Visiting Family in Hirrlingen, Germany (February 15-17, 2013)

My grandma’s family is from Germany, and this past weekend we had the opportunity to meet some of those relatives and learn more about my family history. We stayed with Annette, who is my grandma’s cousin’s daughter. She is married to Gerd and has three children: Elias, Julian, and Lillith. Annette’s father, Bernhard (my grandma’s cousin) lives in the house right behind them. His wife, Renata, is no longer living. I met Bernhard, Renata, and Annette many years ago at a family wedding. It was hard to believe I was now at their home in Germany, and meeting so many more relatives!

A little background:
My great-grandmother, Cecelia Heizmann, is from Hirrlingen. She had 11 brothers and sisters, and her family lived next to a mill. Her father ground the flour for the whole village. Cecelia immigrated to the US with two of her sisters, Josephine and Sabina. The family members that we met this weekend are descendants of Cecelia’s brothers and sisters who stayed in Germany. Annette contacted me when we moved to Germany and invited us to come and visit for a weekend, and we finally had the opportunity to make the trip.

We left on Friday morning and drove to Hirrlingen. It was less than a 3-hour drive, but it would have been even shorter if the weather had been better. We arrived at Annette’s house just before noon and met her children. Her father, Bernhard, came over for lunch. He doesn’t speak English, but he was so thrilled to meet us – and especially Connor! Annette served a delicious lunch: homemade spätzle, wieners, and a lentil sauce. Charlie talked to Annette about how she makes her spätzle, and she showed us her two different “kitchen gadgets” that she uses to form the noodles. One was like a flat colander that you scrape the dough through with a spatula, and the other was like a large garlic press. I remember her mom, Renata, making spätzle by hand at my grandma’s house a long time ago: she held the dough over the pot of boiling water on a small wooden cutting board and cut the spätzle into the water. Annette tried to explain the specific type of flour that she uses for her spätzle, and gave us the rest of her bag of flour so that we could try it at home.

After lunch, Annette showed us the house and mill where my great-grandmother Cecelia grew up. It was a very short drive just outside of Hirrlingen. The building is still there, but it’s no longer in use as a mill. The water that runs through that area used to run the water wheel that powered the mill, but now it is channeled into the water station that was built more recently. Lorenz (the son of one of my grandma’s cousins) works there and he gave us a tour. We met Marion (Lorenz’s sister) and her family before touring the water station. We also met her husband, Stephan, and two of their children, Stephan and Rebecca. Lorenz took us on a tour of the water station, and Annette translated for us. Charlie was so fascinated with the water station. Connor was having a good time, but by the end of the tour he was out for his afternoon nap. After seeing the water station, we went across to Marion and Lorenz’s mom’s house (Anna – my grandma’s late cousin’s wife) for coffee and cake. We also met Marion’s oldest son, Lorenz’s wife Anita, and their daughter Michelle. Connor slept on me through all the hubbub, but woke up towards the end to ham it up with everyone. We enjoyed wonderful conversations and delicious treats, and Rebecca brought out her clarinet to show Charlie. He was interested to see how the German system was different.

After a while, we said our goodbyes, then picked up Annette’s two boys (Elias and Julian) at home. Next, we were off to Hohenzollern Castle, about 20 minutes away. There was already a lot of snow on the ground, but as we climbed in altitude on the way to the castle, I could not believe how much snow there was! It was so foggy from the snow that we weren’t able to see any good views of the outside of the castle. We parked, took a shuttle bus up the switchbacks to the castle, and took a tour of the inside. It was SO cold outside, and without any heat inside, it felt even worse than outside! The tour was in German, but Annette translated for us as we went. After the tour we took the shuttle back to our car, then tried to get out of the parking lot. Charlie couldn’t get the wheels going because we were apparently parked on a sheet of ice, so Elias and Julian pushed the hood until Charlie gained some traction. From there, we drove to Annette’s brother’s house (Friedrich). Friedrich is married to Carmen, and they have two boys. Their house is beautiful, and Friedrich built it! Carmen is a professional baker, so we enjoyed a slice of amazing cake. They are a wonderful family, and they invited us to come again anytime.

We had a late dinner once we got home to Annette’s. Her husband, Gerd, was home from work so we were finally able to meet him. Carmen had sent homemade soup for all of us, and it was delicious! It was a broth with some vegetables, and what I would call raviolis or dumplings. They were small rectangular pasta dough filled with finely ground meat. I forget the name of them, but Annette said they were created (by monks?) as a way to hide the fact that you were eating meat during Lent. Along with the soup, there were bread rolls and various meats and cheeses. Connor ate a little bit of his dinner, but then he was clearly ready for bed. I took him upstairs and he was out like a light! Connor slept well that night…but Charlie’s snoring kept me up!

Connor storing up energy during our drive to Hirrlingen

Hohenzollern Castle…the only picture Charlie took before the camera battery died

Connor woke up around 7:15, so we all got up, showered, and dressed. We had breakfast, then left for the day’s adventures with Annette and Bernhard. We drove through the Black Forest and made a few stops along the way. It was just about morning naptime when we left, and thankfully Connor just closed his eyes and went to sleep in the car without any fuss. We stopped at a flower shop for Bernhard to pick up a bouquet for his girlfriend (and he later surprised me with a bouquet, too!), then we drove further to a store called Trautwein in the town of Schiltach. Bernhard wanted to take us there to get a sheepskin blanket for Connor. It is so soft and warm! Charlie and I also bought sheepskin booties for Connor. After the next leg of the drive, we arrived at the glashütte (glass-blowing workshop) in Wolfach. We watched the glass-blower make vases, and we even got to “make” our own! We chose the colors and pattern, and Charlie blew when it was time. Annette also made a vase, then we looked through the shop. After picking up our finished vases, we left and drove a couple of minutes to lunch at the Hecht Gasthaus. Bernhard treated us to a fantastic lunch: Charlie had pork loin medallions in a mushroom sauce with spätzle, and I had venison medallions with a cranberry sauce and spätzle. Connor loved his German high chair and ate a big lunch of veggies and pear that I had packed for him.

Finally, we completed our journey and arrived at the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) Museum. The first thing we saw was a huge “instrument” called the Orchestrion. It is mechanical, and sounds like 50 musicians. The coolest thing about it was…I’m related to the man who made it, Tobias Heizmann! Annette and Bernhard were not exactly sure where Tobias falls on the family tree, but based on the dates, they think he was 3 generations before my great-grandmother Cecelia Heizmann. He was the one who bought the mill, and Bernhard thinks that he got the money to be able to buy the mill from selling the Orchestrion. There were many more interesting instruments in the museum, but I missed some of the exhibis because of Connor’s diaper disaster of the century. Let’s just say that I literally had to call Charlie for backup, everything Connor was wearing went into the trash except for his sweatshirt, and the front carrier and my sweater had to be washed once we got home. Once we got Connor cleaned up, we headed across the street to a kuckucksuhren (cuckoo clock) shop. Charlie and I definitely want to buy one as a special souvenir from Germany, but we are taking our time to look and find just the right one. Charlie’s dad says that everyone comes home from Germany with either a baby or a cuckoo clock. While he was stationed in Germany a long time ago, he didn’t get to the cuckoo clock shop fast enough, because he came back to the states with baby Charlie!

We drove about an hour and half to get back to Hirrlingen. Connor finally settled down for a third nap, which meant I got to squeeze one in, too. We arrived for dinner at the home of Elisabeth and Matthias. Elisabeth is another cousin of my grandma’s. She was teary-eyed and hugged us so tightly when she met us! Her son, Alex, also came over with his family: wife Annette, son Sven, and daughter Nina. Nina really loved Connor and played with him all evening! We had a delicious dinner of soup and potato salad. Elisabeth got out her photo album and showed us pictures of our American relatives when she was visiting a long time ago: my aunts, uncles, cousins…and even me when I was a baby! To top off the evening, Elisabeth handed me the telephone and my grandma was there! It was emotional to talk to her while I was surrounded by our German family.

And now he’s storing up energy for our day in the Black Forest!

Schiltach (the town where we stopped for the sheepskin blanket)

Creating our vase at the glashütte

Our finished vase! (front and center)

The Orchestrion at the Schwarzwald Museum

Information panel about the Orchestrion

Tobias Heizmann, distant relative of mine and builder of the Orchestrion!

We all slept well, and Connor woke us up around 7:45. We had breakfast with yet more family! Annette’s cousin Andrea came over with her husband and three boys (Andrea’s mother is one of Bernhard’s sisters). Gerd got out a box of blocks, and Connor had fun playing with Lillith and the younger boys. After breakfast, Annette and Gerd showed us a slideshow of pictures from their trip to Rome the week before. Then it was time to take a group photo, and start the drive back to Hochspeyer! We hit traffic once again, and Connor and I had a nice nap for the last part of the drive.

I am so overwhelmed by the kindness that everyone showed us. We might not be close relatives as far as the family tree is concerned, but based on the way everyone treated us, we might as well have been their children! We had such a wonderful time meeting and getting to know everyone. Annette and Gerd invited us back anytime, and we definitely plan to take them up on their offer. My dad and Marilyn will visit us in March, and we will go to Hirrlingen so that my dad can have the opportunity to meet his relatives.

To any of my family reading this: I apologize if names are spelled incorrectly or if any details are incorrect. Please comment on this post or email me if there are corrections that I need to make!