Happy Beethoven’s Birthday!

Today is Dec 16th, the day we celebrate Ludwig von Beethoven’s birthday. It’s kind of strange that we don’t know for sure if he was born on the 16th or not; way back then newborns were usually baptized on the day they were born or the day after. Records show only that little Ludwig — his name means “Little Grumpy Face” — was baptized on the 17th, in 1770.

Back in 1973, when I had as much hair as Beethoven did, I decided to see if my young and wobbly flesh contained a spine, so precious funds were saved, a passport was obtained, and I found myself for the first time on a jet plane speeding eastward. It took me to Europe, where I spent a year traveling and growing up. Part of that year was passed in England, exploring and working behind a bar. The rest of the year found this intrepid reporter on the Continent.

The summer before, good fortune and thoughtful friends caused my life to intersect with that of a lovely German girl, Almut, in the Washington DC area where I grew up. Almut Schultze-Böing came from the farming village of Kamen, outside Dortmund, a major German industrial city. (My buddies from Seattle will be pleased to know that it was a relative of hers who came to Washington State and founded the Boeing Company; the spelling of her last name becoming anglicized.) Anyway, she was visiting friends of mine from high school.

Almut and I were reunited in Geneva, Switzerland, and after an incredible visit with friends of hers in Chamonix, France, knocking on the door of Mont Blanc, we returned to the farm at Kamen. There I was taught the intricacies of, as Mark Twain wrote, “That Awful German Language”. With assistance from knowledgeable locals, I purchased proper hiking boots and a backpack, and began outfitting myself for a journey.

My hitch-hiking expedition, which would take me all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland and beyond, started in Bonn, the birthplace of Beethoven. Back in 1974, Bonn was the capital of Germany, although Berlin took back that honor after reunification in 1990. After getting lost in the city a few times — and I recommend getting lost to any world traveler — I found myself at the door of the house where the great composer was born.

The entry fee was very modest, and soon my eyes were wide while walking through the same rooms and halls as little Ludwig did. There was his tiny bed, a diminutive desk, and best of all, a little piano. Cool.

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