Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mini-vacation in Germany

Drawing near to the end of the school year we saw how incredibly intense things were becoming for our children, so we decided that as soon as we could, we would break away after school. They needed it and we needed it for sure!

Now that we have a reliable vehicle with air conditioning we decided to drive up to Germany for a few days. After an extremely hot June, it was an ideal choice to head north to cooler temperatures. We left on Monday, June 26 and what should have been a nine hour drive to Erfurt turned into an eleven hour drive due to summer road construction. However, no one was lamenting as the drive through Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany was absolutely breathtaking. Waterfalls cascading down the Alpine mountains, crystal blue lakes, rolling countryside with picturesque towns and their sole church steeple rising above, forests, and more wide open spaces. It was everything that I love about the Western European landscape.

The kids had sufficient space to spread out, so no arguing over who was hogging more leg space. The line crossing was not completely preventable, because that is just what road tripping siblings do. We listened to two audio books on the trip that kept us engaged with the historical and inspirational life stories of both the Reformer, Martin Luther and the missionary, Darlene Diebler Rose. [Books: Luther's Fortress and Evidence Not Seen]

After a good nights rest, we headed out the next day to Eisenach in Thuringia to visit the Wartburg Castle. This is where Martin Luther took refuge in 1521 for nearly a year after the Diet of Worms where he was condemned by the Holy Roman Emperor with a threat to his life. In his castle refuge, Luther translated the New Testament from Greek to German in an astonishing 11-weeks time.

Soft pretzels filled with butter while waiting for our tour time
Replica of the wagon Luther was riding in when "kidnapped" and taken to Wartburg Castle

The Luther exhibition and tour was outstanding and took us over two hours to navigate through. We received audio guides with our ticket admission and this is a life saver when touring with children. Searching each room for the next number on the guide becomes like a treasure hunt. Towards the end Luca was getting VERY upset with us that we taking enough time to listen to every number. He lagged behind and refused to move on until he had listened to each display explanation. We have come a long way since beginning our travel as education vacations with our children! 

No photos were allowed on the castle tour so you will have to visit the official Warburg Castle website for more photos.

It was mid-afternoon when we completed the tour and we wanted to get to another site in Weimar before the rains came. Therefore, we did not have time to walk around Eisenach but this was a city in which my maternal grandfather helped liberate from Nazi control in WWII. All throughout our trip I could not stop imagining what it must have been like for my grandfather to serve as an Army Medic in such a bloody and horrific fight across German terrain. He received the Silver Start in Limbach where he exposed himself to artillery and machine gun fire to amputate a soldier's leg before he bled to death and then dragged him back to safety. As a family, we do not know much about his war experiences as he never talked about them, but somehow just revisiting the area he traversed in his youth made me feel closer to him.

In our effort to retrace Tata's trek across Germany, we then went to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial in Weimar. Although he did not personally liberate this particular camp, he did liberate a sub camp of Buchenwald just 32 miles WSW near the town of Ohrdruf. The Ohrdruf Concentration Camp was the very first concentration camp to be liberated in the war on April 4, 1945. The shock upon learning and seeing for the first time that such places actually existed must have been beyond horrifying, and explanation enough as to why he never spoke of it. As the Americans drew close to the camp, the prisoners were forced out on a death march to Buchenwald and a wake of bloodshed was left behind as the camp officials attempted evacuation and retreat in much panic and haste. U.S. Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and Eddy visited the camp 8 days after its liberation.

Entrance gate to Buchenwald CC

Detention cell wing of the gate building

Memorial room in the former crematorium

Hanging post and quarry cart with the depot and disinfection building in the background
Stump of the Goethe Oak
This is the third concentration camp that we have visited and each time there is a pit in my stomach and nausea that washes over me as we walk the camp grounds. Please, let us not forget the Holocaust and let us not blindly turn our eyes from such modern day atrocities of genocide and discrimination that still flood this broken world.

After a previous two full days of driving and touring, we decided to take the next morning slowly and hang out at the house. It was a coincidental choice that was ideal since it thunderstormed and rained all morning long. We enjoyed playing games and not rushing out for our next adventure until the afternoon hours.

We first attempted to get to the Ohrdruf site but ran into a road block as the area is now used as a military weapons training ground and the camp structures no longer exist. At least we tried and got within two miles of the location.

Panoramic of view from the roadblock

Road towards camp
Next we drove into the city center of Erfurt and started off by filling our tummies with yummy German pastries. 

With hunger and thirst quenched, we continued our walk over to the St. Augustine's Monastery. This is where Martin Luther lived and studied as a monk from 1505-1511. 

Martin Luther's monastic cell
Courtyard view
After some time at the monastery and church, we enjoyed more views of German quaintness...
I want to live in this house

Thanks Emma for obliging your mamma with pictures of randomness
Capping off our touring with gelato, because of course
The view on our drive back to our rental house
On Thursday, we started our journey home this time taking a slightly different route that would allow us to stop in Möttlingen, Germany. Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian in Möttlingen. 

After the exorcism of the woman, Gottlieben Dittus, a major spiritual revival broke out in the town and spread throughout the surrounding area. Blumhardt is famously quoted as saying: "That I don't know, but this I do know; Jesus is victor." He always gave glory to God for what happened in the lives of those in his parish and others who came confessing their sin and yielding to Jesus. Jonathan and I had both recently read a book about his life and the revival that took place in this area of Germany. We would recommend "The Awakening: One Man's Battle with Darkness" by Friedrich Zuendel.

The house of Gottlieben is now a museum and open upon appointment. We were very grateful for the time and tour provided by the curator's son who spoke English very well. 

The upstairs of the house is the museum with a wooden floor where every floorboard creaks. The kids were more entertained with walking across the floor than reading display tags in German. The bottom portion of the house is the actual living quarters where the Dittus family once lived. 

Blumhardt's church as viewed from the Dittus house
I have to conclude this vacation post by bragging just a little bit on Jonathan for getting us by on this trip with his growing proficiency in the German language. Thank you, language learning apps and a husband who enjoys languages! Grocery stores, restaurants, mechanic--yes, problem! Samuel too was a help in reading and pronunciation, but less sure in comprehension having not studied German for a year. 

It was a lovely trip and well worth the long hours of driving. Our goal of visiting Reformation sights in 2017 in commemoration of the 500th Anniversary has so far been a great success. Appreciation for our spiritual heritage has grown as well as our love of Europe.

1 comment:

stephanie garcia said...

What tremendous memories you are creating with your children! My grandfather also fought and was wounded in WWII (in Belgium.) I've always had a fascination with that time period, perhaps for that reason. Recently I finished reading the true story of Edith Beer entitled "The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust" and it was another sad, fascinating perspective from her experience.