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Kramer Family Finding Joy, Making Impact in Germany

Kramer Family Finding Joy, Making Impact in Germany

Dennis and Meredith Kramer are sitting in their Gottingen, Germany apartment. Hanging on the wall behind them are framed family photos of Dennis and Meredith, along with their two sons, 4-year-old Jackson and 2-year-old Chase.

It is late in the evening. Jackson and Chase are tucked into bed.

Every once in while their dog pops into the Zoom video screen. Ivan is an 8-year-old Maltese/Yorkie mix. He is named after Meredith's late father.

During the course of a one-hour visit, the Kramers share their tale. About their humorous first meeting on the University of San Diego campus where they met as students nearly 10 years ago. About Dennis' basketball dream taking him from Germany, to La Costa Canyon High in Carlsbad, to USD then back to Germany where he was born. About Meredith adapting to the country. About their community service.

About how Göttingen, which sits in central Germany, is becoming home.

"Of all the (German) cities, we love Göttingen the most," says Meredith. "This feels like home."

They met on Dennis' first day on campus back in August 2010. Meredith, who is two years older, lived in a dorm that housed men's and women's basketball players. Meredith heard some noise outside her dorm room and thought it was her friend, men's basketball player Rafael Crescencio, nicknamed "Bam."

Meredith ran out the front door and yelled, "Baaaaaaam!"

Only it was not "Bam." It was Dennis and some USD teammates.

Says Meredith, "I made a complete fool out of myself."
 
Their schedules saw them crossing paths. Soon they were sitting at the same table in the Student Life Pavilion for dinner. Their first date was at a sushi restaurant near campus.

"October 9th," says Meredith, recalling the exact date.

Of the attraction, Dennis says, "We were just very comfortable together."

"There wasn't anything forced," adds Meredith.

Meredith graduated in 2012, earning a degree in marketing. Dennis, a 6-foot-10 forward who could step outside and shoot the three, played four seasons at USD, saw action in 127 games, started 85 and averaged 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds his senior season in 2013-14. He also earned a degree in accounting.

Knowing that Dennis almost certainly would play pro basketball in Germany, where his father played professionally, the couple got married the summer before Dennis' senior season. They did not think they would have time for a wedding if they waited until after Dennis graduated.

Dennis is in his sixth professional season in Germany. His teams have resided in Bamberg, Trier, Oldenburg and Göttingen. He played the past three seasons for BG Göttingen, which competes in the country's top league. He was averaging 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds coming off the bench this year when the season was put on hold last month by the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked what it has been like having basketball taken away, Dennis says, "I wouldn't say it's difficult. It's just frustrating. We play this game because we love the game. It's just, you miss the team practices, whether it's being in the locker room, being able to socialize with your team, playing games, of course."

Dennis practices social distancing. He is allowed to go to the team facility, hoist shots and lift weights. There are usually only two or three players at the facility. There is no physical contact, however.

Outside of that, Dennis says, "Other than our grocery runs, I've stayed at home."

Meredith is permitted to go to work stocking supplies for a dental company. They take the boys for walks in the afternoons. But playgrounds and the school Jackson attends are closed. They have cut off in-person contact with friends.

Meredith, meanwhile, has adapted well to life in Europe.

"People say I could pass as a German," she says.

She speaks fluent German. She is getting ready to take a course to improve her writing and reading and just applied for a marketing job with one of the team's sponsors.

The first month she lived in Germany, Meredith treated it like a vacation. But as she and Dennis moved about the country, as the years lapped, as the boys were born, she melted into the culture and community.

The saying goes that if you want to get something done, ask someone who is busy. A self-described extrovert, Meredith stays active giving back to the community and has been involved in multiple projects.

She recently coordinated a drive to raise food and toiletries for people in need during the pandemic. The team became aware of her movement and posted information on its website. The team's fan club posted awareness on its Facebook page. More than 300 cans of food were raised.
 
"That's what I love about this team and this city," she says. "They always support my crazy ideas."

Chase was born with a hole in his heart so Meredith helped raise money to buy basketballs and small hoops for a children's heart clinic. (Chase has shown no problems with his heart.)

A couple weeks before last Christmas, Meredith and the boys started going through books, puzzles and toys they did not play with anymore, planning to donate them to a local hospital.

The team's fan club heard about her idea and soon more than 300 toys were collected. A group spent four hours wrapping the gifts.

Meredith has a soft spot in her heart for children and hospitals. There were the concerns about Chase's heart. Jackson was born with a cleft pallet and underwent surgery in January. He was hospitalized with pneumonia when he was 17 months old.

Dennis gives back, too, putting on basketball clinics at schools.

"Just to make their day is everything," he says.
 
"That was part of my upbringing," Meredith says of her volunteer work. "That's what my parents instilled in me. I want to teach that lesson to my boys as well."

Even if Dennis' basketball career takes him to another German city, Meredith says she will continue the toy drive in Göttingen.

"That's definitely going to be something that sticks," she says.
 
If Dennis is still playing basketball in Gottingen in the near future, Meredith could see the family buying a home, setting roots.

"I would feel comfortable calling it home," she says.
 
The cliché says that home is where the heart is. Not to be mushy, but you get the feeling that Dennis and Meredith could be anywhere and that as long as they were together, Jackson and Chase in tow, smiles would crease their faces.

"We could spend the day completely apart, doing our separate thing, then come home and live in unison," says Dennis.

"It's been really easy," adds Meredith. "It's like a friendship but with love."

— USD Athletics

Photos by Swen Pfortner and Mindy Rainy

USD alumni Dennis Kramer and his wife, Meredith, live and work in Germany. Both are also doing their part to give back in their community during the pandemic.USD alumni Dennis Kramer and his wife, Meredith, live and work in Germany. Both are also doing their part to give back in their community during the pandemic.

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Chris Kutz

ckutz@sandiego.edu

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