Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Monday - last day to sight-see and we are off to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. One of the best known medieval towns in Germany and one of the cutest, although full of tourists. It is a must see. No schedule today, just a chance to roam the town, walk the wall that surrounds the city and of course pop in the Christmas store. I think everyone enjoyed the day.


Sunday – Back in Time to Visit the Romans –

We traveled south today to visit a town on the German Limes Road called Weissenburg. The German Limes (pronounced Leemas) Road was the line that traveled up through southern Germany turning to make its way along the Rhine and even further and further north that the Romans had frontier outposts on. It truly was a Roman Empire. It was a beautiful sunny day and Weissenburg of course was another walled city. I am guessing here but I think most of these medieval towns were walled. The neat thing about this town though was it still has 36 of its original towers, that is unusual. It also is different because it has such a rich wealth of Roman artifacts from the time the Romans occupied this area 2000 years ago. We met our guide at the Roman museum; who spoke English but explained they don’t get that many English tours. I love when we find places that are not overrun with tourists. The museum’s first floor had an example of what the Roman fort and village would have looked like. At one time there could have been up to 45K people living there. The fort would have contained the well (in the center of the fort to be most protected) the granaries and stables for the horses and of course the soldiers. The outside would have been merchants, farmers, women etc. On the 2nd floor they were proud to show us their treasures. In 1977 a local man was digging in his garden to plant asparagus and hit something metal. It was a box of Roman artifacts. Apparently the soldiers were called away t o a more important hot spot, the Mid-East !! and they buried statues of their gods and other things. They were still in good condition, only a couple needed refurbishing. They have quite a collection of statues about 2 ft high of Apolla, Venus, Mercury, Hercules and more. They were something to see. Plus they also had some ?, I forgot what they called them, but they were 100% silver and were gifts to the gods for favors received. The incredible detail and craftsmanship on these statues and things were amazing, especially as they were 2000 years old.

We then walked over to the Fort, a field where they found the foundations of the roman fort. In the 1990's the town and the State of Bavaria decided to re-build one of the entrance gates so you can visualize how the fort would have looked. We learned that there would have only been one gate facing the frontier, this is to not make it easy for enemies to enter the fort. On the rear side there would have been more gates. Our guide was really fascinating, she knew many details and our 1.5 hour tour turned into 3. Roman soldiers would have been conscripted at 17 years old and were required to serve for 25 years at which this time they would get their discharge papers (albeit more like a discharge stone) which we saw one of in the museum. With old age being around 50 something, these guys didn't get much retirement. But they were eligible to get some land for their service.

We next went to the excavation of a huge Roman Bath. That was incredible. 2000 year old floors showing how they were built with small stacks of bricks holding up the floor but which would have allowed heated air to circulate underneath and create the warm sauna effect. There would have been a small room next to the sauna room where a slave would work the fires to keep this heated air flowing into the room. The live expectancy of this slave working in the heat room would only be 10 years. This bath was a large one and they had a small scale replica of what it would have looked like, it was something. Women would have come in the morning, they could have manicure, pedicures, hair styling and their make up done, then of course a sauna and bath. Then the water would be changed in the afternoon for the men to have their turn. Sounds pretty modern to me, I sure was wishing for a foot massage there but all the history was just unbelievable - 2000 year old history.

After the tour(which had been long) we were hungry and headed back to the Alt Stadt (old city) but on Sundays in Germany most stores are closed and restaurants are open 12-2. Remember this if you miss lunch time, and then re-open again for dinner. But the Germans love their ice cream and there were lots of Eis Cafe's open, where believe it or not we got some Bruschetta. I walked the main street, lots of great architecture and traditional German store fronts. This town is certainly worth a day trip if you are in the area of Southern Germany.

Hometown Vists and Bad Wimpfen

Saturday was another free day for folks to go out and visit hometowns. After all our chicks had flown the coop Matthias and I took the train to a town we wanted to visit for a possible stop on a Christmas Market tour. It is called Bad Wimpfen and is home to something called the Blue Tower. Of course it is another little walled city and has remnants of its walls and gates. It was another favorite of mine, it passes the “cute” test. We walked up from the train station and explored all the alleyways and side streets taking pictures and findng little shops a and bakeries etc. So many people miss the heartbeat of these towns because they don’t take the time to really explore the village by walking it. I know it is hard for some people but Europe is a place that requires a lot of walking, so it is best to prepare months in advance by waling a little each day and building up the stamina. It is so worth it. On our walk we came across a wedding party assembled in the town square, the couple was in the Rathaus which was across the plaza from the church. Marriages in Germany are required to be preformed first in the Rathaus (city hall) and then if you want a church wedding you go there. As we were standing there waiting for them to come out the church bells started chiming and we heard the clip clop of a horse and carriage making its way down a narrow, cobblestoned alleyway. Sounded like we were back a couple hundred years. The carriage made its way to the front of the Rathaus to pick up the newly married couple. I was hoping to see the bride and groom in the carriage but all it contained was 2 pesky little boys (little brothers or nephews perhaps). We waited but they didn’t come out so we went on with our exploring. We did consider being wedding crashers, think they would have noticed? But on our walk we walked up the hill to a beautiful park overlooking the river. Bad Wimpfen is built high on a bluff over the Neckar river it was a glorious day with beautiful blue skies, white puffy clouds and a great view. It was still a little chilly though so after sitting for awhile we started walking again. Besides getting hungry. So because of our exploring we came across a great restaurant high on the hill which had a wonderful terrace looking out of the river and valley, you could see for miles and miles and even though it was a little cool this view and place was too good to pass up. Lunch with a view. Took lots of pictures. After lunch we of course visited several churches in town, found some shops and deemed it a great place for a day trip and a possible stop on a Christmas market tour. Anyone interested?

Back home to hear how things went with the group. Sounds like another successful day! Meeting cousins, visiting churches, getting pictures of ancestral homes from the time the emigrant left, learning new information and eating, eating, eating. Good day for all!

Friday – Bamberg

We head a little north today to the UNESCO town of Bamberg. This is the town with the city hall (Rathaus) in the middle of the river. According to one story I heard this town was the Residence of a Prince Bishop and the church owned and ruled the territory. Most of the churches and religious were on the west side of the river and the merchants and businesses on the east. Neither side wanted to give up land for the Rathaus so it was built on a bridge in the middle of the river! There are other stories so I am not sure what is the real reason but whatever the reason it is beautiful and interesting. It is a must see in this city also known as the Rome of Germany because it is built on 7 hills. I believe that because the last time I was here I walked all the hills. Lots of beautiful churches, breweries, shops and things to see. We started off our day with a trolley car tour of the city. This is one of those hop on/hop off but gives you an overview of the whole city without walking it completely. Would have been ok if the driver/guide would have told us in English what we were looking at like I had booked but we got very little in English, oh well, a nice ride around the city. These things happen. Afterwards we walked a ways down a hill to make our way to the oldest Brewery in Bamberg, the Klosterbrau. We were to eat lunch there. This was a working brewery that had been a monastery brewing starting in 1533. We had a great lunch and then walked up to the Cathedral and Old courtyard for our tour of this and the Bishop’s residence Palace. We had a great guide and the tour lasted for several hours! We learned a lot. In the old courtyard there was a guillotine set up that I didn’t remember from when I was here in the spring. We found out that it was a movie prop. There recently had been a Hollywood film filmed here, 3 Musketeers in 3D with Orlando Bloom. So if you see that movie know that part of it was filmed in Bamberg. Since I have been coming to Germany a lot lately and am learning all kinds of history I should have known before, I find that the “Church” wielded a lot of power, they were the ruling class and these towns that were home to Prince Bishops were powerful indeed. Interesting information and makes you think! Anyway, we then toured the Residence Palace this Prince Bishop lived in. WOW. But one more little explanation if I have this correct. It seems that already ruling nobility would be appointed bishops etc. (I don’t know if these positions were for favors or what, I need to read up some more, but they already were people in power). Well to say the place was magnificent is an understatement. Of course a grand ballroom or reception hall and numerous bedrooms and other public rooms. Interesting thing I found in most rooms was the large ceramic heaters in the corners. You would think they would have fireplaces but I think those were considered too messy. These heaters were up against a wall and tended to by servants in the next room. The opening in the wall would allow them to keep something burning in the heater which radiated out into the room. Although the heaters were large I would imagine with the size of the room and high ceilings it would still be a little chilly.
Also this place had beautiful wood floors. During a renovation they found a floor with 27 different types of wood inlays. It truly was a magnificent place.

After this tour which stretched into a long time, we had to make our way to see the Rathaus and painted bridge. We did (see pictures) and then shopped for a very short while and made our way home to our own Princess Castle hotel.

Regensburg and Hometowns

Thursday – Finally the day to head out to hometowns. We had folks going out in all directions and we are hoping they have an awesome day. Matthias and I head down to Regensburg to meet up with our Bavarian researcher friend, Marianne Sutter, who is meeting us at the catholic church archives in Regensburg to help me with my Bavarian ancestors. Marianne had done some work for me a few years ago in conjunction with a colleague of hers who has a collection of newspapers from the 19th century which lists emigrants leaving the country and if your person is mentioned there is a good chance the hometown is also indicated. That is how I found the town after many years of searching “just Bavaria”. So with Marianne and Matthias’s help I am back to late 1600’s on this family. We also walked around this beautiful city with remnants of a Roman wall, a historic stone bridge and we climbed the clock tower on the bridge for a fantastic view down the River Danube. Only from above with a beautiful blue sky does the Danube look blue.

Tonight we find out how the hometown visits went. Sounds like everything went great and everyone had a wonderful time. Some folks got to see the school, house and church their ancestor went to. They met an older lady from the town who had a picture of school children from the time period so they know their gr-grandfather is on there somewhere. Others were fed and fed and fed, 4 times at different people's homes in their hometown. They received books on the town history, and photos and visited a cousin's house. Another lady met a whole bunch of cousins and was overloaded with gifts of wine and beer and other souvenirs of the town. All in all it was a very successful day!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


The day started out rainy but we opened our umbrellas and headed out to Nuremberg to meet our guide, "Elizabeth of Pommern", the 4th wife of Emperor Karl IV of Bohemia, who ruled in Nuremberg in the 1300's. A short walk from the train station we met her at St. Lorenz Church. Also with her was a Bavarian researcher, Marianne Sutter, who I had been in contact with for a few years, she would be available if anyone wanted to speak with her about future research.

Elizabeth first took us to a bridge where you could see the oldest hospital of Nuremberg jutting out into the river. This is the Holy Ghost Hospital and is still used as a senior citizen home and a restaurant today. In Elizabeth's time she explained how "stuff" from the hospital was dumped into the river and river was filthy and could not be used for drinking water.

We visited the churches of Nuremberg, St. Lorenz and St. Sebald. We learned that St. Sebald had been Catholic but in the 1525 Reformation it then became Lutheran but it still contains many statues of Mary and a relic of St. Sebald. The governing families who had donated these statues of Mary decided not to get rid of them at the time of the Refomation as they had spent too much money on them! This church was also heavily destroyed during the war but the citizens had yet again saved the statues and hid them throughout the war in a safe place, so they were once again able to be in the Church when rebuilt.

We had a wonderful tour, learned a lot of history and interesting stories of Nuremberg. I highly recommend having Elizabeth of Pommern as your tour guide if you travel to Nuremberg.

I have an interesting video uploaded on the Family Tree Tours Heritage Travel Facebook page, with Elizabeth's story of the Golden Ring but for some reason I can't get it to upload here. Sorry.

Of course we had to try the famous Nuremberg sausages, which are absolutely fabulous and we stopped at a store to buy some also famous Lebkuchen (gingerbread). Delicious. On our way out of town we discovered the craft market and went shopping for a little while. Fun day.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday – Freilichtmuseum THAT IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!

So day 3 we travel a little west to the Hohenlohe Freiland Museum. This open air living history museum shows farmhouses more typical to the Wuerttemberg area, mainly Hohenlohe. We finally got there and met our guide. Here is the story of the day, a very nice young woman who knew her facts and history very well but she knew it in great detail and she had a few catch phrases that were repeated quite often, “That is absolutely right”, “Perfect Question”, and “That’s Right.” After a while they kind of drove you crazy, but makes for a good group laugh. We learned about the type of pig bred in this area and visited a larger farmers house. What was different in this house from some of the others I have been in was the painted furniture. Very ornate and I think I have this right, if the piece had a picture of a cat on it, it was brought by the bride, a picture of a dog and it was brought by the groom. I will include some pictures.

So we had an “absolutely Right” time and a good catch phrase for the rest of the trip!