Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday, 17 June 2018: Hamburg, Germany to Canton, Ohio, USA

Today we traveled home from Germany, after a wonderful month exploring places along the Elbe River, hearing great music in historic churches, hiking in stunning landscapes, and visiting friends. We are so thankful to be home with our family again, and we are especially thankful that our daughters had safe and wonderful travels too.

Our final view of the Elbe from our hotel room balcony
We got up at 7:30 a.m. in Hamburg, with light rain and gray skies in the forecast.  It only took us 45 minutes to get to the airport. We returned the car, boarded our flight to Reykjavik, and were home by 11:30 p.m., a 21-hour trip, given the 6 hour time difference.

During the past month, we have cruised the Elbe River from Saxony, at the Czech border, to Wittenberg, all in the former East Germany. We then drove over 1600 miles, from the Bavarian Alps in the south to the Baltic Coast in the North. At the end of our trip, we met up again with the Elbe in Hamburg, where the river was wide and busy with container ships, pilot boats, ferries, pleasure craft, and tall ships.

Left: Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden.   Right: Timmendorfer Strand on the Baltic Sea
During our driving tour, we followed the life of Johann Sebastian Bach from Eisenach (his birth place) to Ohrdruf, Weimar, and Leipzig, and we heard John Eliot Gardiner and Ton Koopman conduct in the Ring of Cantatas at the 2018 Bach Fest in Leipzig.

Ton Koopman and the soloists take a bow at the July 10th Concert in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
In between visits to cities, we relaxed in spa towns and the seaside resort of Timmendorfer Strand.  We did short hikes in the Berchtesgaden National Park, the Thuringian Forest, and along the Lauterach River in Schmidmühlen.

Hiking with Ströbi (a stuffed bear for Cora) in the Thuringian Forest
We visited our ancestral homes in Schmidmühlen and Elmshorn.  Best of all, we met so many wonderful people -- friends in Berlin, Rosenheim, and Hamburg, and the many church people who helped us delve into our family history records.

Left: St. Nikolai Church in Elmshorn .  Right: Büchner House on the Lauterach in Schmidmühlen
Here is a map of Germany, with our destinations marked in purple.

I also made an Interactive map showing locations on Johann Sebastian Bach's Timeline, and here is a clear and simple Timeline of German History.

To see the trip in chronological order, click on the May 20th Blogpost, and click the back ("earlier") arrows on the posts.

Since we spent a lot of time in the former East Germany, we found it helpful to know some German.  Many of the older people in the East never learned any English in school, so at times we were on our own with my less-than-adequate German.  All I can say is that I got better as time went on.  For prospective German learners, I recommend:
  1. Duolingo (App for learning basic German)
  2. Basic German: A Grammar and Workbook (pdf file) by Schenke and Seago
  3. Andre Klein's Learn German with Stories books (Start with Café in Berlin.)
  4. HelloTalk (App for meeting up with language partners to correspond with)
  5. McGraw-Hill Practice Makes Perfect German Workbooks (Basic German, Complete German Grammar, German Grammar Drills, etc.)
  6. Watch English-subtitled German movies on Netflix
  7. Listen to Bach Cantatas on Spotify
  8. Check out your local university or adult education program. (For Canton, Ohio residents, take a look at
Map: 17 June

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday, 16 June 2018: Hamburg, Germany

After breakfast today, we sat  out on our hotel room balcony overlooking the Elbe and watched container ships go out to sea. Pilot boats guide them, then quickly wheel around and go back to port.

Dan enjoys the breeze out on our balcony overlooking the Elbe River
Then we walked down the terraces to the river and into town.  We came to the Alte Schwede, a huge rock discovered in the Elbe in 1999.

Walking along the Hans-Leip-Ufer path along the Elbe River in Hamburg

Der Alte Schwede
Somehow this huge rock managed to get all the way to Hamburg from Sweden, but nobody knows how. I envied the people swimming in the Elbe, but our friends had told us that the currents (and the ships) can be very dangerous.

Walking along the beach, we came to the Strandperle Biergarten and stopped for lunch. Matjes-Herring (white herring) is served everywhere now.  It came with potato salad, a green salad, and we ordered the local pilsner beer, Astra. Sitting there was like sitting in a Belle Epoch seaside painting. People were playing badminton on the beach and sunning themselves. Dogs and children were chasing one another, and everyone in the beer garden, including the bridal group next to me, was having a great time.

The Strandperle Biergarten on the Elbe River

Astra Beer, a local Hamburg pilsner beer
In the late afternoon, we visited the Elbphilharmonie and the Binnenalster and Außenalster (a beautiful lakeside city park) with our friends. We stopped for freshly squeezed orange juice and Zitrone Omelette (a light lemon cheesecake) at the Alster Arcade, overlooking the magnificent Hamburg Rathaus (City Hall). On the corner was a peaceful demonstration related to the #MeToo movement. Protesters were demanding that women be treated with respect in the workplace.

The Elbphilharmonie
At the Alsterarkaden Cafe. Cora's Ströbi is clearly enjoying himself too.

Hamburg Rathaus
The evening came quickly, and although we went to the Landingsbrücke, we could not find a boat that wasn't already fully-booked.  Dan and I needed to get back to the hotel in Othmarschen to pack since we had to fly home in the morning. We stopped for drinks and small plates at Bistro Scherrer, and ate out on their lovely patio, with the cool breeze, soft lighting, and quiet conversation around us.  But it was so hard to part from our friends. We packed and then sat out on the balcony, watching the river for a while. I will miss the Elbe and its fresh, cool breezes too.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday, 15 June 2018: Hamburg (Altona, Blankenese, Sullberg), Germany

Das Weiss Hotel is very comfortable, and we learned it was a former Consul's home. We had breakfast in its elegant dining room overlooking the Elbe. Breakfast was the traditional buffet we've had everywhere, with the northern Germany addition of creamed herring.

Dan went out for an ambitious morning walk, down the terraces and north along the river.

The Elbe across from the Airbus plant
I stayed back at the hotel and sent some emails, and then took a short walk along the Elbchaussee to see the large mansions that lined the street. Almost all of them had tall gates and hedges, so you could only see the top story and roof of each, so I turned off the Elbchaussee and walked along Bernadettestraße, following our route home from the restaurant last night.  I stopped at Das Kleine Cafe, and enjoyed people-watching there for a time.

Kräutertee und Toast mit Gouda und Tomate (Herb tea and toast with Gouda cheese and tomato)
The florist next to the cafe
Around 2:30, we met up with our friend at the hotel. It was so good to see her!  She took us to Kaffeegarten Schuldt, a lovely 150-year-old cafe on Sullberg Hill in Blankenese. Blankenese is like a colorful Italian village clinging to a cliff above the sea, except you are in Germany, and you are above the Elbe!  It is full of narrow little roads, which she negotiated expertly in her BMW, and lovely gardens and terraces. We visited over cups of coffee and delicious cherry and plum Strüdel.

The view from Sullberg Hill

Waiting for our Sprüdel und Strüdel

Then we went into the city to St. Nikolai, where we rode 75 stories up in the elevator for great views of Hamburg. St. Nikolai church was bombed during World War II, but somehow its tall tower remained standing. Now it is a memorial to the lives lost in the bombing of Hamburg and other cities. The museum in the basement was very sobering and heartbreakingly sad.

St. Nikolai Monument

The Hamburg Rathaus from the top of the Nikolaikirche

Right: Nikolaikirche when it was constructed
Left: The tower that survived after the war
 (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) 
Afterwards we parked in the Portuguese Quarter, and visited the St. Michaels Church, the Hauptkirche of Hamburg. It has three huge organs! I wonder if they are ever played together.

St Michaels
The three organs at St. Michaels
We went for dinner at Krameramtsstube, a restaurant in Hamburg's oldest street, which once was home to shops and grocers' apartments. Today the restaurant is known for its Hamburg specialties, like Pannfisch (pan-fried fish in mustard sauce) and Labskaus (a hash of corned beef,  potatoes, onions, beets, with pickles and a fried egg on top).  

Krameramtsstube in Hamburg
Despite being warned, we ordered an appetizer of Labskaus. I shouldn't admit it, but I thought it was rather tasty--and yet I agree, it's probably not very good for you and not particularly appetizing to look at! We shared several bottles of Merlot and Sprüdel. I ordered the Pannfisch for my main course. Pannfisch is Salmon, Zander (like Walleye) or Wolf Fish (like Seabass) served over mustard sauce, with potatoes and cucumber salad. 

We had such a good time at dinner, but finally had to go back to the hotel. We went straight to bed after a long day of 14,000 steps, but look forward to another day with our friends tomorrow.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday, 14 June 2018: From Timmendorfer Strand to Elmshorn and Hamburg, Germany

After a morning swim and breakfast at the Royal Hotel in Timmendorfer Strand, we checked out and drove to Elmshorn to see where my ancestors came from.  Would Elmshorn be a prosperous industrial city, a quaint market town, or a struggling urban area?

First we drove southwest through Schleswig-Holstein, a farming area, with a lot of dairy farms and pasture land.  The GPS directed us into the outskirts of Hamburg, and then sent us northwest into Elmshorn. It seemed like a round-about way to go!

Dairy farming in Schleswig-Holstein
When we arrived in Elmshorn, we parked alongside The Krückau, a tributary of the Elbe. On the other side sat the blue Kölln silos and plant.  I recognized Kölln as the brand of oats and muesli that I sometimes buy at Aldi back home.

Kölln plant (oats and cereals) on The Krückau
We walked up a pedestrian way and stopped at the Stadtcafé, where we each had a half Brötchen with smoked salmon, tomato and cucumber. Then we went to Heymanns bookstore next door to browse for gifts, and finally we walked up to the Buttermarkt, Elmshorn's quaint little Marketplace.  There was a fruit stand, a flower stall, and more cafes and shops. Right in the center stood St. Nikolai Church. According to records I have, my great-great-grandparents had lived near here on Wedencamp, an old street on the edge of the pedestrian way.

The Buttermarkt in Elmshorn

Strawberries are in season

St. Nikolai Church in Elmshorn

A lucky encounter!
The church was closed, but soon we spotted a woman tacking up a sign for a flea-market on the  bulletin board.  I went over and asked her if the church was ever open during the week. She was so helpful! She led us a block away to the church office, and there I was able to leave an inquiry about baptismal and other church records.  As we were about to leave, we happened to meet the pastor, who very kindly offered to take us on a tour of the church, after he met with people regarding an exhibition relating to the refugee crisis.

We went to Junge Die Bäckerei, a bakery cafe in the Buttermarkt and passed the time with a coffee and a Franzbrötchen, which is like a flat, cinnamon croissant.

Franzbrötchen and other German pastries
Around 2:00 p.m. we walked back to the church just as the pastor was arriving. Fortunately for us, he spoke English. He had spent a year at Duke University, where he studied theology and served an internship in hospital pastoral care. His father was a journalist and an early Fulbright scholar at Columbia University.

He showed us around the beautiful Baroque church, one of the few we had seen that still retained its original Baroque interior. So many other churches had been destroyed during the war, and modern or neoclassical structures had been built to replace them. The original Nikolaikirche had been built in A.D. 1360. It had been destroyed during a war with Denmark-Sweden, and then was rebuilt in 1661, and that was the building we were now standing in.

A tour of the church

Nave and altar

Carved baptismal font
In 1733 an addition called the Schiffers Church had been added. It was a place for the sailors to sit, since at that time Elmshorn was a center for the whaling industry.
The Schiffers Church, an addition to the church
During World War II, the church had miraculously been spared from the bombing, but over the years it faced another challenge. Whenever the Elbe flooded, the Krückau also flooded, and the church was inundated with water.  He showed us a sign on a pew marking the water level in the church after the 1962 flood.  

1962 Flood level inside the church
While Dan and the pastor were talking, I searched on my phone and found a photo of a box and salad serving set that my great-grandfather, William C. Schmidt (1854-1915), had carved after emigrating to America.  He had been born in Elmshorn, and was 21 years old when he came to America. He found work as a carpenter, but later in life he became an architect. I always wondered if his  forefathers had been church woodcarvers, because his ornate leafy carvings reminded me of the kind of carving you often see on Baroque pulpits and organs.

Carved salad set box by Wilhelm Christopher Schmidt (1854-1915)
Carved salad set by William C. Schmidt. Note 1878 date.
Note William C. Schmidt's initials, W Sch, and 1878, on the fork and spoon handles
I showed the photo to the pastor, and he immediately recognized the type of carving (Arcantus). He then pointed up at the ceiling. The same motif was all over the ceiling! He looked at William C. Schmidt's initials and date (1878) on the box, and said that it was possible that William's grandfather might have been one of the church Holzschnitzer (woodcarvers)!

The nave. Note the intricate carvings on the ceiling
Then we were very kindly invited for coffee in a beautiful study, and we sat discussing the history of the church and the present day refugee crisis.  The pastor said St. Nikolai's most important role was teaching German to the refugees, because language was fundamental to meeting all their other needs.  They also assisted refugees with finding housing and basic supplies. It is a difficult role, especially as the government's definition of refugee status has been narrowing.  For example, now Iraq is considered to be a "safe" country, so refugees from there are no longer allowed asylum.

The afternoon grew late and we needed to get to Das Weiss Hotel an der Elbchaussee in Hamburg to check in. The pastor was familiar with the hotel. He said it was not far from Altona, which once was the second largest city in Denmark.  He told us that the large villas on the Elbchaussee were once  owned by the river pilots. Every commercial vessel on the Elbe needs a pilot boat to guide it into and out of the harbor. He also said the hotel was across the street from Jenisch Park, his favorite park in Hamburg. He mentioned some connection with Hans Barlach (or Ernst Barlach?) and the church and the park, but my notes are rather incomplete on that.

He also invited us to a free concert at St. Petri in Hamburg on Saturday.  He was singing in it, and he offered to show us around Hamburg afterwards.  We had plans with other friends for Saturday, so we sadly had to decline.

When we got back to our car, we found we had a parking ticket!  Someone told us that we could pay it at the bank, but when we got there, the teller said we'd have to open an account!  We were then directed to the Rathaus (City Hall) to pay for it. This was a bit of a hike, but fortunately the nightmarish stories I heard about German bureaucracy proved untrue.  We easily found the right office and they were happy to take our 20 Euros and soon we were on the way to Hamburg.

The traffic to Hamburg was another story. It took us a couple hours to go just 30 kilometers. There was so much traffic and construction, and we were at a standstill a lot of the time. It put an end to any hope of going to the 10 a.m. church service in Elmshorn before our flight on Sunday.

We finally arrived at Das Weiss Hotel. We had a beautiful corner room, with windows on two sides,  letting in the cool breezes from the river. The balcony overlooked the Elbe. The river was huge! Large container ships came into the harbor every few minutes, each one guided by one tug towing, one pushing, and one dragging.

We unpacked and sat out on the balcony and watched the commercial vessels, sailboats, water taxis, tour boats,  barges, and even tall ships, make their way through the harbor.

A tall ship on the Elbe
For dinner we went to Landhaus Scherer, about five minutes from the hotel. Since it was late, we just ate in the Bistro.  The waitress encouraged us to try Matjes Filets (a local white herring that had just come into season). It was served with a bacon onion sauce, parsley potatoes, and green beans. One of us got that, and the other got salmon tartar and potato pancakes. Both were great choices.

I mentioned to the waitress that I had not been able to find Rote Grütze (supposedly, a summer specialty in northern Germany) anywhere on our trip, and it was not on the menu here either. She asked the chef, and he offered to make us some for dessert! It came out with homemade vanilla ice cream and a garnish of mint, and it really hit the spot!

Rote Grütze at Landhaus Scherrer Bistro

Map: 14 June

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday, 13 June 2018. Timmendorfer Strand (Ahrensfelde, Ahrensburg, Wandsbek, Travemünde)

Today, since it was gray and spitting rain occasionally, we took a drive to Ahrensfelde where my great-great-grandparents (parents of Wilhelm C. Schmidt) lived later in their lives.

It was just a cluster of farmhouses and fields. We came to a pasture with Holstein cattle grazing and a farmer walking with his sheepdog. Same as perhaps my great-great-grandfather had done?

Dairy farm in Ahrensfelde

Across the way was a field of purple flowers.

Field of purple flowers and windmills in Ahrensfelde
Then we went on to Ahrensburg, stopping for coffee and Franzbrötchen, another North German specialty.  They are like flat cinnamon croissants--totally delicious!

I had to stop in an Apotheke for eye drops, because my eyes have been bothering me. There are two types of drugstores in Germany, a Drogerie (for toiletries and sundries) and an Apotheke (for medicine, whether prescribed or over the counter).  It was hard to explain "dry eyes" in German to the pharmacist, and even harder to understand the difference between the two bottles of eye drops that she was offering me. But in the end, whatever she gave me worked.

An Apotheke in Ahrensburg
We discovered we were much closer to the city limits of Hamburg than we thought, so we ventured into Rahlstedt and Wandsbek, where it suddenly became very urban, with kebab shops and other stores on the main street, and apartments on the side streets.

A sidestreet in Wandsbek on the outskirts of Hamburg
We went back to our hotel in Timmendorfer Strand, by way of Travemünde, where we stopped for lunch at a little cafe across from a fruit and vegetable market. On the menu was schnitzel, potato salad, crepes,  croque monsieur (cross between French Toast and grilled cheese) and Frikadellen (meatballs), and many types of bottled fruit juices.  The food was good, the waitress was very pleasant, but it seemed like the town had seen better days.

A vegetable stand across from the cafe in Travemünde
When we got back to the hotel, Dan took a nap, and I went for a swim. There was a little baby in the pool named Lara. She could be Cora's twin. She makes the same baby noises (with the addition of some German umlaut sounds!) and she loves to shout at strange times like Cora. She loved slapping the water and splashing her parents.

For dinner I just went down to the Edeka grocery store and picked up some Frikadellen Brötchen (cold meatball sandwiches), Waldorf salad, two yogurt smoothies, and some Haagen-Daz ice cream cups. We ate supper on our balcony, and then, as it had become rather cool, we came inside and made hot tea and cappuccino in the room.

After dinner Dan went on and searched for more about my Elmshorn ancestors, and I did a small watercolor of the purple flower we saw growing in the field near Ahrensfelde.

A quick watercolor sketch of the purple flower we saw in Ahrensfelde
On Ancestry, Dan found records for two more generations of the Schmidts in Elmshorn, Peter Schmidt (a shoemaker, born in 1764) and his son Carl, who was born in Elmshorn, but moved to Ahrensfelde later in life. Carl's son is William C. Schmidt, (1854-1915, b. Elmshorn), my great-grandfather, and his daughter Elsie, is my grandmother, whom I remember very fondly.  Oh how she and my Dad would have loved to have known and seen all this!

I have done some packing, because we are leaving for Hamburg tomorrow. I am chatting off and on with Meredith, who is enroute from Barcelona to Cleveland with 24 students in tow tonight. I can't wait to see both girls and share travel stories!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tuesday, 12 June 2018. Timmendorfer Strand, Germany

This morning at 10 am we took a tram ride around Timmendorfer Strand.  The tour was in German, so we didn't understand much, but we saw many hotels, holiday homes, restaurants and shops. It was a good way to get oriented. The breakfast at the Hotel Royal in Timmendorfer was the best we've had so far, a buffet of assorted rolls, cold cuts, cheeses, jams and butter, fruit, yogurt, quark, muesli, and scrambled eggs.

Despite the cool, gray day, we sat on the beach for a while.  At the entrance to the beach, you could rent a Strandkorb, a wicker seat that could be positioned to protect you from the wind and sun.  However, we just spread a blanket and sat on the beach. The sand was warm and comfortable to lie on.  I waded a bit in the Baltic Sea and collected some clam shells.

The beach at Timmendorfer Strand
Back at the hotel, I rinsed off in the pool, and then we had lunch outside at the hotel: baked potatoes with sour cream, and a side salad with pickled herring.  Herring, like white asparagus, seems to be on every menu!

In the afternoon, I got my hair done at the salon next to the hotel. Negotiating what length etc. was a bit nerve-wracking, as my German and the hairdresser's English were not quite sufficient.  But when she was done, I was very happy with it.

We also sent our laundry out to be done. The temperatures were in the upper 80s and 90s during so much of our trip, so it didn't take long to sweat through all of your clothes. It came back freshly laundered, neatly pressed, and each item was wrapped in paper.

In the evening, we had dinner at a Greek restaurant that Dan spotted on one of his walks.  The food wasn't hot enough, but they fixed that quickly, and then the owner gave us complimentary shots of Ouzo, an anise flavored Greek liquer, afterwards.