Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Eifel, Kreis Daun 20.12.1993: Gothic Churches and Bitte Ein Bit

A long and profitable day. Got up around 8:30, the earliest we’ve been able to arise in Germany so far, and had an enormous breakfast, which comes with the room, and makes it a bargain—40 DM/night for each of us. It consisted of yoghurt (made from cream!), mine hazelnut and Steve’s raspberry, an omelet with bacon and green onion, slices of raw and cured ham, a cheese similar to Camembert, bread, waffles, jam, coffee. Even my teeth feel coated with fat: I worry about my cholesterol intake in Germany. All is cream, butter, cheese, meat. The food has been generally okay, never scintillating, but never bad, either.

After breakfast, we drove to Dockweiler, about a mile from Dreis. Stopped at a bakery to ask how to find the parish priest, and the owner very kindly offered to call him for us. It turned out the priest was to arrive at 10:30—a half hour after we arrived.

The man took us to the priest’s secretary’s house, and then the priest (Pastor Florin) arrived almost immediately. He brought us to the rectory, which is now unused, since he serves 7 or 8 parishes and lives in Kirchweiler, another of Steve’s ancestral villages.

They brought out the parish records, and we went through the Familienbuch, which arranges births, deaths, and marriages in family groups. We traced Steve’s family back to ca. 1720 in Dreis, Dockweiler, and Hohenfels/Kirchweiler.

There was a sadness re: the rectory, an unused feeling. It was dark and closed. Makes me wonder re: the wisdom of Pope JPII’s backwards perspective. Catholicism has thriven here since the 740s, but today all seems dispirited—too few priests, too many churches to fill, and a village life that is no longer cohesive, centripetal, centered on the church. The future is not in the past, even if it is in organic continuity with the past.

After the rectory, the church, built ca. 1100, or I should say founded then. It was hard to tell whether the present church dates at all from then. It was a dark and rainy day, and we couldn’t see well inside.

From what I could see, the interior is a rather simple Gothic, with a high alter having a cross of a drooping tree to which Jesus is fixed, with John and Mary on either side. To the right of the alter, on the wall, is a very striking wood carving that looks to be ca. 1300-1400, of the Father holding his dead Son in his arms.

Otherwise (with the exception of nice but not imposing stained-glass windows and pretty angels’ heads “holding up” the wooden ceiling beams), the furnishings and liturgical art are 19th- or 20th-century, and not very fortunate—a back side chapel to the Sacred Heart, icons of the Holy Family, a horrible banner on the altar.

There seems to be a Franciscan influence hereabouts. The bakery owner told us of a Dr. Schneider, a Franciscan from this area, who is a clarissimus in Rome. (Schneider is one of Steve’s ancestral lines. And what the heck is a clarissimus?) And he (bakery owner, who never told us his name) had a brother who was a Franciscan.

The outside of the Dockweiler church, which is dedicated to St. Lawrence, is pretty, especially against the fields and hilltops of the Eifel. The cemetery is a puzzle—no early graves, even 19th-century ones (why not?), and an ugly, dark, embarrassing monument to those from the parish who died in WWI and II, which we found replicated at the Kirchweiler church. On both, we found Steve’s family names—Schäfer, Sprüncker, Lamberty, Schneider, Meyer).

After Dockweiler, drove ca. 1 P.M. to Daun, where we did banking and went to a Schneider bookshop we had seen the previous night. The owner (I supposed her to be) does very attractive watercolors of the region. We chose one of a church seen across a lake that has the sun reflected in it.

She denied kinship with Steve, as Germans seem quick to do when it comes to names shared even in small villages: they seem to restrict kinship to recent relatives, those who can be easily traced. But she was nice, a vivacious 65 or so, spry with short gray hair worn in a straight fringe cut around her head. There was also a nice woman in the shop of around the same age who spoke a bit of English and had visited Florida last year. We find hardly anyone—not even the parish priest—who speaks more than a few words of English here.

Is this region isolated? Did Nazis thrive more here as a result? There was a really scary young skinhead in the hotel bar last night. I kept waking in the night thinking he was in the room. Something re: these villages—the animal skins on the walls, the Gemütlichkeit itself, the old men drinking bitterly in bars—tells me there’s a shadow side, one that lends itself to fanaticism like Nazism.

After Schneider’s, we had coffee at a very cozy bakery, where I had a streusel cake with raspberries and (of course) whipped cream, and Steve an apple strudel.

Then to the Verbandgemeinde, where Steve found the civil report of his emigrant ancestors’ marriage, as well as a typed copy of some record having to do with their emigration. It states that the son of Johann Schäfer and Anna Maria Lamberty—Johann Wilhelm—could not leave Germany till he had completed his military service, a fact that corresponds to Steve’s family stories. His family tradition is, in fact, that the family left Germany because they did not want their sons serving in the Prussian army, and that the son Wilhelm came after finishing his service, joining the family in Minnesota. The woman here was especially nice—gave Steve photocopies for free.

Then drove to Kirchweiler as it grew dark. We knocked about in the cemetery, but could not get into the church. It was locked.

Then back to Daun in the rain. The drive along all the roads is really pretty. High hilltops in the distance, topped with mist; green fields (even in winter) with a few sheep; little villages nestled in valleys or on hilltops, with attractive little white churches with domed spires.

The villages have narrow winding streets and old, whitewashed buildings right on the street. But to me, they feel claustrophobic. Could one be gay, even intellectually curious, in them?

In Daun, as night fell, we had supper. It was early, and so they opened the restaurant (shortly after 5) for us. I had fried plaice with salad and potato croquettes and a glass of dry white wine, Steve a deer goulash with noodles and apple compote and a Bitburger beer. Gut geschmekt.

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