Our Last Two Days in Germany—Worms and Heidelberg—and Some Final Thoughts on the Trip

Why did we go to Worms? Not for any genealogy reason, but for its significance to Jewish history generally and to German Jewish history more particularly. It is one of the so-called ShUM cities, the three cities (Speyer (Sh), Worms (U), and Mainz (M) where Jewish scholars and rabbis in the Middle Ages had a widespread impact on Jewish religious and cultural practices.  Some of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars studied and taught in the ShUM cities, including Rashi, who is considered one of the greatest Talmudic scholars of all time. Many of the melodies used even today in Jewish religious services were developed in the ShUM cities. It seemed that it would be wrong to go all the way to Germany and not see Worms.  (Speyer, unfortunately, we could not fit into our itinerary, and we had seen Mainz.)

Worms is a short train ride from Heidelberg, so it made sense to go there during one of our three days in Heidelberg.  On May 13, we took a morning train to Worms to meet our tour guide. [For various reasons we were not very pleased with this guide, so I’ve decided not to use her name in this post. If anyone wants to know why, I will be glad to share privately but not on the blog.]

The guide met us at the train station and showed us the reliefs sculpted over the doorways to the train station, one showing different modes of transportation and the other, the doorway used by the wealthy, showing kings and nobles.  The station was built in the early 1900s and, as the guide said, was considered a sign of modernity and of the status of Worms as an important city.

From the station we walked a few blocks to the Jewish cemetery, which has existed since the eleventh century and is considered the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe.  We could not enter as it was Shabbat (Saturday), and the cemetery was closed.  But we could see the old stones and the very well-maintained grounds. The guide told us about some of the important scholars buried at the cemetery and how the cemetery is a pilgrimage site for Jews from all over the world.

From the cemetery we walked through a park where there was a statue of Martin Luther, for whom Worms was also an important city because, according to the guide, it was in Worms that his movement for Reformation became a movement adopted by the people, not just a theoretical idea. The guide also pointed out to us that the park we were walking through was where the moat had been located when Worms was a walled city in medieval times.  Once the wall was taken down and the moat filled, it became a ring of green space surrounding the city.

Martin Luther statute

We continued to follow the former moat towards the old Jewish quarter in Worms. Along the way we passed several stolpersteine, including one for Herta Mansbacher, who is considered an important heroine in the story of the Jews of Worms.  She was a teacher in a non-Jewish school until 1933 when she lost her job and took a teaching job in a Jewish school.  She then stayed in Worms to help the children and to encourage families to emigrate from Germany.  After the Worms synagogue was burned during Kristallnacht, Herta Mansbacher ran to rescue what she could and to try and put out the fire.  In 1942, she was deported and murdered by the Nazis.

Stolpersteine for Herta Mansbacher and others

Former home of Herta Mansbacher

A short distance past the home of Herta Mansbacher we reached the former Jewish quarter of Worms. Turning left on Judengasse it felt like we had entered not only a difference place but a different time. You could visualize what the quarter was like a hundred years earlier.

Judengasse in Worms

The Jewish quarter in Worms

There are two synagogue buildings in the Jewish quarter.  They are located at opposite ends of a small plaza in the center of the quarter. The Levy’sche synagogue is now a residential building.

 

Across from it was the other synagogue, the Old Synagogue—where there is a sculpture commemorating Rashi; Rashi studied at the yeshiva attached to this synagogue.  The building dates from the 12th century and is claimed to be the oldest synagogue in existence north of the Alps.   The building is today used for religious purposes and also for cultural events. There is a separate building where the yeshiva was located and also a mikveh on the grounds.   Behind the synagogue is a Jewish museum displaying Judaica and historical documents from the region; the most moving display was of the Torah scrolls and wimpels that were burned during Kristallnacht.  Perhaps these were the ones rescued by Herta Mansbacher, for whom there is a memorial plaque in the synagogue.

Old synagogue in Worms

Statue honoring Rashi

Interior of Old Synagogue

The synagogue was rebuilt after the war, but some of the original structure still was standing and is part of the building today.  Seeing the Jewish quarter allowed me to imagine in a concrete way how the Jews once lived in this section of the city.

After leaving the Jewish quarter, we stopped for lunch, and then the guide showed us Trinity Church, a very large Lutheran church built in the 18th century.  It was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II and rebuilt in the 1950s.

Trinity Church

Interior of Trinity Church

Our last stop in Worms was at St. Peter’s Cathedral, which was built in the 12th century.  It is an impressive structure, and the altar is quite elaborate and beautiful.

St Peter’s Cathedral, Worms

Altar in St Peter’s Cathedral

We then walked back to the train station and returned to Heidelberg.

The next day, our last day in Germany, we were back on our own.  We took the funicular up to the castle that hovers over the city and can be seen quite dramatically from across the river.

We strolled around the grounds where the views of the river and the city of Heidelberg are stunning. Because you cannot get into the castle without a guided tour, we waited for the guided tour at 10 am.  Fortunately there were only three of us on the tour, plus the guide.  (There were hundreds of people wandering around the grounds being led by Viking Cruise guides, all with earplugs in their ears to listen to their guides, but they did not enter the buildings.)

The guide was delightful with a very dry and sarcastic sense of humor, and we all got a big kick out of him.  He entertained us with stories of political intrigue, romance, and wars to give us the colorful history of the complex of buildings that make up the castle.  The castle predated the city; it was originally built for strategic purposes with its towers and walls overlooking the valley below. Then, as medieval times moved into the Renaissance era, it became more a home for the local noble to impress his wife and entertain their guests.  Even Hitler used the castle at some point as a place to house soldiers.  I wish I could remember all the details of the guide’s stories, but suffice it to say he kept us interested, and he not only was amusing but very well-informed about the history of the region.

After returning to the city below, we spent our last afternoon in Germany wandering through the beautiful city of Heidelberg.  Unlike every other city we’d visited—Mainz, Bingen, Cologne, Wurzburg, and Worms—Heidelberg did not sustain any significant damage from Allied bombing during World War II, so it retains its architectural heritage as originally built.

The city has so much to offer—a world-renowned university, a scenic location on the Neckar River, a fascinating castle with gorgeous views, and churches and buildings that are rich in architectural detail.  The winding narrow streets and wide plazas, the youthful population, and the multitude of restaurants, bars, and stores make it an interesting and exciting place to visit. It made it all that much harder to pack our bags and head to the airport where we would stay our last night in order to catch our flight the following morning.

And so we said Auf Wiedersehen to Germany, land of my paternal ancestors, a country I had truly learned to appreciate during our stay, a place where the beer, the bread, the cities, the villages, the landscapes, and especially the people are just wonderful.  I was sad to leave, but ready to come home and have a chance to digest and remember it all.

Looking back on the trip now that we have been home for well over a month, it almost seems like a dream.  Was I really there? Did I really walk in the footsteps of my ancestors, see their gravestones, and meet my cousins, their descendants? Writing these blog posts has helped me remember and process everything we saw and experienced.  Looking at the photographs reminds me of all the people we met and all the beauty we saw as well as all the reminders of what happened during Hitler’s reign.

Much of what we experienced was bittersweet—bitter because of all the awful killings and destruction, sweet because of the kindness of the people we met and the hope they gave us for a future where people are tolerant and understanding and loving of each other despite their differences.  As I now return to the task of learning about and writing about my family’s history, I can better visualize where they lived and what their lives were like.  It will make what has already been a fascinating and rewarding journey that much more meaningful and satisfying.

Thank you for following me on this journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

32 thoughts on “Our Last Two Days in Germany—Worms and Heidelberg—and Some Final Thoughts on the Trip

  1. Amy- your trip was amazing! I visited my German family 6 years ago and hoping to get back. I got my DNA results and have found my German ancestry back to the 1600’s. Found out I am related to Johannes Sebastian Bach! His children and descendants were organ makers and made the organs for many cathedrals in that part of Germany, including Speyer Cathedral. I went there with my German friend and did not know that then! My Dad was really into organ music -so this makes sense now! Dad was really into music and Jazz too! Music and Artistry run in our family!
    I am sorry you had a poor guide on the end of your trip! I hope the guide did not do something or say something to upset you in any way. It was a wonderful experience meeting your family and seeing it 2nd hand. Hope to hear from you! Pat Kuhn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that is so amazing to find a connection back to Bach and to see the musical genes playing forward so many generations! Wonderful!! As for the guide, let’s just say she overcharged and underdelivered and also made some statements about immigrants that were racist and very offensive to us (not personally, but in general). I don’t even think she realized that we were not happy with her comments or with her. Thanks so much for following along—I hope you see these comments! Let me know.

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  2. What a wonderful, wonderful trip – thank you so much for sharing it with us!

    I’m curious about the Levy’sche synagogue since my maiden name is Levy. Was this someone’s name or what does the name represent?

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    • LOL–that’s what my husband says since I do all the planning of all the details of our trips. But one reason I like doing that is that I know what we will enjoy and what we won’t so I want to be in control. Planning for others would be much harder and less fun!

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  3. Such history wrapped around your search for your ancestors! Wonderful!
    [out of curiosity – have you heard from any of those people who asked you why in heaven’s name you’d go to Germany on purpose? Are they eating crow yet?]

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    • Thanks, GP. I have not had anyone say, “Gee, now I see why you wanted to go.” On the other hand, no one has again questioned why I wanted to go. Maybe some of them read the blog? Maybe they get it now or are at least aware of how ignorant they sound? I don’t know. But so far everyone I’ve talked to has been very interested in our experiences. 🙂

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  4. Amy~ I am so happy for you that you were able to experience this amazing journey. Thank you for taking me along through the blog, you captured the essence of every city visited. What struck me the most was what you wrote about Heidelberg retaining its original architectural heritage..reminding me of all ‘we’ as in the whole world is losing even now as war and hate continues..in terms of the human toll and of course the architectural heritage being lost for future generations. Everything you captured and wrote about inspired and educated me. TY

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    • Thank you so much, Sharon! Your comment makes me so happy. I am glad that I can share my travel experiences, and I hope someday you get to do a similar trip to see where your family once lived. And yes—war has cost us not only an unimaginable cost in human lives but also a horrible loss of our history and culture. But yet it still goes on.

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  5. Amy, I’m so thankful you shared your journey to where your family once lived, and you made those ancestors so alive again. The descriptions and pictures of the cemeteries really resonated with me. So much conflict and horrors have stained the earth, and destroyed people that tried to survive in a way I can’t really fathom. And you are right, the sad and horrifying thing is that it still goes on. Your last photograph, with the narrow cobblestone lane, looks like a fitting end to the paths you have led me to on your journey.

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    • Thank you, Maryann. I am so glad you enjoyed reading about the trip, and I’m also glad you picked up on what I was trying to do with that last photo!

      And sadly it does go on, but good people with the power to act together can do something to reduce hate and war if not eliminate it.

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  6. An old friend of mine also “forgot about shabat” – the closing days for the cemetery in Worm, and we had to look from the gate. But I have been several times: it is breathtaking to see the many very old gravestones. https://www.worms.de/en/tourismus/sehenswertes/juedisches_worms/juedischer_Friedhof_Heiliger_Sand.php

    My friend Joachim Hahn has these amazing websites on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. Here he quotes Martin Buber, famous German Jewish scholar:…” from the complex entanglement of the cemetery I look up to the harmonius edifice and I feel as if looking up from Israel to the church, ..my covenant with God remains..” http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/worms_friedhof.htm

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    • It was frustrating not to be able to go into the cemetery, but when I planned the trip, I didn’t even notice what day of the week it would be. I guess if I had to miss one cemetery, at least it wasn’t one where my ancestors were buried. Next time….

      Thanks,Dorothee. Did Joachim do all the cemetery sites on Alemannia-Judaica? I use it all the time.

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  7. I greatly enjoyed the trip! I cannot imagine the gamut of emotions you ran as a Jewish person amidst all that terrifying history, but I guess it enriches in a way nothing else can ever do. I’m sure, now safe at home, you have much to reflect upon. Incidentally, you’ve inspired me – I’ve sent for a DNA kit! Ah well!

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