More than 600 years ago, a wealthy Regensburger hid 624 golden coins in some containers, and never came back for them. It was a prosperous time in Regensburg, but also a time of war between citizens and princes, when a wealthy merchant might hide his gold to be used in more stable times. But there it stayed, through the destruction of the Jewish Quarter in 1519, through the 30 Years’ War and the Napoleonic wars, World Wars I and II, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Did the merchant have an inkling, even then, that it would be the last time he’d see his money, his home, his city? Better not to know.
We leave here in two weeks, and the certainty of that deadline is tough knowledge. “This may be the last time we….” (ride this trail, play on this playground, eat this ice cream, sit in the cool, hard silence of this church). This is the hard part of leaving a place we’ve called home. If we’d been here a week, there would have been the bright excitement of one-time-only. But because the streets and rivers and playgrounds and grocery stores of Regensburg have become routine, it’s never-again-will-we. It makes me think about growing old, and the inevitability of things and people and places going on without us.
I suspect that my love for doing history has something to do with the sadness of lost things and last times, the distress of a moment going unremarked for all time. Last letters, lost photographs, fleeting meetings that turn out to be life changers. One of the points of our work is to reconnect things with the stories that gave them meaning, and to make the lost, last moments alive with the feelings and desires and fears that, in the larger scheme of things, they symbolize.
Regensburg is full of these little pieces of left-behind. Inscriptions on walls, mysterious carvings over doors, exposed foundations of old houses at a construction site down by the river. These frozen-in-time moments make it a fascinating city. But also, at times, a little creepy. One of my favorite churches here, the St. Emmeram’s Basilika, features the skeletal remains of some departed bishops, still dressed up and reclining dustily in their finery. Perhaps it’s just the Protestant in me speaking, but I’d prefer to remember the good works rather than dressing up the bones.
Yesterday we visited the city of Kallmünz, a picturesque city with an imposing castle ruin and lovely bridges over the confluence of the Naab and Vils rivers. We’d been there before, climbed to the ruin before, swam in the river before. And all I could think, as I jumped in the same river with my three children, was that the pleasure was all in the change. How could the same river have room for these three new beings? The thrill of the difference was as pleasing as the shock of the cold water of the Vils where it flowed into the Naab.
I’m infinitely lucky to have returned to a place I loved so much. I’m sorry to leave it again; no doubt when we walk out of this little apartment, we’ll leave behind bits of ourselves (a map, a Lego block, a chocolate wrapper, a tooth, surely some socks). The next tenants will find our socks and teeth and Legos, and feel sad that we travel sockless and toothless through this world. But we’ll have moved on, bought new socks, grown new teeth.
I’m sorry that the merchant never retrieved his gold. I hope he lived. If he did, I hope he didn’t spend all his life thinking about his goldschatz, and instead, thought fondly of the life he lived here, bought new socks, and moved on.