Our Trip to Germany 2009

 

Day 1, Saturday, September 5

 

We made our way through customs in Frankfurt with absolutely no problem and began our search for the rental car counter. A young Airport German policeman took any hassle out of that process with precise English instructions.  We had learned very little German prior to the trip in spite of our inspired intentions. The one phrase we knew well was “Sprechen sie Englisch?” [Do you speak English?]  Without fail the response during our entire visit to Germany was either “yes” or “a little bit.” The response “little bit” meant “I’m not fluent in English but I can pretty darn well answer any question you might have”.  We discovered that German school children, since shortly after World War II, are required to have at least six years of English as a normal part of their curriculum.  We truly felt like “ugly Americans”.

 

We had rented a manual transmission Volkswagen [in German, “people’s car”] mini-bus. I made sure it had a GPS. Three things you should know about a GPS in a rented Volkswagen mini-bus at the  Frankfurt Airport; [1] it has no maps on the display, just a description of the route to take, [2] you must tell the attendant you would like English and not German audio, and  [3] the instruction manual is only in German. Although I knew about number 2, numbers 1 and 3 “sunk the ship” so to speak and as the navigator I “went down” with it.

 

There are several things you should understand about German road signs.  First and foremost, in leaving the Airport, you must know the German word “Ausfahrt” means exit, or “to leave” the place where you now are. After going in a circle for nearly 10 minutes we finally discovered the meaning of this word.  Secondly, when looking for an Autobahn [the German equivalent of an Interstate highway with the speed limit not at all enforced], you need to look for a fairly small blue sign containing a number.  We learned this about three days into our trip, although we’re still not sure how its direction, i.e. North, South, East, and West, is determined if you don’t recognize the destination sign of the village, town, or city.

 

We had reservations at a Hotel in Groß-Umstadt Germany. [Note: The symbol “ß” replaces two “s”, i.e. Gross-Umstadt, meaning large or bigger Umstadt.]  The town is about 25 miles southeast of the Airport and about 6 miles from our primary destination of Höchst, pronounced “Hoost” rhymes with “boost”, Germany.  Because of the navigational “issues” mentioned above we took the “scenic” route to Groß-Umstadt. From Judy’s journal;

 

We passed several forested areas – between each town is forest.  Went through several small quaint towns.  Roads are quite narrow!  Street signs are sometimes on the corner, sometimes on the sides of buildings.  Some signs look like street signs but aren’t – hard to tell because they’re in German. [duh]

 

After what seemed like hours, really only 45 minutes or so, we reached Groß-Umstadt and the first order of business was to check in to the Hotel.  We found the Hotel rather quickly, the primary reason being Groß-Umstadt is a “smallish” town.  I had spent the better part of a week in early May looking for a hotel in the Höchst area.  I had read that German hotels outside metropolitan areas needed careful study before making reservations.  We had basically two criteria, a private bath with tub and/or shower and a decent room size. After going through two dozen or so choices we decided on the family-owned Hotel Jakob [“Ya-cob”]  Through numerous emails requesting amenity information and room pictures I had come to know the owner Ingo Jacob.  Although his English was “a little bit” he was ready to provide whatever information we asked for. 

What a wonderful choice we made !  We checked in about 11:00 AM Saturday and were immediately greeted by Ingo. Throughout our entire stay it seemed as though he was always nearby asking if we needed anything or just smiling.  The Hotel had been  started by Ingo’s parents in 1950 with 10 rooms and had grown to 33 rooms under Ingo’s management. The room was “roomy”, a small but new shower,  super clean, and a terrific view of the nearby vineyards and the gently rolling hillsides.  The free breakfast turned out to be a fabulous buffet including scrambled or boiled eggs, sausage, ham, assorted juices, homemade rolls and other pastries. We ate at the Hotel every morning and evening we were there except for Sunday night when the restaurant was closed..  The food, contary to our expectation, was perhaps the best we had ever had !  Below left is a picture of Ingo Jakob and the “Keiths’” in the restaurant. We were sad when we had to leave!

Shortly after we had checked in, I went outside to take in the gorgeous weather and views. On the way back in I passed an elderly German gentleman and in my best German I said, “Guten Morgen” [Good morning.] and he replied with a gentle smile, “Hi”.  I chuckled and so did he. Judy’s journal commented on the friendly encounter. Guess he could tell that Bob ‘wasn’t from around these parts.“

 

We then departed the Hotel for a quick lunch.  Question: Where do many “ugly Americans” go to eat  in Germany when they don’t know what to expect from the local cuisine ?  Answer:  McDonaldsIt was, by far,  the worst food we had while we were in Germany. After returning from lunch we called Andrea Röske, Hans-Ullrich and Gerdi’s oldest daughter, and granddaughter of Wilhelm and Ella Gieg; they would meet us at the Hotel in about thirty minutes.

 

Andrea and her friend Guido Köhler, pictured below center, were absolutely delightful.  Young, energetic, and super-smart they both spoke perfect English.  Our plan for the remainder of the day was to include a visit to nearby Burg [Castle] Breuberg. Parts of the Castle were begun in the mid-twelfth century. We drove the “mini-bus” to the parking lot and climbed 63 stairs up the side of a hill to the

Castle. Whew !. At that point in time Judy and I had slept about three hours during the last thirty-six and although the trip-caused “adrenlin rush” had not passed, the “tide” was definitely going out.  From Judy’s journal:

 

The castle has 3 sections, each built at different time.   We walked around, took lots of pictures, got a lot of history of the area from them [Andrea and Guido].  The moat (dry) looked to have been rather deep.  There were no moat monsters or alligators, contrary to most movies.  Ryan, Scott, Andrea and Guido all climbed the very steep steps to the top of the tower in the middle of the grounds [Pictured above left, upper right of picture].  Bob and I sat at the bottom and waited for them.”  The Castle is currently used for various activities, including a year-round youth hostel, and, during a period in the summer, hosts a “gifted” young musicians camp. The trip down the steps was MUCH EASIER.

 

Next stop, the one and only cemetery in Höchst and a very interesting story. Germany has a long history associated with the use and availability of land.  As early as the 9th century following the departure of the Romans from what is now southern Germany and Bavaria, land ownership was vested with families of nobility. Over time these families formed socio-economic and political city-states throughout Germania. For centuries they fought each other, the French, the Dutch, the Prussians, and last but not least the Holy Roman Empire.  As a result of these conflicts land ownership was awarded the victors. During all these struggles the “common” German people were serfs, always working for the “lord of the manor” and never owning the land they worked.  When Germany became a unified country in 1873, a large majority of the land ownership was vested with the State.  Unlike the history of private land ownership in America, individual German people own a small percentage of the land.

The cemetery in Hochst is a mirror of that history.  There are few very old grave stones in the cemetery.

Berg Breuberg from just outside the moat.

Guido and Andrea

Berg Breuberg main gate, AD 1528

A grave plot is paid for and can be used by a family for a period of nineteen years.  After this period, the family, if they still remain in the area and have the interest and/or money, can pay to use the plot for another 19 years and so on. Eventually most plots are used by other families while the previous “occupant” remains are simply covered over by a new “occupant”. Also unlike many American cemeteries,  German cemeteries are well cared for. As the pictures to the right depict, the Höchst cemetery looks as much like a garden as it does a cemetery.  So, we were expecting to see old cemetery head stones and they don’t exist anymore. But, this  cemetery was where many of the early Gieg’s were buried and it is located about 1/4 of a mile from “downtown” Höchst. I think Andrea and Guido sensed our energy was waning. We asked if it would be possible to stop by a grocery store before

heading back to the Hotel so we could pick up some bottled water.  Voile’, we are at a German grocery store in Groß-Umstadt called “Rewe”. From Judy’s journal;

 

Andrea and Guido navigated us to a grocery store to get water.  They only had bottled mineral water [“vasser” in German].  They refer to it as ‘still’ and ‘gas’– referring to the amount of carbonation in it.  This water doesn’t seem to really quench our thirst.  We also found Pepsi and Coke at the store – yeah!  They don’t really eat peanut butter – only had one kind “made in the USA”.  Some of the same cereals but they have different names due to translation issues.  For example, “corn” can mean “mice” in German in some cases (although they still used the name “Corn Flakes”).  We bought water and Pepsi at the store and went back to the Hotel where Andrea and Guido transferred to their car.  We thanked them for the great tours and we hoped we would see them again.

 

We had a sumptuous supper at the hotel and FINALLY got to bed. “The first night in the hotel was great.  We were so tired that we could have slept on the floor and slept well, but the beds are comfortable.  We wondered why there were no room darkening shades.  This morning [Sunday, September 6th], Bob discovered a button on the wall that brings down an automatic metal  shade on the outside of the window! Very cool! This will come in handy tonight.  Scott and Ryan said they didn’t sleep too well and are tired again today.  They will also appreciate the automatic shade tonight.”