Ruth at keyboard
Since last Thursday the European Dolgin 3 split into two groups: Avi and Elie off to Basque country and I (Ruth) off to Germany.
It all started with a Ryan Air flight from Girona (an hour from Barcelona) to Frankfurt-Hahn airport (not quite Frankfurt, but actually closer to Wittlich which is where I was heading). Ryan air is a no frills airline offering some amazing deals. The cost of my flight was under ten euros and about twice that in taxes. Prices paid by others on the flight depended on the availability of seats at the time of purchase. There ware times when the same seat can cost nothing or up to 200 euros. Elie tells me that Air Canada is looking at developing a similar pricing system, though I suspect starting at a higher base line, perhaps the same system but not the same bargains.
Now I am in Germany, speaking German, trying to improve my grammar and vocabulary, and realizing that I am thinking, by and large in German (though with gaps and errors in grammar).
I spent the first few days with my friends Marianne and Werner in Wittlich, that is, centred in Wittlich. Wittlich is at the same latitude as Winnipeg, a fact Wittlichers are cognizant of and Winnipeggers now learning. (Ask me about Wittlich if you haven't heard me do so).
We spent one day in Metz, France. We went to Metz because Marianne, who is researching the history of Jewish communities in the region, had heard that the museum there had an exhibit about the Jewish community. The exhibit is historical, but it turns out that Metz currently has about 500 Jewish families. We know this because after touring the museum, we walked by the synagogue. It was Friday afternoon, so we expected to see the place closed, but as luck had it, the policewoman who was guarding from the street inquired on our behalf and we were given a quick tour by the fellow in charge of security, an Israeli who came to Metz with his family to get away from "Ha Matzav"(the situation) for a while. There is a large synagogue which is used for the high holidays and three other prayer halls: Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Polish. No, there was no egalitarian space! They also have preschool/kindergarten and elementary school and are planning for a high school. The old folks home is next door and is scheduled to be rebuilt. There is a large communal dining room which was just being set up for the kiddush to follow Friday night services which would be attended by men only. There has been a Jewish presence in Metz since the time of the Romans, its numbers ebbing and flowing as the tides of tolerance and anti-Semitism flowed. Metz is a pretty city with lots of flowers and a beautiful cathedral with Chagall windows. I thought of my father walking these streets many years ago. Nowadays crossing the borders is nothing, though we did see customs police in Luxembourg on our way back. They were stopping some trucks and Marianne thought that they were probably on the lookout for drugs. We were not stopped, but we did stop for gas in Luxembourg where it is much cheaper than in Germany. I visited with good friends and acquaintances in Wittlich, walked, wandered old haunts and ate well. I even heard the call of a cuckoo (not the clock).
Now I am on the road, so to speak, for a few days. I have been to Mainz and Speyer, and am currently in Heidelberg. Mainz also has a church with Chagall windows. I am in awe of Chagall and his ability to understand and bridge the traditions of Judaism and Christianity in his art. I went to Speyer on the advice of Chris Friedrichs who informed me about the interesting old mikveh (ritual bath) that was uncovered there and wandered this very attractive town for a few hours.
Heidelberg is nestled along the Neckar River, a city of great beauty. They say that Mark Twain liked this neck of the woods. It is famous for the oldest university in Germany and about one fourth of its inhabitants of about 140,000 are students. I wonder what they do at election time. It also has a very interesting castle which had been the center of the palatinate in the Holy Roman Empire days. Unusual for me (or us) I took the English language tour of the castle. The group was complete with Americans and me. There are still Americans stationed at bases nearby, something that I had been previously unaware of. I stayed with folks we met in Cordoba who live on the outskirt of town overlooking the town and the Neckar River below and their view is a picture postcard. Did you know that Heidelberg remained intact during the Second World War, except for one bridge? I have now heard three theories for why the Allies did not bomb Heidelberg:
1. It is an old university town and had no industry or strategic value (I don't buy this one.)
2. General Eisenhower had family in the area (or ancestral roots).
3. Some important American soldier had studied in Heidelberg and ordered it not to be bombed.
My time in Germany is very different from our previous travels not only because I am separated from Avi, but also in that here I am staying with friends, friends of friends and people we met en route. It’s a very different tourist experience. I get to partake in the daily lives of Germans, speak German, and eat German. Speaking of eating German, unlike the Spanish, seasonal food is eaten and sold all over. Right now there are white asparagus stands in the middle of town centers, markets, supermarkets-- wherever there are people. And you can even get the stuff served to you in restaurants, that is, if you can afford to eat out at a "German" restaurant. Turkish and Indian, as well as Chinese food is much more affordable. Though, friends and acquaintances have made it possible for me to limit restaurant dining. I must also acknowledge that the Germans produce the best breads and muesli and you don’t have to pay Terra prices for a good sour dough.
Off to Frankfurt in a few minutes to visit my cousin...
From Frankfurt (May 23):
Wandered in downtown Frankfurt today and discovered a Friday market in the middle of downtown. How I love markets! Yes, white asparagus was being sold, but in addition to the usual stands of fruits and vegetables, cheeses and meats the market had merchants selling all kinds of prepared foods including latkes (they though don’t call them that here) with either applesauce or quark, wurst, soups, schwarma, etc. It felt like a cross between a market and a fair.
Continuing my theme of visiting historical Jewish sites, I went to the Museum Judengasse where a middle ages mikveh (ritual bath) and the foundations of some houses were uncovered in the 1980`s at a construction site. Next door sits an old Jewish cemetery with some gravestones which were recovered and brought back to the cemetery and a memorial wall (in memory of Frankfurt individuals who were murdered by the Nazis. The wall is covered with blocks bearing names, birthdates and place of death if known. As I approached the wall, I overheard a conversation between an older woman speaking in German and a young American woman. The older woman was trying to explain to the American what these squares were about. I came to their aid and took over the task of educating the young American who didn't quite understand what she was seeing. Reading the names was quite moving, but it is so easy to just walk by... Some of the squares, as well as the gravestones had stones placed on them, indicating that they were being visited, perhaps by family members. Some of the gravestones were of prominent rabbis and these not only had stones, but little pieces of paper left there by members of their sect or followers who wrote prayers or wishes on these notes. Chris or David--do you know who these rabbis might be?
In Frankfurt I am staying with my cousin and his family. In discussion with him, I am realizing how little I know about our ancestors on this side of the family and how I need to talk to the one remaining relative who might have some ancestors before it is too late.
May 25: Now I am back to Wittlich for a few days and then on to Berlin on Wednesday. Also expected in Berlin on Wednesday, along with 200,000 people descending upon the city, is the Dalai Lama who will be attending the Kirchen Tagen (Church Days.) I am hoping to partake in some of the program if I can.