Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Heckmann Ancestral Soil

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we went back to "old" Rothenberg: first stop - the cemetery. Once again, is was as though Hollywood had arrived just before we did. The cemetery was pristine, with beautiful headstones and fresh flowers on every grave. It wasn't hard to spot our first Heckmann grave as they were everywhere. I even took a couple of pictures of some Hoffman headstones, as it was Niklaus Hickmann who married Elizabeth Hoffmann just before leaving Rothenberg for the United States in 1752. Loren's cousin, Hoyt Hickman, who is the head genealogist of the family, also told us that Niklaus' father had been the mayor of Rothenberg!!

We came across a memorial to those who had died during the Prussian war, WWI and WWII, and we discovered that there were Heckmanns honored on the plaque.

Looking further, we saw a Leon Heckmann which had special significance. Hoyt Hickman's father was named Leon!
Standing there amid unknown relatives of the Heckmann clan was a very powerful experience. One thing that puzzled us however was that none of the graves were very old. The oldest birth we could find was about 1889, and most of the deaths had occurred within the last thirty years.

We decided to go back up the hill and check out the Evangelical Lutheran church that Hoyt had said held the records of Niklaus and Elizabeth's marriage. The church was not opened, but we saw another church, which turned out to be Evangelical Lutheran as well. There was an elderly lady trimming some flower pots outside of the church and she opened the door so we could have a look. Walking in to this little church was like stepping in to a fairy tale setting. Almost at once, snow was falling outside, it was Christmas Eve, and the organ was playing "Silent Nacht!" There was also a plaque honoring those who died in each of the World Wars and once again, the name Heckmann was on it.

Loren's curiosity was peeked by now, so he went in search of someone to ask if there might be an older cemetery around. It took him a number of tries to find someone with an iota of English, but he spoke to a man who said that there was an old cemetery about 250 kilometers away. We think he said that every forty years or so "we start over again." We're not sure if they take the older bodies to the cemetery 250 kilometers away or if they merely take down the old headstones and bury the new atop the old. At any rate, that explained why the cemetery looked so new and fresh!

By this time, the dogs were needing a run, so we decided to head for the Neckar River - specifically Hirschhorn, aka The Pearl of the Neckar River, where we had seen some nice paths on our way up. Haden wanted to get across to the other side of the river, but we couldn't see a bridge. Taking a left and going down a funny road, we found ourselves on the river's edge just as a ferry boat was approaching.

This trip was already becoming a treasure trove of the unexpected, and here was a ferry boat coming to take us to the other side! There was a salty guy with a wry smile who said something in German. Haden understood 2 Euros which he handed over. Two other cars followed us on, the "captain" cranked up the boat, and we were on our way! On the other side, we drove along the river until we found a parking area. Getting out, we began our walk with the dogs down a path through a forest that meandered along a ridge. Little did we know we were in for yet another serendipitous surprise.

The path led us past an old castle and came out upon an entrance way in to a little village. It was as if time had left this place untouched; I have never seen such an adorable, idyllic
spot in my life. We had discovered the town of Dilsberg!

After our stroll through the town we got back in the car and decided to go to Heidelberg for lunch. Heidelberg is a very interesting old town. As I mentioned before, it was spared by the Allies during the war, so there are very old buildings and cobblestone streets. It is a big university town as well as a mecca for tourists. There is a huge castle that sits atop a hill overlooking the city.
It was cold and rainy, but the city was still abuzz with people. We found a nice restaurant and I thought it so appropriate that we were seated underneath an accordion!

There was another couple seated next to us, and it wasn't long before we were talking with them. They were celebrating their 50th anniversary. Both had been born and raised in Berlin. The wife said she was too young and didn't really remember too much, but the husband told us about watching the American pilots fly overhead and hoping for his candy! Both of them were in West Berlin after the war. Haden asked them what they thought of Berlin now, and they were split. The woman said she would never go back - the city isn't home anymore- it's too different. The man said he had wanted to go back and live in Berlin, but his wife wouldn't come! It was a really fun time - but we did miss Gisela. Gisela is Julia's mother who lives in Lorrach, a small German town nestled between the Swiss/French border. She had planned to join us in Heidelberg, but wasn't able to. It would have been really fun to have her with us.

We drove back to the hotel and met at a local Cafe for a beer before getting ready for dinner. The people at the hotel were fabulous. Since we originally thought the trip was only 3 hours, we had thought we might only stay one night, so Haden needed some extra food for the dogs. He asked where he might buy some, and the chef, Stephan, said, "I have a dog, I will bring you some of my dog food!" There were a number of groups staying at the hotel. One was a senior biking group; there was a group of about eight young guys; and then there was the Stammtish group that comes to the bar every Friday night to discuss local politics! These are older men, each has a specific chair reserved for him, and they get pretty lively. At one point one of the Stomtish guys came over to talk with Loren and they ended up discussing the bailout of Greece! We found out from Julia that Stammtish is a tradition in many German restaurants- that on a certain day of the week, a group gets together to discuss politics. We are thinking we may like to start the first San Francisco Stammtish society when we return.

When we went in to dinner, we weren't given any menus. The waitress came over and said that Stephan had prepared a special dinner for us, would that be alright? We all heartily agreed, and we dined on a delicious asparagus soup and Weiner Schnitzel with a mushroom sauce that was delicious. For dessert we had a scoop of ice cream with chocolate sauce infused with pumpkin oil. It couldn't have been a better ending to a very magical day.

We were all tuckered out, and I collapsed in bed, with Zita following close behind!

The next morning we went for one last farewell to Rothenberg. Loren wanted to go visit the cemetery once more, then we drove away, but not before we took one last picture or two of the ancestral home of the Heckmanns

- Rothenberg, Germany.


Glorita Jucá said...

This was so magical! I think it will go down as your best trip yet, and may never be surpassed.
Finding beautiful little villages tucked away in wonderful sorroundings, that was always a dream of mine. So, I'm living it vicariously through you.
Give my love to Loren and Haden, the three of you make a wonderful team of adventurers.

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