I’ve typed. Deleted. Re-wrote. Taken a break. I can’t find all the right words. My heart hurts and the pain is overwhelming. I’ve lost a dear friend, a beloved family member and a kindred soul.  Sunday morning Hans, the baker (Vlaai Pie; Lekker Vlaai; One Day Turnaround; Veronica) passed away.

Hans, the husband of my cousin Leny, has always been a part of my life.  My father is the youngest of seven, his sister Annie is the oldest. Leny is her daughter.  Yet despite our age difference, Leny and I are very close.  We have the same humor, the same mad-obsessiveness with sparkling clean houses before visitors come, and yet the same desire to have all the visitors. All the time. We both got pregnant before we married, granted a bigger deal for her in the late 70’s than for me in 1990, but still a big deal in a strict catholic family. She loves me just for who I am and I love her. And with her comes Hans.

Hans who was always big & strong. Hans with a gorgeous, big, motorcycle.  Hans who could bake like nobody’s business.  This tough man, with a delicate touch with pastry. Leny and I are loud, outgoing, exuberant. Hans is quiet… or so I thought.  After we moved to Germany, and were blessed to spend lots of time back home in Holland, I learned  he wasn’t quiet at all.  He was tired.  A night owl, like me, who had to get up at 5:00 am to bake the vlaai’s (pies).  Once they were all baked for the day, he would sleep a couple of hours and then take a couple more to wake up.

The more time we spent in Holland. The more nights we spent at Leny and Hans’. The more I got to know him.  The more he talked, laughed and cracked me up. One night, no one was tired, but at midnight everyone was starving.  Hans disappeared into the bakery only to return with a tray full of saucijzenbroodjes (sausage links in puff pastry).  The thing is, my family had no idea what they were.  So Hans explained, in his typical, dry, Hans way:

“They are saucijzenbroodjes.” Cole’s eyes almost bugged out of his head, quickly withdrawing his hand from the tasty-looking treats.

“Scheissebrotchens??!?!?” He asked.  And we all burst out laughing while Cole got more & more insulted. He was so proud of learning German in such short time.  Eventually we caught our breath, explained what it really was, and he happily ate at least 6 of his new favorite treat.  To this day we still call them scheissebrotchens (sh*trolls).

After that the ice we broken and over the last several years we spent many wonderful afternoons & evenings with Hans & Leny in Holland, and here in Germany.  Most of my family finds a half hour a long car ride. In a country that takes four hours to cross, that makes perfect sense.  But Hans & Leny love road trips as much as I do, especially in their beautiful convertible.  We were lucky to have them visit us many times.

The last time they were here, just over a year ago, Hans had just passed the torch, and secret recipes, of the bakery (Bie d’r Bekker) to his son-in-law.  They stayed with us and audited a course in ice cream making in nearby Pforzheim.  After the course they came back home with several batches of the most delicious ice cream EVER! Oh, I drooled just spooning it into my mouth.  Hans just grinned and babbled enthusiastically about opening an ice creamery.  Leny wanted to enjoy retirement a little longer, but Hans? Hans was ready for his next adventure. His enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn’t wait to try all his flavors of ice cream (and I secretly hoped to try making some new flavors of my own).

It was not to be. A couple months later, on the exact same day the permits for the ice cream salon came in, Hans was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He fought. He fought so hard. He fought so hard I believed he could beat death by his sheer will alone.  He was not ready to go. He had so much left to live. He was angry. I was angry. Leny was angry. Life is not fair.

Saturday night, for the first time in uncountable years, he said a prayer before bed.  Sunday morning he passed away.  This Saturday we will once again drive up and down to Holland to lay him to rest. I have to go.  I still feel he is here.  I still feel I will see him when I go to visit.  I will hear his laugh. His voice. He will make us scheissbroodjes. Maybe if I don’t go on Saturday, he will still be there.  Please let him still be there.


Hans doing what he does best… making vlaai


Tess is very proud of her mini strawberry vlaai’s


A visit to the Black Forest is not complete without our favorite bier!


Midnight snacks at a bakers are… Scheissbroodjes!


Cole’s new favorite person: Hans


Mini extended family foto


Hans loves driving, top down, through the Black Forest. So does Dane! We are going to miss you.