Finding home in a foreign country

By Bailey Brammer | Broadcast Managing Editor

It can, and has been argued that home is both a place and a feeling.

Typically, a house or building represents the physical location we call “home,” and the memories we associate with that place elicit our feelings. Most of the time, though, we typically spend time in a place before we christen it with the title “home.”

This summer, I embarked on the popular Baylor experience of studying abroad. I spent just under six weeks exploring Budapest –– trying new foods, learning new languages and even perfecting the art of public transportation. However, while my time in Hungary was certainly memorable, the most impactful part of my trip occurred, not in the city split by the Danube River, but in the German Alps.

My grandfather, Karl Oskar Klenk, was born and raised in Germany and went on to become a member of the German Air Force. He primarily flew F-104’s, which were unfortunately nicknamed “The Lawn Dart” and “The Widowmaker,” among other titles. These planes were notorious for malfunctioning –– especially in poor weather –– and claimed the lives of 115 German pilots, including my grandfather’s.

On the night of June 11, 1968, Oskar was taking part in a training exercise across the German Alps in Bavaria. There was nothing abnormal about the mission to begin with; however, an issue with the plane caused my grandfather’s aircraft to crash into the side of Hochgrat, the tallest mountain in that region of the Alps. He was killed in the crash at the age of 25.

My grandmother, Ruth Klenk-Janzik, was widowed while she was eight-months pregnant with my mother, as well as caring for her one-year-old son, my uncle. My mother never had the chance to meet her father.

This summer marked the 50 year anniversary of this horrible crash, and my family journeyed all the way from Phoenix to hike the mountain where Oskar was killed and to lay flowers on his grave. I was able to take advantage of a free weekend during my study abroad trip to fly from Budapest to Munich and meet up with my relatives for the event.

Again, while I will forever look back on fondly on my time in Hungary, my experience in Germany was completely unique. I’d grown up hearing stories from my mother about her time there as a small child, as well as seen pictures and learned about the country in both history and geography classes.

Everywhere I turned –– in the big cities, on the small farms, in my great aunt’s kitchen and even at the top of the highest peak in the Alps –– I felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity. I had never been to Germany, had never experienced what it looked like, tasted like and felt like, but somehow, I felt more at home than I ever had back in the United States. It was as if I’d been missing a piece of myself for my entire life, and it had taken flying across the world to find it, but here it was.

Although I never knew my grandfather, his influence was present in each of his surviving family members. He was known for being brilliant, talented, brave and giving, and my grandmother, my uncle and my mother all exemplify these traits.

My mother raised her four children with a “gemütlich” mindset. Gemütlich is a German word that doesn’t have an exact English translation, but essentially encompasses a welcoming, cozy atmosphere or feeling –– you could even say gemütlich represents the feeling our homes give us. This feeling was definitely present while I was growing up, but even more so in my first taste of my Germany.

Bailey is a senior journalism major from Phoenix.