Finding German Roots

Dachau entrance

My partner, Morris, was born in Germany, but came to the U.S. with his parents as an infant when they immigrated. Ever since I’ve known him, he has wanted to see where he was born (Föhrenwald, Wolfratshausen, Bavaria, Germany) now called “Waldram.” This is his story, not mine. He should be the one telling it, but I doubt he ever will, at least not on the Internet.

His parents were Jewish and fled all over Europe trying to escape the Nazis during World War II. They were successful in evading capture and were in a displaced persons camp near Munich when the war ended. When they had an opportunity to come to American and escape war-torn Europe, they took it and moved to Pittsburgh. There they raised Morris and his two younger brothers that were born after moving to the U.S.

His mother was Ukrainian, his father Polish. We were trying to figure out how many languages his father spoke and came up with 5-7. Morris speaks German and had been attending meetings with a German-speaking club prior to our trip to brush up on the language. He spoke Yiddish as a pre-school child, took German in high school and college, but has forgotten much of it.

When we first planned the tour, he had the idea that he could leave the tour long enough to see the city where he was born. That turned out not to be the case and the travel agent recommend he leave a day ahead, which he decided to do. Because of the different schedules, we had to travel separately. It was a lot of extra expense and trouble, but we both felt he needed to do it anyhow. He might never have an opportunity like this again.

Using the Internet, he was able to find a private guide to meet him at the airport and drive him around.  His guide first took him to the city where he was born, and he saw the hospital where he was born, which is now a bath house. They went to the Registry Office in Waldram where he obtained copies of his original birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license. His grandparents names were recorded in the documents. He didn’t know their names before as his parents would never talk about the past. As far as Morris knows, his father’s relatives all died in the war. He believes his mother may have family in Israel, but doesn’t know who or where they are.

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Former Hospital in Waldram

After seeing the village, which he said was a typical German village with narrow streets lined with houses and shops, he wanted to go to see Dachau Concentration Camp, now maintained as a memorial to those who died there during the Holocaust. Many of the cities we visited later on the tour still have low Jewish populations as so many died during the war. Our tour guide in Austria said there is deep regret for the atrocities of World War II. The Nazi party is now non-existent and even drawing a Nazi swastika as graffiti or giving a Nazi salute can cause you to be arrested. Morris said he looked at each room of the camp and that only two barracks were still standing. The site appears so peaceful now. It is hard to believe the atrocities that happened there.

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Site of former barracks

So, he was successful in finding his roots. I cannot image not having an extended family as I have so many relatives, down to second and third cousins even. But everyone needs to know where they came from in order to know who they are. It was a worthwhile endeavor.

Dachau guard tower

Guard Tower at Dachau

Oktoberfest

Next on the agenda was Oktoberfest, a famous 18 day fair that began as a celebration of Crown Prince Ludwig’s wedding in 1810 (yes). People liked it so much that it continued every year right into current times.

We lost so much time at the slow beer hall dinner that we had only an hour instead of the 3 hours promised by the travel brochure. Some people were not happy and complained that it was the reason they came on the trip. Eventually, those in charge decided to pay the bus driver overtime and extend the time by an hour. Then we received the wonderful news that the bus could not get anywhere close to the fair grounds to drop us off and we would walk 30 minutes there and 30 back to the bus parking area. It was a  Geh aus der Holle (Walk from Hell) Leaders walked as fast as possible so the complainers could have more time to drink beer.

I was half dead by the time I dragged my sore leg up the hill to get there. I saw some stairs and decided to sit there and wait as I was too exhausted to do anything else. Oktoberfest, by the way, is the Wilson County Fair with beer — lots of beer. There was a parade earlier with fancy horses and beer wagons, but we came at the end of the fair and missed it, of course. I saw one stray beer wagon with horses, which gave me an idea of what we missed and aggravated me even more.

The main event at Oktoberfest is beer and drinking. Each major brewery in Munich has a large wooden structure for serving called (appropriately) a “bier hall.” In addition, there are bier tents belonging to other breweries as the bier halls are always full.

Believe it or not, there was one thing I really liked. It was that many Germans at the festival dressed in traditional dress. The guys wear leather shorts called laden hosier. The ladies wear what we would call a square-dancing dress, full skirt with peasant blouse, apron and tight vest. I also liked the kettle corn, but didn’t need to go to Germany to get that.

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Ein zu viel Bier

A German man sat down on the steps nearby. He tried to talk to me in German. I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was saying. Probably, “May I sit here?” Germans are very polite. When I didn’t reply, he sat down, passed out and went to sleep, laden hosier and all. Germans drink a lot of beer, which it is cheaper than water, but do not condone intoxication. Unfortunately, a few folks over indulge and he was not the only one drunk. 

I must admit that German beer is very good with a taste different than American beer. I like the wheat beer best. I asked someone why they did not export beer and was told, “Because they drink it.” When you order a small beer, it is served in a glass that looks like about a liter. 

We decided to leave and try to get back to the bus without leaving another trail of tears. By the time we got down the hill and drove an hour back to the hotel, everyone was half dead. Why didn’t we skip the pork, go to the Oktoberfest and let people eat there, we wondered? 

Since complaining seemed to be the only way to get anything, I complained to the tour director about the walk up the hill at 90 mph and asked him to slow it down to a stroll from now on. Most of the peeps were old and many of us could not walk so fast. It seems that river tours appeal more to older people than young folks.

As long as I’m complaining, the hotel was new and nice, but way too far out of Munich. It was supposed to be closer to the river, but the extra hour we had to drive might as well be on the day we leave Munich as on the day we were there. 

Munich, Germany

Where to begin? Germany is very modern and at the same time very traditional. The people are friendly and cultured. Much of Munich was destroyed in World War II, but has been restored.

We are divided into three groups by the tour director, blue, red and orange. Our blue group was first to leave early in the morning so we were supposed to eat and be ready. However, this didn’t go over well, so the tour director, with the soon to become familiar lack of planning, told everyone to go ahead and eat early if they wanted. This meant the groups leaving hours later crowded the lines at the buffet almost preventing us from meeting the deadline to leave.

After breakfast, we went on another hour-long bus ride getting back to Munich. Then we toured the city by bus. The local tour guide was knowledgeable and pointed out sites, most of which were behind a tree, another building, or a bus. There were no photo ops except what you could grab through the window as the bus whizzed by. We saw only a small sample of the architectural treasures and historic sites.

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We left the bus at the New Town Hall and waited for the glockenspiel to chime.  The glockenspiel is a chiming German clock with life-sized wooden figures that dance around in the clock tower while music plays, a giant-sized cuckoo clock without the bird. The plaza was crowded with tourists waiting to gawk at this silly clock, us included. The New Town Hall building was beautiful, however. It had elaborate architecture and resembled a baroque church. In fact, almost all the historic buildings in Europe seemed to resemble churches.

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Next, we went to eat at a local restaurant which was a “famous beer house.” It might be famous for beer but not for food and especially not for service. Someone (wonder who?)decided to make it easy for those of us who had difficulty climbing stairs and let us use an elevator. We had to go outside and through a storage area to a freight elevator. We all packed on but the elevator wouldn’t work. And so they walked us through the entire beer hall packed with people to use a different freight elevator. By the time we got to the table, everyone else on our tour was already seated and had beer. Being late didn’t matter, though, as we soon found out.

We waited for the food, and waited and waited some more. Finally at last, the food came out a few dishes at the time — three servers for 160 people. When we finally had food, it was pork roast and a tennis ball. Okay, the ball was supposed to be a dumpling, but not what Americans expect dumplings to look or taste like. No one could eat it. I didn’t try, but I’m sure if I had thrown it on the floor, it would have bounced. The pork tasted good, though, and most people had thick slices. Mine, of course, looked like the pork butt and was two big hunks of meat covered with tough skin — lucky me. If I complained I would probably never eat, so I just did my best to consume some of it. There were no sides or veggies at all and the drink was your choice of beer, water, or nothing.

As soon as my Jewish partner saw the pork he went numb. When they had asked about special dietary needs ahead of time, he had specifically told them no pork or shellfish. Anyhow, he sent it back and they gave him a dish of mac and cheese that actually looked better than the greasy meat I had to eat.

The only good thing about this place was the bathroom, which you had to stand in line to use but didn’t have to pay. Most restrooms in Germany are pay toilets and you must have a Euro coin to use it.  You get a coupon when you pay, and you can use that to buy something, a twist on “restrooms for customers only.” If you didn’t have change, you could buy something to get it, then pay and get the coupon. Two purchases to pee? What a place. I became very good at holding it. I though they made pay toilets illegal in the U.S. but we stopped at a truck stop on the Interstate the other day, and guess what? Apparently, they are illegal some places, but a few are still around.

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The blue spot is not a flying saucer. It is a reflection on the bus window. Sorry.

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These are some of the buildings of interest that we saw on our bus tour. I wish I could remember what they are, but I was too busy looking to listen, much less take notes.

 

 

The Journey Begins

Status

I am going on a river cruise! It had been planned for nearly a year, charges paid, arrangements made. According to the travel brochure from Premier World Discovery, it is “Munich’s Oktoberfest & Danube River Cruise,” featuring 2 nights in a Bavarian Village and 7 nights aboard the Amadeus Queen, a riverboat. We were already planning a trip to Germany when the brochure was posted at the local senior center. Perfect! They were marketing to an older population, so it would be less strenuous and easier for me to keep up with the group. I forgot about the other trips we had been looking at with AAA and signed on the dotted line.