one million words

find your voice. tell your story.

XVIII: Almost Paris

Before the fall of communism my favorite guests are foreigners from the West. Each year we entertain travellers patient enough to comply with strict government stipulations for visitors. Most we meet through church. Our family is known for hospitality, pulling strings of strangers home after the service. We always seem to have enough food and time to sit around and visit. Strangers quickly become friends eating vegetable lasagna. Some spend the night, leaving trinkets I’ll treasure for years.

A middle aged French lady returns several times. She laughs louder than local folks and tells us dramatic stories in her melodious accent. “I wish I could travel to Paris,” I say mostly to myself. “Why not come back with me? Oui?! I’ll show you Paris, tres magnifique…,” she offers, perhaps forgetting our inability to travel outside the Eastern block. “I’ll take Astrid along,” our friend persists, “since she is minor we try get special visa. Oui Oui…”

It sounds too good to be true. This might be my only chance ever to see the forbidden West. I beg my parents to let me go. We huddle over a map of Europe. My finger traces the train route to Paris. Ten hours. I picture myself under the Eiffel Tower, strolling along the Seine, nibbling a croissant. I can’t wait to tell my friends.

The grown ups talk through details. I hold my breath, hang tightly to hope. I know I am in the right place at the right time. It’s so meant to be. I can feel it in my gut.

In the end, it does not work out. Too many unresolved details. Paris turns into almost Paris which is not even worth talking about. Remember the time I almost went to Paris? Yeah. Good times.

Some say when God closes a door, he opens a window. I wait for a window but don’t see one anywhere. I mourn almost Paris and all the accompanying if only’s. Then I overanalyze. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps I would have gotten robbed or injured or never see my parents again. Then I move on, forgetting about almost Paris.

A few months later grown ups gather around TV’s with their mouths gaping, uttering “Madness!” and “Unbelievable!” We stare at crowds of young adults in tennis shoes on a high wall in the dark, waving German flags and beer bottles. Party time! The wall is down. I am free to ride a train in any direction, visit Paris ten times over if my heart desires.

It seemed as though God hadn’t opened the window because he was busy tearing down the whole house.


This is part XVIII of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays about growing up Christian in former East Germany. Some of you think these stories are worth telling. If you are among them, subscribe to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 

8 Replies

  1. Debbie

    Beauuuuuutifully written. The memoriss are so vivid. You have kept them well- treasured. Keep going, Astrid!!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks! I have been reading a good novel which helped me decide to switch back to writing in present tense the way I used to as well as focus on details. Thanks for reading!

  2. Wendy

    Wonderful! Thanks for the insight into life in East Germany. I always love reading your blog. There are always lessons to be learned.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks! Yes- I am learning too. Writing is one of the best ways of processing life for me.

  3. fun to read! and we can all relate to this.
    sending hugs !

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. It was fun to write. I was writing my next post which is visiting the west on my own but then backtracked here… Hope you are well!

  4. Heather Tourville

    Did you ever make it to Paris, Astrid?

    1. Astrid Melton

      Brief visit w/ boyfriend on shoestring budget when I was 16- would love to go back!

Leave a Reply