'How can you let strangers stay in your house with all your personal belongings?' is a question that we’ve often been asked when we tell someone that we homeexchange. The short answer is: We don’t!
By the time we’re actually leaving our house to go on our exchange, our exchange partners don’t feel like strangers anymore. They feel more like friends we just haven’t met - yet. Because by this point we will have exchanged a lot of messages, emails, phone/video calls etc. - and we have now found out that they are, indeed, ‘people like us’.
Sometimes we’re lucky and get to meet them before we leave our house or when we arrive at theirs - or we meet halfway between our two homes. We keep in touch during the exchange, answer questions about how to turn off the light or turn on the oven, and maybe even send pictures from the places we’re exploring during the exchange. So, it doesn’t feel at all like we’re exchanging with strangers.
Then there’re all the PLUs we haven’t exchanged with - yet - but that we feel we have come to know in the Facebook group. ‘Your Facebook friends’ our children call them. They think it’s a little funny how we talk so enthusiastically about people we’ve never met - yet. The more we get to know all of you PLUs, the more we hope we’ll get to meet you someday somewhere, though. So when some of the German PLUs announced that they were organizing a meet-up in Kassel last September, we jumped at the chance. Since there are no PLUs in Kassel (yet) to exchange with, we booked a hotel and decided to make a weekend out of it.
Nina from Brensbach and Denise from Gummersbach were the chief organizers of the meet-up, which took place on Saturday the 4th of September 2021 in the restaurant of the Waldhotel Elfbuchen in the green hills outside Kassel. Not because Kassel is a particularly interesting city (it isn’t), but because it’s more or less the centre of Germany so that people from all over the country would be able to participate.
Unfortunately, a few people who had planned to do so were not able to take part after all (we missed you!), as the German train drivers had gone on strike, but as you can see from the pictures, we were a nice little crowd anyway.
The organizers had done a really good job on the planning and choice of venue. The restaurant was situated in the woody hills behind the Wilhelmshöhe palace, very quiet and peaceful and with lovely walks to the Hercules statue at the top of the hill with a fantastic view of the palace gardens. The weather was warm and sunny (also great planning!) so that we could spend the whole day out on the patio, and the food was excellent, too.
But of course, the best thing about the whole day was the PEOPLE! Those ‘Facebook friends’ we finally got to see IRL! Mary and Arthur had come all the way from Delft in the Netherlands (bringing Dutch candy for everyone!), Andrea (who we exchanged with in 2020) managed to find a train from Hamburg that was still running, Jana and Matthias had driven over from Braunschweig, Jana and Markus from Nürnberg, Mandy and Kai from Gäufelden, Nina, Torsten und Klara from Brensbach, and Denise, Frank and their boys from Gummersbach.
Ole and I had driven down from Denmark, and we hadn’t quite known what to expect – what would it be like to finally meet our ‘Facebook friends’?
Well – surprise! – they all turned out to be people like us! Enthusiastic homeexchangers who love to travel and to talk about exchange adventures, interested in people, their lives and areas etc. etc. To use an untranslatable Danish word: it was pure Hygge!
This wonderful day only left us with the questions: Where and when are we going to meet again? and why don’t the rest of you join us next time?
PS As luck would have it, it didn’t take long before we met a couple of our new PLU friends again. Jana and Matthias did an exchange in Denmark only a few weeks later and came to visit us on their way home. Hopefully, we can return that visit soon!
We were also fortunate to meet several other PLUs last year: In April Lone from Frederiksværk, Denmark (who we had exchanged with in 2020) came for a visit; In July Natalia, Cian and their friend Anna from Warsaw came on a short hospitality exchange; In August Annet and Theo from the NL agreed to a last-minute exchange with us and arrived early so we could meet, and Ruud and Marloes invited us for lunch during that exchange; In October Ruud and Marloes then visited us while they were on exchange in Denmark.
Can’t wait to see which PLUs we’ll get to meet in 2022!
PPS Many thanks to Jana Bosch for letting me use her great photos from the Kassel meet-up.