Postcards & Passports

Germany: Family, History, & the Autobahn

This post was most recently updated on November 13th, 2017

We visited Germany for the first time a few years ago.  Our goal was to celebrate the end of my son’s senior year, explore some family history, and reunite with a German foreign exchange student who had lived with our family nearly six months. We only had a week, and we fit in a lot of sightseeing, too, but I’m just going to touch on the highlights of Germany–family, history, and the Autobahn!

Driving on the Autobahn

Renting a car was a must for this trip because driving on the Autobahn had always been on my husband’s bucket list! It was great because drivers observe the passing lane rules, and they definitely get out of your way if you’re the one going faster! Here’s a short video of our car going 144 km/hr (90 miles per hour) when another car passes us on the left (going much faster!)

Autostadt

I don’t think you can talk about the Autobahn without also mentioning the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany.  It’s a visitor attraction with its sole focus on cars–next to the Volkswagen factory.  You could easily spend an entire day here!  There’s a car history museum, hands-on exhibits, auto design demonstrations and shows, beautifully landscaped grounds, a restaurant, and the most amazing car elevator tower!  If you’re in the area, just go!  It’s a lot of fun.

Home of my Ancestors

My German ancestors actually lived a little over an hour from Frankfurt, in the Rhine River valley. So that’s where we headed next–to a small town called Fehl-Ritzhausen.  In the 1500’s, some people never traveled any further than the next town–and that was the case for many of my ancestors (my maiden name is Zehrung). They lived in Fehl-Ritzhausen and traveled about 6 miles to the church in Bad Marienberg to attend church, to be married, to christen their babies, and to bury them. Fehl-Ritzhausen is still rolling farmland, much like it was then. Bad Marienberg is the same. There, in Bad Marienberg, is a church standing in the same location it has for hundreds of years, the Kirche Evangelische.

The church has been damaged by fires and re-built, but the original stone font used for christenings has been there since the 1300’s. The caretaker gave us the key and let us have the church to ourselves for as long as we liked. Here, my relatives were married, made vows to God and to each other, and brought their precious babies to be christened. I felt close to them standing here where they had stood. My ancestors made incredible sacrifices to stay true to their religious beliefs. They eventually left Germany to immigrate to the United States in 1751, where they could worship freely in the church of their preference.

More Family History in Germany

Our family history adventure has a second chapter.  After visiting the church, we made our way to Friedrichsdorf, another small town with a significant religious edifice–the Frankfurt Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Germany: Family, History and the Autobahn

In my family history records, there were a lot of births recorded but no more information.  We could not learn if those precious children had died, lived, or immigrated.  Because I believe all of God’s children have the chance to be with Him again, I wanted to be baptized by proxy for those who may not have had the opportunity while living on earth.  Here at the LDS temple, we could do just that, and it was a very sacred and moving experience for us.

History of Germany

Another highlight was all the rich history we encountered in Germany.  Our sightseeing took us to the ancient Mainzer Dom, the Marksburg castle, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and the Residenz Palace in Wurzburg.  The Mainzer Dom is a 1000-yr old Roman Catholic cathedral in Mainz near the Rhine River.  Just upriver from Mainz and above the sleepy town of Braubach is the Marksburg Castle. It was built in 1117, and is the only castle along the Rhine River that was never destroyed.  Our tour of the Marksburg castle was very interesting, and the castle has been well-preserved.

From there we went to stay a night in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, founded in 1170.  We particularly enjoyed the Nightwatchman’s Tour and also sampled Rothenburg’s famous Schneeballen. Here you can find the famous German Christmas store, Kathe Wohlfhhart. In the midst of this ancient medieval city, it is pure joy to walk into this Christmas “disneyland”! But the best part of Rothenburg is the walkway on top of the city walls. You can see across the tops of the homes, look down into courtyards, and explore the lookout towers and cellars.  There was quite a contrast between the medieval Rothenburg and the Residenz palace in Wurzburg, completed in 1744, which included lavishly decorated rooms with ornate embellishments, beautiful art, and a royal touch!

Buchenwald

There was one more chapter of German history we wanted to experience.  And since our son was with us, we felt it would be good for him to be exposed to it as well.  We drove to the Buchenwald Concentration camp near Weimar.  The skies were drab and the entrance shrouded in fog. That seemed fitting to us. There are a few barracks, prisons and a crematorium still standing.  It was enough to imagine how horrific a place this was for those imprisoned here. We didn’t have to stay long to have the feeling of the place engraved in our hearts. The victims deserve to be remembered.

Visiting our Foreign Exchange Student

Finally, we met up with our former exchange student (who might as well be family!), and he gave us a tour of his hometown, Oldenburg.  When he lived with us in San Diego, he used to tease us because nothing here is older than the 1800’s.  In Oldenburg, as in most of Germany, a LOT of city buildings and residences date back to the 1500’s or earlier.  That’s pretty cool! It was right before Easter, so our activities included an Easter bonfire, flower markets, museums, and visiting Timo’s grandfather’s sod farm. We found Germany to be an amazing place, with very friendly and helpful people, and beautiful cities and landscape.  I highly recommend a trip to Germany!  I’d love to hear about your German explorations–where did you go?  What have you done?

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19 thoughts on “Germany: Family, History, & the Autobahn

  1. Heather

    What a cool place! I must admit that Germany has not really been on my list of places I want to visit, but after seeing your pictures I’ve had a change of heart. 🙂

    1. Tami Post author

      That’s been my experience with travel, Heather. I dreaded my first trip to NYC thinking it would be a dirty, crowded city. Little did I know how wonderful it would be–so much energy and so much diversity! There’s been something wonderful about every place I’ve gone!

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  3. Kavey at Kavey Eats

    Love that you visited Germany to discover more about your ancestors and to learn more about the areas in which they lived. The autobahns are such an experience, they work only because drivers there are sensible about lane discipline. Here, too many people just sit in the middle lane rather than move back to the slower lane if it’s empty, which makes the whole thing much more confused!

    1. Tami Post author

      You’re right about the Autobahn. The drivers are very conscientious and disciplined about only using the fast lane for passing! Everything moves along much better and faster as a result.

  4. Indrani

    That seems like a complete tour of different elements that Germany offers to its tourists. I have visited in bits and pieces. A dedicated tour is my dream particularly of Berlin. The concentration camp pics are a bit sad though.

    1. Tami Post author

      I’m sure you’d love Germany. And yes, the concentration camp was sad, but probably a must-do anyway, to honor the victims.

  5. noel

    What a fascinating tour of the area and story connecting to your heritage, I love that historic city which I have not visited since highschool almost 30 years ago, yikes!

  6. Darlene

    Awesome trip to Germany. Would also like to experience the autobahn someday. And visit that car elevator tower! Been curious about that since I saw it in natgeo!

    1. Tami Post author

      The car tower is very unique, for sure. Definitely worth a visit! I’ll bet you’d like the Autobahn, too.

  7. Megan Jerrard

    Sounds like this was quite a significant trip – how incredible to trace back your family history and visit such an important part of your lineage. And I agree with you on visiting concentration camps that while sobering it’s important that we remember even the darkest parts of history, because the victims deserve to be remembered.

    Germany has so much to offer, glad to hear you had a wonderful time 🙂

    1. Tami Post author

      Thanks, Megan! It WAS a significant trip, and Germany is at the top of my list of countries to re-visit — there’s so much I didn’t get to see, and I’d love to return.

  8. Punita Malhotra

    Connecting oneself to one’s ancestors and family history is a fascinating, uplifting experience. And Germany is such a wonderful country. We’ve been on the Autobahn and loved all the towns we saw on the way, specially Rothenberg.

  9. Christopher

    I enjoyed Germany when I visited in 2014, in fact I was there when Germany won the World Cup and beat Brazil. I will never forget it. I was with my cousin. The autobahn freaks me out but I imagine you can get used to it as sometimes driving the speed limit seems too slow. I really love how you described visiting the church where your family was baptized, married and died. I got goosebumps.Love the fact that you were able to stay there as long as you liked. Powerful stuff! Great post! Love the pictures too… 🙂

    1. Tami Post author

      Thank you, Christopher, for your kind comments. It really was a wonderful experience for me — especially visiting the church of my ancestors! The Autobahn was a thrill too. 🙂

  10. Elisa

    Good that you could find some bits of your family’s history in your trip to Germany, it must have been a very special moment for you. Funny your husband’s autobahn thing, my German boyfriend cannot drive over 120km/hours on the autobahn when he is with me, ha haa

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