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Aaron Johnson: Sweet home, Alabama

Travel is my weakness. Truth is, I am an addicted traveler. I don’t travel like a tourist, but more of an explorer. My interests are off the beaten path and places where only the locals can find.

My travels have taken me to 49 states and as many countries. Our cultures may change from place to place, however, people are the same everywhere.

Several years ago, I was in Stuttgart, Germany, to speak for a good friend who was pastor of an international Baptist church. His associate, Kevin, met me at the airport and was all smiles. He was excited because he had a special treat for me. He drove me to my lodging and we set a time for him to retrieve me for the evening meal.

Any season in Germany is wonderful. Summer is especially nice. Kevin only said that we were eating in a beer garden. Since I don’t drink, it seemed a bit odd, but he was my host and I was  delighted to experience the local culture, even if not the hops. He arrived at the appointed time and off we went at break-neck speeds.

When we arrived, I almost lost my breath. There, parked alongside the road was a full size, long-nose, double-sleeper, Peterbilt! I mean all 18 wheels and a full-size trailer behind it. That may seem normal in Alabama, but not in Germany. Their vehicles are all much smaller and that includes their trucks. It was inconceivable to me that they were able to navigate this beast to the Beer Garden. The side of the box trailer had a western scene painted from front to back. The painting was complete with a desert and cowboys with six-shooters and lariats. The scene was other-worldly to me at that moment.

Kevin was delighted with my response. He explained that this was “American Night” at the garden. Face it, nothing screams “American” like a long-nose Pete with cowboys.


The opposite side of the trailer opened to reveal a full stage facing the crowd. A band with four members was giving Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” a whipping. The garden covered about four acres with an open-air restaurant in each corner and hundreds of picnic tables perfectly lined in the open area between. They were serving only hot dogs, fries, and hamburgers.

The band was good enough for us not to be able to distinguish any accent. I made my way through the crowds to an open area in front of the stage. When I say “crowd,” I am talking about four acres of Germans with one-liter steins of dark beer, eating burgers, fries, and dogs.

Between songs, the leader of the band glared at me. At that moment, I knew he was German. I seized the opportunity and shouted, “You know Sweet Home Alabama?” He nodded yes without a smile and said, “Ja.” With that I began my return to my table.

Just as I approached the mid-point of the huge garden, he hit the opening notes on his guitar of my request. As if motivated by an electrical charge, 2,000 Germans cheered and stood to their feet! It was like the national anthem at the Super Bowl. There I stood, an Alabamian in Stuttgart, wrapped in the cheers for a song about my home.

Nobody is neutral about my home state. Some love it and others make fun of it. Those who mock her just haven’t been yet. I have lived in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Frankfurt, Germany, in addition to Athens, Boaz, Gadsden, and Guntersville. I could live anywhere in the world and do what I do. After all my travels, there is no place I’d rather be than deep in the Heart of Dixie.

Randy Owens of the group “Alabama” said it best when he sang, “I’m in the Heart of Dixie, Dixie’s in the heart of me.”

Aaron Johnson is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and the pastor of Christ Redeemer Church in Guntersville.

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