I am blessed with a life filled with strange and unlikely combinations of events, which seem far too improbable to be simple coincidences. Some call this serendipity; others call it synchronicity; I think these are mystical, possibly a guiding force from a higher intelligence that I don’t claim to understand... If such events occurred once a year, I could accept them as coincidence, but that is far from my experience. I believe that these can be experienced by anyone who is observant. Acknowledging and accepting these experiences as gifts has made life more interesting, and, I believe, more productive for me. I have written about some of the most bizarre ones before, and the one described here qualifies to join that group.
In the summer of 2013, I attended a technical conference in Nürtingen, Germany, just outside of Stuttgart. The conference was organized by an old friend, Wolfgang Osten, who holds a chair at the University of Stuttgart, where I have visited on several occasions. Wolfgang is an amazing scientist, originally from East Germany, who has many technical achievements to his credit. Stuttgart is also home of other friends, one of whom is Ulf Merbold, the first West German astronaut and national hero for his several spaceflights and mission on the Russian Mir Space Station. After working with Ulf on the First International Microgravity Laboratory, we became friends and remain in contact, visiting each other when the opportunity presents itself. I had told both he and Wolfgang that someday I would like to introduce the two, especially since Ulf had graduated from the University of Stuttgart, and had also lived in East Germany, as had Wolfgang, before escaping past the wall.
I had emailed my plan to Ulf, but had no response, so I assumed he was off on another one of his many adventures, and may miss seeing him this time. He is one of the most active men I have ever met, seemingly on a never ending quest to do that which has never been done.
During the first days of the conference, I found myself dozing off in the early afternoon sessions, partly due to large lunches, wine, and three days without a reasonable night’s sleep. To awaken myself I considered sneaking out of the sessions to paint “en plein air” in the picturesque town, but the weather had been cool and rainy. Around 3 P.M. on Tuesday, I was aroused from a snooze by the sun beaming through the conference room window, screaming for me to change into my artist’s hat. Ten minutes later found me walking the streets of Nürtingen, armed with watercolors, brushes, and paper, searching for the perfect scene to paint.
Selecting an inspiring scene with the correct lighting and a place to sit comfortably was difficult because of so many possibilities. Within half an hour I had narrowed the choice to four locations and walked back and forth between them agonizing with the choice. When faced with indecisions I look for signs for help sometimes a sign in numbers, either my own number, 3, or Pauline’s number 8. (Don’t ask where the 3 and 8 come from; neither of us know, and yet we have used those numbers as long as we can remember.) While this may have little scientific basis, it is a useful process, seems to work, makes a good story and as a minimum, and is more fun than flipping a coin.
After two viewing cycles I observed a 12 above the entrance of one of my choices, and that adds up to 3. Then I examined the date in the arch of the doorway, 1710. That adds up to 9, which is 3x3. My search was over, I found a good angle, took a seat on the cobblestones, and began what would become a very pleasant painting session, before realizing how hard cobble stones are on one’s bottom. The scene comprised a residence and what appeared to be a restaurant or pub behind the green door. The place was closed and no one entered or left in the three hours I painted. The sign above that door read “Kellar”, which I assumed translated into Cellar
Now begins the strange (and delightful) part of the story. Ulf and his wife Bridget had been hiking in the Alps, and got my email that same day. Thinking we were in Stuttgart and not knowing about Nürtingen caused a considerable problem in finding me. Fortunately Ulf persisted and located us Wednesday afternoon, our last day in Nürtingen. We agreed to join for dinner. I was unable to make a suitable reservation in the hotel restaurant, and I hoped that Ulf would have a recommendation. As Pauline and I awaited Ulf’s arrival in the lobby of the hotel, another German friend Klaas Faldorf, approached us and asked us if we had dinner plans. I responded that we would join a friend and his wife who was due any minute. Knowing that Ulf is a national hero in Germany, I added that he may know of my friend, Ulf Merbold.
“Ulf Merbold is coming here!?” he queried, expressing disbelief. “You actually know Ulf Merbold? You are kidding me aren’t you?”
“Yeah, he will walk through that door any minute now”, I responded, laughing at his reaction, “and if you hang around a minute, I’ll introduce you.”
Then he added, “I would not only be pleased to say I had met him; I am pleased to know someone who has met him. He is very famous in Germany”. You are kidding me aren’t you? At that moment Ulf walked in the door, and I did introduce Ulf and Klaas.
Ulf recommend a local, traditional German restaurant. As we set out for the restaurant, the street address, Schlossgarten, was familiar to me, since that is the street for the restaurant in my painting, as well as several other restaurants I had considered painting. I was a bit stunned and delighted to discover that the restaurant selected by Ulf was the very restaurant I had painted the day before.
The place was packed, but the waitress managed to seat us at a table normally used by 10 people. She asked us if we would mind sharing the table if more people came in. We said that it would be okay.
One of the first things I noticed on the menu was the wine list. My German ancestors, the Trollingers, came from a town just north of Stuttgart and had introduced a new grape to Germany from Austria. Even today, it is still known as the Trollinger, and one of the favorite wines of the region is Trollinger wine. It is a light wine, usually consumed with snacks and refreshments, and is often mixed with other grapes for stronger tasting foods. The first two wines on the list were Trollingers.
By the time we had toasted with a glass of Trollinger, and begun our meal, another group entered the restaurant and the waitress again ask permission to seat them at our table. The group consisted of Wolfgang and several other members of the conference. Not only was I able to drink to my ancestors, yet another> one of my wishes had been granted. I was able to introduce Wolfgang and Ulf.>
Considering the many painting sites I had examined and the many restaurants in Nürtingen, the odds of the combination of events that had just occurred were phenomenally low. Any two of the events combined would have delighted me, but what had happened here was a long string of rare and seemingly independent events all in the course of two days. This is one that I interpret as someone up there having fun while giving me a special treat that I will never forget.>