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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Germany: A Car Accident and A Rainstorm

So, as I was saying in my last post, we left Schopfloch on May 11 looking forward to our last three days in Germany.  We were heading to Heidelberg with a very limited agenda.  We had only two commitments over the three days: lunch the following day with Ulrike Michel, the wife of my 4th cousin, once removed, Torsten Michel, and a walking tour of Worms on May 13. The rest of our time was open.  We were just going to explore the city of Heidelberg on our own, drink beer, eat good German bread, enjoy the river and the sights, and relax.  We had about a two hour drive to Heidelberg where we planned to return our rental car to Hertz by 6 pm and take a cab to our hotel in the old part of the city.

As we drove out of Schopfloch, we were quite relaxed, and our British GPS lady was in charge of directions.  We reached the end of the slow road that brought us out of Schopfloch and stopped to make a left onto a busier road, Bundestrasse 25.  Harvey looked both ways, saw no cars coming, and pulled onto the road, turning left.  We had already made the turn and were proceeding straight on the road when we were hit from behind.

We were, of course, stunned.  How could we get hit from behind after completing the turn onto the road? Fortunately we were not hurt, and once we got out of the car, we knew that no one in the car that hit us was hurt either.  The other driver, a German man perhaps our age or a little older, spoke a little English and was very nice and calm and said we had to call the police.  We waited at least twenty minutes for the police to arrive.

 

Site of the accident

Two policemen arrived—young men who spoke English fluently and who were extremely friendly and pleasant.  They spent several minutes first talking to the other driver—in German, so we had no idea what was said.  Then they approached Harvey and told him, without asking him what happened, that he had failed to yield and had violated the traffic law, and there was a penalty of 150 Euros.

We were flabbergasted.  How could we be at fault when we were hit from behind? And we had definitely not only yielded at the intersection—-we had made a full stop because we wanted to be sure we knew where we were going.  But it was clear that there was no point in arguing with the policemen and the other driver.

The police told us to follow them back to the station in Dinkelsbuhl (about eight miles out of our way), where Harvey signed papers in German that were not explained to him and paid the fine.  Meanwhile, I was trying to get Hertz on the phone to find out what we needed to do to be sure our insurance contract covered the damage. We had taken out full insurance as part of the rental agreement, so we weren’t worried about the damage to the car, but we did want to be sure that we followed the right protocol.

But no one answered the phone at the Heidelberg office; no one answered the phone on the Hertz emergency line.  We called Hertz in the US, and they had no answers.  So we were both now exasperated, annoyed, and frustrated.  So much for being relaxed!

Fortunately, the rest of our trip to Heidelberg went smoothly.  We arrived in Heidelberg probably around 6:30, 6:45.  The Hertz office was closed, so we left the car, the police report, and the keys, hoping that we had done all we needed to do.  And we put it all behind us, determined to enjoy those last three days.[1]

And we did.  Our taxi dropped us off at the Hotel Villa Marstall, a small European-style hotel right on the Neckar River.  Our room was beautiful with a lovely view looking over the river.  The receptionist downstairs suggested a sushi place for dinner, and it was just perfect.  Casual, good Japanese beer, great sushi.  We were able to move beyond the stress of the accident.

Views from our room at the Hotel Villa Marstall

As we walked back to our hotel after dinner, I noticed a few people standing on an open plaza right in front of the door to our hotel.  There was a stone block that they were reading at the end of the plaza, and as I looked at it from a distance, I noticed that there was Hebrew lettering.  I walked over and read that the plaza marked the location of the former Heidelberg synagogue, which was, like so many hundreds of others in Germany, destroyed on Kristallnacht.  The next morning when we left the hotel, we saw that the perimeter of the former synagogue had been outlined in white marble stones placed into the plaza.

Marker for former Heidelberg cemetery

As you can see from the two images below (plaques at the site of the former synagogue), Jews had a long history in Heidelberg:

As in every place we visited in Germany, there are markers to remind everyone that there was once a Jewish community here and that it had been destroyed.  We had picked the hotel without knowing anything about the location of the former synagogue.  It felt rather eerie and yet comforting that we were staying right next to it.  It was also comforting to know that there is now a new synagogue in Heidelberg.

We spent our first morning in this gorgeous city doing a self-guided walking tour of the Altstadt, the old city.  First we walked through Universitatplatz, the part of the old city where there are many buildings of the University of Heidelberg.  The university was founded in 1386, making it the oldest university in Germany; today there are 30,000 students studying at the university.  As in Wurzburg, the student population gives the city a young and vibrant feel.

Reading the map

 

The university’s church is Peterskirche (St. Peter’s); it is even older than the university as it was built in the late 12th century and expanded in the 14th century.  It has been the university church since 1896.

Peterskirche in the distance

 

Peterskirche in Heidelberg

Perhaps the most impressive and eye-catching university building we saw was the library; it is truly magnificent.  It was built between 1901 and 1905.

University library

Across from the library was the Jesuit Church with its striking white interior.   It was built in the 18th century, with a tower added in the 19th.

Jesuit Church interior

Jesuit Church exterior

We then walked through the old city, passing other university buildings and along narrow winding streets to the main market square in Heidelberg. The Church of the Holy Spirit, which was started in the 14th century but took 150 years to complete, dominates the square. The market square itself is framed by the former homes of wealthy merchants, whose wealth is quite apparent from the large and elaborate homes.  Today these are mostly hotels, restaurants, and stores.

Church of the Holy Spirit

Former merchant’s home

Another former merchant’s home

Market square

And as in almost every place we visited, there were stolpersteine:

We strolled further through the old city and then headed back to our hotel to meet Ulrike for lunch. As I noted above, Ulrike’s husband Torsten is my fourth cousin, once removed.  His great-great-grandmother was Ziborah Schoenfeld, sister of Babetta Schoenfeld, my three-times great-grandmother.  Babetta married Moritz Seligmann of Gau-Algesheim, my three-times great-grandfather.  Babetta and Ziborah were daughters of Bernard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann, my four-times great-grandparents.  They grew up in Erbes-Budesheim, a small town just 40 kilometers from Gau-Algesheim.  (One of my few regrets about the trip was not getting to Erbes-Budesheim, but time just ran out.)

Ulrike was the genealogist in the Michel family, and she and I had been in touch several years ago, but had then fallen out of touch.  I had emailed her right before the trip, and she was excited to meet me and drove to Heidelberg to have lunch with us.  We had a lovely lunch together, and Ulrike shared with us her recent discovery of her husband’s cousins on the Michel side (not my side) in Israel.  She was very excited about meeting these people, and it was a wonderful genealogy success story.

After lunch we invited Ulrike to join us for a walk up Philosopher’s Way on the other side of the river. Philosopher’s Way is a path (actually a paved road in large part) that winds up the hills where it is said faculty and students from the University of Heidelberg would stroll while contemplating scholarly matters.  There is a snake path that is usually open to climb to (or from) the path, but it was closed for safety reasons while we were there.

So instead Ulrike, Harvey and I walked along the river, crossed over at a bridge, and then found the entrance to Philosopher’s Way and started climbing.  And it was steep and long.  Longer and steeper than we had expected.  But we were determined to get to the top.  And when we did, we were rewarded with spectacular views of Heidelberg across the river.

Walking up Philosopher’s Way with Ulrike

At the top of Philosopher’s Way

View of Heidelberg from the top of Philosopher’s Way

Soon after we reached the top, it started raining.  It had been sunny and beautiful, and none of us was prepared for rain.  We stood under a tree for a bit, but then decided we had to keep moving despite the rain.  But we weren’t sure which way to go—retrace our steps or go forward and find another way down? We (well, Ulrike) asked several people who kept telling us that if we went further, there was a way down that would bring us closer to the location of our hotel across the river. So we went ahead.

But the “other way down” never appeared, and finally Harvey said we should just turn back.  Ulrike was determined to find the other route down, but we were growing increasingly skeptical of its existence.  So we divided up—Ulrike moving on, Harvey and I turning back from where we’d come.

A few minutes after dividing up, the rain intensified.  Harvey and I stopped at a little covered pavilion on the side of the path to wait for the rain to let up.  Within another few minutes, my cell phone rang. It was Ulrike—she had decided to turn around after learning that the “other way down” would bring her even further from the bridge across the river.

We waited for her, all having a good laugh at our misadventures on the so-called Philosophers Way.  I don’t think any of us had one serious intellectual thought throughout our entire walk! But it was worth the climb, and the extra time we got to spend with Ulrike was wonderful.

Going back down

 

Once back near our hotel, we said goodbye to our new friend and cousin.  It had been a full and interesting and fun day.  Heidelberg was exceeding our expectations as a good final stop on our journey through Germany.  We had two days left—one in Worms and then a final day in Heidelberg.

 

[1][1] As it turns out, we are still dealing with Hertz on this matter.  VERY annoying…

Wurzburg: Our Brief but Wonderful Visit to this Beautiful City

On May 10, after visiting Jesberg and saying goodbye to the Kassel region, we drove south towards Wurzburg.  Wurzburg was actually not originally on our itinerary.  In planning our trip, I had initially confused the Schopfloch in Baden with the Schopfloch in Bavaria and made plans to stay in Stuttgart to be closer to the Baden Schopfloch (that is, the wrong one).  Fortunately I discovered this mistake in time, cancelled the Stuttgart reservation (but still had to pay….grrr), and made a new reservation in Wurzburg.  I knew nothing about Wurzburg except that in studying the map, it was the closest bigger city I could find to the Schopfloch in Bavaria where my Nussbaum ancestors had lived.  It was meant to be simply a one night stopover before we headed to Schopfloch.

As we drove south and entered Bavaria, the landscape changed from the open fields and hills we’d been seeing throughout the Rhine-Palatinate region and the Hessen region.  Now we saw forests of tall trees on either side of the Autobahn.  It was a dramatic change in scenery.  We arrived in Wurzburg around 4 pm and checked into our hotel, the Hotel Wurzburger Hof, having no idea what to expect of the hotel or the city.

Well, this quickly became our favorite hotel of the entire trip.  The young woman at reception checked us in and then offered us a free glass of wine.  On top of that she told us that they had given us a room with a private roof deck overlooking the city. We have no idea how we managed to get that room, but we didn’t ask questions.  We took our bags and our wine up to our room, dropped our bags, and took the wine out to the roof deck. It was big enough to host a party for twenty people, and there was plenty of patio furniture out there.  The room itself was also very comfortable, clean, and beautifully furnished.  We sat and relaxed, perhaps the first time in our trip that we had no appointments or sites to see or cemeteries to visit.

Our roof deck at the Hotel Wurzburger Hof

When it was time to eat, we asked the receptionist for dinner suggestions, and she recommended two restaurants on the river. “There’s a river?” I asked.  She smiled and told us how to get to the restaurants on the Main River.  We picked the Italian one (of course) and had a table overlooking the river; the food was as good as the view.

Locanda restaurant

The Main River

One of the many good Hefeweizen beers I had in Germany

After dinner we strolled around a bit and noticed that, as in the restaurant, the streets were filled with young people. When we returned to the hotel, we asked the evening clerk why there were so many young people.  “For the university,” he responded.  “There’s a university?” I said.

Our hotel

Obviously I needed to do some research about this city.

We were glad that we did not have to rush out the next morning for Schopfloch, as our appointment with Jutta Breittinger, our Schopfloch guide, was not until 2 pm.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, and then, with a walking tour map in hand, we set off to see this city that we’d so quickly fallen in love with the night before.

The first place on our tour was right across from our hotel: the Juliusspital, a hospital and retirement home founded in 1576 by Julius Echter, the bishop of Wurzburg.  The expansive Baroque building was designed by Italian architect, Antonio Petrini. It was built to take care of the poor and sick people of the area and still functions as a hospital today.  From the outside and from the grounds inside its courtyards, however, you would think this was a palace.

Juliusspital

Garden in the Juliusspital courtyard

We then followed our map, strolling past a shopping district (notice that T J Maxx is called T Z Maxx) towards the market place where the Marien Chapel is located.

Dunkin Donuts! A Massachusetts business in Germany

Click to enlarge to see T Z Maxx

As we turned the corner to enter the market square, we immediately noticed this stunning church and the beautiful architecture that surrounds the square.  The Marien Chapel was built in the 14th century on grounds that were once a synagogue, according to Wikipedia.  Although Wurzburg, like Mainz, Bingen, and Cologne, suffered a lot of damage from Allied bombing during World War II, the chapel and many other places were reconstructed after the war and restored to their original appearance.  It is quite remarkable, inside and out.

Marien Chapel

Interior of Marien Chapel

From there we walked to the Wurzburg Dom, the fourth largest Romanesque church in Germany. It is also a gorgeous building.  At this point we were both quite dazzled by all the beauty in this small city (the population is under 200,000, as compared to two million in Cologne).  The Dom was built in the 11th century and remodeled and extended numerous times over the centuries.  It also suffered severe damage during World War II, and renovations were not completed until 1967.  According to this site, when they remodeled the building, they chose to restore the interior to its Romanesque origins and did not include some of the Baroque elements that had been added in the 17th century.  The interior is white and surprisingly bright unlike most cathedrals I’ve seen.

Wurzburg Dom

Interior of Wurzburg Dom

Perhaps the best known attraction in Wurzburg is the Residenz, where we went next. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Residenz was built in the eighteenth century as a palace for the “bishop-princes” of Wurzburg; it was designed by Balthasar Neumann.  It reminded me of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna—-long halls of room after room after room, huge common spaces, elaborate adornments on the walls and ceilings, and a wide and gracious red-carpeted staircase. Frescoes by Tielpolo cover the ceiling over the wide open space above the staircase.  Behind the palace are beautiful gardens filled with flowers and green spaces with benches. (We weren’t allowed to take photos inside.)

Das Residenz

Gardens at the Residenz

The Residenz was also severely damaged during the war and was, like the Dom and the Marien Chapel and much of Wurzburg, rebuilt after the war.

After touring the Residenz, we decided to stroll back across the city through the streets where the university is located to the Main River. We walked along the river to the Alte Mainbrucke (Old Main Bridge), which spans the river.  We walked across the river, looking back to see the towers of the Dom lined up with the bridge.

View across the Main River from Wurzburg

Crossing the Old Bridge

The Old Bridge

The towers of the Dom from the Old Bridge

After a lunch from a bakery on the market square we reluctantly left this beautiful city behind.  We had been there less than 24 hours, and we both wished we had another day to spend in Wurzburg.

Marktplatz in Wurzburg (notice the style of the buildings some historic restoration, others in modern utilitarian style

 

Cologne: Its Jewish History and My Family Ties to the City


On our second day in Cologne we focused on its Jewish history. Back in December 2015, I had contacted Barbara Becker-Jakli to help me find where my great-great-uncle Jakob Schoenthal and his wife Charlotte Lilienfeld were buried in Cologne; Barbara had been extremely helpful, so a year later while planning our trip, I contacted her again, asking if she knew someone who would show us the cemetery and other Jewish sites in Cologne.

She recommended Aaron Knappstein, who worked with her at the National Socialism Documentation Center in Cologne. Aaron and I had been in touch numerous times for almost eight months before the trip, and as I wrote here, he had located documents about my Nussbaum ancestors that I had given up ever finding (and they did not even live in Cologne, but in Schopfloch) as well as birth records for four of the five children of Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal.  So I was looking forward to meeting him and spending the day with him.

Aaron did not disappoint us.  He is a thoughtful and knowledgeable man whose own background as the son of a Holocaust survivor gives him an interesting perspective on the Jewish history of Cologne.  It was a moving and very informative day.  He first took us to the Dom, which may seem a strange choice, but he wanted us to see the gargoyle of a pig being suckled—an anti-Semitic image once used widely.

He also pointed out a Holocaust memorial that we had passed the day before without knowing what it was.  It is not marked at all.  It is simply a long train rail placed on the ground running to the east with a six-segmented sculpture at its end.  The sculpture is meant to evoke the six million killed by the Nazis and the gate to the camps, and the train rail evokes the trains used to deport the Jews to the concentration camps in the east. It was very powerful.  We just didn’t understand why there was no marker or plaque explaining or identifying what it was.

Dani Karavan Holocaust memorial

After coming home, I searched for more information about this sculpture and found this very detailed description and analysis on a blog called Tapfer im Nirgendwo, which means Brave in Nowhere.  I didn’t read the other posts in the blog as they are in German, but this one was written in English.  Apparently the rail and sculpture we saw are part of a larger installation by an Israeli artist Dani Karavan (I am sure Aaron mentioned the artist’s name, but it slipped my mind).  The description of the overall work is fascinating and very powerful.

We then walked to the location of the old Jewish Quarter where today there are plans to build a Jewish museum in the heart of the center of the city.  Right now it is little more than an excavation site, and many relics of medieval times have been discovered.

The Jews have a very long history in Cologne.  As early as the 4th century, there was a Jewish community in Cologne; as in other places, there were good periods and bad periods for the Jews in medieval times.  Some archbishops protected the Jews, others did not.  The Crusades and the Black Death resulted in the deaths of many of the Jews in Cologne, and synagogues were built, destroyed, and rebuilt. Finally, Jews were expelled in 1424 because of a fight between the civil government and the Church regarding money and the payment of the taxes that were levied on the Jews.  Jews were not allowed to return to the city until Napoleon’s time in 1798.  Even then, they had to live across the Rhine in Deutz, although they were allowed to work on the other side of the river.

We then crossed the river ourselves and went to the cemetery in Deutz where Jakob Schoenthal and his wife Charlotte Lilienfeld are buried. Jakob Schoenthal was my great-grandfather Isidore’s brother.  As I wrote about here, he was one of only two of the ten Schoenthal siblings who did not emigrate from Germany.

At the cemetery we met Herr Gunther, who once was responsible for overseeing the care and condition of this very large cemetery; there are over 6000 stones at the Deutz cemetery.  The original stones for Jakob and Charlotte no longer exist, but the cemetery knew where they were buried, and the Jewish community of Cologne paid to put new markers at the gravesites.  I was touched and very appreciative of what they had done to preserve the memory of my relatives.

Stone for Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal

Deutz Jewish cemetery

 

We then visited the one remaining pre-World War II synagogue still standing in Cologne, the Roonstrasse Synagogue. In 1933, there were approximately 20,000 Jews living in Cologne. Before the war there had been seven synagogues (although this source says there were only four), but all were damaged or destroyed on Kristallnacht, and only the one on Roonstrasse remains.  And it is still used as a synagogue; Herr Gunther is a member there and provided us with a tour.

Although the exterior of the building survived more or less intact, the interior of the synagogue was, like the other synagogues, destroyed on Kristallnacht.  During the 1950s, the interior was restored—not to its original style, but with more of a mid-century modern feel.   Whatever the décor, it was very uplifting to know that there is once again a Jewish community in Cologne.  Today there are about 5000 Jews living in the city. One of the stained glass windows installed in the 1950s depicts a dove to represent that the flood was over and that life was to begin again.

Roonstrasse synagogue

I very much wanted to see the place where Jakob Schoenthal and his family had lived and worked—65 Breite Strasse.  Jakob and Charlotte had five children.  Four of those children survived the Holocaust—Johanna, Lee, Meyer, and Erna.  As I wrote here, here, and here, Lee and Meyer had come to Pennsylvania early in the 20th century.  Erna and her son came in the 1930s, and Johanna and her husband came after the war, having been deported to France where they were incarcerated at the Gurs camp.  But the fifth child, Henriette, and her husband Julius Levi, had stayed in Cologne and had been deported to Lodz and then to the death camp at Chelmno, where they were killed.  The location of the Schoenthal’s home and business at 65 Breite Strasse is marked by Stolpersteine for Henriette and Julius.

Sadly, the buildings on the street were all destroyed during the war, but I took a photograph of the building that stands at that address today.  I also took a picture of a block of older buildings nearby that had survived the bombing so I could imagine what the Schoenthal home might have looked like. That’s Aaron, our guide, in that second photo.

65 Breite Strasse today

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Our final stop with Aaron was the National Socialism Documentation Center, where Aaron and I first spent some time trying to find records for a woman who was somehow related to my family.  After some research we concluded that she was related to me through Jakob Schoenthal’s marriage to Charlotte Lilienfeld.  More on that at some later time.

Aaron then left us to explore the basement of the National Socialism Documentation Center on our own.  The building that houses this organization had been Gestapo headquarters in Cologne during the war.  The basement was used as a place to imprison and torture prisoners.  Jews were not sent here, but some dissidents or those accused of being dissidents were.  There are hundreds of written messages all over the walls of the cells; they are angry, frightened, passionate, and heart-breaking.  Hundreds of people were shot in the courtyard of the building.  Some people were imprisoned only briefly, others for quite extended times.  The cells have been left untouched—the inscriptions remain to be seen.  It was a dark and depressing place for us to visit, but an important one.

We made a short stop at the Cologne city museum and then walked toward the Dom to return to our hotel.  We decided to skip Italian food that night and had Lebanese food near the Rhine at a restaurant called Beirut.  It was a welcome change and quite good.

The next morning we would leave Cologne to travel east to the Hessen region where my father’s maternal relatives came from—the Schoenthal, Hamberg, Goldschmidt, and Katzenstein families.

Cologne was the only major city we visited during our trip to Germany.  It is a fascinating city with a long and interesting history and a diverse and rich culture.  It is a reminder not only of the destructive forces of war and the human capacity for evil but also of our capacity for good.  People rebuilt Cologne into a city that now provides hope that human beings can be creative, inspirational, reflective, tolerant, and kind.

 

 

Cruising to Cologne

 

On Friday, May 5, our fourth day in Germany, we left the Mainz-Bingen region behind and took a three hour cruise on the Rhine from Bingen to Koblenz.  The weather was still quite dreary and cool, but the views out the window was nevertheless quite scenic—castles, little towns clustered at the shoreline, high cliffs and fields, and other boats cruising on the river.  It was very peaceful and relaxing, just what we needed after several very full and exciting days.

Burg Ehrenfels

We disembarked in Koblenz and walked through that city for an hour or so before taking a train to our next major stop, Cologne or Köln, as it is called in German.

Koblenz

Deutsches Eck where the Moselle meets the Rhine in Koblenz

Once we got to the Cologne train station, we realized we had no idea how far our hotel was, so we checked Google Maps on my phone and were delighted to see that our hotel, the Marriott, was just a short few blocks away.  Although the Marriott is a large, American-style hotel, we were not very pleased with it.  I won’t get into details here, but if anyone is planning a trip to Cologne, check with us first.  The best thing about it was its location. We should not have “played it safe” and chosen a known brand.  Live and learn.

Nevertheless, we very much enjoyed the two days we had in Cologne.  The first night we had dinner at a very chic Italian restaurant, Da Damiano.  It wasn’t far from the hotel, but somehow we got a bit twisted around looking for it.  But that gave us our first glimpse of the Dom, the huge Gothic cathedral that dominates everything in Cologne.  The Dom dwarfs all the churches we’d seen before and even cathedrals we had seen in other cities such as Milan and Paris.  It is awesome in the literal sense of the word.  And you can see its spires almost anywhere in the city.

Cologne Dom

The following morning we went to the Ludwig Museum, which is almost right behind the Dom.  (The Dom quickly became our point of orientation for anything in the city.) The Ludwig is an extremely well-planned museum with lots of light and open space and a very impressive and enjoyable collection of 20th century art.  There were many works by Picasso including a very provocative sculpture of a mother pushing a child in a stroller, a rich collection of Expressionist and Surrealist artists, and a collection of art that had been rescued by a collector during the 1930s when Hitler condemned all modern art as degenerate and corrupt.

But the piece that really took us aback was a lifelike sculpture of a modern-dressed woman staring at art in one of the galleries.  Both of us had at first thought it was an actual person and only realized it was a sculpture on a second or third look.  It really made us think about what is art and what is real and how we often walk by real people without realizing they are real.

Woman with a Purse, Sculpture, by Duane Hanson (1974) at Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany Photo found on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/26317979044298519/

In the afternoon we went on a walking tour of Cologne with Free Walk Cologne (there is no fee, but tips are encouraged early and often).  Julian, our tour guide, was fluent in English and very engaging, knowledgeable, and entertaining.  We met at the Eigenstein Tur, one of the old Roman gates that still exist in the city, and our group was made up of people from Switzerland, Poland, Ecuador, and Scotland, as well as Philadelphia and California.  Julian provided us with some background in Cologne’s long history—it was once a military garrison during the Roman Empire, and a woman from Cologne married the Emperor and made Cologne an important outpost in the empire.  Julian claimed that Cologne still had more of an Italian feel to it—more laidback and liberal than most of Germany.

Eigenstein Tur

We also learned that one of the reasons Cologne has such a tremendous cathedral is that the remains of the Three Kings are kept there.  That made Cologne a pilgrimage destination long ago and thus a wealthy city filled even in early times with constant visitors.

The symbol of Cologne —the three crowns for the Three Kings and eleven tears for the eleven virgins killed by Attila the Hun

Julian then skipped to modern times and informed us that over 90% of Cologne had been destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II and that the city was rebuilt as cheaply and quickly as possible after the war, leaving it with buildings that are eclectic in style and not very well-planned.  People were allowed to build whatever they wanted, including a building that is only two meters wide.

Two meter wide building on Eigenstein Strasse

Eigenstein Strasse

Mural by artists protesting the takeover of space in Cologne by media corporations

Many immigrants from Greece and Turkey came to Cologne after the war to do this rebuilding as the male population of Cologne had been greatly reduced by wartime casualties.  These immigrants stayed, giving Cologne a diversity that was for a long time unusual for Germany.  (Now there are many immigrants living in Germany from all over the world.)

We saw a church, St Maria Himmelfahrt, that was bombed during the war and restored afterwards:

before the war

after bombing during WW II

Today

St Maria Himmelfahrte

Perhaps the most bizarre thing we saw was a Roman wall that was discovered in recent years during excavation for a parking lot near the Dom.  The wall was preserved and now can be seen in the middle of a modern parking lot.

Roman wall in parking lot under the Dom

There was also a Roman floor mosaic discovered nearby, and that also can be seen today by looking into the window of the city’s archaeological museum.

Roman mosaic

Our last major stop with Julian was the Dom itself.  He explained how it took over 600 years for the cathedral to be completed—with a three hundred year gap when nothing was done.  It was started in the 13th century and not completed until the 19th.  I’ve already mentioned how awesome the Dom is from the outside—the interior is equally breathtaking.  The height of the vaults, the almost delicate feel of the structure, and the stained glass windows are magnificent.

After the tour we had a beer along the Rhine with a few people from the tour and then returned to our hotel before dinner in the Belgian Quarter where we once again had Italian food.  That made it our third night in a row eating pasta plus the lunch in Gau-Algesheim—and it wouldn’t stop there.  German food just didn’t work for us—too much meat, too little fish.  It’s a real challenge for someone who is kosher and lactose intolerant. So we ate mostly Italian food throughout the trip.  And it was very good.  On the other hand, we also ate a lot of delicious German bread, pastries, and pretzels and drank wonderful German beer.  My favorite lunch was a fresh German roll with either a hard-boiled egg or smoked salmon.  I learned that salmon in German in Lachs—hence, the Yiddish term “lox.”  Believe me, we ate quite well—too well!

Marketplace in Cologne

People relaxing along the Rhine

Our second day in Cologne focused on its Jewish past and present.

Gau-Algesheim and Bingen: My Seligmann Family

Mural in parking lot—it says We Love Gau-Algesheim

On our second night in Germany (May 3), we had a truly joyful and unforgettable experience: dinner with Wolfgang and his family—his wife Bärbel and their twelve year old daughter Milena.  We met in the small town of Schwabenheim, located about halfway between Bingen, where we were staying, and Undenheim, where Wolfgang and his family live.  I could not remember the name of the restaurant, but fortunately I was able to WhatsApp with Milena who told me it was zum Engel.  The atmosphere was perfect—an old stone building divided into smaller rooms with just a few tables. It was a good thing that for much of the time we had our room to ourselves because there was much laughter throughout our meal.

All three Seligmanns understand English, but I wanted to practice my German.  So we switched back and forth, often with many questions about which word to use (on my part) and some inevitable misunderstandings based on use of the incorrect word (again, on my part). It could not have been a more enjoyable and relaxing evening—remarkable given that I’d never met Milena or Bärbel before and had only met Wolfgang the day before. The food was also excellent—salmon, potatoes, and my first experience with the white asparagus that is so popular in Germany—“spargel.” Es war lecker, as they say.  When Wolfgang asked at the end of the evening whether we wanted to have dinner with them all the next night, there was no hesitation.  “Of course,” we said.  (I think the German equivalent expression is “genau”—a word we heard over and over when we listed to Germans converse with each other.)

The following day Wolfgang, Harvey, and I traveled to Gau-Algesheim, the birthplace of my great-great-grandfather, Bernard Seligman, and of his younger brother August Seligmann, Wolfgang’s great-grandfather. But first Wolfgang took us to see the Rochus Chapel outside of Bingen where his grandparents and father and uncle hid during the bombing of Bingen during World War II. It is lovely church perched high above Bingen surrounded by trees and views of the valley and of the Rhine.  It was easy to see how this must have been a peaceful sanctuary for Wolfgang’s family and others during the bombing.

View from Rochuskappelle

Rochus Chapel

Inside Rochus Chapel

View of the Rhine from Rochus Chapel

Parklike grounds around Rochus Chapel

In some ways the survival of Wolfgang’s grandfather, father, and uncle is a miracle. Julius Seligmann was born Jewish, but converted when he married Magdalena Kleisinger, who was Catholic.  Their sons, Walter and Herbert, were raised as Catholics.  But in Nazi doctrine, that should not have mattered.  Julius had “Jewish blood,” and so did his sons.  Many of those with Jewish ancestors who converted or who were raised as Christians were not spared from death by the Nazis.

When I asked Wolfgang why he thought his grandfather, father, and uncle survived, he said that his mother always said that the Bingen Nazis were stupid. Or that perhaps the police in Bingen somehow provided protection. As I wrote earlier, Wolfgang’s father Walter did forced labor on the Siegfried Line during the war and there were restrictions placed on the men in terms of their occupations, but they were not deported or tortured.  I am thankful for that; otherwise, my dear cousins Wolfgang, Bärbel, and Milena would not be part of my life.

After leaving Rochus Chapel, we drove the short distance to Gau-Algesheim where we were to meet Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler, another German dedicated to preserving and honoring the history of the Jews in Germany.  Dorothee and I had connected several years back through JewishGen.org when I was searching for information about Gau-Algesheim.  She had worked on a cemetery restoration project with Walter Nathan, a man whose father’s roots were in Gau-Algesheim; Walter and his family had escaped to the US in 1936.  Dorothee and I have been exchanging information through email for several years—going far beyond my initial inquiries about Gau-Algesheim, and she is a regular reader and frequent commenter on my blog.  I was very much looking forward to meeting this friend in person, and she is terrific—outgoing, energetic, interesting, smart, and very insightful.

Dorothee

But it took some chasing to catch her! We drove up the road below the cemetery, and Wolfgang spotted what he believed was her car up on the hill near the cemetery gate.  We got out of the car and clambered up the hill only to see that Dorothee’s car had disappeared.  (We were a few minutes late arriving.) So we ran back down the hill, got in Wolfgang’s car, and raced back down the road where we again spotted Dorothee’s car.  She had driven back down, thinking we might have missed her.  It was like a scene out of a bad romantic comedy!

Anyway, after introductions were made and hugs exchanged, we all drove back up to the cemetery gate. Dorothee was accompanied by a Gau-Algesheim resident named Manfred Wantzen, who had the key to the cemetery.  But before we entered, Dorothee reminded us that in fact there were very few stones in the cemetery.  This was not an act of Nazi destruction; this was an act of stupidity on the part of a man in the 1983 who may have had good intentions. He thought the cemetery needed to be cleaned up and asked permission of the Jewish community in Mainz (which oversees the cemetery).  They agreed without asking what he planned to do.  The man then proceeded to remove the stones so he could cut the grass.  Some he placed against the cemetery wall, but others were carted away and lost forever.

The Gau-Algesheim cemetery—with stones removed.

Dorothee, Wolfgang, and Manfred Wantzen

View of Gau-Algesheim from the cemetery gate

When Dorothee and Walter Nathan worked to preserve what was left of the cemetery, several plaques and markers were placed on the wall outside and inside the cemetery, one to commemorate those who were killed in the Holocaust and others to honor the memory of those who were buried in the cemetery but whose stones were no longer there.

Unfortunately, there were no stones to be found for my 3-x great-grandparents, Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld, who were undoubtedly buried in that cemetery.  There were likely many other relatives buried there, including Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August Seligmann, but the only family member whose stone survived is that of Rosa Bergmann Seligmann, August’s wife and Wolfgang’s great-grandmother.  But even that discovery was bittersweet as her stone had been vandalized several years ago by some local teenagers. Wolfgang and I each placed a stone on her grave to mark that we had been there and to honor her and all the other Seligmanns buried there.

Headstone for Rosa Bergmann Seligmann, great grandmother of Wolfgang

Although I left the cemetery disappointed and somewhat disheartened, my spirits were lifted when we drove into Gau-Algesheim and I got to see this little town of 7000 people where my ancestors had once lived. I have written before about Gau-Algesheim and seen photographs, but it was an entirely different experience being there in person and imagining a young Bernard Seligmann running through the narrow streets into the main square of the town where Langstrasse and Flosserstrasse meet and where the town hall and the fountain are located.  Here is Wolfgang standing where perhaps our mutual ancestors Moritz and Babetta once stood with their children:

Wolfgang in front of town hall in Gau-Algesheim

Medieval tower topped by Gothic addition

Town hall

Dorothee had arranged for us to meet with the mayor of Gau-Algesheim, Dieter Faust.  We sat in his office where everyone but Harvey and I spoke rapid German.  I tried to understand, but it was futile.  The mayor was extremely engaging and clearly excited to have two descendants of Gau-Algesheim residents visiting, and after signing his guest book and taking photographs, we all went to lunch—in an Italian restaurant in the middle of this small German town.  And it was excellent! Somehow we all managed to converse and even managed to discuss American, French, and German politics with Dorothee and Wolfgang acting as interpreters.  It was a delightful experience.

Burgermeister Dieter Faust, Dorothee Lottman-Kaeseler, Wolfgang Seligmann, Manfred Wantzen, me, and Harvey

The mayor and me

Two proud descendants of the Seligmanns of Gau-Algesheim

Outside the restaurant where we were treated to lunch by the mayor

After lunch, Herr Wantzen and Dorothee guided us through the small town where we saw what had once been the synagogue in Gau-Algesheim.  It closed before 1932 because there was no longer a Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim. Today it is a storage shed behind someone’s house.  But the stained glass window over the door and the windows convey that this was once a house of prayer. A shul where my ancestors prayed almost 200 years ago.  It was awful to see its current condition, and I wish there was some way to create a fund to protect and restore the building before it deteriorates any further. I am hoping I can figure that out.

Plaque marking former synagogue

Former synagogue of Gau-Algesheim

We walked then along the streets where my family had once lived, saw the building where Wolfgang’s grandfather Julius once had a shop, and the street where my great-great-grandfather Bernard and his siblings were born.  It was surreal.  And emotionally exhausting.

Building where Julius Seligmann once had a wine shop

Maybe our ancestors once lived in this grand half-timber house on Flosserstrasse?

House built into the old wall that surrounded the town in medieval times

The castle of Gau-Algesheim

Our last stop was the Catholic Church in Gau-Algesheim, which Herr Wantzen was very excited to show us.  It was beautiful—far larger and more elaborate than one might expect in such a small town.  And a striking contrast to the size and condition of the abandoned synagogue.

Catholic church in Gau-Algesheim

We said goodbye to Dorothee and Herr Wantzen and returned to our hotel for a rest, and then at 6, Wolfgang picked up us again for dinner with his family in Bingen. We went to another very good restaurant, Alten Wache, and again had a wonderful time.

Bärbel, Milena, and Wolfgang—my dear cousins

After dinner we all climbed up the many steps to the Burg Klopp, the medieval castle that sits at the top of the hill overlooking  Bingen. As the sun began to set, the views were awe-inspiring. But I was already starting to feel emotional about saying goodbye to my wonderful cousins, Wolfgang, Bärbel, and Milena.  When Milena said to me in her perfect English that she was going to miss me, my eyes filled with tears.

Some new friends along with our new cousins. 🙂

Milena and a photographing tourist

View as we climb up to Burg Klopp

It was very hard to say goodbye, but I know that I will see my Seligmann cousins again—somewhere, sometime.  And until then, we have WhatsApp, email, and all our wonderful memories.  Auf wiedersehen, Wolfgang, Bärbel, Milena—and Bingen, Gau-Algesheim, and Mainz.  It was time to move on the next step of our journey.

Gau-Algesheim

 

 

 

Annlis Schäfer Seligmann 1924-2017

We have returned from our trip to Germany, and I have many things to share about the experience.  It was a trip filled with many joyous moments as well as many sad and heartbreaking moments.  One of the greatest joys and definitely the saddest moment involved Annlis Seligmann, mother of my dear cousin Wolfgang.

Annlis and Wolfgang

When Wolfgang found my blog almost two and half years ago, it was the result of a family research project he was sharing with his mother.  Annlis was not born a Seligmann; she was born Annlis Schäfer on April 12, 1924.  But in 1965 she married Wolfgang’s father Walter Seligmann, who died in 1993, and she was fascinated with the history of his family.  When the Seligmann family discovered the “magic suitcase” that had belonged to Walter’s brother Herbert, Annlis and Wolfgang began to search through the documents to learn more about the Seligmann family history.  Because Wolfgang could not read the old German script, Annlis had to decipher many of the old records and documents for him.

At some point in this process, Wolfgang discovered my blog, and together the three of us—Annlis, Wolfgang, and I—all worked together to find many of the missing pieces of the Seligmann family.  We were able to figure out how many of the people named in those documents were related to us all.  Without their help, I would not have found many of the Seligmanns who died in the Holocaust or who, like my cousins Lotte Wiener Furst and Fred Michel, were able to escape Germany before it was too late.

So when I was planning my trip to Germany, one of my priorities was to meet not only Wolfgang, his wife Bärbel, and daughter Milena, but also his mother Annlis.  We arrived in Germany on May 2, and the first thing we were scheduled to do on May 3 was meet Annlis.  We went with Wolfgang to the senior residence where she was living in Mainz (like an assisted living facility in the US) first thing that morning. Annlis did not speak English, so I was able to test my baby German.  With Wolfgang’s help, we were able to communicate.

She and Wolfgang showed me some family photographs, and I shared with her photographs of my parents, children, and grandchildren.  We looked through the magic suitcase together (there are still hundreds of letters and postcards still to be translated). Despite the language obstacles, I felt a strong connection to Annlis and was sad to say goodbye when our visit ended.

Annlis had been in declining health in recent months.  Her vision had become so poor that she could no longer read and help translate the documents, but she remained very interested in the family history and, according to Wolfgang, had been very anxious to meet me.  After our visit, she expressed to Wolfgang how happy she had been to meet me.  I was so touched and, of course, felt the same way.

So you can imagine my shock when less than ten days later while still in Germany, I received a message from Wolfgang telling me that his mother had died.  I was stunned and so sad.  And heartbroken for Wolfgang and his family.

Annlis lived a long and full life.  From Wolfgang I know that she grew up in Mainz where she also lived for the last five years of her life.  During World War II, she was working in Bingen.  In September, 1944, she witnessed the murder of an American soldier, Odis Lee Apple, whose plane had been shot down and crashed nearby.  As described here by Wolfgang himself on the website for the radio station where he works, the caretaker for the building where Annlis worked notified the people in the office that an American soldier was walking on the street outside the building.

Annlis and three of her co-workers left the building and followed Apple, whom she described as a man with a friendly face.  Then suddenly the building’s caretaker rushed out onto the street in his SA uniform and shot Apple.  He did not die right away, but was suffering terribly from the gunshot wound.  At some point someone else shot him, and he died.

Street in Bingen where Annlis worked and witnessed the murder of Odis Lee Apple

After the war, the US Army investigated Apple’s death; Annlis provided testimony, and several people were sentenced to prison.  The caretaker, however, had died not long after the shooting during a bombing attack on Bingen.

According to Wolfgang, his mother never forgot this incident and was horrified by what she had witnessed. Even though at that point the US was at war against Germany, Annlis knew it was wrong to kill someone in cold blood like that.

Tribute to Odis Lee Apple at the spot where he was shot

It was not until twenty years after the war that Annlis married Walter Seligmann in 1965.  Together they raised their son Wolfgang in a neighborhood outside of Mainz in an apartment overlooking the valley.  She lived in that apartment until five years before her death when she moved to the building where I met with her on May 3.

Annlis Seligmann lived a good and long life; she had just turned 93 a month before her death.  I feel so privileged and fortunate that I was able to be a part of her life in the last two years and especially that I was able to meet her in person, share some time with her, and give her a hug.  My heart goes out to Wolfgang, Bärbel, Milena, and the entire extended family.  May her memory be a blessing.

 

 

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

About 45 minutes outside of Santa Fe is a true natural wonder, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  It was not a place that we had on our original itinerary, but while in Boulder with my college friends, one of those friends suggested that we take the side trip to see this place.  She described it in ways that made it seem like something we shouldn’t miss, and she was right.  I am so grateful to her for making this suggestion.  This had to be one of the most awe-inspiring places I’d ever seen.  I will let my photographs speak for themselves, but keep in mind that these were taken with an iPhone 5s camera and that the colors and the textures are even more amazing in real life.

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Coming Back Soon

As our vacation winds down, I am looking backwards at all I’ve seen and done and looking forward to writing about it.  Here’s a sneak preview of our adventures in Colorado and New Mexico.

First, I spent four days with three of my best friends in the world.  We met our freshman year in college and spent four years living in the same dorms, talking, laughing, debating, consoling, sharing, and confiding in each other.  Although it was hard to get together in the years we were all raising families, in the last ten years or so we have gotten together every couple of years.  We got together this time in Boulder, Colorado, where one of my friends now lives.  It was my first time in the Rockies, and we hiked and walked all over Boulder, ate great food, and enjoyed good company and beautiful views.  And as if not one day had passed since we graduated over 40 years ago, we talked and laughed and debated and consoled and shared and confided in each other.

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Then I met up with my husband at the Denver airport, and we began our travels together.  We spent about 24 hours in Denver, and in that time we explored downtown Denver and then explored my genealogical roots in the city where my paternal grandmother spent much of her childhood. More on that to come.

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From Denver we drove all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, stopping in Raton, New Mexico, for a night, and arriving in Santa Fe the next day by lunch time.  I had lots of thoughts during that drive as we observed a part of the United States I’d never seen before, some of it incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring and other parts that made me appreciate the struggles that so many Americans experience day to day.  More on that to come as well.

Raton

Raton

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And then we got to Santa Fe, the main destination of our trip.  Santa Fe is a city with an incredibly long and rich history, including my Seligman family’s own personal history there, about which I’ve written extensively.  Being in this place that had been the home of my great-great-grandfather and his family—and where they had contributed so much to its commercial and political development—-was very moving and exciting.  And then there is the art, the glorious landscapes, the architecture.

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The last leg of our trip took us to Taos where I again was inspired to think about the history of this country as well as its amazing landscapes and vistas.  It’s no wonder that so many artists were inspired by the scenery and the light and the skies over New Mexico.

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I will be writing about the trip in the days that follow, and then I will return to the story of my family.  I have much to do after all these days away from research and from blogging.  I have missed the work and my family, my cats, and my friends, but as always, it’s good to get a break, some new perspectives, and a chance to reflect on all the wonders that life brings.

Time for A Break!

I will be absent from the blogosphere for a bit as I travel to see my college friends and then do some traveling with my husband.  I might post a photo or two if the mood hits, but no real posts until June.  I will try and keep up with comments and emails.

For those who are curious as to my destinations, here’s a genealogy quiz: I will be visiting a place where one of my grandmothers spent most of her childhood and then a place where one of my great-grandmothers was born and raised.

No cheating by my family and friends who know my destinations—this quiz is only for those to whom I’ve not revealed my plans.

Hope to catch up with my fellow bloggers when I return.  And when I do, I will finish the story of the Hambergs, tie up a few other loose ends, and then move on to the next major project, my great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein’s family.

See you in a bit!