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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dad Was Wrong

The week seems slow because we've done so much in such a short time. I feel like I've already been gone a month instead of just 8 days.
Fussen is within a short distance of two old castles. They're actually not as old as most because King Ludwig II rebuilt Hohenschwangau (somewhere in that word is the operative word 'swan' which appears everywhere in many forms) and also started building Neueschwantstein in the late 19th century. He was the uncle of King Ludwig I, whose brother was declared insane so could not become king after he died, so Ludwig II got the job. But while he was building his new castle, at age 41, he was also declared insane and shortly thereafter, both he and his shrink were mysteriously found dead floating in the lake. He never married and had broken off an early engagement, so no heirs. He was also very good friends with the composer Richard Wagner (Vogner) and had a special bedroom just for him. In the new castle, he was creating rooms from Wagner's music. No pictures were allowed inside, but I did get a few outside. We walked up and down hills to see both castles, even though a bus got us within 20 min. walking distance. Can I say here that I had already gotten a blister on my toe and by now was in pain. I decided to add that for all my friends who read this and are jealous of everything I'm seeing....that now you know I'm seeing it through sore feet.

We left Fussen after 2 nights and headed to Rothenberg. Unfortunately it took 5 hours to get there rather than 3 like we thought, so it was a long day in the car with someone refusing to stop for directions to make sure we were headed in the right direction. Fortunately, Matthew has a great sense of direction, plus can read a map very well; whereas I can barely SEE the damned thing!
Must make that ophthalmologist appt. as soon as I get home.
Rothenberg is a medieval town with a wonderful old wall surrounding it with a walkway above and around the perimeter to see the town. Our hotel was within the walls, so an easy walk to everything there....unless it's all on cobblestones and your feet already hurt. :-)

We were only here for one night, but made the most of it. It really is a great walking town with many shops and eateries. It's very crowded with tourists during the day, but calms down in the evenings when the day-trippers leave. We had a fabulous dinner in a lovely quaint restaurant.
 I had spaetzle with cheese with a mixed salad that had every kind of German salad in it, including potato, cabbage, carrot, and topped with fresh greens.  Matthew had sauerbrauten, something my dad would have loved.

On our way home, we saw a ceramic piece we both loved in a window, but didn't make a note of where we were or what street we were on, so couldn't find it the next day, even though we searched. We did find a little something for my almost 6-month old grandniece Maddie, of course.
Random photos:
Grapes growing along the side wall of a home.

Thought we'd driven into Hungary by mistake....

And now we are in Darmstadt for our last two nights in Germany. We arrived on my mother's birthday, coincidentally. Truly a family day for me. This is where my father lived before coming to San Francisco. I felt emotional coming felt weird to drive into a town I'd heard of all my life, but had been told very little other than don't go there.

Our hotel is right next to the train station,which is a beautiful old building. It's a new hotel,which didn't thrill us with the location. And we were a little put off by the staff person who wasn't helpful. She told us to use the car elevator to park our car, which costs 15 EU a day. Weird driving into an elevator, which takes you just to the back of the hotel.
We spent the first night figuring out what to do here, where to go,and what was the best place for schnitzel. The tram station is right outside, which made life easy. The tram is fabulous and takes you all over the city. We found our way—yeah, not me with no sense of direction—and made our way around, then to dinner and back. The tram is fun, though on our first ride, we didn't know how to get off and the door wouldn't open, so we ran to another door that was open to get off. After that, we watched and learned...and saw a button to push.

 Today we did the family exploration. We headed downtown to the information center and asked about finding family history. I brought some papers of my grandfather's written in German that were sent to him in San Francisco. I have no idea what they say, other than his old and new name – the old being Schellenberg – and his birth date, plus place of birth and I think work-related information. They sent us across the way to another building, then they sent us to a third place a few blocks away that is like the hall of records. They told us they couldn't help either but to go to the Etadt Arkiv where old records are kept. They also gave us the name Herr Kniep.

We walked over to a beautiful building, which turned out to be a museum now. The woman turned us away, but we didn't understand her, and a young man also standing there explained in English that the museum was closed to the public and was holding some private party for the media. We realized we were in the wrong building and said we were going next door, so he asked and realized why I was there. He let us know he hated what the Nazis did and that he hoped we could also see the Germany of today while we're here because they no longer think like that. Then, as we stood on the steps outside, he gave us the most interesting history lesson.
Darmstadt in the 1930s was a stronghold of Nazism. Over 50% of the people here voted for the Nazis, and it was the first city to ban Jews owning businesses. No wonder my grandparents sent their only child to live with a relative in a foreign country!
  On Sept. 11, 1944—70 years ago tomorrow!-- the town was fire bombed by the allies and everything burned to the ground. Darmstadt and Dresden were both demolished. My guess is my dad's family home burned then too. They used a new technique that dropped the bombs straight down, then the fire exploded upwards. He said they've never forgotten the day, though we won't see any signs about it tomorrow. But he also said the US helped provide for restoration after the war, which the Germans have never forgotten. We thanked him for spending his time talking to us, then we off in search of Herr Kniep.
He seemed a little suspicious of us at first, and doubted he could find anything, but he left us for 15 min. or so and returned with a paper showing my grandparent's names, when and where they bought a house in Darmstadt in 1923 with their son Walter, aged 7.

 They he went to find more and returned with two bound books which turned out to be businesses from 1924 and 1927. He found Bernard Schellenberg who sold building materials, including steel, to builders and his home address. He checked and said it was no longer standing, which we already knew. But he also told us the name of the street had changed and handed us the new address. He pointed us in the direction of where the memorials are for the two synagogues that were lost during the war, so we headed there. One was Orthodox and the other more guess is Dad had his bar mitzvah at the reform, but we visited both. They're now other buildings, one a new medical center.

We then made our way to the tram and found the street where my dad's house was. The area is mostly apartment houses, except his number. That was a new building going up with a huge crane above it and blocked by a wire fence. We couldn't tell what it would be...maybe another apartment house. But still, I got to stand right where my father and grandparents lived from 1923 to 1935 or so. What a feeling and what a great day of discovering a little more about my ancestry.

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