Tag Archives: Wilfried

European history

Wilfried’s able leadership of our tour of Germany last month whetted my appetite for more of the story of how things got to be the way they are. In short, the history of Germany.

I found a book at the library called The Concise History of Germany which was ok but filled with a lot of big words. I’ve got nothing against big words except when they are used to obfuscate. When I started swimming in sentences 20 or more words long, I gave up on it.

Again at the library: European History for Dummies. OK, better. Not so many big words plus short sentences. I’ve made it through almost to the end. Honestly, it’s pretty depressing. I get that the history of human affairs is largely about control of one group by another and that that is usually accomplished by violence. The Dummies brand of books is designed to go over a subject in a breezy, often humorous, tone. It’s exactly what I was looking for, actually.

But having such a litany of violent things set in front of you in such a lighthearted way is weird. I’ve had the book at my breakfast table and thus read it in 15 or 20 minute chunks. Sometimes, I stay at the table for a few extra minutes but more often I have to just walk away from it. Will we never learn?

I’m sure there are many books out there about this subject – repeating the cycle of violence, not history per se – so I’m not sitting here thinking I’m going to find some solution. Humans are pissers, whether it’s driving on the highway or running a company. When I start to think about larger organizations of humans, I find myself in dangerous shoals of definitions: what is a country? What is influence? What is power? When a ‘country’ ‘takes over’ a city, what does that really mean? The Dummies book throws those words around a lot but I believe it’s worth asking what their core meaning is.

To me, it comes down to power. How does one person have ‘power’ over another? There is always an exchange, although it is not always balanced. I agree to go to work of a person or organization in exchange for money. I can use that money to get other people to do things for me: supply me with food, clothing and shelter. If my ‘boss’ at work asks me to do something for him/her, I will accede to that request because it is within the realm of what i have agreed to do in exchange for that money.

But what if it isn’t? What if my ‘boss’ asks (or tells) me to do something that will injure another person? Or myself? Presumably, this is something that is not part of what was originally agreed to in the definition of this job. Suddenly, money is not the exchange medium. It becomes more elemental. How does my value of self preservation compare to my ethical value of not wanting to hurt another person? Perhaps I can make myself safer at the expense of another person coming into danger.

I believe it is this transaction writ large which has driven human history. Some humans are able to rationalize this transaction and others can’t. And some humans have a need to dominate while others don’t.

The whole family went to England in 2000 for two weeks. We really had a very nice time. We walked across Abbey Road and among the stones at Stonehenge. We walked along the Thames and on the cliffs of Dover. We went to museums and castles. Perhaps too many castles. Because by the end, I felt about history as I do now: why is it all about killing? Someone wants ‘power’ and is willing to step on other humans to get it.

end of the trip

The trip was great but by the time we got home from the Sistergold concert and Heidelberg, we were toasted. We mostly laid low at Wilfried and Elisabeth’s house for a day and a half. Mary was interested in the casinos in Baden Baden but when we looked into the details it turned out they had a dress code and a high buy in and the games didn’t start until late in the day – or evening in one case.

No one else was as interested as Mary so that didn’t happen. We were getting ready to go over there Monday and at least walk around a bit but Wilfried and Elisabeth had an unexpected visitor, an elderly man with a shock of white hair. Naturally, beers were brought out and we Americans were amused at his torrent of conversation. I don’t remember what all he was talking about, but he was sure passionate. Wilfried explained later that he’s some kind of artist and collector.

Mercedes has a factory in Rastatt, so after our visitor left we went to take a tour there, then Wilfried took us around the Zentrum. Of course, there’s a schloss.We ate ice cream. Later, we walked over to Schloss Favorite, which is literally 5 minutes from Wilfried’s front door. This place has lovely grounds to go along with the structure.

 

Tuesday we had to leave at noon, but in the morning we went out for a walk through the neighborhood. The open field at the back of Wilfried and Elisabeth’s house has been set up for development: streets and utilities but no houses yet. In a half an hour leisurely walking, we walked around the whole village. The village is called Förch and one of several small villages tied administratively into the larger town of Rastatt.Perhaps I should mention that Elisabeth was unable to accompany us on most of our touring around because she had an operation on her foot and could not walk. She always had something good for us when we came back to her house. Danke schön, Elisabeth!

At noon, we loaded our bags into Wilfried’s car, hugged Elisabeth and headed north. Deutsche Bahn had a major problem in Rastatt where the ground below some train tracks sank on Sunday, stranding thousands of people. Wilfried wasn’t sure how possible it would be for us to get a train to Frankfurt from Rastatt so he drove us to the Karlsruhe Hbf.

There finally we had to say auf wiedersehen to our tour guide, cousin and friend Wilfried. Words can not express my gratitude for everything you did for Mary and me this past two weeks. His only request: that we come back and stay longer! Mit viel Vergnügen!

Heidelberg

On our way back to Rastatt on Sunday, we stopped at Heidelberg. It was another place I had been to in 1982 and also in 1976 with the Blue Saints.

The AltStadt along the Neckar River with the huge castle dominating above is a natural for tourists, and we did all the usual things. We parked, walked along the river to the Alte Brücke . . .

. . . and thence into the Old Town.

From there it was up more stairs – Mary never let us forget how many steps there were at the Cologne Cathedral: 533! – to the Schloss. We walked around the lovely gardens and toured the interior.

The interior featured a German Pharmacy museum and the world’s largest wine cask. After descending we had lunch at Vetter im Schoneck. Established 1987. Really. I checked the coaster twice. Vetter’s is the home of the world’s strongest beer: 33% alcohol! Actually, Wilfried told us that figure is from an intermediate stage. The finished brew is 10.5%, strong enough for me to take a miss. We had Bavarian meatloaf which was more like Spam than not.

On our way home, we passed the entrance to the tunnel Deutsche Bahn is building for the IC trains under Rastatt. More on that in my next post.

Sistergold

Very high on Mary’s list of things she wanted to do was to see the German saxophone group Sistergold. Wilfried had helped her to contact them and got tickets for thier concert in a little town called Homberg.

Homberg is about a three hour drive north of Baden Baden, where we were at about 3:30 Saturday afternoon. Wilfried had taken us to a tour of the Baden Baden Festspielhaus (Opera House). It was supposed to be only 75 minutes but it had dragged on and at the end there was a little scene with a man who had had to go to the rest room and lost track of the rest of the group. He was pissed that he’d gotten left and was having it out with the tour guide. The rest of us were left standing around in the lobby. Wilfried took action and started trying doors to get us out. This succeeded and we were off.

We were originally hoping to get to Homberg in time for dinner but that was going a-glimmering. Luckily, Wilfried had had the foresight to bring some rolls and sausages which we ate at a rest stop. In the end, we got to Homberg in time to get settled in our hotel and arrive at the Stadthalle by around 7:30. Dinner would have to wait.

We had a glass of wine while the audience filled in. The Stadthalle was small, like a jr high school MP room. There was a stage. We were seated on plastic chairs around tables with little decorations. Pretty small time, but everyone was nice. Beer and wine and snacks were for sale. Maybe 100 in attendance.

Here’s a view out back of the Stadthalle. The Ohm River is actually beneath the line of trees in the foreground.

Sistergold is 4 women playing soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. They started the concert by walking in from the back of the hall. They played jazz, funk, classical, and pop styles with little dance moves and good audience engagement. They were great! They did three encores and didn’t stop until a quarter to 11 (8 o’clock start).

Afterwards, they came out to talk and sign autographs (and sell CDs) and Mary jumped in. Three of the four spoke English pretty well. They chatted with us for a good half an hour. Towards the end, the people who ran the building were trying to close up. We took a picture and reluctantly said good night.

Then it was, what are we going to do for dinner? It was nearly 11:30. Wilfried asked some locals what was likely to be open for dinner that late in town and was met by blank looks. Hmmm.

We cruised the town. There was something like a night club open but no food. We stopped at a gas station. The attendant there was closing but suggested fast food at the autobahn about 5 miles away. Failing that (we all said no), perhaps Marburg. Thirty minutes away.

Wilfried set out following his GPS (I guess, I was in the back seat, resigned to my fate). Along country roads and through villages in the darkness we went. Suddenly there was a blast of light. An American ’50’s style diner in the middle of the German countryside! What? About 50 neon signs and the front end of a ’57 Buick with its headlights on adorned the front. Best of all, the kitchen was still open!

We had burgers and fries. I had a Corona (with lime). It was great! We got back to the hotel at 1:30. Wilfried’s key didn’t work and he had to break the door open. No one with the hotel was awake.

Mary is going to try to figure out how to bring Sistergold to the US. They are willing but won’t do it for free so she has some fundraising to do.

Schwartzwald and dinner

We left Friedrichshafen Friday afternoon about 1 pm. Our train went west along the Bodensee, curved south around the northwestern arm, called Überlingen See, to Radolfzell, then west again to Singen, where we changed trains to one bound north through the Schwarzwald.

Schwarzwald, the Black Forest of Hansel and Gretl and many other fearsome tales of our childhood. My notes of this first part of the journey are more concerned with the lady whose dog got loose in the Singen train station than with any fearsome fables. It wasn’t until I noticed the upcoming stop at Donaueschingen that I started paying closer attention to the world outside my window. Donau!!?? That’s the German word for what we Americans call the Danube. I always associated that river with Austria and points east. What’s it doing in southern Germany?

Well, it turns out that Donaueschingen is known as the source of the Danube. The whole time we went through Donaueschingen, I was watching carefully for a river of any size. Nothing. After we got out of the town, we went along a nice valley that had a little stream in it that seemed little more than a canal that toy boats could sail in.

Later I came to find out that the Danube is formed from two rivers coming together at Donaueschingen. They are named Breg and Brigach. Brigach was the one we were passing along. Well. The countryside was beautiful though and some hills were starting to show.

Within 15 minutes we were at St George (Sankt Georgen) amongst some serious forest. We left the river course then for some tunnels and steep valleys. Good stuff!

St. George, Triberg, Hornberg, Hausach, Haslach, Biberach. All set in what my map tells me is Naturpark Schwarzwald Nord/Mitte. I would like to come back here.

Around Biberach we noticed that this train had a stop scheduled in Rastatt. Why didn’t Wilfried tell us to go there instead of Baden Baden? Frantic texts, emails, attempts to phone ensued. Finally Mary got through and found out that the Baden Baden Hbf is closer to their house than the one in Rastatt. OK.

The last few stops before Baden Baden were approximately 30 seconds each with the train accelerating to around 90 mph for only 4 or 5 minutes in between. And very smooth.

Wilfried had mentioned earlier in the week that he and Elisabeth had a social engagement Friday night that they couldn’t get out of: a dinner at their neighbor’s. Mary and I thought they would go and leave us at their house. When we got to Wilfried’s, it was 5 pm and Elisabeth had the table all set with 4 giant pieces of cream cake and wine. We hadn’t eaten a proper lunch again so we fell to with gusto. After a while, someone said, what time are we expected at the neighbors? Answer, 6 pm. I looked at my phone: 5 minutes til 6.

So now it develops that we were expected all along to join them so get your coat on, we’re going. Never mind that I felt like I would never eat again. I should have known.

We had a lovely dinner at Felix and Yolanda’s. Neither spoke much English but we got along. The food was great: Felix barbequed sausages and chicken kabobs outside in the rain while the rest of us sat around the table and talked and drank.

Back at Wilfried’s about 10 pm, he brought out a special 16 year old Spätlese Reisling and we sat around and talked some more until past midnight. What a day!

Munich

Wednesday we bid farewell to the Mosel River valley. Wilfried took us through the new tunnel under Burg Landshut and out into the Hunsrück en route to Mannheim and a train to Munich.

I sat in the back seat with Mary driving and Wilfried narrating history and tried to keep track of the towns and highways we went on. Morbach, Birkenfeld, and onto the autobahn east through Kaiserslautern. There was some confusion as to whether we should head for Karlsruhe or Mannheim. Mannheim won as the train there was a little later even though it was out of Wilfried’s way somewhat.

We noted the presence of the large US hospital at Landstuhl as well as the Ramstein air base. Somewhere around Neuleiningen the hills and forest of the Hunsrück opened up to the wide Rhine River valley.

At the Mannheim Hbf, we said our goodbyes and heartfelt thanks to Wilfried and committed ourselves to the German train system. The first train we didn’t do so well: all the seats were taken and we didn’t feel like hauling our large bags through the whole train to find a seat. We only had to get to Stuttgart, about 40 minutes, before we had a transfer, so we stood in the doorway at the end of the car.

After that it was much better. We had seats and I amused myself timing the kilometer posts and calculating our speed. 27 seconds per kilometer equals about 150 kph or about 95 mph. Pretty fast and very smooth.

In Munich, we got situated in our hotel then headed out to find the Marianplatz and the animated glockenspiel. It was due to ring at 5 pm and we had about 45 minutes. As it turned out, we needed every bit of that as I misread the map and took us down a street at right angles to the Platz. We saw the dancing figures, along with about 1000 other tourists, pretty much all of whom had their cell phones held out over their heads recording the event. People actually started leaving before it was over.

 

We didn’t, but felt the need for sustenance. We hadn’t really gotten lunch with all our train changing. On the other hand, Andreas had texted us inviting us for dinner at 6:30. Solution: ice cream!

Thus buoyed, we walked to our dinner rendezvous. We later figured it was just under 3 km from Marienplatz to the restaurant. Our hotel was about halfway in between so our days’ walking ended up being 6 or 7 km by the time we were done.

Andreas had told us Julia was under the weather, so when I first saw her, in her stroller with a pacifier in her mouth and a hood over her head, I thought this might be a bad idea. A few tickle overtures, however, opened the gates and before long she was walking along the street holding my hand.

At the restaurant, the food was slow in coming and Julia began exploring. There was no one seated near us, so she pulled silverware off adjacent tables, and messed with the decorations in the window alcoves.

I tried a distraction. I asked her if she wanted to come outside with me. She did! We went outside and walked down the street a ways. I pointed out things in my simple German: Bicycle! Motorcycle! At the corner drugstore (luckily closed) I lifted her up onto the window sill and helped her jump down to the sidewalk. Now her eyes were sparkling!

After dinner, Luisa had to leave as she was taking a 5 am train to Austria the next morning. The rest of us stopped down the street at a gelato place. Then it was time for all of us to say goodbye. Mary and I walked back to the hotel. We were in bed by 10.

Just for fun, here’s my photo of Marienplatz from my visit in January 1982:

Mosel River cruise

Continuing my narrative of my Germany trip.

Tuesday afternoon, after viewing the river from the Burg Landshut, we decided to go on a cruise. This was a good example of ‘the plan . . . there is no plan’. We had intended to have something to eat at the castle but all the inside tables were taken and there was no service at the outside tables because they were all still wet from the rain. Indeed, it was still rather threatening weather.

So we drove back into town and booked a river cruise. This was a one-way trip from Bernkastel down the river to Traben-Trarbach. Wilfried would drive to Traben-Trarbach and pick us up. What service!

As the crow flies, these two towns are less than three miles apart. Following the river, they are about 14 miles apart.

So we set off on the cruise ship, Nikolaus Cusanus:

We passed Graach, where we had had dinner Sunday night. Wehlen, Zeltingen, where we went through a lock along with a coal barge. We passed under the incomplete autobahn bridge towering 150 meters over our heads.

We passed Ürzig and Erden. Erden is the home of the Erdener Treppchen vineyards. Treppchen means little steps and there is indeed a long set of steps going up the steep hillside there.

For the entire 14 miles, there wasn’t a single south-facing hillside without vines.

The day wasn’t as spectacular as Sunday had been, but it was still fun. At Traben-Trarbach, Wilfried was waiting for us. We contemplated going to the Buddha Museum, but lunch was more important. It was after 4 o’clock.

Leni

Leni Herges was born in Cologne, Germany on August 4, 1917. According to my copy of Family Tree Maker, she is the wife of my 2nd cousin once removed. FTM says Wilfried, her son, is my 3rd cousin. Wilfried’s great-grandfather and my great grandfather were brothers. I guess you could just as easily say that our great-great grandfather was the same person

It’s very confusing so I call everyone there my cousins. Mary Beth and I went to Germany to celebrate Leni’s 100th birthday. When I got to her house, and in her presence, I was tongue-tied. What do you say to a 100 year old person when you can speak their language? I have a little German but it deserts me when the pressure is on.

Leni was like a Sphinx. She didn’t say much to anyone. Her daughter Marlies (also my 3rd cousin!) keeps an eagle eye on her and whisked her away to her room if she showed any signs of being tired.

Now it’s funny: I have a picture in my mind’s eye of her sitting at the table with her eyes closed or otherwise disinterested, but in all the pictures I can find of her from this trip she looks pretty lively. Here’s a nice picture of a group of us:

There is one picture from the dinner that’s along the lines of what I’m talking about. As you might imagine, Leni gets tired as the day goes on. Mary and I had gotten to her house in the afternoon and there were a bunch of people there, all talking and drinking wine. Then, to get to the dinner, Marlies had hired a limo to take the immediate family. That was a scene getting everyone in.

At the other end, everyone is getting out and of course, we have to get a picture.

Then, inside to the dining room. More wine, appetizers, singing of songs (evidently the German version of Happy Birthday, which I never found out what it’s called) and finally, a speech. Wolfgang happens to be the Burgermeister of Berkastel-Kues and a relation of Leni through her father’s family. He went on for several minutes (in German, of course). It was very respectful and at times funny, but Wilfried captured this while Wolfgang was speaking.

Checked out.

The next morning some of us gathered again at Marlies’ before heading our separate ways. I happened to be looking at Leni when Julia came in. Julia is Leni’s great-granddaughter and 2-1/2 years old. Leni lit up when she saw her and gave her a big hug.

Hertzliche Gebürtstag, Leni, and many happy returns!

more Mosel meanderings

Rather than try to find some kind of theme today, I’m just going straight to continuing the narrative of what we did in Germany. Yesterday I left off at Burg Eltz, in a steep valley only a mile or so north of the Mosel as the crow flies, but quite difficult to find. At one point, we had to stop a bicyclist to ask directions.

Looking now at the map, I think I know what happened. Despite being so close to the river, the terrain is such that there is no direct route to the castle from there. We turned off the river road at Müden – follow along! – and almost immediately there was a problem. We got turned around in the steep village streets and came out again my the river. We flagged down a passing fire department vehicle and got squared away to get out of town and up into the Eifel plateau.

Wilfried, who had a general understanding of the area, kept saying, ‘We’re close’ but the road didn’t go in the right direction. We went through the villages of Möntenich and Pillig, then cut across country towards Münstermaifeld. This is where we talked to the bicyclist.

in Münstermaifeld we finally saw another sign to the castle, and took the road through Wierscheim. Soon we were at the castle parking lot. A pleasant walk of about half a mile soon brought us this view:

We caught the last tour and saw the schaztkammer, then had just enough time to grab an ice cream before the food counter closed at 6 pm. Our trip back to Bernkastel was uneventful but we were finally getting hungry after our late lunch in Beilstein. Surely the famous Bernkastel MarktPlatz would have restaurants open late on a summer evening!

There were, but it took some doing to find one at 8:30 pm. Wilfried was astonished. He told us stories of the days of his youth hanging out in the Bernkastel downtown late. The place we found open only would serve wine in bottles at extortionate prices so we had beers. They did come up with a nice cheese plate, though!

Walking home across the bridge to Kues, we saw the moon rise over the hills and Burg Landshut. Very nice!

Tuesday morning it was raining so we decided to take a tour of the Cusanusstift. Nicolas of Cusa was a major figure in 15th Century in Europe. He founded in 1451 a home for old people in Kues that is still in use. Upon his death in 1464 he had his library sent to Cusanusstift. We were able to enter the library and marvel at the books dating from the 9th to the 15th Century. Behind glass, of course!

Here’s a view of the Cusanusstift from my first trip to Bernkastel in the winter of 1982:

The rain lightened, so we went up the hill to the Burg Landshut. Although the castle is ruined, much effort has been made in recent years to spruce the place up and now there is a very nice restaurant with a glass wall allowing you to look over the village and still be warm. The seats were all taken so we passed on lunch there. The rain had mostly stopped so we got some nice views from the ramparts.

the plan

When Mary and I started getting serious this spring about our trip to Germany, we naturally tried to think about what to do and see there. Attending Leni’s party was our principle reason, of course, and we knew we had to visit our ancestral home of Bernkastel. Mary had, with the help of Wilfried, gotten tickets to see the saxophone group Sistergold so we were doing that.

Beyond that it was open. She had heard of Neuschwantein so she wanted to see that. Cologne was close to where the party was so a trip to the cathedral was pretty easy. While we were there I wanted to see the German-Roman Museum which is right next to the Dom.

Munich is where our cousin Andreas lives so we definitely wanted to visit there. I had fond memories of my honeymoon trip up the Rhine through Freiburg and along the Bodensee.

In the end we sort of punted. We knew we would be in Odendorf the first couple of days for the party and we thought we could see how things were and talk to our German relatives about what was practical and interesting in the time we had. Our cousin Mary Sullivan had been to Neuschwanstein the week before we arrived and told us it was expensive and very crowded. She didn’t say don’t go but it certainly put a crimp in the idea.

By Sunday, (the party had been Friday night) everyone was heading to their separate homes. Mary and Tom had been in Germany and France already three weeks and were ready to go home. Wilfried packed Mary Beth and I into his car and we headed for Bernkastel. Along the way we discussed plans.

As we neared the Mosel River Valley, he stopped in the village of Klausen hoping for an open restaurant so we could eat lunch. We were either too late or too early for a Sunday, but he had a story about the church there so we stayed and looked around. Then we were off again and soon got our first sight of the Mosel.

By the time we got to Kues, we were pretty hungry but it was 5 pm and he had already reserved a spot for dinner at 7. We settled for a snack and a beer before getting settled in Leni’s house. A quick walk around town and a drive up to the Panorama Restaurant in the neighboring village of Graach.

After we finished, we tarried to watch the sun go down over the river.

The next day in the morning, we walked around Kues and Wilfried showed us the houses our ancestors had lived in at various times in Kues going back over 300 years. Quite amazing for these Californians!

This is a view of the church cemetery where many Hangauers are buried. The hills in the background are actually on the other side of the river. If you look carefully, you can see Burg Landshut, also across the river.

After our walk, we piled into the car and headed out for the only undamaged castle in the valley at Burg Eltz. It survived the French occupation of Napoleon’s time by being hidden in a valley rather than on a hilltop. Despite Wilfried’s GPS, we had a hard time locating it and it was almost 5 pm when we finally got there. It all worked out fine: we still got a tour and a look around before it closed and we had more stories to tell.

Rather than driving straight to Burg Eltz, which is not in the Mosel valley, we had asked Wilfried to go on the river road. This took longer, especially as we were inspired to stop a couple of times to admire the view. As the day went on and getting to Burg Eltz before closing became a possibility, we took to articulating our philosophy: ‘The plan is . . . there is no plan!’

We stopped to walk up to the Youth Hostel on Marienburg to look over the village of Punderlich:

We stopped at Beilstein to take the ferry across the river for lunch under the shadow of Metternich’s birth place.

Finally, Burg Eltz (photo by Wilfried).

So, the plan that wasn’t a plan worked out great. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t have asked for better traveling companions. Although Wilfried had seen it all before, he had an easy going approach that allowed us to follow our curiosity perfectly.