My sister and I got up around 7:00 am on the 24th because breakfast was at 8:00. I showered, dressed, blah blah blah. At 8:00 we went over to the tavern where our breakfast was already set out for us. What a spread! There was a soft boiled egg, German rye bread (at least 7 pieces), a tray of various meats (including Leberkaese) and cheeses with cucumbers (used on almost everything here in this part of Germany) and tomatoes, a one litre bottle of orange juice (orangesaft) and a one litre bottle of water (carbonated; not a favourite). With the bread, we were given a raspberry marmalade and we also had the choice of tea. We ate very well. Ich bin zat we would say to Marie!
We had the car so we headed over to Walter’s and Elizabeth’s to pick up my parents. Apparently, my dad had a very difficult time sleeping simply because the pillows were not firm enough. My dad has had a real rough go at this vacation. His feet and his knee have been giving him problems since day 1 and I had hoped that they would start to subside but no. We’ll see what happens for the rest of the trip. We talked for a little bit and then got into the car to go to Lichtenstein castle (Lichtensteinenschloss) which is fairly close by. We had some problems navigating, however. The roads are not clearly marked as they are in the states and you have to navigate via certain cities. Once we got into Muessingen, we made one wrong turn and ended up going about 25 km out of our way but we finally managed to get back. Although I was frustrated by the navigation (for which I was responsible) we were compensated by the beauty of the tals (the valleys) of the region. A more picturesque scene is such a rarity. We finally arrived at Lichtenstein Castle which you can see from the freeway. It is built atop a high mountain and overlooks the cities of Reutlingen and Liechtenstein. The places is named Lichtenstein because of the rock which is white in color. Lichtenstein=white stone.The castle was originally built by the Knights of Liechtenstein in 1388 though it was later destroyed by the citizens of Reutlingen. However, this particular castle has never been besieged. The original walls are still there. Eventually the Wurtemburgs, a Germany noble dynasty, eventually inherited the castle and ruled the area as dukes, princes and kings. This particular castle is still possessed by the heir to the Wurtemburg dynasty who lives there only on occasion but maintains a more permanent residence in the nearby city of Stuttgart. The current form of the castle is due mainly to this heir’s great grandfather, King William of Wurtemburg and Urach though he did preserve much of the earlier foundations and creations.
The castle is small by standards we often associate with Medieval castles, but it is nonetheless quite fascinating. It is not extremely spacious in any of the rooms. There is an armoury room with some splendid suits of armour from various time periods. One of the suits, in particular, still had damage from a jousting match! The chapel is quite small and has two magnificent paintings on either side depicting the Annunciation and the Nativity of Christ, both of which date to the fifteenth century by the master Michael Wohlgemuth who, himself, was the teacher of the great German master Albrecht Duerer. The most stunning painting dates to 1450 and depicts the Assumption of Mary (Dormition or death) into heaven. The drinking room is also very modest with tables at the side and a place reserved for the duke or guest of honor at the top. There is also a pulpit where someone would regale the other guests with tales of the hunt. Often other kings of various regions of Germany would stop here to hunt fox, deer and wild boar and they would be the ones expected to tell stories. Of interest in this particular room is the world’s longest champagne flute, measuring almost 2 meters in length! How one would drink from this is a mystery. Moving upstairs we got into the King’s Room where a number of frescoes commemorate famous members of the House of Wurtemburg. One of them, I was surprised to find, Duke Eberhard, founded the University of Tuebingen which, later, became one of the main intellectual battlegrounds of the ideals of the Protestant Reformation. Also in this room are several mirrors, one of which has a huge hole in it though it is not completely shattered. During the closing days of WWII, allied tanks shelled Lichtenstein Castle (for reasons unknown; the Nazis were never occupying the area) and one of the shrapnel of the shells hit the mirror and another the floor, which I did not see. The Reception hall was quite magnificent with a splendid painting of King William shown in full military regalia as a major of the artillery which he commanded for the Prussian (German) Kaiser during WWI. This particular painting is all the more striking because no matter where you move in the room, his eyes are always fixed on you. Eerie! We moved out and went back downstairs where we found another portrait of a bowman doing the exact same thing. No matter where you were, his aim was always fixed on you! We looked around the castle for a few more moments, got some good shots of the surrounding area and then set out again for Mehrstetten.
Headed home, I had a number of questions. The tour was given in German (which I expected) and there was no real literature available to purchase save for a small pamphlet. I suppose I could do some research via the internet, but I don’t have access to the internet at this time.
When I arrived back at Walter’s and Elizabeth’s house, I went up to my uncle’s condo and asked him a few question where he gave me some more information about the Schwaebishce Alb and the people. The Schwaebians are German but come from a more ancestral and uniform stock than their other German counterparts. Their language is different. Many of them speak Schwaebish still although it is dieing. Though the kids may learn it at home, once they get to school, High German is what they learn and are encouraged to practice. I’ve already made mention of several Schwaebish dialectical differences and I won’t repeat them here. The language is the last of the Allemanisch group of the Germanic family when Frankish and German were largely indistinguishable. Then the two groups separated and Schwaebish retained much more of a French character than the German to the north. The Schwaebish people are by nature very easy going and very peaceful, a thoughtful people. Einstein and Benz (as in Mercedes-Benz) came from this region. It is all the more ironic, my uncle tells me, that during the Third Reich, this region went to war with little reservation. But, then again, it was a different time. However, this area also produced the Hohenzollerns and the Hohenstaufens, the former, who became founders of Prussia and the later German Kaisers who built the most impressive war machine in history; the latter, great warriors such as Friderich Barbarossa (the Stupor Mundi—amazement of the World) and a number of Holy Roman Emperors who had to assert control of their loose confederation particularly in the northern Italian states by force. This world is coming to an end in many respects. The younger generation is leaving and embracing the ways of northern Germany.
My uncle then took us on a tour of Mershtetten. This was great for my mom and for me too. I learned that Mershtetten was never really a historically important town. It has no strategic significance and has always been a farming community. It was never ruled over by dukes or princes for very long or very oppressively and was independent. The first place we stopped was the cemetery. In Germany as well as in most of Europe, space is so limited that what happens is that your bones are exhumed after about 25 years of burial and put into a general mausoleum. The markers for the grave are also removed. Here I saw some of the Zieglers buried here, my great-uncle Friderich (my mom’s doetle) buried alongside his wife Maria (my mom’s doetlesbaes). She died first and then he went almost exactly two months later! What is even more interesting is that, according to my uncle, Friderich is buried in the exact same spot as his father was! In 21 years, his and his wife’s bones will be exhumed. A great thing about this cemetery is that all the women have their maiden name listed on their grave marker which definitely makes genealogy easier. We saw only a couple of graves with Zieglers and Rothenbachers. There were a number of Reutters (whom we are related to by marriage), Schmauder, Schraede, Ebelhardt, etc. Most of these families still live here in Mershtetten in great numbers. There is a monument to soldiers whose bodies were not recovered from WWI and WWII. Several Zieglers were mentioned.
We moved on outside of town to see the reservoir where my mom and her friends used to play. It is located in a thicket of the woods and is one of the first reservoirs built in German supplied by the rivers in the tal. My mom also tells me that the parents of children would tell them that the reservoir is where the stork would get babies to deliver to parents. Interesting variation on the birds and bees. The field nearby was also the place where the French would practice their military maneuvers since they occupied this area after WWII. This current area is part of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg which was incorporated after WWII. A couple of years ago was the 60th anniversary of the incorporation, but the people of Baden and the people of Wuerttemberg aren’t known for exactly getting along. At the anniversary, the people responded with a giant yawn!
We then proceeded to several parts of the town. We went to the church where my mom was baptized and confirmed. The caretaker there happens to be a cousin of hers, a Ziegler, but more closely related on the Rothenbacher side. She let us in and let us walk around. It is a very simple and plain church. Churches in Germany are generally Evangelische (Lutheran) or Catholische (Catholic). One of the ways to tell is to look at the tower. If it is more pointed, chances are it is Evangelische; if the tower is domed, it is generally Catholische. This one is Evangelische. The tower itself dates to the 1300s as does the main structure of the building. There is only one stained glass which is of Christ located behind the altar. As typical with Lutheran architecture the baptismal font is at the front of the church and is made of stone (this is the same font where my mom was baptized) and the pulpit is at the right hand side elevated over the sanctuary. The altar is very simple with a crucifix and two candles. There are two levels. In my mom’s day, the women were expected to sit at the bottom and the men at the top. The organ has been replaced recently and we’ll see how well it sounds on Sunday when we go to church. My uncle even showed me the place where my great-grandfather Schaefer Christe sat—at the extreme right hand side of the first row. People had their seats marked out and got very upset if someone else was there. Doesn’t that happen still today? There are a number of memorials, including lists of all the pastors of the church. We saw the pastor who baptized by mom Fr. Bernecker. We also had the opportunity to go up into the Bell Tower. This was a treat. There are four bells which still ring every quarter hour. One of them is from the 1400s which I got a picture of. During WWII, these bells were removed to be melted down for artillery. Fortunately, this was not the case and though it took some doing, these bells were marked as Mehrstetten and returned. We got to go up to the very top where we had a nice view of the city. My uncle told me that one of his friends was a daredevil and decided to jump out the bell tower with only an umbrella. He chickened out until he got a second umbrella. He did it and, amazingly, did not break both of his legs, having gotten away with only scrapes! I wish I were that lucky.
We also got to meet the cousin’s parents, who are two of the few Zieglers left here. They speak not a word of English, but it didn’t matter. One of their nieces is Doris whom I really want to meet mainly because her husband is a Greek citizen, I’m hoping that I can get in good with her and him and thus have a place to stay when I go to visit Greece! It’s called networking!
We then moved throughout the rest of the town seeing places where my relatives lived (or used to live). Many of these places are no longer there having been torn down. As I mentioned earlier, if you find a patch of grass between houses, that area was a formerly a house. Most houses here were a combination of a living area and a barn. A lot of the houses are still used that way today, though many current owners have converted the barn to a garage or something else. I did see one house/barn on the street which was being used as milking area for cars. And this is 2008! There is one house which cannot be torn down by law because it is considered a historical monument. Emil was saying that the cost to maintain this historical monument amounts to 1000s of Euros a year and it is not subsidized by the government (one of the few things that isn’t!).
We saw the place where my mom was born and lived and then went down to the Backhaus (Bakery) which is actually still used today, though only one day a month. One of the neighbours let us in the small room where people would have to draw numbers for what order they can bake. You literally drew a number out of a bag. The oven is brick and you would bake about 20 loaves to last you for the week. It would take about an hour and a half. My mom recalls that while waiting for the bread to bake, she and her Aehne (grandfather) would talk on the bench outside. I need to ask her what those conversation were about. I have heard stories about how my great-grandmother (my mom’s ahne) was so upset that my great-grandfather was carried home from the local tavern in a wheelbarrow! Apparently, this happened more than on one occasion.
Going down the street, we came upon a gas station which is owned and operated by Horst, a classmate of my mom and her first “boyfriend.” Apparently, when she returned in 1968 (after having been gone for 12 years), he was still taken with her! She, my uncle and my mom talked for a long time but it was mainly about himself. My sister, my aunt Joyce and I were waiting across the street talking about other things.
We walked back and found a small monument to the soldiers of Mershtetten who died in WWI. Their names are inscribed on the monument and there are two Zieglers, Otto and Guslav. I can’t comment on how exactly I am related to them.
It was about dinner time so we headed up the street to the store to get a few things and where I got a chance to mail a postcard. We then went to the Lamm for dinner. This is the same place where I have my breakfast each morning. Dinner was very filling and very good. These Germans know how to cook, cook lots and cook well. I ordered zegeunerschnitzel mit salad und spaetzle. My mom used to make spaetzle a lot of times. It is a type of noodle and with gravy, it is excellent. I learned my lesson from the previous day and ordered a Riesling without the water! I also decided to try an authentic German beer, Zweifalter, which is made in the nearby town of Zweifalten by the monks of the local cloister. We may visit that on Saturday or Sunday and take some souvenirs! It was a great dinner with lots of good conversations. We then headed down to the local sportsplatz where we hoped to catch a soccer game, but we got there just as it ended. Maybe some other time; remember, soccer is everywhere. My parents took the car this time and my sister and I walked back to the Gasthaus where we both pretty much went immediately to sleep. Tomorrow’s journal will tell of my visit to Bavaria and the famous castle of King Ludwig II, Neuschwanstein. Good night.