Oberfell is a picturesque town of about 1800 people in a few streets of tidy houses between the Mosel river and a steep hillside. We are in wine country and the vines are everywhere. We wander down by the river and find a restaurant. Vines encircle the sign and patio and they can barely hold the clusters of grapes. The hillside is steep enough that you are working to run up to the top of town from the river.
[villages along the Mosel]
[river right down the hill]
[cafe courtyard and church in town]
[backyard view up the slope, looking at Horst & Andrea’s place]
We walk down the street in the morning to get bread and rolls at the town baker.
The baker lady sees Camille and Ana with me, and though she has no English, she manages to get across something like “choco-bröt ist gut fur kinder.” She takes two tiny rolls studded with chocolate chips out of her display case and the girls erupt in huge smiles. “Danke!” they say simultaneously. The baker and I laugh uncontrollably at the happy sight.
[soon, everybody wanted to go the baker’s in the morning]
The valley walls are narrow and steep enough that the sun doesn’t reach into our windows until 10 in the morning. In the evening at about 1600, the air begins to cool significantly and we reach for light jackets.
We are so fortunate to stay in this fantastic Ferienhaus Mosella. Germany is very precise with the names of lodging so you can tell a lot by what they call the place. A Ferienhaus is a holiday home. And we are treated to the privilege of hanging out with the wonderful Horst & Andrea. They greet us with a delicious bottle of local white wine and sweets for the children. We talk about kids and school and jobs and travels and wine. Homeschooling is absolutely novel to them as we’ve heard from other Germans. No wonder, it’s illegal here. To them, we must be the craziest loons this side of the Pecos. Wait till they see my ‘Merica pants.
We ask if there was WWII fighting in the area of this serene, little town on the river. Horst’s father was only 16 in 1945 and was about to have to serve in the WWII German army. The war ended before he was required to join up. HIs father saw American artillery setting up on the valley top across the river. One artillery shell fell short of its target and fell into the valley just next to the town but did not hit any houses. The town behind Oberfell had SS troops in it and the townsfolk figured the American artillery had them in their sights.
I run one morning and end up in the highest street of the small town. Stomping downhill I come by the church’s graveyard and notice a name I recognize on the stone. Sure enough, Horst’s family members are buried right there just stone’s throw from our place.
The route is part of a pilgrim’s route in Germany that people still travel. Many pass through Oberfell for this route alone.
A bell chimes over and over. When we look out the window, we see the bell is attached to a truck. The truck sells eggs and inches down the town streets advertising its wares.
Our kids were not so sure about playing with non-English speakers when we first arrived in August. But now we can see they are up for the challenge and head over to play with the two small girls in our shared backyard. One girl is 10 and the other seven and soon everyone is up in a tree. Their son, 12, is on their back patio and before long Luke and Will are inside their house playing Minecraft with him.
The first day the kids are all a bit shy around each other. They can demonstrate they can each count from 1 to 12 in the others’ language. By the second day, Camille is using more and more German words and though it’s not pretty they are all getting their point across. The boys have fewer words they need to get out. Seems like men, and little men, are like that worldwide. I can see the girls in the backyard talking, smiling at each other, and playing together. They do not speak the same language, so as a man, this is beyond me as they are somehow having full-on conversations.
Their girls have guinea pigs named “Punnt” and the other “Knupf”. There are rabbits named Flicker and Sabrina. The girls had pets so the big brother also wanted a pet. His parents got him two mice. They are females—named Uncle Henry and Ferdinand. The German name for guinea pigs is “Meer schwein”, or ocean pigs.
[Ana with Victoria in green and their friend Sarah]
One day, as soon as they are home from school the 7 year old runs over, holds out one of the little animals to our girls and says, “gihn-ee pig?” A wonderful way to invite someone to play!
One afternoon the girls run over with their girls for the pizzeria/gelateria to get ice cream overlooking the river. Here’s just a quick shot I got of the shop’s deck the next day with the water in the background.
The local villages hold an annual competition for village of the future. Oberfell has won this year’s competition and Horst invites us to the town’s get-together since the winning village has to host the ceremony. The town’s mayor had been instrumental in getting a home built for older folks. Several of the burgermeisters (mayors) mill about, all dressed up and shaking hands before the town’s orchestra strikes up. Next, we are treated to a dance by the town’s 9-11 year old girls, including Horst & Andrea’s daughter, Charlotte. Both songs are from the movie Grease! Go greased lightning!
We are all sad to see the cute girls leave the stage and the speeches begin from behind the podium. They give an exhaustive rundown of each village and a few stats about each one. The towns are broken down by size. It is a lot of German and I start to space out. But it is clear, that they take this competition quite seriously. Our kids are about the only children in the audience and they are hanging in there but we’ve all had enough so we beat a hasty retreat back to our cozy house.
We decide to tour a local castle renowned for its interior—Burg Eltz. You park the car and walk 45 minutes on a path through a pine forest.
A Dutch couple is walking out and stops to ask if we are Americans (probably pretty easy to tell since the kids are running and playing). Once we confirm we are, he asks how so many Americans know about this place. Hilarious and I wasn’t sure myself. I’d read about it as one the world’s famous castles.
The medieval castle is located between Koblenz and Trier in Germany and is still owned by a branch of the same family that lived here in the 12th century. The family still has flowers put out for visitors.
You round a corner and suddenly the castle is right in front of you rising from a rocky outcropping in a horseshoe of the river Eltz, a tributary of the Mosel river. It’s a magical sight. A basin lies around the castle within a wooded valley and provides the fortress with a commanding view. The castle was also placed here for commercial reasons as the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers formed an important trade route. Castles could be used to protect trade routes and as a base to collect taxes from merchants.
Burg Eltz was designed more for looks than for strategic defense. It’s a grand home, instead of a medieval fortress, and provides a glimpse of the life of German nobility from centuries past. The first foundations of the Burg were put down in 1157. To share the costs, three family branches of the Eltz family collaborated to build three separate structures within the Burg Eltz. The three sides of the clan—‘The House of the Golden Lion,’ ‘The House of the Silver Lion,’ and ‘The House of the Buffalo Horns.’
[Burg Eltz later in the year]
You just don’t see a lot of crests based on squirrels, rabbits, ducks , beavers or guinea pigs, do you? Go Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers!
In 1815, the House of the Golden Lion had outlived one clan and had the resources to buy out the other. So, the castle’s current owner in chief lives in a nearby town and has a normal day job.
The castle has survived centuries of history with little military action or damage. The castle was besieged by the archbishop of Luxembourg in the 1300s over a dispute within the Holy Roman Empire. A siege tower was erected outside of Burg Eltz and bombarded it with heavy stone balls. He severed all the supply lines to the castle, forcing the knights to concede.
Skillful diplomacy brought about the castle’s survival during the Thirty Years’ War of the 1600s when the French destroyed most of the Rhine castles. During the early 19th century, a relative of the family was well connected to the Napoleon’s French army. As Napoleon took possession of the German countryside he had many of the castles destroyed. This family member convinced Napoleon’s staff to let Burg Eltz survive.
[fantastic dragon gargoyle on the drainspout]
Unfortunately, no pictures allowed inside, but I did scrounge up a few from online.
[window seats all throughout the house since much of the castle would have been dark]
The boys are mesmerized by the weapons and armor when we first enter the armory from the central courtyard. Hanging on the wall, you can spot medieval weapons from even the Turks. The Knights Hall depicts panel paintings with scenes from the Old Testament. The Knights Hall is still adorned with the Eltz family coat of arms.
Over 80 rooms, 40 fireplaces and 20 toilets were constructed over 400 years in eight different towers.
The master bed is on a raised platform and shrouded with a heavy curtain. You climbed a few steps to get up into bed. This design kept you closer to the heat near the ceiling and away from the cold floor.
The three families lived in separate wings of the castle and would meet in a large “conference room” to iron out common problems—kind of like condo organizations today. A carved jester and a rose adorn the table in the large room. In those days, jesters could say anything to the king—“fool’s freedom”— reminding them they were free to discuss anything. The “rose of silence” meant that nothing could leave the room. Better than Vegas.
A chapel is built into a bedroom but no one is allowed to live above a chapel because that would be living above God. So the chapel had to built out into a “bay window” architecturally so that God was mainly above the chapel ceiling.
The treasure chamber below displays an extensive collection of treasures collected by the Eltz family for nearly 900 years.
[the family also has a statue commemorating the brave St John of Nepomuk who was thrown off the Charles Bridge in Prague for keeping his oath of confession]
[Here’s a suit of armor worn by a member of the family when he was knighted. Notice how much smaller they were back then, and the suit is even on about a three-inch platform. Glad the picture cut off that I’m on my tippy toes…]
Golden drinking vessels, anyone? And yes, those really are cups shaped like boats.
The boys loved seeing these—a gun and an axe! It’s a boys dream. I kept a close eye on those little people to make sure no one tried to play with these.
Back in Oberfell, nothing wrong with a little German bakery choco-brotchen every now and then!