Thursday, October 30, 2008

Weingarten, Baden 1.7.1998: Dead Cemeteries, Abbeys à la Disney

In Weingarten after another long day in Jöhlingen, first part of which we spent in the Pfarramt reading church books.

Then to Steve’s cousin Frau Helga Klink’s for Mittagessen. But before that we stopped at Frau Rita Kuld’s to return pictures Steve had copied and to say goodbye, and there Steve locked the keys in the car, to my intense consternation.

The dinner at Frau Klink’s was unbelievable. Began with Sekt, followed by soup of what seemed to be beef stock with fresh peas from her garden and Butterklösschen, with chopped chives. I also tasted marjoram, but she said not so. Could the stock have been made previously, with marjoram seasoning, and she had forgotten?

After soup, Burgunderbraten—beef soaked in red wine, a bit of vinegar, and spices. This was served with Spätzle, which we watched her make, and a delicious sauce, and two salads—one of fresh lettuce, cucumber, and onion from the garden, the other of Italian tomatoes and onion. The Spätzle were topped with breadcrumbs fried in butter, and were wonderful. With the meal, we had some of Frau Klink’s own white wine, the Jöhlinger Hasensprung from Auxerrois grapes, grown only in Jöhlingen, if we understood correctly (that is, only here in Germany?).

After the meal, sliced pineapples in a sauce of eggs beaten with white wine and perhaps cream, followed by a raspberry kuchen and a cherry one, both made from fruit from the garden. This served with a huge bowl of whipped cream with grated chocolate on top, and followed by a grappa the family makes, from the must after fermentation. And coffee, of course, good and strong . . . .

I should say that a little pause followed the pineapple and preceded the kuchen. This was a trip to the Judenfriedhof we’d tried to find yesterday, between Jöhlingen and Wössingen. Frau Klink’s daughter-in-law, Regina Klink, who was at dinner, took us.

Quite an experience. It’s forlorn, fenced in and gated to keep vandals out. The mayor of Wössingen keeps the key. It’s on a hillside, and is only half full of graves, as if waiting for a fulfillment that will never come. There were two stones dating from 1936, with none later.

What a stark commentary on the cessation—the absolute cessation—of Jewish life and presence in the village after that date. I’d never before thought of a continuously used cemetery as a sign of life, but in a curious way, it is, isn’t it? It connects the living and dead in an intimate communion, in which the dead are remembered, venerated, kept alive as members of the family.

This cemetery was silent, awfully silent. I wonder if anyone ever returns to it to seek her or his family members. There it stands on the hillside, frozen as a partly forgotten shrine to German guilt, with its stones overgrown with ivy, half full, ad saecula saeculorum.

Seeing it, I thought of all the Jews I know, whose sad story I was only glimpsing as a guilty bystander. I thought, too, of the historic guilts that touch my life—the guilt of my English ancestors for their destruction of the lives of my Irish ancestors, and the guilt of my slave-holding forebears. Are black cemeteries in the South any more venerated by whites than this Jewish one by contemporary Germans?

After cake and coffee (and how can I even write about that after telling the preceding story?), we made our final goodbyes to the Frau Klinks, and again to Frau Kuld, who gave us three bottles of Hasensprung from her cellar.

Then we drove on to Maulbronn abbey, arriving just as the museum and church closed at 6. What an impressive set of well-preserved monastic buildings. And how sad to see them now used, many of them, as gift and froufrou shops no different from ones you’d find in the U.S. La Trappe à la Disney (or should I say Citeaux à la Disney?).

After Maulbronn, a drive by back roads into the Black Forest, to have a taste of it. We went as far as Tiefenbronn south of Pforzheim, and then returned to Weingarten. Enough to see the appeal of the Schwarzwald, with all those waiting green trees, cool trails tracing everywhere and rather frightening little inns here and there along the road.

The rough, often extraordinarily beautiful, kindness the Germans are capable of, side by side with what they (or some of them) did so recently to the Jews . . . . And I can’t get the latter out of my mind, though even as I say that, I also think again about how my own roots run to such historic sin, such callous oblivion to the mere humanity of the Other. It’s so easy to scapegoat others, so hard to confront the tangled malice and indifference in our own souls, coiled snakelike to strike at all one thinks and does.

Which makes me confess that part of the problem I attribute to Steve these days (the locking-keys-in-car incident, misplacing our money and passports) is me, mine. I feel so on tenterhooks traveling and wondering when we’ll be snubbed or attacked for being gay—so tired of having to watch and guard. I recall that bitter and spiteful journal I wrote on my first trip to Europe, full of ugly remarks about Steve and K. and A. God spare me, this trip, from such fatuity.

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