Bernkastel Best Life

I mentioned in my last post that during my friend Elaine’s visit we hiked the Mosel Valley vineyards in Bernkastel-Kues and had one of those days I will remember forever. This was completely unexpected but I am so glad it unfolded as it did.

Until now, Bernkastel-Kues has been somewhat of an awkward town for me. In all of the groups I am in online over here for Americans, Bernkastel is consistently listed as a favorite destination for so many people not only as a great place to visit, but also as a top Christmas Market town. A few years ago we went one afternoon to check out the market, and aside from the fireworks once it was dark, we were left unimpressed. The town was absolutely stunning with the endless half-timbered buildings and charm oozing from every crevice, but the market seemed small, crowded, and overall just did not make our top 5 list. I was baffled why so many Americans say this is their favorite.  Continue reading

Shopping along the River Saar

Sometimes things just work out perfectly. Towards the end of July, the moons aligned and a really good friend of mine was able to come visit. Timing was perfect for her, but also me… Fil had 4 days off so she and I were able to explore Germany sans Brock for a few days, and when she left it led right into a crazy week so it was nice to be out adventuring.

As with everyone who ventures across the Atlantic to see us, I try to find new adventures so that we can share the new experience. For Elaine’s visit, we did a treetop walk with views of the Saar river, a wine hike in Bernkastel-Kues, Schloss Drachenburg, and finally a day trip over the border to Strasbourg, France. We really filled everyday with adventures and I am so grateful she came to share these with me. Big plus—Elaine is a photographer so we have amazing pictures! Most of the pictures I will use in these blogs about our travels are hers, and you can see them all and more at this link (this is a temporary album so make sure to look at them soon).  Continue reading

Our boy is 4!

I think that time actually flies quicker in Europe. It is hard to believe that when we boarded our first flight to Germany Brock was only 3 months old, and now, as of yesterday, he is 4 years old! It went too fast! The lead up to this birthday was chaos in our house. One of my oldest friends came for a 10 day visit, more on that later, that took us right up to Thursday. Friday was Fil’s Change of Command ceremony, Saturday was Brock’s Birthday party, Monday was the big day, his actual birthday, and today, Tuesday, Fil left bright and early for a well-deserved fishing trip before spending the next few months away on mission. I almost feel like I can catch my breath, but alas we have a busy week before flying to the States for my sister’s wedding. Whew! I am looking forward to September.  Continue reading

Musical Alpine Weekend

For us, Julie Andrews’s voice rang true. The hills were alive with the sound of music on our trip to Berchtesgaden earlier this month. I only wish we had more time to capture all of the beauty of the German Alpine Mountain region. It was truly breathtaking. Our trip was far too short to do even half of the things on my list, but I left in-love with the region and so glad we had ticked the destination off of my list. You could almost hear the music pouring over the Alps and through the valleys, running with the glacial rivers, and then leaping across the grazing fields that were bursting with wild flowers. Germany is a beautiful country, but this corner of Bavaria is by far the most beautiful. The icing on the cake was the alpine chalets with masses of flowers pouring over the balconies. I am not one to take many pictures of homes, but I simply could not stop. Continue reading

Beautiful Holland

Our last summer in Europe is being well spent if I do say so myself! This year traveling is a bit more complicated since we now have Poppy, but I feel good about our plans. If we didn’t have Poppy I would probably travel too much, and wear myself ragged to get in all the last trips, so it has actually worked out quite well. Brock has 3 weeks off from Kindergarten, and so far in those weeks we have taken a little trip to Holland, and another to Bavaria. Those two trips have been to two of the most beautiful locations we have visited. Hands down. But see for yourself, here is Holland…  Continue reading

Castle Picnic… Because we can

The fact that I can pack us a picnic lunch, and drive no more than 30 minutes in three separate directions and end up at three different castles is the best example I can give of how spoiled I am living here. It is nearing the end of the school year so there are all sorts of days off to help everyone ease into summer… field days, teacher training, and yes, more German holidays. On one of these days recently, Brock, Poppy and I packed up and had a picnic lunch at Burg Frauenburg, a castle just a mere 15 minutes away, just outside of Idar-Oberstein.  Continue reading

Local Wanderings

When we picked our house 3 and a half years ago, one of the first things I did was Google the village to find out more. There wasn’t much to find then, but everything noted one place specifically, the Jewish cemetery. Remembering the Jewish Cemetery in Prague that I visited in high school on a Holocaust educational tour, I was very interested to find a local one. The cemetery in Prague was like nothing I had ever seen. Because of space issues, the cemetery had many layers, and with each layer added, the stones for the previous were lifted. I do not have access to my photos from that trip, as I left them in storage when we crossed the Atlantic, but here is one I pulled from the internet.

Over the years my interest in this local spot has only increased. It seemed, as I asked around, that people knew of it but no details. I would get answers like “it’s in the woods outside of town”, or “it’s easy to find, but the path is overgrown” but nothing that really helped my quest. Also, it seemed that this cemetery was old, and had not been in use for quite some time… as you can guess. The thing is that in Germany, and much of Europe, because land is such a commodity, graves are not permanent but are leased. Often the grave stays in the bloodline, but it is not exclusive to one body. Walk around any cemetery and you will be pressed to find a grave with a death date prior to 1990. I discovered this when I started researching my genealogy in Germany, and confirmed the notion by walking around the cemetery in town. The thought of such old graves, and ones that had miraculously stood strong through the worst part of German history only interested me more.

In our new routine, after putting Brock on the bus to school, Poppy and I take a nice walk. Sometimes around town, sometimes on the trails through the woods, but never the same path twice. We are blessed with an abundance of trails in and around town to make our walks a new discovery each day. One day, about a month ago we walked up the hill towards the top of town as we have done many times, but turned on a path we had not yet taken. I try to keep to the paved or gravel paths so Poppy’s nails are tended to on the coarse surface, but this time we followed what looked like an old wagon path, grown over with grass but still visible. I was ecstatic to find the Jewish cemetery halfway along the trail! On later walks we would take the trail the whole way through the woods, the length of town, but for this first day finding the cemetery was enough for me.

We practically ran home. One, I couldn’t wait to dig in and use my more developed knowledge of the area to research more about it, and two, the stinging nettles had done a number to my legs and Poppy so it was time to clean up. I clearly remember running into the house and telling Fil what we had found. He didn’t quite share my enthusiasm, but he could tell it was quite important to me so he played along and took care of some things so I could start my inquiry in peace.

As it turns out, my research skills paid off and I found a number of German websites with information that I translated to piece together the Jewish history of our town. I, along with a few readers I know about, may appreciate this post more than most, but it is important. All history is important, but when you consider what happened to the Jewish people 80 years ago in Europe, the fact that I was able to find this information is a feat in and of itself.

The first Jewish person to live in Hoppstadten was in 1670, and the community grew to 25% of the town’s population by the 1840’s. Thereafter there was a steady decline due to emigration, as was the case across Germany, my ancestors included emigrated during this time period. By 1930, 80 people belonged to the synagogue community (8.6% of total pop. in town). The community maintained a synagogue, school, ritual bath and cemetery, and clubs and associations: Chewrah Kadischa (aims: support needy, burial), the Association Ezra, the Israelitian Women’s Association, the Association for Jewish History and Literature, the Synagogue Choir Association, the Wanderarmverein and a youth club.

view of synagogue, 1920’s

This vibrant community would soon face the unimaginable. I was struck by the translation of one particular sentence that I read as I researched…

“In the following years, the number was further reduced by the increasing deprivation of rights and the economic boycott.”

I would not be so gentle in my explanation of what happened. Pure terror, murder, and genocide would aim to eliminate the entire Jewish community in Europe.

One of the most terror filled nights of the Holocaust was Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, 9-10 November, 1938. Hoppstadten was not spared. It was on this night that 4 Jewish men were taken from town to Dachau Concentration Camp. The synagogue, which was now 100 years old, was destroyed from the inside. The inside was set on fire, and only when a police officer protested the possibility of damage to nearby homes, was the fire put out. The empty shell of a building was then used to house French POW’s, and afterwards turned into a residence.

The final 16 Jews of Hoppstadten were deported in July of 1942 and records from that exact month are clear that the Jewish community had been completely wiped out. In all of the sources I found, they recognized that a Jewish community had existed in Hoppstadten from at least 1770 until 1942.

One Jewish woman who had married a non-Jew, was spared. The woman died in 1958 and was the last to be buried in the Jewish cemetery.

Today, this plaque is all that remains of the Jewish community.

Although I cannot read the Hebrew on the headstones, I was able to find out that the cemetery dates to at least 1770. During the Holocaust the cemetery was desecrated, and you can still see smashed tombs today. After the war, restoration of the graves happened, which I found miraculous. As pictured below, many of the stones received newer inscriptions to mark the grave more clearly.

This cemetery is known as the biggest, with 168 graves, in the broader area. While it may not have been so in the past, after the destruction that occurred during the Holocaust, it truly is a miracle that it is still intact today.

In all of our travels we have not been to any concentration camps or Jewish memorials. This is not without great thought. In High School I toured 3 camps and many other sites as part of a Holocaust studies class. That experience will never leave me, and in part shaped my career path. I often feel guilt that I have not revisited and then shared with you all every emotion I felt, but those are emotions that I don’t want to experience with Brock. A time will come when he will learn about it, and I will share my knowledge and experience with him then.

When I think about the Jewish cemetery in my town I am filled with sadness and grief, but also pride. I mourn everything that happened during the Holocaust, but I feel great pride that my town’s ancestors tried to do what they could, albeit too late, to preserve some of the history. Across Germany many of these cemeteries were completely destroyed, with nothing today to prove they existed. This preservation makes me proud. Proud that it was saved, but also a little zinger of pride that today you will not see Nazi graves, but you can still see these Jewish graves standing tall.

What’s to do in Luxembourg?

We had one day left with the Boyd family and we were going over options for the day. We listed a few local things like the animal and tree top parks but the appeal of getting a fourth country in during their 10 day trip prevailed. Fil chimed in with a “what’s there to do in Luxembourg” to which my travel researching self laid out the day we could have. I won, and off we went.  Continue reading

Beer, Brats, Brock AND a Maibaum

I could not wait to tell you about our May Day here in town, well actually its eve… Hexennacht (witches night), so here it is, still time left in the May Day clock and I am typing away. Last night, Hexennacht, we went to our village fire department for a May Day celebration. We had an absolute blast! Beer, brats, Brock, AND the raising of a Maibaum, May Tree.  Continue reading

à Votre Santé

It’s funny. It seems that the nicer the weather is the more we explore… but the more we are out, the less time I have to tell you all about it. So forgive me, I am a little behind. In my last post you got a brief look at our fantastic visit with the Boyd family and now I am finally getting into some of the new places we saw with them.

A must see on their list was Paris, which we did not care to join for. I sent them on their way with train tickets in hand, hoping that our plan to meet the next day in Reims would go off without a hitch, and it did! It really worked out great. Bright and early the next day we drove out to Reims, France and got there a little after their train arrived. Before they left for Paris we had talked about how to spend the day, and the goal was simple. See the cathedral. Get some champagne. In all the travel materials that we both read it seemed that Reims could be summed up by those two things and it worked out great since we didn’t want to stay too long as we had another stop in mind for the day.  Continue reading