I know, crazy title–can you tell I’m married to a Texan?
We just soak in the town of Oberfell. The car hardly gets touched. Despite the Luxembourg American cemetery and Burg Eltz trip we do some walks down by the river, and plenty of school— the kids are beyond ready each day for Charlotte, Victoria and Peter to get home from school so they can all play. With all the handling going on, I am sure the guinea pigs could not wait for us to leave!
The bakery continues to get a lot of love from us. We also learn that the bakery in town is owned by a Brit and she helps me understand which of the many kinds of pork I’m attempting to select. We also learn that just like the baker has tiny choco-brotchen for the peeps, so does the butcher have small sausages for the wee ones!
Pork in German is “schweinefleisch”. How’s that for the German building block language getting the point across to even an English speaker? A toad is a kröte, that you have to memorize but we have a lot of fun saying the name for turtle. It’s a schildkröte. Because that toad does have a shield. The kids pick this up on an app we find that has you “playing” in German words and learning more vocabulary than you realize (at least in small kid-friendly animals and kid foods).
We reluctantly load up the car and leave the cozy house, Oberfell and Horst & Andrea.
To reach Aachen, you drive northwest about two hours and nearly to the Dutch border.
[Luckily for you, Lisa (my far better half) now picks up the narrative and writes below about Charlesmagne’s amazing cathedral in Aachen]
Rick Steves does a fantastic job at pointing out the highlights of a particular area. Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet have their roles in traveling. But, everyone who knows the Wingfields, have been blessed by their eagerness to share their knowledge of the area they are living in. In this case, Cally asked me, “Are you visiting Aachen?” I think I said, “What’s that?”
What’s that????? None other than the throne of Charlemagne, himself.
We decided to visit Aachen on the day we travel from Oberfell to Xanten to see the Wingfields. After discovering that the only English tour was at 2:00, we structure our day around the tour time.
After an attempted but failed extended drive along the Mosel river, we arrive just in time for the tour after a quick bathroom stop!
[The gentleman in blue is leading the tour. He conducted a French tour right after this English tour.]
Before entering we hear the legend surrounding the building of the cathedral. When the builders ran out of funds, they were said to have made a contract with the Devil to get the needed money and in exchange they promised him the first soul that entered the cathedral. Despite that intriguing strategy considering they were building a church, they were bent on not paying their due and sent a wolf into the church first. (only service animals allowed today)
The cathedral amazes us.
Commissioned by Charlemagne in the late 700s, it is probably the oldest intact building we have visited on our trip. Charles the Great, himself, recommended the original design of the cathedral after the pattern of beautiful Eastern churches that he had visited in his travels. In contrast to other cathedrals with cross shaped floor plans, the dome here is octagonal and has a series of precious columns surrounding it.
These same columns were pillaged by Napoleon during his exploits of this part of Germany. Most, but not all of the columns were eventually returned after the Congress of Vienna. About four are displayed at the Louvre in Paris and a couple were broken on the return voyage. The color has been restored in the original design.
Moving on to the Choir Hall, an addition from the 1400s, the stained glass windows stun us with their beautiful light.
A pulpit is also present with gold and inlaid jewels. Rumor has it, according to the tour guide, that Henry II may have stolen some things at some point. A gift from a possibly guilt ridden king, in the 1000s Henry II donated these ancient and precious materials in the form of an ambon which is an architectural projection in front of the walkway before a wall of icons. He desired the prayers of Mary. (Hey, we all need grace, don’t we?) Interestingly, the panels are a mix of Christian and pagan symbols, along with a king’s everyday items, like an amber bowl and chess pieces. Many of the Greek gods are also represented on the panels of the ambon and now reside in this Christian cathedral rather than a temple of their own.
About 160 degrees left of the ambon are the remains of Charlemagne. They are housed in a huge ornate gold box. Every seven years they are displayed open along with the other precious relics housed here. The end of the most recent display was a month before we arrived. Historians have no DNA to prove that the bones are truly the great kings’. However, the bones are all from one person. And, bones at the Louvre claiming to be from Charlemagne are from the same person.
After some ooos and aaahhhs, we walk upstairs to see the throne. This is the part of the tour that is paid admission so the guide checks everyone’s tickets before we tread up the winding marble stairs (or jump and wrestle up the dim marble stairs, if you happen to be ten). To protect the throne, the area is barely lit. The roped off slabs of ancient marble are special because of the approximately 30 kings and 12 queens of Germany who were coronated there. It is plain, not ornate. Charlemagne himself ordered the throne built, but after his own coronation. Faded on the side of the throne is the remnant of a Roman soldier’s game of Nine Men’s Morris, kind of like tic tac toe. Some believe it was played by the soldiers on this marble at Jesus’ crucifixion. The steps leading up to it are thought to have been at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem until they were brought here in 800 AD. Others believe that before that they were steps up to Pilate’s palace, that Jesus walked on them.
Thank you Lisa, and now back to our regularly scheduled slipshod writing.
We find a toy/book store right across the street. That’s a good thing too because we were running critically low on plastic horses and knights and such…
We are thrilled to be driving into Xanten to our friends’ house, Lee & Cally Wingfield. Xanten is a small town in northwest Germany, also nearly into the Netherlands. Lee is working for NATO, as I once did. They are immersing themselves into the German culture and language. My NATO assignment had been to Virginia and I also bravely dove into Virginian culture and language… But the Wingfield kids—Elee, Ava, and Verity—are in German schools and are already fluent in German. As they began their school last year, the children were tired at the end of the evening from all the mental energy they were expending in German. Pretty amazing to think about moving, adjusting to a new school and doing it all in a brand new language. It is a wonder to behold.
It helps that Cally was a high school exchange student in Germany and has supplemented her German over the years with tutors!
Seemingly instantaneously upon our arrival there are Nerf darts everywhere.
Xanten is a tourist town but small enough to be closely-knit. I know it will shock you, but we are able to find a gelato place and the kids do not turn it down! I think I’ve got more time left to blame my ice cram habit on the children.
I just love the direct advertising of the German stores. Why beat around the bush?
We even enjoyed a delicious dinner out with just we parent-types. Out to a nice dinner like real people.
My meal was delicious but, even better, Lisa ended up with a shrimp so large it brought out the paparazzi.
As we leave the restaurant, Cally points out a plaque on the wall that marks where Kristallnacht—the Night of Broken Glass—affected this local house of Jewish people. In Germany and Austria, on 9-10 November 1938, the persecution of the Jews made a violent transition from economic and other discrimination to physical. Some say this pogrom was the beginning of the Holocaust. Shards of glass were all over the street after the windows of Jewish-owned shops, homes and synagogues were broken. People’s houses were emptied out into the street and there were beatings and murders. The paramilitary arm of the Nazi party and non-Jewish civilians carried it out. Government authorities looked on without intervening. The excuse for the violence was the murder of a German diplomat by a German-born Jew living in Paris.
The plaques in the sidewalk indicate that the family that lived here—Passman—were each sent to concentration camps. Five of the seven deported to Auschwitz. Of those five, four were “ermordet” (murdered) on the same day—3 Sep 1942. This was likely on the day of selection as they first arrived. Carl survived another 6 months.
It is still shocking to walk out onto a quiet evening and remember how much this continent—and the world—was shaken by the evil perpetrated by one political group against other people groups.
Cally also showed us the nine-pin bowling alley that Cally enjoys with her “Kegel” (the bowling game) group. These narrow alleys are in the basements of town pubs and groups of ladies get together each week or so for some bowling, talking and imbibing of adult beverages.
A week prior, the kids had gone in together to buy a Star Wars Clone Wars DVD on base in Germany. For those that are unfamiliar, the Clone Wars are an animated series based on the further adventures of Star Wars jedis and the clone army. We returned from dinner and the kids had enjoyed approximately 347 episodes of the show. I’m not sure Will or Luke ever blinked. Sometimes you just don’t want to miss anything!