Letter to the Editor

A childhood dream comes true

Thursday, May 24, 2012

To the Editor:

Growing up in Perry County, Missouri, amongst parents, relatives and neighbors who were of German descent, I often dreamed of what it would be like to visit the country of my ancestry. Later in life, I married the daughter of a German immigrant. He grew up near Cologne, Germany. He came to America looking for a better life and never returned to his homeland. My wife and I had met one German cousin 35 years ago. Knowing that she had three other cousins still living in Germany, we had the opportunity to travel to Germany with our son and his wife.

Three years earlier our son had a brief visit with one cousin on a trip to Germany. This Spring we located all four cousins and spent a day with everyone. With the help of the younger generation we managed to carry on a wonderful conversation. For the next week we spent time visiting and touring from Dusseldorf south to the Austrian border and the Bavarian Alps. I cannot speak for the rest of Germany but what we toured was a pleasant, fascinating and learning experience.

The village of Habbelrath, where by father-in-law was raised is no longer in existence. The town was moved due to strip mining for coal. The relocated town is known as Freschen. In a farm field close to Freschen in 2005, a World Youth Day was held. We visited the memorial where Pope Benedict said mass and spoke to 1,200,000 youth from all over the world.

The relatives took us on a tour of Cologne, fourth largest city in Germany. The romantic Rhine River flows through the heart of Cologne. The Cologne Cathedral (The Dom), the fourth largest church in the world overlooks the Rhine River. It has twin spires at 516 ft. and is 474 ft. in length and 283 ft in width. Construction started in 1248 and was completed in 1880. It is the largest attraction in Germany with an average of 20,000 visitors a day. Even though most of the city was destroyed in World War II, the cathedral was damaged but not destroyed. To view this cathedral is a humbling, emotional, spiritual experience.

The lure of the German castles took us to the Bavarian Alps near the Austrian border. We toured King Ludwig II's home, Hohenschwanstein castle. He built the dream castle Neuschwanstein and lived their for only 120 days before dying of a mysterious death.

While returning from the Bavarian Alps, we visited the city of Ulm and toured Ulm-minster, which is the largest Lutheran church in Germany. It has the tallest steeple in the world at 530 ft. It is 405 ft long and 160 ft . wide.

On our last day there, we took a tour of the Moselle River and Valley. There is more than 100 miles of vineyards on steep mountainsides along both sides of the river. The castle Bernkastle-Landshut overlooks the Moselle river and the town of Bernkastle-Kues. This village has outstanding architecture, narrow streets and is typical of the many picturesque villages along the Moselle river. Just outside of town was an abbey, a cloistered nun convent, started in 600 A. D. We ate dinner in a building constructed in 1238. It remained an abbey until 1802. In 1969 it was converted into a brewery, winery, restaurant, brauhaus, and museum.

Things I learned about Germany: No speed limit on the autobahn, speed zones are controlled by cameras. Gasoline is $8+ a gallon. Pork is the most popular meat. Hogs are raised in Germany. Beef is imported and priced prohibitive. Beer is served warm and water is carbonated unless you ask for still water. Aldi's stores and gummi bears originated in Germany. After ground is strip-mined for coal, the hole is filled in and converted to usable space. Buildings from 12th century and later are still standing today. The government levies a 9% church tax. You purchase a cemetery plot for 25 years. After 25 years, if you do not renew for another term, they remove your remains and resell the plot.

A fitting end to a dream come true vacation was placing our "Love Locks" on the walking bridge over the Rhine River. Traditionally you place your lovers name, date and country on a padlock, lock it on the fence and seal your love forever by throwing the key in the river.

Auf Wiedersehen!! So Long!!

Flavian Halter

Poplar Bluff, Mo.