The fine print on this button says “BURGKIRCHIN/ALZ 1973” on the top and “REMBRANDT DER MANN MIT DEM GOLDHELM” along the side. I purchased it around 2005 at the Renninger’s Antiques and Flea Market in Kutztown, PA. Wandering around the fields full of vendors, it caught my eye. I don’t know what it is. Normally my gaze just drifts over cases full of bric-a-brac and the jumbled display makes it all look like junk by association. I lived in Germany for four years, so maybe something about its history drew me in, but I’m pretty sure it was the contrast of the gold helmet on the dull grey face. I brought it home, hung it over my desk, and that’s where it hung for the last decade. And like many things we see every day, it all but disappeared to me. When I pulled it down and considered it, I was once again charmed by the object. If I were to hang it up again though, I’m sure the charm would fade, as it became background once again.
For reasons I can’t recall, I believe this medal to be an award given for a Volksmarch, an organized German walk that is not competitive. And the term Volksmarch reminds me of when my wife and I were first getting to know a woman named Stephanie. She was newly dating (they are now married with two kids) our friend of many years, Pete. We all went camping, and during our weekend we went on a short hike and he was trying to get out of it.
When I think back on that time in our life, I realize my wife and I gave Stephanie a much harder time then we had given Pete’s other girlfriends. Yesterday I spent the morning with Steph while our kids played together, and I was thinking how special she had become to us. A little sleuthing and I found that Burgkirchen is a town on the Alz river, between Munich and Salzburg, and Rembrandt probably didn’t paint the portrait on which the medallion is based. I don’t know whether this object has anything to do with Volksmarhing, and in the end it doesn’t really matter. At best, these objects are a pin in a map of our life that reminds us of the important events and relationships.