 6 years. In many ways, Dad was a stranger to us. It wasn’t until his later years that he grew closer to us kids. But his passion for all things German, his love of music, his family name (so integral to who I am I couldn’t bear to change it, even though I married someone with an even more German name) are all part of who I am. I’ll never hear German music without thinking of him and feeling bittersweet about this man I didn’t really know, but who left me a legacy I treasure just the same. Danke, Dad. Have a Straub with Uncle Walter for me. Prost!

What lies behind us and what lies before us are
tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
                                      ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. CUTEBLOG NAME said,

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    I believe it was his maternal grandfather that lived with them. Feller by the name of Schwab. Had a parrot that swore in German, took him to his first movie, etc.

  2. christinehollinger said,

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Thanks, CuteBlog Name. I meant to say “maternal” but I really thought it was his grandmother (I remembered “Schwab” at least.) Thanks for the correction.

  3. 3-of-7 said,

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    I believe until he was 5, he spoke only German.

  4. christinehollinger said,

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Well, looks like we all need to pool our knowledge! Let’s add this as a topic at Christmas–“Dad. The early years. Discuss.”

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