Monday, August 3, 2009

Baden and Alsace 4.7.09 (1): Moses from the Mountain, Fierce Village Storms

Another full day. We drove back to Buchenbach after breakfast, since a sign at the parish house door had said the priest would be in on Friday morning. His secretary greeted us at the door, ushered us inside, and then went to ask if Steve could see the Kirchenbücher.

We heard a deep voice in the bowels of the building—God giving Moses the Torah—but like the Hebrew children at the foot of the mountain, never saw the regal speaker’s face. The assistant returned to tell Steve that all the information he wanted was in the episcopal archives in Freiburg.

Steve said he’d checked church records on microfilm from there, but didn’t understand where the records prior to 1817 were held. The village church was built in that year, apparently.

As well as I could understand, the assistant, who spoke a pronounced Allemanish German, said that prior to then, sacraments and services took place in a small chapel on a hill nearby, and in people’s houses. The population was thin and widely dispersed, and churches were not built until later. But the records from this earlier period? She didn’t know.

The lady at the Shouphof had asked us to return that morning, so we did so. She met us outside, saying her husband had been called to an appointment (he works a day job and also farms), and had asked if Steve would email him. She shared with us a family tree someone had put together, and told us her husband’s uncle Oscar had compiled much family information and had given it to the Rathaus—which the Rathaus staff had not told us the day before, though Steve specifically asked about the Shoup family.

And so then to Alsace . . . . We drove first to Haut-Koenigsbourg, passing along allées of trees right at the roadside, something not found on the German side of the line, and fields of corn, asparagus, ripened grain, and pick-your-own flowers. The little villages were neat with pots of bright scarlet and pink geraniums beneath windows, houses painted in various pastel shades, and high hills full of vines around them.

At Haut-Koenigsbourg, we parked and then climbed up to the pre-12th century château, which has been rebuilt and added onto several times, and finally restored under Wilhelm II early in the 20th century. These old castles just don’t do it for me, any more than cathedrals do.

Perhaps I went through my medieval phase too early in life. I recall reading with tremendous fascination one book after another about the middle ages when I was 9 or 10 years old, and fantasizing about returning to that period of history for a look around.

But those fantasies falter in the face of the architectural evidence re: what life must have been like for people who lived in castles (and went to cathedrals). In such high places where a cool wind blows through every nook and cranny even on a hot July day, it must have been intolerably cold in winter.

The forbidding stone; the house-as-fort with its peepholes and execrable weapons all around; the overweening masculine cast of life, with little room for anything outside virtues of valor and honor: I can’t imagine living in such a world. Any more than in the one I must now inhabit . . . .

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