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





Eat, Play… Live (Essen, Spielen…Leben)

EAT: I’ll admit, I had a preconceived notion of what German cuisine would be like.  Mostly the atmosphere of the restaurants; dimly lit, heavily cloaked in velvet, with antler décor and many food items containing blood.   We have yet to see anything like this here in Nuremburg, quite the opposite. The local eateries are very modern, gorgeous well-lit interiors, with bent wood furnishings, felted wool place matts and seat cushions, many including vegetarian options. Our first food experience was a vegan place just a few blocks from our apartment, we were eager to get a break from the jamón of Spain. The girls happily consumed lentils and rice, while Bernie and I tried the Veggie Burgers mine was called the Monkey Burger and yes it contained sliced bananas and had a peanut sauce and was quite delicious.  The second day we wandered into another well-designed establishment and I ordered a green bowl. We thought this was just a regular coffee shop, but to our delight they had a variety of wholesome and delicious food offerings, reminding us of home. Later in the week we stopped at this nondescript place called HOT TACOS.  The exterior was understated but to our surprise, the interior very quirky and quit charming and the food excellent.  This place was run by a New York born grown-up English speaking military kid, who was very friendly and took much pride in his establishment and could not figure out why we would leave Maui for this weather. They enquired if they could return home to Maui with us.

PLAY: We have discovered well-designed organic play structure, after play structure here in Germany. As our Waldorf friends know, our play structure at Haleakala was imported and built by German Engineers. I am coming to realize that this type of design is not unique to Waldorf Schools, it is just how the Germans design.  The structures are high off of the ground, daring, challenging, entertaining our girls for hours (or as long as we can bear the cold).  Grace said “Mommy can we go to the stick park?” A park we had missed while walking to the Kinder Museum. This structure is all but camouflaged to anyone who is not on the constant look out for a park. Contrary to the parks in Portugal and Spain, while prevalent, all appeared to be designed for small children 4 and under.  I have learned in my parenting that risk taking is a necessary part of a healthy development, that the girls need to experience danger to a certain extent in order to thrive, grow and learn to moderate themselves.  We have found that the Germans have incorporated this tree-climbing element into their design. The girls have been delighted by changing fallen leaves and begged to make piles to jump into, while I freeze.

We found the Spielzeug Museum at last, containing 600 years of toy making history. The girls enjoyed it, but had more fun the previous day at the Kinder Museum.

Live:  As we have told ourselves and others, our mission for this journey was not only to see new places but to really live in that place  and experience the daily life.  We are accomplishing that.  Amidst the touristing, visiting some local sights we are shopping at little markets for groceries, playing on the playgrounds, taking local transportation (the U-bahn) yes we have become quite accomplished in this.  We must look like we know what we are doing, so much so that a woman asked me to help her with the ticket machine in some foreign language (maybe Russian?). We love the U-bahn all of my public transportation fears assuaged by the expedient, clean and efficient transportation €11.40 (all-day ticket for our family). To our surprise no one has checked our tickets it seems to be the honor system, I question if the penalty is so severe that no one dare risk it.  Below are some clips of street entertainers and people out strolling about on a Sunday afternoon.  Exiting the U-ban yesterday, hear what we encountered:

Loving all things German, my husband, our school, the Mini Cooper, the country, etc.


P.S. Comments are totally welcome and invited we love hearing your thoughts.

Nuremburg, Germany…my return to the Fatherland

My deep roots are German on both sides of my family so this country understandably has a familiar and comfortable ‘feel’ to me personally. I last visited Nuremburg when I was a senior in high school (way back in the time machine in the year 1975). I was a regional winner in a national high school German language contest and the prize was a trip to Germany along with several dozen other high school students from all over the country. Each student was placed with a German host family where we ‘lived’ for several weeks and also attended school for a brief period. There were special bus trips arranged to Munich and Berlin (at that time there was still an East Berlin under Russian occupation and West Berlin). I recall that we were even briefly allowed to cross the check-point into East Berlin as part of the trip! Of course, there were also a few visits to some famous medieval castles. After countless years of  ‘not using it and losing it’, my German is now very rusty to say the least and I now wish that I had the time to ‘relearn’ German again before embarking on this admittedly impulsive world travel adventure with my family. But we have not had any real communication problems since most of the locals that we have interacted with speak at least a little bit of English.

My father’s family hails from the Nuremburg area and I recall him telling me about one of his first jobs as a youth working for Grundig. I miss my father very much and some days it is hard to believe that it has been almost 18 years since his passing in 1999. In a couple of days we plan to take a short bus trip to the neighboring village of Rostal where my grandfather on my father’s side is  buried in a church cemetery. I recall my father telling me that his father was somewhat of a dissident and frequently got into trouble with the authorities. I regrettably never met my grandfather since he died in his 50’s and never made it to America with the rest of his family that emigrated after WWII ended. I see this as a rare opportunity for our girls to visit the cemetery of their great-grandfather and to learn a bit of their ancestry.

Emboldened by our experience with the public transportation system in Barcelona, we decided to take the subway (U-bahn) to explore the Altstadt (literal translation: old city) a couple of days ago. There is an intriguing mixture of very old and very new buildings. One building in particular caught my eye; the Neues Museum (literal translation: new museum). It was a museum of contemporary-modern art. No old masters adorning the walls of this museum and frankly, while quite interesting nonetheless, the interpretation of the artists’ intent is usually a bit of a head scratcher. You can decide for yourself from some of the photos attached to this blog. Even if the art exhibits failed to inspire me, the buildings’ architecture and helical stair did impress me.


On Friday, we visited the Rudolph Steiner-Schule (Waldorf School) in Nuremburg. We contacted the schools’ secretary thru their website (all in German of course) and requested permission to visit the school with our three children who attend the Haleakala Waldorf School on Maui. The secretary was very accommodating and arranged for one of the schools’ teachers (Julia Schlagbaum) to greet us and give us a private tour of the campus and to answer any questions. Julia teaches French and English at this school (which are the two languages that are taught at this Waldorf School as part of the curriculum). We learned from her that the Nuremburg Waldorf School is one of the largest in Germany with approximately 950 students in grades K, 1-13. It was raining pretty hard the day that we visited the school so we only got a quick tour of the grounds but enough to recognize the Waldorf gardening area and extensive playground areas. We also got to visit the 4th grade classroom and noted the familiar artwork on the walls and chalkboard (celtic knots) and the kindergarten classroom. A large addition was constructed about 17 years ago that included a ‘bistro’ gathering area at the main level which appeared to be very popular with the staff and older students. We also saw the impressive kitchen which prepares the hot lunches daily (3.75 Euros). The tuition is a surprising 350 Euros per month with even lower rates for siblings…..hmm. All in all, it was a good experience for all of us (even our youngest girls, Eleanore-2nd Grade and Grace-Kindergarten) to see and connect with another Waldorf School on the other side of the world! As we were leaving, the schools’ secretary surprised us by giving us a copy of the book “Der Sonne Licht” (translation: The Sun’s Light), which is a wonderful compilation of poems and stories used as a textbook by Waldorf teachers.


Saturday we started out with the intent of visiting a popular Toy Museum (Spielzeugmuseum) which displays over 600 years of German toy history and instead ended up at a Kindermuseum (Children’s Museum) instead (I misread the city map!) We decided to check it out since our children were already familiar with similar museums in other cities (St. Paul, Minnesota and Chicago). The very interactive museum was a big hit and we spent several hours on the three floors of the building which covered everything from life at the turn of the century to organic farming, sustainable development and greenhouse gases (ie., global warming – of course).

We also managed to get a ‘bit of shopping’ in as well! More posts to come. Stay tuned.