Swabia

On my way from Lake Contance to Schwabisch Hall, I decided to stop in Villingen, where my aunt’s (mom’s sister-in-law) family is from.  I thought it was in the Black Forest which I’d imagined as a huge swath of dark conifer.  No such luck.  It seems that the Black Forest of the past is now patchy woods, the remnants of huge tracts which have been cut down to make way for farmland.  I arrived at the town around 4pm and parked, then walked into the old center.  Another lovely medieval town, and very well-preserved.  I especially liked the fountains, which had figures from fasching, a pre-Christian festival held in February, more recently associated with Lent, whose original purpose was to drive winter away.  My mom and step dad had joined my aunt several years ago for fasching in Villingen, and I’d seen photos.  So I had imagined the town from these photos.  At one point I desperately was searching for a bathroom.  I asked a small knot of folks if they knew where there was a bathroom in the best German I could muster.They turned out to speak Spanish, and once I heard that, I switched to Spanish.  The couple was from Argentina and now lived in Villingen, while their friend Anna was visiting from the Canary Islands.  What a kind person!  She gave me faith in humanity again, and we exchanged emails.  I told her she was welcome to visit me in Sunnyvale, and she extended a welcome to the canary islands.

I left Villingen with a light heart and the belief that I could find friends after all.  It’s hard traveling alone, in case you wondered.  Sometimes I don’t mind talking to myself, while other times I distinctly miss friends.  And the idea that people care about me.  It can be unnerving to travel for days on end without speaking with anyone, except perhaps to ask a question and be met with a quizzical look.  I’m not beyond home sickness.  It’s time like these where I crave people and places that I know.  I left Villingen at sunset after trying to find an internet cafe or wi-fi.  I finally found a cafe with wi-fi and was just about to call the family in SH via Skype when their internet turned off.  Speaking of German energy conservation, their modem goes off every night when the cafe closes at 7:30 on the dot.  So no one can use it without paying I suppose?  Who knows their rationale.

I drove toward Schwabisch Hall on the autobahn and got the thrill (and terror) of having cars approach me at 140+ mph.  I rarely was in the fast lane unless I needed to pass a slower car, but had many a time where just as I was trying to pass (in the 20 second window), a car would come at me gangbusters.  I was terrified that they’d hit me.  I finally arrived in the historic town at 10 pm, and it was another half hour before I figured out in which village the family lived from memory.  I’d been there a year ago and had not been driving, but somehow in wandering the countryside, the name Bibersfeld sounded familiar.  I drove slowly through and remembered a Metzgerei, or meat shop, and turned there.  It turned out I found the correct street and house, but I wasn’t confident in my selection and was afraid to scare someone at this hour.

So I decided to find a field or forest and bed down for the night.  I followed the road out of town and found a large open area.  I drove down a dirt road to a small line of trees and creek, but decided it wasn’t enough shelter from nearby traffic.  So I drove further on, near a corn field, to another small road, which was blocked at one end with a gate.  That tipped me off that I shouldn’t be there, so I decided to turn around.  Unfortunately I didn’t see the ditch next to the road, and next thing I knew my front right tire was 3 feet down into the ditch and the whole car was careening at an ungainly angle.  I was sure the car would tip over, and thought I’d have to spend the night there and find help in the morning.  But resourcefulness kicked in, just as it had when I had parked on a sandy beach in Greece and managed to pull out laying flat rocks behind the front tires for traction.  Or maybe desperation.  In any case, as I jumped knee high into stinging nettles to examine the position of my tires (ouch!), I straightened the wheels and then gave the car as much gas as I thought necessary to get out.  And voila.  I was out.  Thank god, because 10 minutes later some guys on motor bikes came to the exact spot and drove around till midnight.  I was sure they’d find my spot, but I decided that I’d have to be strong and explain (again in my best German) why I was there.  I wondered whether they were henchmen of the resident farmer, but thought better of it, as only a small portion of the open space was cropland.

Somehow I survived the night, stinging nettles and all.  I woke with the sun and made my way back to the street where I thought the family lived.  I saw a woman in the driveway across the street and asked her if she knew Sofia and Carolin.  She said two girls lived with their parents across the street.  I was in luck.  I knocked on the front door and Sofia answered.  She said she’d waited till late the night before, but then figured I didn’t have internet to get her response (I’d written as much from the cafe in Villingen).  She gave me a warm welcome, as did her mom and dad, whom I remembered from my last visit (I hadn’t met Sofia before because she’d been working).  We had a nice breakfast, then she and her boyfriend went off to remodel the bathroom on a newly bought home a block or so away.  I went with her mom to shop and helped her by carrying her basket and groceries to the car.  We went to the Saturday market in the main square of Schwabisch Hall in front of St. Michael’s church, and I had a great time looking at all the wonderful berries, mushrooms, and other delectables, buying elderberry syrup and apricot jam, as well as ripe nectarines. She had other places to go, and it took several hours.  When we got home, I sat with Carolin and talked, and she helped me register the new Lidl SIM card. I then headed to Kunsthalle Würth, the wonderful contemporary art museum.  They have a show called Picasso und Deutchland (Picasso and Germany), and I paid for an audio guide so I could get the skinny on Picasso’s German connections.

It turns out that Germany was very supportive of Picasso’s work early on, hosting a show of 22 of Picasso’s works in Cologne in 1915 (he had his own room).  Despite France naysaying German support of Picasso (they were suspicious of anything Germans did), Germans continued to collect and be inspired by Picasso.  Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) school, founded in Munich from 1911 to 1914 by a number of Russian emigrants, including Wassily Kandinsky, as well as native German artists like August Macke and Max Ernst, was very influenced by Picasso.  Both this group and Die Brücke (the Bridge), which was founded in 1905, were fundamental in the formation of German expressionism.

I had also hoped to see the exhibit “Regarding Wilhelm Busch”, the creator of Max and Moritz at the Würth, but ran out of time.  So it would have to be Sunday.  I walked for half an hour across the bridge, then made my way back to my host family, which was having a barbeque and asked me to be back by 7pm.  When I got back, they were making salads and tomato and mozzarella tray while their dad grilled away.  I found out that they used to own a farm, and still have a huge garden and a few animals.  Everything in the salad was grown in their garden. I could feel health being poured into my body as I ate the greens and tomatoes.  Carolin is lactose intolerant and only eats sheep and goat products, while her mom has gluten sensitivity and is careful not to eat bread.  We ate outside and it was a beautiful warm night, and I was happy to be with them. A while later I went out to my car to get my sleep pills, and fell headlong after running into a low brick wall that I didn’t know was there (it was dark and I didn’t have a light).  It turned out I’d split my toe open, as I was only wearing flip flops, and scraped my shin, elbow, and finger.  Blood dripped from every wound as I hobbled into the house.  The girls and mom sprang into action, putting alcohol (literally Schnapps) on the wound, giving me a pill for swelling and pain, and bandaging it.  So I was to limp for the next week, and couldn’t wear anything but flip flops so had to be careful not to reinjure it.

I was stressed and didn’t sleep well that night due to the pain.  I finally fell asleep in the morning, and decided not to try to wake up early.  Finally, at 11:30, I stirred, and dragged myself out of bed.  The wound looked bad and infected, so I put some antibiotic cream on it, the bandage, and hobbled off to the Kunsthalle Würth for the Wilhelm Busch exhibit, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I think he is only well known in Germany for the many books he illustrated, though he had an influence on many comic strip artists in the US as well.  After reading his entire bio and the exhibit binder in English, I perused his art work, especially appreciating his small landscape oil paintings influenced by Dutch masters, as well as his puppets.  More to read about when I get home.  I think this whole trip is about opening my eyes to people and cultures that I heretofore knew nothing of.  I think I could spend the rest of my life reading about the things I discovered on this trip alone.

At 2:30 I hobbled over to the Hällisch Fränkisches museum, a museum documenting the history of Schwabisch Hall.  I love this museum, and have been there twice before.  This time, as before, they gave me a booklet in English which I used as my guide.  I particularly love their exhibit of the annual fair that still occurs in the nearby town of Mainheim, as well as the intricately painted wooden panels of the walls of an attic used as a Jewish synagogue for many years. The only reason it didn’t get destroyed on kristallnacht was because a Christian family owned the house at that time, and the zealots didn’t know of its former use as a house of prayer.  I stayed at the museum till 5pm, closing time, then walked around town, or rather hobbled.  My toe put a kibosh on my usual fast walking.  Unfortunately I hadn’t made it to St. Michael’s church while it was open, nor to Johanniterkirche, the church housing religious art that was part of Kunsthalle Würth.  I decided I’d come back during my travels in Germany.  I was starting to experience more and more the sense that I hadn’t seen enough, and the feeling that my travel style was too in depth.  It’s hard to strike a balance between getting to know a place and seeing a broad spectrum.

From Schwabisch Hall I decided to try to find Waldenburg, a walled city that Anne Thomas Ruecker had introduced me to on my last visit.  I remembered its beauty and the lovely buildings and thought I might be able to find it using driving braille.  And sure enough I did.  Via a small country road practically driving through fields.  I didn’t remember its name, only its position on the hill.  I parked and walked as well as I could along the outside of the city wall, trying to decipher the signs in German that explained places of interest.  I came upon a rollicking group of Poles who had druck one too many Slivovitz, a kind of plum brandy popular in Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic.  I tried some but it burned my throat.  We had a warm and convivial conversation, and I was struck by the differences in culture between the Poles and the Germanic peoples, though from the tiny sample size I’d experienced, not enough to make generalisations.

My notes for myself then back, dinner and bed – woke at 9:30am, tired, finally out and at open musuem at 11am – spent till 2 there, then to Waldenburg again, left at 4pm for Rotthenburg ob de tauber arrivved at 5pm parked near banhoff, walked through old gate toward main square, most things closed, still limping walkded to outside wall castle gardens extremely hot 93F, everyone looked wilted, 2 Xmas stores, some nice hand carved Xmas trees which are apparently done in villages near the Czech border, lots of over the top Christmas scneese – I liked the one cutout of wood that showed tradiional German Xmas, also the candle drriven carousels – walekd as much as I could, looked at buildings, church closed, went back,

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