Living Happily Connected – reconnecting with a friend from the past

Through the years, friends may come and go but sometimes you meet someone who leaves a big impression on you.  Despite your strong connection, life gets in the way, and you don’t stay in touch through the years. But the friend never fully left your thoughts or heart. You often wonder what it would be like to reconnect with them after all these years later.

That friend for me was Jan Kahlcke. He was a childhood friend who lived in the small town where my mom grew up in Germany. We were both school-aged boys when I traveled with my family from California to Germany and I had such fun memories playing with him in the neighborhood. We really bonded as friends in a short period of time. But with him living in a small town in Germany hours away from the nearest airport and me living in California, the distance and us both leading busy lives as young men and then as husbands and fathers, prevented us from reconnecting. We were in high school the last time I saw him, more than 40 years ago.

Living Hsppily Connected
My friend Jan and I in the 1970s

But then I had an idea.

I started planning in February 2022 to fly my wife and I out in late April to see our youngest daughter in Florence, Italy while she was there studying abroad. It was a last-minute trip since we wanted to take advantage of the fact that our older daughter, who is working in a paid teacher internship in Thailand, was off on spring break at that time and could meet up with us in Europe for a week. While planning our itinerary, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to plan a trip to Germany to visit my childhood friend Jan and his family, as well as my cousin Thorge, who also lives in the area.

Could I really make this happen, I thought to myself?

I knew what I wanted to do, but to pull it off in such a short time was challenging. There was so much to do, and my wife and I were ridiculously busy in our jobs at the time and with the added restrictions and testing for COVID, it made planning a trip overseas even more challenging. But I was on a mission because I knew how rewarding it would be to see Jan and bring our families together. My plan to see my friend in Germany was now in play!

Here is a timeline of how it all came together.

First, I started by reaching out to Thorge and let them know I was coming and wanted to see him as well as my friend. I asked Thorge if he could help me reach Jan. I was able to speak with Jan through an Instagram direct message to let him know the general timing of our trip and if he and his family were open to us coming to see them. I asked if staying with them was an option but was prepared to stay in a local hotel if needed since there were four of us coming. Jan said we could stay with them, and we initially decided on two nights but then ended up staying one night so we could see a little more of Germany while we were there, knowing our daughters would probably not make it back to this country for a long while.

Second, I needed to figure out the logistics. I booked the flights to Italy in advance, and the separate flights from Italy to Germany and back to Italy. This was after confirming the dates with Jan and my daughters’ availability. Jan recommended for us to take the train from the main Hamburg airport to Rendsburg, a smaller city that was close to his house. I kept Jan up to date as we adjusted our plans and used WhatsApp or Instagram messaging as our modes of communication. I chose the closest location for Jan to pick us up so that involved us taking an airplane (with two changeovers) to Hamburg, and then a 1 hour and 20-minute train ride to Rendsburg and then his closest town was only 17 minutes from there.

The Hamburg train station was rather overwhelming for us, and we unfortunately missed our train and ended up taking a taxi from the airport to Rendsburg. What an experience it was zipping down the Germany Autobahn going more than 100 miles an hour. Good thing my wife and girls were sleeping in the back seat – I think they would have had a hard time seeing how fast we were going!

Third, I did my research in advance of going to Germany to understand the culture, language and what they are known for. Since my family is from this part of the world, I was already somewhat familiar, but I brushed up on basic etiquette for the area and revisited some basic phrases I spoke to my parents on occasion, so I was comfortable with a little bit of the local language. I had also downloaded the Google Translate app as a backup. We brought a book on California as a hostess gift.

For activities, Jan and his lovely wife planned a wonderful dinner for us, including barbecue schnitzel, bratwurst, potatoes and vegetables and it was ALL gluten free, which my wife and daughter appreciated since they are sensitive to gluten. We mentioned this to Jan ahead of time and not only did they serve gluten free foods, but they also made us a traditional German dessert (gluten free version) that they served when we arrived. It’s called “Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte” or Black Forest Cherry-torte and it was scrumptious!

After an equally delicious breakfast the next day, our plans included walking together to my mom’s former neighborhood where she grew up and we also visited with Jan’s mom who lived nearby and got to meet Jan’s daughter’s horse and visit her at the stable. We all had a wonderful time together.

Lastly, we made sure to savor every moment with our new and reconnected friends. I brought photos to share from our childhood and I loved that my cousin Thorge could join us at Jan’s while we were there. He volunteered to take us back to Hamburg and we spent the day with him before he dropped us off at a local hotel so we could visit Berlin the next day. My wife took a bunch of photos and shared with everyone, and we all friended each other on Instagram and Facebook and WhatsApp. Not just the adults but all the kids too were now connected with each other and with me and my wife.

I found that reconnecting with my friend from my childhood was very rewarding and after 40 years of not seeing one another, it was as if no time had passed when we finally did. Me and my family connect with them often on social media and love seeing what they are up to, and they comment and like our posts as well.

While it’s nice to reach out to a dear friend from your past by phone, letter, or social media, it is even better when you can visit with them face to face. It was so worth the effort I made to make sure we fit in that extra trip to see them within our trip to Italy. Having Jan back in my life and with his family too, has truly contributed to bringing more joy into my life and for my family as well.

Brian Knebel

Brian is marketing and product officer for Living Happily Connected and a contributing writer. He writes on a variety of topics including global connection, male friendship, and parenting lessons learned from being a proud "girl dad". A lifelong tennis player, Brian is a competitive player and coaches high school tennis around his full-time business analyst job. You can reach him through LinkedIn.