Germany’s not so final… resting place

As some of you may know who read my recent blog post, I intended to take my family and visit the local village of Roβtal (Rosstal) which is located very near to Nuremburg (about 20 minutes by train). There is a cemetery in Roβtal where my grandfather (my father’s dad) is buried. Before I left for my German high school trip in 1971, my father gave me a little hand-drawn map that showed where the headstone was located within the cemetery. My German host family (their last name was Schwarzbach – I can’t believe that I remember it after all these years!), was kind enough to drive me to the cemetery. From my father’s map, I was able to readily locate the headstone of my grandfather.

We decided to travel to Roβtal for our little pilgrimage on an overcast gray day (perfect, I thought for a visit to a graveyard) the day before Halloween. I had pre-planned our outing to Roβtal a couple of days ahead and thought I knew which subway and bus lines we would need to take. We took the subway (U-bahn) to the Hauptbahnhof (main train and bus station) where we would catch the “S4” bus directly to Roβtal. After 20 minutes of looking in vain for the right bus stop, we finally asked for directions and I was told that the “S4” is actually a train (not a bus). We were directed back to the train station (across the street) and located the right train platform 22 (there are 23) just minutes after the train had left the station. Since the next train was over two hours later, we decided to go back to the Altstadt to do a bit more shopping to kill time. The next two days (October 31 – Reformation Day and November 1 – All Saints Day) are both German holidays where all stores and many restaurants are closed and this would be our last opportunity to do any ‘real (Tiffany) shopping’. After the successful shopping trip (including pillows and jewelry) and a stop at a sumptuous ice cream parlor, we headed back to the subway station and were again distracted by a street musician. After a few minutes we realized that we were cutting it very close if we wanted to catch the next train to Roβtal. We ran thru the train station (no exaggeration) and got on the train as the doors where closing. We were headed to Roβtal.

I briefly looked at a map of the village (online) before we left and was sure that I could locate the cemetery from memory. We headed toward a church (kirche) where I assumed we would find a cemetery in the vicinity (which is often the case). We found the church and a school with noisy children playing in the yard but no cemetery. Tiffany coaxed me to ask someone for directions.  We found a gentleman who was picking his child up from Kindergarten who spoke enough English to point us in the right direction. So we headed off in the general direction that he gave us. A couple of minutes later, a car pulled over on the road and the same gentlemen gave us a bit more specific instructions (he must have assumed and rightfully so that we could not find it on our own).  We finally found a small church and cemetery after an arduous trek up several narrow winding streets. The cemetery looked vaguely familiar to me and actually wrapped around the church. We headed off to find the headstone of my grandfather (Wendelin Stroh). To our surprise, virtually all of the headstones in this cemetery were almost new and the dates inscribed were all fairly recent and most of them were family burial plots. There were no headstones dating back to the time period (early 1900’s) when my grandfather would have lived and died in this village. I was disappointed and confused as to where the old headstones would be. I asked a middle-aged woman that was walking thru the cemetery if there were any other cemeteries in Roβtal. Her English was not very good (about as good as my German), but I was able to learn that there was another small cemetery near the train station stop. So after a quick stop for a bite to eat at a local bakery, off we trekked to find the ‘other cemetery’. We walked and walked and finally found the other cemetery. It happened to be across the street from a pleasant little florist shop. The girls wanted to buy some flowers to place on the grave of their great-grandfather and they each picked out a single rose that they thought to be special.

The experience at this cemetery was the same as the first one that we found. All of the headstones were very new. I even approached a gentleman that was working in the cemetery and specifically asked about my grandfathers headstone but had no luck. As it was getting late in the day and we were all very tired of walking (cumulatively  – almost 3 hours), we decided to head back to our apartment in Nuremburg. Needless to say, I was sad and disappointed that we had failed to find my grandfathers gravesite. It certainly was not for lack of trying! When we got back our apartment, I went back on-line determined to try to find out what happened to the old cemetery that I had visited almost 46 years go. I must admit that what I discovered next really surprised me! By German law, cemetery plots are actually leased for a period of 15 to 30 years. The fee varies from town to town and is approximately €1,000-3,000 there may be a possibility to renew the lease. Many plots are reused after the lease expiration and the remains along with headstones and any markers are removed.  This is apparently a very common cycle in Germany due to limited space. Basically, it is impossible to find any gravesites that are older than 25 to 30 years since they have been ‘reused’ for the more recently deceased souls. It is very likely that during our arduous search of the cemeteries in Roβtal and reading all the names that we did happen upon the ‘former’ gravesite of my grandfather and were just unaware of it at the time. Learning that the burial plots in Germany are ‘reused’ did offer me some consolation that our search was not in vain.

Digital Screen Albrecht Dürer

On the German holiday of Reformation (think of the famous Martin Luther and the 95 theses – basically propositions for changing the Catholic Church doctrines that Luther disagreed with), we went to visit the Albrecht Dürer Haus (House) and museum. The house is where Durer lived and worked with his wife almost 600 years ago. The museum does not actually have much of his original artwork since his coveted drawings, woodcarvings and paintings are in permanent collections all over the world. Instead it contains digital screens with images of his art and reproductions made by  German artists. I have personally had a fascination with some of his art work (especially the fine line drawings) since I was in high school and first visited Germany on the 500 year anniversary of his life.

We feel as though this trip has been a success as we shipped back two large boxes via DHL filled with Chocolates, Lebkuchen and Sausage for my mother.  My mother said to me during our summer visit to North Dakota “If I could I would fly to Nuremburg buy Lebkuchen and get on the plane and go back home again.”  I must admit this was largely part of our decision to fly into Nuremburg specifically, to fulfill this wish. We have already decided to come back and see more of the country, we hope on our next visit to Germany we will persuade (kidnap) my mother to accompany us.

photo credit: Grace Stroh