Tuesday morning we drove through the beautiful German countryside towards Herleshausen, the town in Germany where Curtis' mom still has family, and with whom we would be staying for the next 9 days. We followed the map, taking a number of different roads, winding our way towards Herleshausen. Upon entering the town, Curtis attempted to rely on his memory of where his aunt and uncle lived. Well after 20 minutes of driving around in circles we found the Tourist Information booth, however it was closed. We continued to drive around again. After fruitless attempts, we finally stopped to ask a gentleman on the street. It turned out that he was the local pastor and instead of trying to give us verbal directions he hopped in the car and we drove him to his house. Once there he got on his scooter and we followed him to Siegried and Doris' house! They had a few laughs with the pastor and we thanked him warmly. Doris and Siegfried welcomed us into their home with open arms. We sat in their bright sunroom at the back of the house. Curtis has done an amazing job with his German and was able to communicate quite
nicely. Doris speaks a bit of English which was helpful, especially when my German is pretty much nonexistent! They shared photo books and pictures of their trips to Canada and it was nice to have common ground to communicate about. Family
- Siegfried is my mother-in-law's brother and he is married to Doris. They have two daughters, Sybille and Sabrina. Sybille is married to Thomas. They have 3 daughters, Larissa (19), Elisa (17) and Sophia (10) and they live not too far from Doris and Siegfried. We have spent a lot of time with Thomas and Sybille over the last few days. Sabrina is married to Thorolf. They have two children, Damian (8) and Lara (5) and they live in a town that is about 45 minutes away. Oma Hilda lives here at the house in a downstairs flat. She is Doris' mother and is quite the character at the age of 92! Town
- Herleshausen is a small town of approximately 3000 and is bordered by the Thuringia Forest, with a number of small towns nearby. What is most interesting about where we are located is that Herleshausen is right on the border of the former East
and West Germany. The stories and history we have heard have been intriguing, especially hearing it from people who actually lived during this very difficult time. As they tell stories and share their memories of the years during the border and subsequent unification we have learned a lot more of what it was like on a personal level instead of reading it in a book. Language
- The language barrier, although overwhelming at first, has become considerably better. Doris speaks a little English, as does Sybille. Thomas speaks very well and combined with Curtis' German and "das buch" (the book) we have been getting along just fine. We have a lot of laughs as we attempt to translate for one another. "The book" is Doris' very big and old English/German dictionary which we all use faithfully throughout our conversations. Over the last few days I have acquired a few more German words however they don't really go together to make any real sentences, except maybe "I eat birds!". I listen very hard during the conversations and often get the gist of what is being said, based on facial expressions and gestures. Thankfully Doris, Sybille, or Thomas will translate for
Where Curtis was Baptised
me. Thomas and Sybille's two daughters learn English in school and as they become more comfortable around us they have been speaking a bit more. In fact I sat in on a word game they were playing the other night and they were both adorable trying to help me decipher the words in the game. Traditional Eating
- You really do not get the true sense of what it is to eat in Germany until you live in a German household. We have been to restaurants which serve a variety of typical German fare and breakfasts in our hotels have always been European in nature (hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, breads, pickles, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, etc). Breakfast each morning in Herleshausen has us dining on fresh rolls, homemade jams, cheeses, and my favourite - liverwurst! Each day we have been here we have been kept busy travelling around, visiting sites etc. Each of these days has us stopping for lunch in a restaurant where we indulge in a large meal, typically around 2:00. Upon our arrival back to the house we then settle in for cake and coffee around 5:00. Between 7-8 pm it is dinner time. At that time
there is a selection of meats - different kinds of salamis, buns, rye bread, several cheeses, a bowl of whole tomatoes and cucumbers, pickles and, of course, liverwurst!!! You simply graze at the table and at the end do not feel like you are bulging after consuming a big dinner like at home. However weekend eating is different! On Saturday morning we ate our normal fare and at 1:30 sat down to a huge meal of ham, asparagus and hollandaise sauce, potatoes and melted butter. This was followed by a dessert of a strawberry, whipped cream, chocolate concoction or rhubarb sauce over yogurt and shots of Schnapps! Even Oma Hilda shot one back!! At 5:30 we had our coffee and cake and at 8:00 Doris put out an amazing spread of bratwurst, barbecued pork, bacon on skewers, coleslaw (Kraut), marinated tomatoes and buns! Waddle, waddle, waddle, to an evening of beer kegs and wine!!! Sunday at 12:30 we had asparagus broth, venison, wild boar, gravy, dumplings, fried potatoes, homemade sauerkraut (to die for), and lettuce salad followed by strawberries, pudding, and ice cream. And yes, cake and coffee is at 4:00!!!! Activities -
After we arrived on
Tuesday and dined on cake and coffee we headed up to explore the ruins of the Brandenburg Castle which lie on the foothills of the beginning of the Thuringia Forest. We first crossed the bridge over the Werra River that meanders between Lauchroden and Herleshausen and which was the border separating East and West Germany. Curtis recalled as a teenager seeing the tower where the East German guards watched the border. The tower is no longer there and the bridge is new in light of the former one being destroyed by American troops. We trekked through fields and trails to reach the lookout point before reaching the castle itself. We were able to go inside dark, narrow bunkers that were used by Soviet soldiers during the time of the East/West border. We continued our walk up to the hilltop castle which is 274m above sea level. Brandenburg once consisted of an east and west castle and was one of the largest doubles castles in central Germany. For 40 years it was left in a state of disrepair, like the castle in Sleeping Beauty where vines crept over walls and trees and bushes grew tall. Abandoned after the Thirty Years' War,
it was used a quarry from which stones were removed for new buildings. During the time of separation it was forbidden to go to the castle due to its location near the border. Once unification of Germany occurred, the castle was restored between 1990-94 and then opened to the public.
Wednesday morning we went with Siegfried, Doris, and Sybille to Eschwege, the town where Curtis' mom spent much of her childhood and early teenaged years. As we walked to the church passed by his grandmother's home, a tiny timberframe house where he remembers eating her delicious Schnitzel. From there we went to Neustadter Kirsche - St. Katharina, the church where Curtis was baptized many years ago. It was wonderful to visit this quiet, pretty church, knowing it was a special place from Curtis' past. Next we wandered the beautiful streets, complete with markets, stores, and restaurants. We stopped to listened to the melodic song of bells that played every hour before stopping in to a Greek restaurant for a large feast of salad, rice, souvlaki and pork. In order to wear off some of our delicious meal we headed off to climb the Leuchberg. This 316m high hill is
one that was climbed by Curtis' mom and grandmother many, many times and is the one place she really wanted us to get to. The Leuchberg is topped by the Bismarck Tower which 26m and gives a panormic view over Eschwege and other dotting the mosaic of greens far below. We climbed stairs and trails to reach the top and then headed up the 109 steps to the top of the tower. Sybille pointed out several of the towns we could see and provided some history on the landscape as well, much of which had been covered with water at one time. After leaving Eschwege we drove to Sabrina and Thorolf's place where we had... afternoon coffee and cake!
Thursday morning the 5 of us left Herleshausen again to go to Eisenach. We could see the Wartburg Castle sitting on the 410m precipice as we drove through the city. After parking we began the long trek up to visit this Unesco World Heritage Site. We had the option of travelling up by donkey (eisel) but opted for the less smelly means of travel. This castle was built in the Middle Ages and was home to St. Elizabeth of Hungary
and also the place where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German. We went on a tour of the beautiful rooms, most notably the room that was completely covered in gorgeous mosaics. The grand hall was also very beautiful and was actually the room that King Ludwig II used as a model for his Great Hall in Neuschwantstein. Upon leaving we then stopped for lunch. We wandered the beautiful streets and came across the narrowest house in Germany. This house is squeezed between two larger ones and is only 2.05 m wide, 8.05m high and 20 square metres in area.
Next we went on to Das Burschenschaftdenkmal, a circular, domed temple that is a war memorial dediated to the fallen Germans in the German/French war of 1870-71. It had been heavily vandalized and then restored and apparently each year hundreds of male students gather for some sort of fraternity experience. No women allowed!! Curtis and I climbed the spiral, steel staircase and once we reached the top went through small doors that lead to the terrace. From there we had a wondeful view of Eisenach, Wartburg Castle and the Thuringian Forest. After a long day on the road
we headed back to Herleshausen for dinner.
On Friday morning, Thomas and Sybille, Siegfried and Doris, and Curtis and I headed off to Hainich National Park, the only national park in Thuringia. This beautiful forest has a wonderful walkway where we first walked on the forest floor, then onto staircases that took us to the middle layer and finally to the tree tops. One of the main objectives of this park is to protect the native beech trees. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk, listening to birds sing and identifying different trees along the way. We then went up in the tower, where once again, we experienced an incredible view of the landscape for kilometres.
Leaving this beautiful ecosystem we headed into the town of health resorts and roses, Bad Langensalza. We walked through the quiet streets where we walked the quiet streets and admired the old houses. We stopped at a restaurant just outside the church where we dined on the most incredible varieties of Schnitzel! Curtis had a huge schnitzel that was done in a cast iron pan, slathered in melted cheese and broccoli. I enjoyed a breaded schnitzel with buttered asparagus! After this culinary delight we
Hainich National Park
went in to explore the ancient church where we received a personal tour from a gentleman. He explained (and Thomas translated) how the nuns had their own area above the altar and also had a bridge which brought them from the convent to the church. From this spot they could only see the minister saying mass, not the congregation. He took us to the back and showed us where the stonemasons had etched their initials into the white stones. Bad Langensalza is a town where the stone, Travertine, has been used extensively and it is everywhere. We walked the beautiful streets and then made our way to the Japanese Rose Garden, wandering through the grounds. Unfortunately we were just a bit too early to enjoy the blooms but still got to see and smell the fragrant rhododendron and climbing roses. After this wonderful day we headed back.
Saturday morning we went with Thomas and Sybille on a three hour hike up the highest mountain in Herleshausen. We walked up the Runweg until we reached a field of wheat. We made our way through the arid dirt and took a shortcut up the side of the hill in the forest.
It was very steep! Once we reached the top the smell that met us was familiar. The whole top of the mountain within the forest was a white sea of wild garlic! We followed the narrow path where we came across stone markers. These were part of the East/West border! Etched onto the top of the stones were lines that indicated where you could walk. For one of the stones you had to walk around the marker. East German soldiers would be in the forest watching and if you did not stay on the proper side of the border you could be captured or shot!!! It was really a humbling experience to think that a place of such beauty held such terrible memories for people. We made it to the highest point where we marvelled at the view. I wrote a message in the book that is left there and Sybille added flowers to the small tube on a large cross. It was truly a place of beauty. From there we took the less steep path back and proceeded through the forest. We visited the Soviet cemetery and Jewish cemetery. We made our way back to Thomas and Sybille's house
Highest Point in Herleshausen
before returning to Siegfried and Doris' where we had our HUGE lunch. Later that afternoon (after cake) a family of 8 people from Texas arrived as they were distant relatives of Doris' who had contacted Thomas regarding the family tree he had completed. It turns out that they wanted to see Herleshausen as several ancestors had lived here. I think they were somewhat relieved that we were here as it made it easier to communicate and did not put all the onus on Thomas and Sybille to translate! After they left we enjoyed an evening of laughter and chatting over drinks before finally heading to bed.
Sunday morning Curtis and I borrowed Siegfried and Doris' bikes and went for an hours ride before coming home a wonderful lunch. While everyone else napped, we went off for a walk to the cemetery where we found Curtis' uncle's grave stone. We wandered in through the streets of Herleshausen, visiting the church and the castle, the home of a prince and princess!! After another round of cake and coffee we went off with Thomas, Sybille, their daughter Sophia, as well as Sabrina's kids to Thomas' brother's farm where we went on a
500 year old Oak Tree
wagon ride out in the fields where we visited a 500 year old, massive oak tree! Thomas let Curtis drive the tractor back to the farm and shortly after the 6 of us enjoyed dinner and a quiet night!
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