Sallie Kuria relocated to Germany from Kenya in 2010, unsure what to expect but ready to embrace a new adventure.
Sallie, then 23, arrived in the small town of Eschbach, near Freiburg in the mountainous Black Forest region, to work as an au pair for a guy who owned a company that restored old airplanes.
“I was like, ‘Okay, let me go and try it. It might change my life,’” Sallie tells CNN Travel today.
The family Sallie worked for lived in an apartment on site, situated in an airplane hangar filled with workers renovating fighter planes dating back to the Second World War.
Among the employees was 22-year-old Klaus Müller.
Klaus noticed Sallie not long after her arrival. He thought she was cute, he recalls, and found out through the grapevine that she worked for his boss.
But although they shared a workspace, it wasn’t until Sallie and Klaus ended up at the same party that they got speaking.
At the gathering, the two spent the whole evening in non-stop conversation.
“We were eating and chatting until it was chilly,” recalls Sallie.
They spoke in English, talking about family, faith, race – and planes.
“Everything he talks about is about planes,” says Sallie, laughing.
As the party drew to a close, Klaus walked Sallie back to the hangar.
“For me, that is where I was like ‘Yeah, he might be the guy,’” Sallie says today.
A flight to remember
The following week, Klaus and Sallie’s boss asked Klaus to pick Sallie up from the train station.
Sallie didn’t like driving in Germany, so if she wanted to meet up with friends in Freiburg, she had to cycle to the station, or get someone to drop her off.
Various people at the hangar had given her lifts before, including Klaus, but they’d previously only exchanged pleasantries during the five minute car ride.
But in the aftermath of the party, Sallie and Klaus were keen to continue getting to know one another.
Soon, this became a routine – Klaus would drive Sallie to and from the train station and they’d chat the whole way.
“I think these little conversations, they kept us always a little more curious about the other one,” says Klaus.
One day as they pulled up at the hangar, Klaus asked Sallie if she wanted to go flying with him. He shared access to a Piper PA-12, a renovated American three-seater aircraft that dated back to the late 1940s.
“When you’re on an airfield, and you have an airplane, it’s summertime – after work, what you’re going to do when it’s nice weather, you’re going to go out and fly,” says Klaus.
Sallie agreed to give it a try.
The following Saturday the two were in the plane and ready to go, Klaus sitting in the front and Sallie behind him.
Soon they were soaring over the hangar and through the clouds.
Mid-air, Klaus asked Sallie if she’d like to see a trick and, tentatively, Sallie agreed. She wasn’t scared of heights or flying, but this was an experience like none she’d had before, and she was a little ill at ease.
Klaus momentarily descended the aircraft, before ascending it again, creating a kind of ‘zero gravity’ feeling.
“I felt so lifeless, I was so afraid,” says Sallie, laughing.
“If you want you can hold on to me,” she remembers Klaus saying.
She put her arms around him.
“That was a moment for me,” says Sallie.
She still had butterflies, but now it was for a different reason.
A few days later, Sallie invited Klaus round for dinner to thank him for the flight. She cooked him some Kenyan dishes, including Mukimo with fried cabbage and fried beef.
After dinner, she and Klaus sat on the balcony together. For the first time, Sallie noticed he had a large tattoo on his shoulder.
She’d never imagined herself dating someone with a statement tattoo and found herself wondering what her parents would think.
“It was too late, because I was already falling in love with him,” Sallie says now. “For me, there was no going back.”
It was Sallie who suggested she and Klaus go on their first official date.
She found Klaus in the hangar one day – she’d become familiar with the plane he was working on, and always found him in or around the old jet when she stopped to chat.
Sallie asked Klaus if he wanted to go to the cinema that evening, and he agreed.
Soon, the two were heading out on regular dates.
“It was just a very exciting time for both of us,” says Klaus. “She having moved to another part of planet Earth, not really knowing anybody, and still trying to find her place. But also for me, because up to that point, all I had really had in my mind were airplanes.”
Sallie hadn’t expected to fall into a relationship in Germany so quickly, but she felt the connection with Klaus couldn’t be ignored.
Sallie says she saw Klaus “not only as a boyfriend, but he was my best friend.”
“I think right from the beginning, both of us had this feeling like, I have found a soulmate or the soulmate,” says Klaus, who remembers telling his dad he’d met someone special while on a father-son weekend away.
As for Sallie, she told friends that she was dating a German guy, but she didn’t mention Klaus to her family.
Moving in together
Over the next few months, Sallie and Klaus spent every moment they could with one another.
They enjoyed many an evening cooking together at Klaus’ apartment, Sallie encouraging him to move away from his reliance on spaghetti and beer – a hangover from his student days – and teaching Klaus recipes she’d grown up with.
Around eight months into the relationship, Sallie left her au pair job to study German at a local language school, and the couple moved in together.
Living together was an easy adjustment.
“We didn’t have a lot of arguments. We were just happy to be there for each other and with each other,” says Klaus.
The couple say their decision to get married, not long after they moved in together, was equally easy.
“We were in love, and we were so sure of what we wanted,” says Sallie.
Their relationship had played out quite privately so far, and the two decided they wanted the wedding to be the same.
Neither told their families – Sallie just told one of her friends in Kenya, as she needed some papers sent over – and on a icy day in January 2011 the couple took the night train from Freiberg to Copenhagen, then boarded a train to the Danish coast, followed by a ferry to tiny Ærø Island.
At the time, it was easier for foreign nationals to get married in Denmark than Germany, and the two also liked the adventure of getting married in this beautiful, isolated spot in the Baltic Sea.
“It’s a little island, very nice,” says Klaus.
They remember the freezing temperatures and Sallie navigating her way around in heels and a wedding dress, while also trying to keep warm.
“We read our vows – it was beautiful for us, we were really happy,” says Sallie, who took Klaus’ name following the wedding, becoming Sallie Müller.
After the ceremony, they ate burgers together.
“We didn’t regret not having anyone with us,” says Klaus. “We were just enjoying each other.”
Still, it wasn’t long before long they shared their happy news with their families.
Some weeks after the wedding, the news slipped out to Klaus’ parents.
And a few months later, when Sallie found out she was pregnant, she told her parents, explaining she was married to Klaus.
The worries she’d had about her parents’ reaction to her going against tradition quickly vanished.
“They were very happy,” says Sallie.
Klaus’ parents were equally delighted at the prospect of being grandparents.
Sallie and Klaus were still in their early twenties, so while they were thrilled to start a family, they do recall some worries over finances.
But their overwhelming memory is of excitement and glee.
“It was just a joyful experience all these months, and the time our son was here was just pure joy,” says Klaus.
“We were trying hard to be the best parents we could be for him, and yeah, I think there was never doubt in our minds, like ‘is it too early for us?’ or whatever. We were just looking forward [to] the experience, and we always felt very, very blessed to be able to do it, to be parents.”
After their son was born, Sallie and Klaus visited Kenya to introduce Sallie’s parents to Klaus and the baby. It was a special trip, with Klaus enjoying experiencing a different country and culture.
Later, Sallie’s brother moved to Germany for a while and became a source of support to the young family.
10 years later
Sallie and Klaus have since had two more children: a daughter in 2018, and a youngest son born in spring 2020, right when Covid-19 first hit Europe.
“He’s a Corona baby,” says Sallie of their youngest child.
Due to Germany’s restrictions at the time, Klaus wasn’t permitted to be present for the birth, and Klaus says leaving Sallie at the door of the hospital was a tough experience.
It’s important to both Sallie and Klaus that their children learn about their Kenyan and German heritage. Their kids are bilingual, switching swiftly between English and German, and the family embrace Kenyan and German traditions.
“I don’t want them to be strangers when they land in my country or they go to my country,” says Sallie.
“It’s a nice way of showing your children what this world is all about, and that’s diversity, and with diversity comes tolerance,” says Klaus.
The family have enjoyed a number of trips to Kenya with their two older kids, and more are sure to come –Sallie and Klaus have always hoped to have a traditional wedding celebration in Kenya, something that’s still on the to-do-list.
Today, Sallie has a YouTube channel and while Klaus no longer works in the aviation world, he continues to pursue his passion for planes in his downtime.
Sallie and Klaus still go flying together, often with the kids in tow.
“They love it,” says Klaus. “And that’s my joy that they can enjoy it.”
A decade after they first met, Sallie and Klaus say they continue to have fun, work together as a team, and put their family first.
“I think we were first friends, then lovers and then soulmates, we support each other even today,” says Sallie.
“We have always trusted our gut, ” says Klaus. “We always say if everything falls down, the most important thing, we still have it – and that’s us.”