a visit back "home" Germany

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Report from David Gnadinger, Louisville 1st October 1994

Well, its been a pretty excititng summer for us too. On Sep. 3, we went over to Switzerland to visit with Nik and his family!

Stations of David's visit (pdf 536KB)

Well, ist been a pretty exciting summer for us too. On Sep. 3, we went over to Switzerland to visit with Nik and his family! We thought it over and decidet that there woud be nothing that we could do in retirement that could top an experience like this (assuming that we are both blessed with the retirement years). And if we had to dip into my retirement “fund” for this trip – fine. We also figured that this would probably be the last time that we would go on vacation as a complete family. My oldest daughter ist 19, going to college, and working. In all likelihood, she won’t be going with us any more. And what a way to spend our last vacation together (as least probably for some years)!

When I look at things like this, I have to look past the realities of the private elementary, high school, and college tuition that I have to pay for the girls – and my wife (she’s in college, too) – and inevitably 3 expensive weddings in the future, and some kind of savings for, hopefully, our retirement years. I was really nerous about the cost. And, nervous about entering a strange country where the rules are different, and we would be a long way from home.

It’s amazing how things work out. We picked that particular time to go because Wiesholz, Switzerland, was celebrating its 900th birthday on the weekend of Sep. 10 and 11. Nik had written to tell us about it and invite us. Wiesholz is one of five small villages that make up Ramsen, Switzerland. It is here that Nik and I have found the earliest records of Gna(e)dingers anywhere in the world and, almost surely, where our Gna(e)dinger families originatet from before coming to America. We lived in Wiesholz for the entire time that we were over there, staying with Nik and his parents in their house in the village.

We had all but decidet that it was going to be too expensive to go right now when suddenly one day at work I received a fax from Nik excitedly asking if we were coming over to join him on a “Swiss Expedition”. He folowed the fax with a phone call. I added Judy on to the telephone conversation. When we hung up there was no doubt that we were going. How many oportunities does a person get to visit a country like that, live with the locals in their house (like you did when you went to the Netherlands!), go on a personal, guided tour of the country, and participate in the 900the birthday of a villae where your family probably came from 200 years earlier? Yu can’t say no to a proposal like that. We no sooner agreed to go, when I received word that a suggestion that  I submitted at work (one of many that I have collectet on) was accepted and I had a check on the way that almost covered the cost of the plane tickets! I had to wonder if there wasn’t a little divine intervention!

Judy and two of the girls had never flown before. Becky had flown to Chicago earlier this summer with one of her girlfriends woh moved there with her mother and I’ve flown many times with work and when I was in the military. So, for three of the four, the adventure began when they climbed on the plane. Judy, Jennifer and Christina held hands and shook when the plane took off the first time. Becky and I (the veteran fliers!) calmly read our books that we took along. We flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where we changed over to the international leg of the flight. From there we flew to Amsterdam (we couldn’t get off the plane) and on to Stuttgart, Germany. Nik, and his girlfriend Regula, picked us up at the airport.

None of us had ever been outsiede the U.S. before. For me the magic began when I stepped off the plane in Germany. Just to be standing on German soil and breathing the air – it didn’t seem real. And here I was seeing so much of what I’d only read about and looked at on maps during my family research. I still can’t believe that I was actually there.

Immediately when we left the airport, our “Swiss Expedition” began. Nik said it was etter that we stay busy and get on their schedule to avoid jet lag (it neer bothered us in either direction). We dorve across Germany toward Switzerland and made our first stop at the Titisee in Germany, a beautiful lake and resort area, where we had our first German meal and Nik and I experienced our first German beer together (there’s still some of the German left in me!) From there we went on to the Black Forest area, Freiburg. This is the area where some of the Gna(edingers lived at different times. I took along my brother’s video camera and was filming all the way. From here we headed on to Switzerland where Nik asked the border guards to stamp our passports so that we could prove to ourselves later that we’d really been there.

Switzerland was magical. The villages were like one Disney World after another. The first major village that we entered was Schaffhausen There we saw the Rhein Falls, and toured the castle that overlooks the village The style of the houses in the villages are unmistakably Swiss. It was more than we could take in at once. And the flowers. I’ve never seen so many flowers in my life. Virtually every window, and every garden, was abolutely filled with colorful flowers. In the cemeteries (we visited seeral) the plots were convered completely with flowers – no grass to be seen! In Switzerland, a grave ist reused after 50 years and the tombstone ist turned over to the family. They bury the next person on top of the last.

That area of Switzerland and Germany is very heavily Catholic and they are very strong in their beliefs. In many places – in the hills, on street corners, in the yards – there were shrines. These were almost always Crucifixes with many flowers around them. Every village had at its center, and frequently at the highest point, a church. We attendet mass at the Ramsen Church (Catholic), which was about 3 minutes from where we were staying. Like most of the chrches, the cemetery was around, or adjacent to, the church. And, after mass, many people stopped to pay their respects at many of the graves.

The next stop that we made on the first day was in Stein am Rhein. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful that we saw, and we were there several times during our stay – it is only about 10 minutes from Ramsen. This village, like so many, has many buildings that have the building’s history painted on it in the form of eautiful art and decorative wording – including much about the family that owns the building Most of the buildings have been in the same family for centuries. The artwork on the buildings in Stein am Rhein is particularly beautiful. We walked the streets, stared, and photographed, and occasionally went insiede a shop to look around. I felt completely safe and unthreatened. Most of the paintings have survived 300 years and longer, and many of the castles date back to the 7h and 8th century.

During our stai, we toured a number of the castles – of which there are many. We visited Konstanz, Germany, and took a ferry to Meersburg, across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) which I have read of so many times – what an experience to be standing there looking at it and breathing the air! As we left Meersberg we headet ack along the German side of the lake to Goldbach – where Ludwig Karl came from – more magic! All of these places are within about 45 minutes of Ramsen (it can take that long to drive from the east to the west side of Louisville, and we’re not that big of a city).

Goldbach was a pretty little German town that was bustling with activity when we arrived. Very neat and clean and picturesque. It was more modern looking then most of the Swiss villages we saw. Germany’s towns and villages weren’t as decoratet with art and flowers as the Swiss – but very nice in their own way. Nik is trying to come up with more on Ludwig. He said his enthusiasm has definitely increased since our visit.

From Goldbach we headet on to Ueerlingen where we visited what is called the “City Garden”. This is an outdoor conservatory of flowers – gardens of roses, cannas, and huge banana trees – spectacular! With so many flowers everywhere that you look, in the villages, it’s hard to belive that a garden would stand out as this one does.

Our next stop was in Singen, Germany, another like so many of the villages, and from here we found our way back to Schaffhausen, and on into Ramsen. We visited many of the little villages along the way. Each was jsut as beautiful as the next. The cars somehow looked out of place and didn’t belong, but with so much to look at, we really hardly noticed.

The only major cities that we visited were Zurich and Lucerne. In so many ways, they were like so many other big cities – the traffic, and the hustle and bustle. But they were distinctively different in other ways. In Zurich, we visited the “Gnadinger Cafe”, a large establishment that is owned by Gnadinger’s from Ramsen. Zurich was an interesting city to visit, but one thing really stood out. The foundations of most of the city buildings are covered with graffiti! I’ve never seen one city so trashed out. Some of the graffiti was very artistic but most of it was just plain old graffiti. I can’t imagine why a city as famous as Zurich would allow the people to do that. Nik said that they have a law against it – but it certainly must not be enforced.

Lucerne on the other hand was very clean and free of graffiti For a large city, it’s beautiful. It sits in a valley surroundet by some of the Alps. The one thing that stood out the most here was the bicycles. There were thousands parked along the buildings. I’ve never seen so many in one place in my life – and there were plenty of cars on the streets! It was at this point that we went up into the Alps. The day that we set aside for the Alps, as it happens, was cloudy and rainy. there was no point in taking one of the lifts into the mountains because all we would have seen would have been clouds.

Instead, we drove up as hihg as we could (there’s some villages in the Alps) and then came back down. We visited Stans and Stanstadt, near Lucerne, and this is where we went into the Alps.

Back in Wiesholz, preparations went on all weeek for the big celebration. Most of the houses in the village were built in the 1640’s. They have original maps and documents from the 1500’s and 1600’s hanging on their walls like people over here have $20 paintings. They go beyond any museum that I’ve ever been in. Wiesholz has a population of about 100 people – approximately 22 houses.

Much of what they eat and dring ist served at near room temperature For us who are used to 90’s temperaturs (Fahrenheit) a lot in the six month summer that we have and humidity in the 80’s and 90’s frequently, we found that part somewhat unsatisfying. We drink and eat most everything either very hot or very cold. You couldn’t get ice in a drink in most places Colas were shelf temperature. I was determined to eat and dring the way that they do while I was there – when in Rome! I wanted to experience it all.

Always at the meals was a (room temperature!) bottle of wine, Swiss cheese (of course!), and lots of bread. The breads are baked loaves that they slice themselves, and select at the market the way we select a cut of meat – delicious! and always, when the drings are poured, whether in the home or in a pub, everyone would click their glasses and say “Prost!”, and frequently a toast was offered. There was an air of comradery wherever we went. I don’t dring much beer normally, but I was determined to try some of the German and Swiss beers. I can now report that it was worth the trip!

For me, one of the most magical places that we visited was Wahlwies, Germany. That is the village where my family is proven from, about 150 years ago. We went there and I walked through the Catholic church where so many of my ancestors were married, baptized, and buried so many years ago. I had to wonder when the last time was that a Gna(e)dinger from this country had set foot in that pretty little village. I felt like I was walking among ghosts. here we also visited the cemeery. Nik fund out, quite accidentally, that Wahlwies had also celebrated 900 years, 4 years ago. They stil had one copy of the book published for the occasion, which he bought. It’s in German so I wouldn’t be able to get from it what he could. It’s a very large and comprehensive book that contains many references to Gnadingers – some (and proably most) are my family. We’re hoping that this may provide the link that we are missing to bring our line back into Ramsen.

Originally, I had written to a 20-year-old address that my uncle had received from somewhere in Germany. It was a lady named hedwig bolle (born Gnaedinger) who lives in Singen, Germany (which we visited). She couldn’t read my English so she contactet her brother, Albert, who could. They then got in contact with Luzia Gnadinger (Nik’s stepmother). That is how Nik and I found out about each other. As soon as we were off the plane, I asked Nik about her and Albert. he arranged a visi on the Saturday morning of the celebration. It was a great visit. It’s amazing how much you can convey to each other even when you speak different languages. hedwig is in her late 60’s and has a permanently etched smile on her face – a person that you’ve just got to like! Arthur has very kind eyes and a very entle demeanor. he laughed and treid so hard to convey his feelings in English, which was not very good Also with them was Hedwig’s husband, Hugo. Three very nice people that went out of their way to meet me – someone they only knew from the few leters I’d written. Like I said, Lois, the magic began when I stepped off he plane and neer stopped until we were back home.

We finally made it to the big celebration! That little village of 100 served more than 3000 dinners and completely sold out of bratwursts (very good!) and the other sandwich-type items that they sold. The crowd far exceeded their wildest expectations Gnadinger’s were everywhere. One of them is a very famous painter in those parts. I bought a book about him and his paintings in Schaffhausen and we got a tour of his house, his studio, and his personal gallery. Another of them is a famous actor in Switzerland (they tell me he is VERY famous – reminds me some of John Candy) He was at the festival but we didn’t get to meet him. Both of them are from Ramsen.

The festival started with a big dance on Saturday night. The music was fabulous – as Swiss as I could ever imagine! Everyone dances in couples and jumps and hops to what is usually a rollicking beat. I tried it myself. At one point, one of the band members climbed up onto one of the tables and played an Alphorn (about 7 feet long) to one of the songs. I recordet that and some of the other songs. Beer and wine were in abundance – i saw no one during the night that acted like they’d had too much to drink. About half way through the night, most of the songs turned into sing-alongs. The next time I go, I’m going to know more German so that I can sing along with some of those songs.

Everywhere, you could see the cheers of “Prost!”

For the next day, the entire village was decorated up in its best. many of the villagers had their specialties out and on sale while others had on display many of the artifacts spanning the last 900 years of the towns history. They printed a small history of the town that was made available to those that were interested. And, just like we Americans, they printed up T-shirts and pins for the occasion They even took three turns at what we call “cow pasture bingo”. Have you ever heard of that? They painted a small field into squares and numbered the squares. The squares were then sold for 5fr. each. A cow, or cows, if they proved to be uncooperative, were then turned loose in the field. The winner, who received 250fr., was the “owner” of the square where the first cow decided to relieve himself and plant a “chip”. It was really funny to watch 500 people cheering some cows on, and I’m sure there were some turns of phrase by the announcer, in German. It’s hard to prevent your mind from wondering.

The day after the festival we returned home What an experience! Their main meal was around noon, what we call lunch Supper usually consisted of cold cuts, cheese, that great bread, and wine or beer. The beds were all covered with thick (about 2 inches) feather ticks. The weather there was what we would consider early fall, low 50’s at night, and upper 60’s during the day. The price of most things was easily double what we pay here at home – extremely expensive.

The three things that I found myself saying the most were: danke sehr (Thank you very much!), entschuldigen Sie (Excuse Me! – which I seldom heard said to me), and Wieviel Kosta Dis (How much does this cost? – I wore that one out!)

Overall, the villages were easily the best. When we were in the big cities, I couldn’t wait to get back to the beauties of the villages. The night sky was the most spectacular that I’ve seen since I was very young. Our mercury vapor street lamps are so bright that they have stolen the night sky from us. The girls were amazed. They’d never seen a cloud of stars before.

There were many other experiences that we had with and around the people of Ramsen and the villages. It was a tremendously busy time for us.