08.06.2009 9 °C
Our plane for Dusseldorf left Rome about an hour behind schedule so we were sweating it somewhat whether we would be able to make the train connection in Dusseldorf and arrive at my family’s home in Merzig, Saarland that evening. No worries! Within 15 minutes of the plane’s landing we were at the train station, with all our luggage and if there is passport and customs control in Germany we sure missed it. The Dusseldorf airport has a great Sky-train in place which whisks all quickly away to distant parking lots and the “Bahnhof”, the train station where one can become connected with most of Germany and beyond. Upon purchasing the Merzig train tickets we received at the station, without asking, a slip of paper instructing us of the transfer in Koblenz and from which platforms our trains would arrive and leave. Tourism in Germany is called “Fremdenverkehr”, -strangers traffic- and as a stranger it feels good to receive perks which makes one feel less like one.
The train from Dusseldorf to Merzig follows the rivers closely and took us first by the Rhine, then the Mosel before traveling next to the Saar and the 3 plus hours went by quickly while watching the landscape. We are far enough North in the Northern hemisphere to be aware of the long light now in almost summer and while the sun sets around 9.30, the long “ schemeren” (dusk) lets us see until past 10.00pm . The rivers are surrounded by green, grape carrying hills and later in the week we hope to ride bikes next to the Saar. Koln’s large Cathedral dome was visible from the train as well as some great other sights in the smaller villages.
My dad Theo met us at the train station and after 4 years of us not having seen each other was a welcome sight. Inge, who holds a very special place in our heart, was waiting for us at their home which was a good decision since our luggage would not have fit otherwise in their small, economic European car. While I have visited Theo and Inge before, it is Tom’s first visit to Saarland. Theo and Inge have spoiled us from the minute we arrived last Saturday, May 30, and continue to do so still. Waiting on their table was one of the greatest gifts ever, socks for both of us, hand knitted by Inge. I was down to my last pair which made the gift extra special. The socks are of many colors, the same colors we have seen on our travels. With each stitch love is added and for that we are grateful.
Resting was not an option and since our first day here the sights have been shared and seen. Saarburg, a small town close by, was one of our first stops. It offers a great view from it’s burg (old fort for protection). We have found and seen many more burgs and schloss and wonder if every German town has one. My dad and I share almost the same birthday which coincided with their favorite winery’s Keller tags (Cellar days) and we sampled great wines high up in the vineyard while overlooking the Saar and Luxemburg’s luscious wine fields across the river. The winery served great snacks along with the wine including my all-time highest ranked delicacy “ Nieuwe haring”. Raw herring, treated only with salt and imported from the Netherlands. Certainly a great way to celebrate being together.
The next day we drove down to the Schwarzwald, where Theo and Inge head for at least 4 times a year for Black Forest rambling. Germany’s Schwarzwald is tucked in its most Southern corner and borders Switzerland and France. The first hour was done on the Autobahn and it being a Holiday, (Second Pentecost day) like a Saturday and Sunday no trucks were allowed on. Trucks are never allowed in the fast lane where very efficient Audis, Peugeots, BMW , Porches,Mercedes and even Ferrari’s whiz by. Theo takes a French shortcut for the last part to get to their destination and it was fun to be in France for a couple of hours and even if it involved only one coffee stop it gave us a brief chance to see and hear the French language. Rivers and mountains still make natural borders between the European countries and for Theo and Inge a visit to either Luxemburg or France involves a mere crossing of the river, a few kilometers away.
The town where Theo and Inge treated us to a true Black Forest experience is called Tennenbronn and they consider it their home away from home. It is a small village, nestled deep in a Hohe Schwarzwald valley and one wonders if time indeed stopped there.
After unpacking we joined Theo and Inge on their traditional first walk to the tiny St. Mary chapel up in the hills where they light a candle each time upon arriving back to a place they love and the gratitude they have for their ability to still hike these hills.
We enjoyed tremendous weather during our 5 days there and each day we set off for a hike over hills, valleys and through deep, dark and silent woods. The trails offer spectacular views while wandering by historical landmarks. Stops were made to fill up our water bottles from spouts found throughout these woods which carry the cold, clear water from the melted snow higher up. No other food or drinks were carried since throughout the Black Forest Gasthauses offer local prepared food and drinks to the wanderers. It reminded us of our stops at the Teahouses in Nepal except instead of tea and Dahl-bhat the offerings now were large steins of cold Ketterer beer(the best) and platters of meat and bratkartoffeln. Theo and Inge are well known in the region and we were warmly welcomed at the Gasthaus for Vesperstube. The old farms found throughout the hills often serve double as a Gasthaus. These farms were built to suit the land, climate and life style and two roads lead to these. One road stays up to enter the barn which fills the top of the farm while the lower road reaches to the living area and stables below, all under one roof. Many of these uniquely pitched, red tiled roofs are now mounted on the sunny side with solar and photo voltaic panels to aid with the farms’ energy demand. Use of the constant flowing mountain water is done with small wooden mills. With last winters generous snowfall the landscape was a sparkle of many different shades of fresh and new greens mixed with flowers different from the spring flowers seen in other regions. Our favorite was the yellow waldwachtelwiesel, a shrub carrying tiny flowers with petals similar to a freesia. Other towns we visited in the region were Triberg which boasts not only Germany’s highest waterfalls but also the World’s first largest cuckoo clock, Schramberg, Hornberg, and Schonach. The air is amazingly clean and crisp which must have aided in our sleep as well as the constant hiking. In Tennenbronn there are two churches. One Catholic with the other called Protestant. Each church has their time to chime and the Catholic Church, starting at 6.00am announces each 15 minute passing throughout the day with the sound of the bells. The full hour deserves additional gonging. The last bells are rung at 10.00 pm and remain silent until the next morning. The Protestant church bells only sound twice a day but for a lengthy concert at 6.00 am and 8.00pm. The singing bells sound wonderful through the valley and aided Tom and I on a evening hike when we were no longer sure of the paths but knew with each 15 minute bell chime that we could not be far away. We wonder though about Europe’s use of the 24 hour clock while the church bells do not ding past 12 and repeat the pm cycle? That may be a blessing. Imagine the count. We walked to the small stores daily to buy only that what was needed for that given day. Stores are open from 8.00am until noon, closed for a 2 hour lunch and back open until 6.00 pm. Each store closes one other day during the week and all are closed every Sunday. Refreshing to see the Sabbath honored and as Gaby, the Gasthaus owner told us, the importance the Schwarzwalders take in spending time with family. Getting used to the hours is simple and one learns to do without if not purchased in time. We were a little mystified with the white chalking above the town’s houses wooden front doors and it was explained that the markings 20*C+M+B*09 were made by the visiting three kings on Three Kings Day. Local children dress in Kings clothing each year on January 6 and visit all in the village and leave these markings as gift blessing for the upcoming year.
Beyond eating and drinking the Schwarzwald fare we consumed much Italian Eis. Every little town has at least two Italian ice-cream stands and with Theo’s fondness for these we ate more Italian ice cream in Germany in one week than during our stay in Italy.
We have enjoyed our time with my dad Theo and Inge and it has been good to see firsthand the places they have talked about for so many years. In the early 1940’s , as a young man, my father was captured in Amsterdam by the German army and spent the remainder of World War 2 as prisoner and forced laborer in the town of Hornberg. The same town we visited last week. I once asked my dad why he would want to return to a place where he had been held captive and he answered that during those years, while still in his late teens, he vowed to return and walk these hills and forests as a free man and he does, often, now with his German wife Inge. It is a lesson in grace and forgiveness and for us it was quite meaningful to spend D-Day on top of a hill overlooking the picturesque and quiet town of Hornberg. Theo speaks Dutch and Inge German and at times when they simultaneously and excitedly speak their stories my brain becomes a bit confused, especially when Tom joins in the conversation. I know there must have been a switch crossover and am answering all in the wrong language when they give me blank looks. It never seizes to amaze us that Inge and Theo can perfectly communicate while speaking two different languages, at the same time.
We returned back to Merzig over the weekend and this morning, sitting purposely down to write about our week in Germany and listening to both the fallen rain and my father’s radio a familiar song came on. An old Simon and Garfunkel singing “ I‘d rather feel the earth beneath my feet“ and we truly second those words. Seeing Vienna, Rome and Florence sights all within a week, walking crowded streets and absorbing so many historical sights and ancient art can send one in a sensory overload. We have learned that for us, reenergizing occurs when we reboot. Get back in nature and watch the wonders unfold. We hope to have some clear days coming in the next week so Saarland can be explored more by bike and on foot. Germany can be cold and wet in June as we learned today when the temperature dropped to single Celsius digits and the fire was lit inside.
Tom and Els