That’s what my husband and I did when we last visited Wertheim, my German hometown. At 4:30 on our first jet-lagged morning, rather than continue to toss and turn, we decided to go out for a very early-morning walk around town. The public-works employee we kept encountering as he emptied trash dispensers around this tiny heim only looked surprised the first time, then was friendly each time we met up with him under streetlamps and moonlight.
When an irresistible aroma wafted our way, we followed it to where a column of fragrant, bread-scented steam was rising in the dark in a little alleyway beside a bakery’s kitchen. We stood inside that steamy column and inhaled deeply, as if eating.
In a flash, we had our plan: as we walked around, we’d check the opening times for the bakeries in town and conduct a sort of taste test of Brötchen – those rolls of our childhood like mini loaves of crusty bread with exquisitely soft doughy centers. We’d begin with the bakery that opened the earliest, which turned out to be the one that had been sending out those lovely smells. It was also the hands-down winner – and, it turns out, is right around the corner from an apartment with which we would later begin to fall in love.
The runner-up of the four we sampled was a bakery in the market square that my mother shopped at 50 years ago, owned by the same family for 13 generations. A woman is now its master baker, something highly unusual in Germany when she took the helm there 20 years ago.
As the first train of the day rolled into town, the bridge across the river where we waited at the crossing gate had the sun coming up on one side and the moon setting on the other. It was a little slice of unexpected heaven as we sipped our coffee and nibbled the last of our buttery rolls.
All along one of the bridge’s railings was a sudden gallery exhibit: dozens of intricate spider webs illuminated in the morning sun, dewdrops glittering in them like crystals. It brought to mind those words of Kafka’s: “The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Of course, preceding those words, he asserts, “You do not need to leave your room” … but only sit solitary and listening. In our adventure, of course, we had to accept what we could not change and then go out and see what we could do with it. Or what it would do with us.
But as with most of life, we had to be in motion for any of it to happen.