A soft landing into Germany, collected by my friend Gunther and driven to my hotel in the middle of this charming Rhineland town about 35ks from Frankfurt.
While the town goes back to Neolithic times, it begins its starring role as a spa town when the Romans propped here. By 1800 it had 23 bathhouses. Around the turn of the 20th century Kaiser Wilhelm11 made the city his unofficial “summer residence”. Following the imperial court, numerous nobles (including Russian ones), artists and wealthy businessmen settled in the city.
Goethe, Dostoevsky, Wagner and Brahms (who wrote his 3rd symphony here) were visitors. The town is also a casino town and rumour hath it that Dostoevsky got thrown out of the casino and did a runner on his hotel bill
The hot minerals springs still sprout in small fountains and indoor springs enhance the town.
About 270,000 people live in Wiesbaden with American Army Europe HQ set to increase its own population to 30,000 in Erbenheim, one of the suburbs.
In WW2 about 30% of buildings were damaged and small pockets of bland 50s/60s rebuilding is testament to that.
But many of the grand villas of the18th /19th century remain. Perhaps it is the number of these grand apartments and villas where European royalty and millionaires once came to “take the waters” that is the trigger for the move to have the town listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Around the town various grand “styles” impose themselves from neo Classical and neo Baroque to faux Florentine and a touch of Rococo.
Now Turkish immigrants mingle happily in the largely pedestrianized and charming town centre where almost everyone speaks English. I am extremely comfortable here, the faces and families remind of a summer Saturday in Sydney
Thanks to the kindness of my friend, Gunther, I am driven to the nearby villages named on the marriage and birth records of my maternal great grandmother and her forebears who are traceable back to the mid 1700s. This is an odd adventure as I had always identified with my Irish heritage and now I am beginning to find, in the directness and bluntness of the Germans, qualities I recognise from my family.
Strange the ways of DNA.
A line of white villages across the northern green and forested Taunus mountains are strung like irregular beads, some with houses showing the wood and mud walls of the 17th century.
It becomes clear that from at least 1700 my people moved between villages – Igstadt, Beckenheim, Naurod, – inter-marrying and leaving branches of the tree amongst and between them all. The once walled village of Erbenheim has been absorbed into the town of Wiesbaden itself
Eight of my Goebel tree were born in the village of Erbenheim but the root of the tree is said to be in 30ks away in Panrod.
In Naurod I find a 20th century grave of a familiar family name from there; in another village the name of the male line shows on a WW2 memorial; while in a third, a Goebel is mentioned ons an 1875 veteran’s memorial.
In Panrod I visited an address I have been given as that of a living relation. He is 92 year old Horst and currently in rehab after a car accident but I am given the phone number of his daughter who now has some aristocratic title. That future encounter awaits me.
These Germans were the first of my line into Australia. They came in the mid 1800s from this Rhine region as part of a Macarthur initiated program to bring wine growers to NSW.
I realise later that the German people, responding to the European uprisings of the 19th century and kicked along perhaps by the upcoming Austro-Prussian war and their own potato famine, were themselves an emigrating people. Indeed I am told that such were their numbers and industriousness, German was once considered a contender for the mother tongue of America.
On my final days of ancestor hunting, I visit the church where the gg grandparents were married. An absolutely delightful Lutheran Pastor Fritz is welcoming; gets out the marriage lines to show me and puts me in touch with a genealogist of the parish. More is to come.
Hospitality and the Rhine.
Besides sharing a number of meals, Gunther’s Jill took me to the famed Rheingau where grape vines tumble down hills and the 12th century former Cistercian Eberbach Abbey once controlled the district’s wine making and now produces some of the region’s best drops.
Then it was off to one of the world’s charming spots, a pub on the Rhine at Eltville where locals share an evening drink under the shadow of the picturesque castle.
A few days later I spend the day on the river – along the UNESCO World Heritage run of it dotted with castle ruins, lines of vines down slopes and a dozen charming villages.
The hospitality of my friends, the palpable closeness of an ancestral line, the charm of the town and its people and the beauty of the Rhine — it is a joy to know that back in time…………