Onwards to Germany.

How a person chooses to travel must surely count for something … when the destination is reached.

 

I had an entire day of watching the Alps as our train travelled through the Brenner Pass from Bologna to Munich. It gave me hours to anticipate arriving in a city I have never seen and yet had heard so much about from my German parents. It also gave me hours to draw and write, which seems to go very well with train travel.

During the journey, my visual diary was haunted by a fellow traveler with coat and suitcase. Eventually I arrived in Munich, with rather more baggage than my Birdwoman and wearing a far less stylish coat.

Despite my family history, I personally was a stranger to the city. However it was my good fortune to have made the acquaintance of Patti Coughlan Buff the regional advisor of SCWBI Germany/Austria before setting out.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Patti, Twyla Weixl, (myself), Andrea Bildstein, Ibi Addey, Emily Schoenbeck and Tracey Jaffert from SCWBI Germany for welcoming me so warmly.

As we settled in on a very lovely Munich morning, to work our way through pizzas the size of hub caps and discuss the seemingly universal joys … and otherwise, of working in children’s literature. Discussions soon turned to the challenges of being a creator and facing the difficulties of seeking a publisher, of making inroads into the industry, of accessing the market and promoting a product, challenges which are all shared. It is one of those truly difficult realizations we must face, that making the work is just the start. The reality that creators have to learn how to wear a dozen other hats while riding a unicycle and juggling flaming lions is something that can cause groans of despair when authors and illustrators get together.

Sharing this knowledge is one of the enlightening things of being a member of industry bodies such as SCBWI. If only I had been able to sit and ask questions of folks like these when I started out twenty years ago … I might have started juggling much sooner.We finished up with coffees and sharing works in progress. Later I was treated to a surprise tour of Munich’s French Quarter by Twyla. The idea was to do a little drawing and end up either at someplace that served beer or ice-cream. I hoped for both but in the end was happy to settle for Twyler’s encyclopedic knowledge of her adopted city and some spectacular ice-cream.

While most of my time in Germany was spent in Munich, a little side trip was arranged via an invitation of Sanne Dufft (SCWI Germany/Austria regional illustrator coordinator) to visit her beautiful home town of Tuebingen.

Our accommodation was unusual in that it was a hospital and research institute for tropical diseases. It just so happens that rooms are also available to travelers which was somewhat ironic in our case, as we hail from the subtropics and have been punctured by an astounding array of blood sucking insects. I was tempted to offer my body to science there and then, but not at the risk of missing dinner with Sanne and her family. I had seen her new book Magnus and the Lion at the Bologna Book Fair and so was very keen to meet her and hear about her experience as a published German illustrator. We hoed into big, pale, delicious spring asparagus and compared stories. The following day we went about drawing in the old part of town.

Something I could not help but notice as we traversed the little streets of this roman built town, was Sanne’s deep sense of connection to her city and her culture.

(Julia and Sanne)

The question of such connections were much on my mind as we said farewell to Sanne and Tuebingen .

Driving back to Munich, I recalled a story my mother had told me, of how she had once been seized by the impulse to ride to the Polish border on her bicycle … just to stare across into another country. This brought me right back to Munich, a small feathered woman endlessly travelling across the pages of my journal and the reason I had come to this part of Germany.

My mother had been orphaned here soon after the war ended. I went to the district she had lived and found a beautiful street of four story buildings which overlooked a steep wooded embankment next to a small and clear river. Through the bare branches I could glimpse parts of the city’s rooftops and church spires. All around me were deciduous trees with new tender leaves and tiny flowers in impossibly soft grass.

All of this was exactly the kind of pretty European scene I was expecting, with its graceful buildings and people out in the streets each evening, charmingly glowing from that excellent local beer. The city is rich in cues for a sense of Heimat; a feeling for the place one hails from.

However this same city presented very differently to my mother’s eyes 60 years ago. Her only desire was not to stand and look across the border into another world, but to step over the boundary and never return. That is what she eventually did and it was a brave act. The fact that life is precarious was a lesson she had not missed, nor my father for that matter.

I have always envied people who have a sense of belonging. Doubtless my migrant background has something to do with this. However, I also think there was a gift in my sense of loss, which was the necessity to respond creatively to the question of making oneself at home in the world.

Picture books taught me this – the meaning implicit in imagery. The language of emotion and connection, the lesson that sense can be made of the world and in that effort, a place for ourselves can be won. No matter where we are.