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!)
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.
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!
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?
If you enjoyed this post, please share it so others can, too: