We got up at 4:30 on Monday to catch our flight over to Heathrow (or Heathslow as some of the natives call it). We called a taxi and made it over there and checked in with little problems. However, we were told that if you were flying via Terminal 5 to make sure you have a change of clothes with you. This terminal is new and like the new terminal at Denver a couple of years ago, was swamped with complaints of lost luggage and the like. Fortunately, such anxiety was not warranted for us. Flying out of Heathrow, you should know that on your boarding pass, you are not given a gate number. The gates are determined approximately 45 minutes prior to the flight so everyone waits in one general area until the flight gets a gate. We were wondering how far we would have to walk because when we first arrived in London, we had to walk over 2 miles to get from our flight to get to customs and then claim our luggage. My dad was still having some trouble walking so fortunately our gate was in the A wing which was not far. We boarded British Airways and took off for Stuttgart. British Airways is a great airline to fly. For a less than two hour flight, they even served us breakfast! I couldn’t believe that!
We landed in Stuttgart at about 10:00 German local time. We got our luggage with no hassle and customs was a breeze. We then had to pick up our rental car. We had originally planned to go with a Volkswagen Golf but for four of us with luggage, that would not have worked. So we got a Mercedes C class instead. Oh man, that’s a nice car! We still had some trouble with our luggage. We must have spent 30 minutes trying to situate four large bags into something manageable. We still failed so what we did was get three bags into the trunk, folded down one of the back seats and put another suitcase there while my sister and mom huddled together in the back seat. I got to drive the Mercedes first. Of course, my German is not so good so I had a hard time reading road signs, but I finally got the hang of it. For instance alle Reitlung is “all directions” and umleitung is “detour.” We then proceeded to the Autobahn. Now contrary to common belief, you cannot go as fast as you want to on this road. Certain areas, yes, but we were nowhere near those “certain areas.” The speed limit was fixed at 120 kph which is about 70 mph, though at times, I got it up to 140 kph just to try it out. However, it was raining and I didn’t know where I was going necessarily so I slowed down to about 100-120 kph.
Driving through Germany is not like driving through the states. For instance we see lots of deciduous trees by the roadside whereas here you will see large and thin coniferous trees dominating the landscape. There are a lot of hills and much farmland, but you can tell that it just “feels” different. We got into Merstetten a little after 1:00. Immediately, we set out to find the house where my mom was born and where my mom grew up. It’s not there anymore but you can tell exactly where it is. The fact is that most homes in Germany don’t have lawns. So if you have a space of grass in between houses, the chances are that there was a house there which was torn down. Well, my mom’s house was torn down but you know exactly where it was. Right down the street from that is the town bakhaus, or bread baking house. Even the bench which my mom sat on while waiting for the bread to bake is still there. She recalled any number of moments where she and her aehne (grandfather; I call my grandfather opa) used to sit and talk for hours. (The feminine is ahne though I always used oma for my grandmother).
We proceeded to find my mom’s cousin’s house (Walter Rothenbacher and his wife Elizabeth) where my uncle (Emil Ziegler) and my aunt (Joyce) have a small condo. Walter and Elizabeth have two kids, Maximilian and Anna. The day we got there was their last day of school for 6 weeks, though Max was on a field trip to Munich. Elizabeth, I found out, was hired to help care for Walter’s mother (my mom’s doetlesbaes) when she was sick many years ago and she and Walter got on and married. Interesting story. It’s almost similar to how my brother met his wife! On the farm, they raise cattle, chickens, grow wheat, canola, corn and sugar beets. In Germany and the rest of Europe, your fields are not all together. You may have one by your home but another across town. This is a system that goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. Walter is lucky to have most of his fields (which he either owns or rents) close to his house. Their work day typically begins at about 5:00 am and involves a lot of physical and demanding labor. As typical with farms, they have a lot of cats and dogs. My sister has already grown fond of one orange cat. The dog is named Terence and though he is on a chain, he does not bite. He just likes to get some attention. Though I’m not a dog person by any stretch of the imagination, I have taken a liking to him.
I was worried about the communication issues since my German is absolutely confined to the written word and not the spoken, especially not informal conversation. Fortunately, Elizabeth speaks English fairly well despite having almost no one to practice with so communication is not a problem. Walter knows only a few words. They showed us the place where my mom and dad would be staying, the entire first floor of the house which, previously had been used by my mom’s uncle and aunt (Friderich Rothenbacher and Marie Rothenbacher). Friderich was my mom’s doetle or godfather and his wife is then called doetlesbaes (wife of the godfather). A godmother is a dote and the husband of a dote is then called a dotenveder.
I should point out at this time that the Zieglers are my mom’s dad’s side of the family and the Rothenbachers are my mom’s mom’s side of the family. However, just because one is a Ziegler doesn’t mean that they are more closely related. There are several Zieglers who are more closely related on the Rothenbacher side! The Zieglers and the Rothenbachers have been marrying into each other’s lines for generations. My uncle has a huge genealogy in which he has traced my mom’s (and his) side of the family back to the early 1500s pretty accurately! The Zieglers typically lived in Merstetten, though there are not many left here and the Rothenbachers come from Sondernach, a town 5 km south of here. I plan to go there on Saturday.
After dropping off my parents’ luggage and hanging out with my aunt Joyce and my uncle Emil (who is the clown of the family, but pretty close to genius; my mom has great stories and I’ve found out a lot more in the short time I’ve been here), we then went into town to get some groceries and for my sister and I to check into where we would be staying. We went to the butcher and got some good meat and cheese, especially leberkaese. That is excellent if you can ever find it. We then went over to the Gothaus (guesthouse) Lamm which is a local tavern and the owners have a house next door that is fully furnished (I do mean fully). We were greeted by Marie who owns and operates the place. She doesn’t speak a word of English but it doesn’t matter; a better host you will not find. She greeted all of us saying Gruess Gott which means “God be with you”. It’s an old expression used here in what is called the Schwaebischen Alb (Schwaebish wedge; I’ll talk more about the peculiarities the Swabish people in my next entry). She showed us around, got us the key and then brought out schnapps for everyone (powerful stuff). She said breakfast would be served at 8:00 the next morning. Marie’s father happened to be my opa’s best friend when he lived here and her son happened to be my uncle’s best friend. So we kind of know this family a little bit. My opa is never referred to around here as Christian Ziegler but simply as Schaefer Christe which means “the Shepherd Christian.” The Ziegler side of the family has been shepherds and farmers for generations, but, strangely enough, served in the military when called.
We went back to Walter’s and Elizabeth’s for a few minutes and then we went out to eat at the Hirsch (pronounced heesh; again Schwaebish) which specializes in deer meat. The owner of the place started talking to my mother as if she had been here the entire time. I guess this guy just likes to talk. I wasn’t sure what to get s I settled on rostbarten served with a salad and onions. What a good meal! The rostbarten is a pork dish but covered in a gravy with the onions that rivals steak, at least here. The salads are made with lettuce, radish, onions, carrots and a German potato salad (not like the stuff you find in the U.S.) and they are NOT mixed together. They are all kept separate. As far as a drink went, I made an error which has not ceased to be a joke. The owner of the restaurant asked my mom if I was 18. I know I look younger than my modest 32, but come on! I asked why he thought this and he said it was because I ordered a “Shirley.” When I first ordered my drink, I asked, in my best German for a glass of Riesling and water. What I should have done was ask for a glass of Riesling and a glass of water. What the waitress did was combine the two so I had a watered down wine. I’ve had German Rieslings many times over and I couldn’t figure out why this one was tasting so flat! Everyone else was having a good laugh at my expense. Ha, ha!
After dinner we went back to Elizabeth’s and Walter’s for a minor family reunion on the Rothenbacher side. Walter’s sisters, Inge with her husband Fritz, and Elizabeth with her husband, Friderich came. Igne and Fritz brought Silke who is the daughter of Walter’s twin sister, Rosie (she and her husband didn’t come). Eventually, Stephan, the son of Elizabeth and Friderich came out. Fortunately, Silke spoke fairly good English and she and my sister had a good conversation. She works as a florist in Sondernach and Stephan is a carpenter. I’ve met Igne and Fritz a while ago and they came also to my brother’s wedding back in 2001, but they don’t speak English much. It was very frustrating that I couldn’t really partake of the conversation since everyone was speaking Schwaebish. Even my mom was doing really well, despite having really no practice with this language for such a long time. The last time my mom visited this place was before I was born in 1976. I was starting to get bored and frustrated, and Elizabeth (Walter’s wife) came over and started talking to me and I got a second wind after that. We had some good champagne and some good cake and adjourned about 10:30. We said our good-byes which in Schwaebish is adaa rather than auf wiedersehen. Adaa is a corruption of the French adieu. You can get away with tschuss which is what more of the young people use, but I decided to stick with tradition.
Stephanie and I went back to the Gasthaus Lamm and went to bed. Germans sleep on very thin mattresses and do not use sheets. You essentially sleep under a bedspread or comforter and the pillows are not firm at all but very soft. Even two together won’t get you the support you really need or want. Also the bed was barely tall enough for me. I was later told to sleep in the foetal position to solve that problem. It was very cold that day and was very cold that night, but it was easily one of the best nights of sleep I had had in such a long time. There was total darkness and no sound save for the ringing of the church bells. Perfect.