Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Braunschweig(2) 7.1.94: Henry the Lion and Hitler Youth Cousins

5 P.M. W. and M.: 3 sons, J., P., and T., and a daughter, M. J. is making a lawyer, Peter a doctor, and T. an architect. M. seems very maternal, concerned re: the children even now that all are away from home, and she seems a bit sad that the house is empty. She volunteers at the Wolfenbüttel library a few days a week, and seems to find other ways to deal with her loneliness as well—collecting soup tureens, all white and many filled with miniature azaleas, cooking W.’s daily Mittagessen, which he expects hot and on the table as he enters the gate, caring for her father, a judge who did not cooperate with the Nazis and exiled himself to a small village during the war.

Braunschweig: an ugly industrial city almost obliterated during the war, and not rebuilt very well—lots of makeshift buildings that have now become permanent, though M. showed us one (on a Wednesday A.M. tour) that had been square and hideously modern and was only recently restored to its 17th-century look.

The people seem brusque, blondish, with lots of red hair and square faces—almost Swiss in appearance.

In the Domplatz, we saw the tombs of Henry the Lion and his wife Matilda, Richard the Lion-Hearted’s sister. From some deep cranny of memory the thought glinted out that Matilda and Richard were children of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a fact M. confirmed. (One of the delightful discoveries I keep making on this tour is that I haven’t quite lost all my historical knowledge, and that recalling how interconnected European monarchies were—and are—and seeing these connections in tombs and other artifacts, makes me aware of how much Europe has always been a community.)

The interior of the Dom had been badly damaged by the Reformers, who destroyed many of its images, though there’s a beautiful carved wood crucifix depicting Christus Victor and dating from the high middle ages. And what the Reformers failed to do, the war accomplished: this church, as with so many German churches, was badly damaged in the war.

M. explained that because of its imperial associations, the church was used by the SS for swearing-in ceremonies and other profanities in the war. It was one of two German churches to be so used. M. said that the SS dug up Henry’s body, hoping to find a Teutonic giant that would affirm their racist ideologies. They were disappointed to find a rather small man with one leg significantly shorter than the other.

Outside the church was also the Guelph lion, the oldest free-standing sculpture north of the Alps. We saw copies of it around the city, and red bas-reliefs of it adorning buildings. It’s the Niedersachsen symbol.

Braunschweig has quite a few pretty Fachwerk buildings here and there which either survived the war or have since been restored. M. said that the whole city used to be Fachwerk, and that the reason the city was so horribly and badly rebuilt was that, being near the border, it was inundated with refugees from the east as cities in the western part of the country were not.

After lunch, W. had a half day off and drove all of us to Goslar, a lovely old city at the north extreme of the Harz Mountains, and one of the few to remain unscathed during the war. But, unfortunately, it began to rain and grew dark as we drove into town, so we only glimpsed its loveliness as we drove into the city, knocked about in a Flohmarkt, walked in the old quarter (seeing a house Goethe stayed in on his Harz tours).

M. took us to a little Baroque Catholic church, Jakobskirche, that her brother Peter H. had pastored, but it was far too dark to see inside when we got there, so W. bought us a pictorial history M.’s brother had done with others.

At M. and W.’s, I rested more easily than anywhere previously on this journey. I attribute the ease of resting to their paternal-maternal solicitude, the cool white rooms with tasteful, but not overwhelming or rich appointments, icons, candles, the freedom we had to talk re: theology and life in general.

Had dreams both nights that left me with startling, healing images. In one, I saw a dark pine forest atop a snow-covered hill, and realized I could paint it, that I’m not too old or unskilled to do so. The other has just gone out of my head.

On the morning we left Braunschweig, we told M. something of our lives and relationship. She clearly understood, and said the Lutheran church understands these matters and is slightly more tolerant.

Yesterday, left Braunschweig and drove almost all day to Besigheim-Ottmarsheim, the place Steve’s cousin Ludwig S. lives just north of Stuttgart. We were groggy and tired, punch-drink from driving when we arrived, and the area was ugly and the people sullen-seeming.

Steve’s cousin turned out to have made arrangements for us to stay in a hotel across from the Besigheim train station, a dreary, dirty little place with gray linens and smoke thick in the air.

Ludwig S.: barrel-chested, loud, appraising blue eyes in a round Slavic face. He offered us wine, deferring to (and simultaneously bullying) his Slavic-looking, dark, fat wife, Maria Theresia, née S.. Then he took us to a rural Gasthof, where we had Zwiebelbraten with Spätzle and salad, with a not very good red wine from the area—too weak and fruity to accompany the meal. Saw beautiful vineyards all along the Neckar as we drove, though the countryside is much spoiled by the industrial excrescences that are everywhere.

After the meal (with Ludwig S. ordering us what to eat) and the drive back (with Ludwig S. ordering Steve to slow down), we went back to his house and drank wine and talked Steve’s ancestry. He told Steve that the family’s hometown (Schnirch is the family line they share—Ludwig’s mother’s family) Bautsch was in Südetenland, the Czech portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire near the Polish border (province Hoch Mähren). Ludwig’s ancestor Ferdinand, a brother of Steve’s great-grandmother Aloysia Schnirch Schmitz, stayed in Bautsch, and Ludwig’s family moved only when the area went Communist. They moved over into Silesia, southern Poland, where Ludwig was born.

He also told Steve the Germans in Südetenland were brought there by Maria Teresa from Saxony and Baden-Württemburg—I presume to settle Catholics in a religiously divided country, though would Saxons have been Catholic? Also showed Steve family pictures—many of Slavic-looking people, and the backs of the pictures had both German and Czech inscriptions.

Ferdinand’s three sons all died as World War I soldiers, and Ludwig S. has various papers from the Austrian leaders praising their bravery. He himself was a Hitler Youth and a World War II soldier, and not abashed re: it—even spoke of one Ludwig Schäfer, an SS high officer and friend of his, as a prince among men.

I was frankly afraid of him. He was a type of Texas-like German Catholic I’ve instinctively known about, and whom I find frightful: sharp as a needle re: money, an engineer in a company manufacturing machine parts, with lots of money and no culture, vulgar and jumped-up, with heavy gold and diamond rings, a hideous house (red and white plastic coat rack with imitation brass studs). He spoke deprecatingly and continuously of the foreigners in the area, even used the term “infection” with regard to them, and defended the Hitler Youth as a means of restoring law and order. He lamented that the Catholic churches in Germany collect money for Bread for the World, suggested that the Africans (“who have all these babies, then the father goes and has more with another woman”) ought to be allowed to die. He also spoke bitterly of the Polish pope—emphasizing the Polish origin, with resonances of Südetenland bitterness—and said that the man must be crazy to encourage all these people to have more babies.

All very ironic—the mad support for Austria and then Nazi Germany, the racism, the anti-Slav mentality—when his own German blood in Moravia is clearly mixed with Czech . . . .

Now in Trier, and I’m tired and will close. More tomorrow.

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