Sunday, November 24, 2013

European Adventure- Part 3


In the map to the left, the green colored area is the state in which Erfweiler is located. In the map above, you can see where Erfweiler is in relation to Frankfurt and Stuttgart.

Inmy last post, we were in the Schell ancestral village of Erfweiler in Germany. We had enjoyed a great meal at a local eatery called the Jägerhof. The next morning, we were invited to Gerhard and Bärbel Zwick’s home for a typical German breakfast consisting of a variety of cheeses, thin-sliced meats, rolls, and coffee. After breakfast, Gerhard and Friedbert took us on a walking tour of Erfweiler. They pointed out some of the buildings and homes that would have been around when our ancestors plied the streets of Erfweiler back in the 18th and 19th centuries. They showed us the old school that Johann Schehl would have attended and the site of the old Catholic church that the family would have attended. We also got a little insight into Erfweiler during WWII. Since the town is very close to the French border, the Nazis ordered all villagers to evacuate for seven months after the war began in September of 1939. Near the end of the war when the Americans occupied the area, all the villagers in the upper old town had to evacuate so the Americans could set up camp there. Gerhard had a relative in Erfweiler who was killed after the villagers moved back in. He, unfortunately, came into contact with a grenade that had been left behind. Gerhard also had a relative who was killed during the D-Day invasion and another who was killed when German paratroopers tried to invade the island of Crete. We visited a town
Honoring town's war dead- there were two more plaques
cemetery with little hope of finding any tombstones of my ancestors. They do it a “little” differently in Germany. You lease a plot for between 15-25 years. After the lease is up and if no family member renews the lease, the plot can be re-used! What happens to the remains that were there, you say? Well, there are not many remains as they do not place coffins inside a liner. But if there are remains, they are just buried deeper! The headstone is removed and a new one is put in place. They even recycle the headstones. So, there are no headstones remaining for the dearly departed from long ago! We did find a Schehl gravesite but it was from a different line.

After the tour, it was time to return to Gerhard’s home for lunch. They had said the night before that we were going to have a “special” lunch on Sunday and then they started chuckling. That was of some concern to me; why the chuckling without explanation? Well, we got to the lunch after our tour. There was a large platter of sausages and brats, bread and rolls, a large bowl of sauerkraut (which was of special concern to me), and then a large sausage-like piece of meat on a large plate. It was probably about 4-5 inches round and maybe about a foot long. They said it was somewhat unique to this Pfälz region of Germany and it was called saumagen, which didn’t mean much to me. So, they sliced it and gave each of us a piece. I dug in and it was quite delicious. It was only after that that they explained that saumagen meant “sow’s stomach”! It seems that they stuff a sow’s stomach with a mixture of pork, potatoes, and seasonings; it resembles a meatloaf. The sow’s stomach is merely the casing for this large sausage. It really was quite good, but I don’t think that’s one thing I will soon try to make at home for (what should be) obvious reasons. After lunch, Gerhard and Bärbel took
Climbing around Alt Dahn ruins
From highest tower of Alt Dahn
to us to the neighboring town of Dahn. High on a hill overlooking the entire valley is an old castle called Alt Dahn. It is now a state park. It’s a pretty good hike up to the remains of the old castle from the parking lot. It was kind of misty that afternoon but you could see for a long way up there. After returning to Erfweiler, it was time to head back to Stuttgart with Friedbert and Gudrun. They dropped us off at our hotel and said they would come by in the morning and take us to the main train station downtown.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and left for Amsterdam for our last German rail experience. Everything went well, except we had not made reservations so we wound up standing (with others) for part of the trip until many disembarked along the way. In Köln (Cologne) I had another encounter with German culture that I’m not used to. We had a little time to wait in Köln while waiting for our connection. I went downstairs to use the restroom. I was not expecting a couple of older women to be in there cleaning urinals while the area was being used! So, I just pretended to be German and went about my business “seemingly” unperplexed! Our connection to Amsterdam soon arrived and we were off to our final European destination before heading home. The next post will cover our last couple of days in Amsterdam and our unexpected confusion at Chicago’s O”Hare!

Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 4, 2013

European Adventure- Part 2

Fabian, Gudrun, & Friedbert Schehl
When I left off last time, we were enroute by Eurail from Nürnberg back to Stuttgart. Upon arrival in Stuttgart, we headed back to the Hansa Hotel which is the same place we had stayed at the first time in Stuttgart. It’s not far from the train station, it’s in a quiet neighborhood, and it’s inexpensive! I called our cousin, Friedbert Schehl, who lives only eight blocks from our hotel. I had found Friedbert in my genealogy search and this would be our first face-to-face meeting. By the way, he is our seventh cousin. Our common ancestor is a sixth great grandfather. We were to go to Friedbert’s apartment for dinner that evening. He came and picked us up and I have to say, his English was not bad! At least, we were able to pretty much understand him. His English is a lot better than any German I knew. He had invited his son, Fabian, over to join us and act as translator, if needed. His wife, Gudrun, was preparing kasespätzle for dinner. It’s like a cheese and noodle casserole and was very good. Friedbert and my travel partner hit it off very good; both are big Bob Dylan fans! After a lot of talk and filling in details of our lives, it was time to head back to the Hansa. Tomorrow would be VERY exciting. Friedbert and Gudrun were going to drive us two hours to the west to Erfweiler, the Schell/Schehl ancestral village.
Schloss Solitude

We left midday for Erfweiler. Just outside of Stuttgart is a place called Schloss Solitude; it was a palace built by a noble as his hunting lodge. Some lodge, huh? Next it was on to one of those famous autobahns. We were traveling along at about 85 mph and cars were zipping by us. After crossing the Rhine, we entered an area that had many vineyards. We actually took a little side trip and crossed the French border to the town of Wissembourg. It’s another very charming medieval-style village. Gudrun went into a bakery and got a loaf of French bread and we just walked around town looking at the sites while tearing off pieces of bread! After spending about an hour, it was time to head off to Erfweiler, a mere fifteen minutes away.
House in Wissembourg


Erfweiler is a very small village of about 1,200 people. I would call it a bedroom community as most people work outside of town. There are only small businesses in town. We went directly to the home of Gerhard and Bärbel Zwick. Gerhard is the first person I was able to contact in Erfweiler over the internet. And it so happens that he was a boyhood friend of Friedbert’s. They had grown up together in Erfweiler. It was Gerhard who put me in contact with Friedbert.
Gerhard & Bärbel Zwick
Gerhard has a doctorate in chemistry and actually works in Karlsruhe, about an hour away. They live there during the week and are in Erfweiler for weekends. Gerhard speaks very good English because his job takes him all over the world and English is a common language for businessmen in Europe. We weren’t at the house very long before Friedbert and Gerhard took me on a hike through forests and up to the top of some rock formations that overlook Erfweiler. These forests had been their playground in childhood. The next day when we took a walking tour of Erfweiler and, today, on the forest hike, it was an indescribable feeling walking the same streets, hiking the same roads, and seeing some of the same buildings that my ancestors had seen. This would definitely be the highlight of my trip. Once we got back to Gerhard’s house, we had a little rest...a glass of beer and
Friedbert & Me above Erfweiler

Forest going to overlook
Gerhard showed me some of the photos of the town that he had on his computer. After about an hour, it was getting to be dinner time. Steve M had gone to our guest room located down on the main street in town. We all walked down town to get him and then go the a wonderful little German restaurant in town called the Jägerhof. I decided to get adventurous again and have something I had only heard of but had never had....sauerbraten. I was not disappointed! I decided this is something I would attempt to make back home (and I did!) That evening was so much fun. It was fun sitting back and
Jägerhof Restaurant
listening to the two families chat back and forth in German. I had no idea what they were saying but it was so much fun just listening. And they were so kind as to stop ever so often and include us in some English conversation. We wound up being there very late.....actually the waitress had left for the night and the proprietor (a friend of Gerhard’s) allowed us to stick around. There were more drinks to be had and I had the chance to experience something else for the first time.....I had never had schnapps! Finally, it was time to head back to the guest room and get some much needed sleep. Tomorrow would be Sunday and time to head back to Stuttgart before making our final train trip back to Amsterdam and our flight home. That will be in my next post.