Wiesbaden…a German town on the Rhine, friends and ancestors. September 2014

The town

A soft landing into Germany, collected by my friend Gunther and driven to my hotel in the middle of this charming Rhineland town about 35ks from Frankfurt.

The splendid florist displays hint at the coming autumn.

The splendid florist displays hint at the coming autumn.

While the town goes back to Neolithic times, it begins its starring role as a spa town when the Romans propped here. By 1800 it had 23 bathhouses. Around the turn of the 20th century Kaiser Wilhelm11 made the city his unofficial “summer residence”. Following the imperial court, numerous nobles (including Russian ones), artists and wealthy businessmen settled in the city.

The old town hall was built in 1610; now it is the marriage registry

The old town hall was built in 1610; now it is the marriage registry

 

Friday is a big day for weddings and these buskers cheer up the scene.

Friday is a big day for weddings and these buskers cheer up the scene in front of the town hall.

 

Goethe, Dostoevsky, Wagner and Brahms (who wrote his 3rd symphony here) were visitors. The town is also a casino town and rumour hath it that Dostoevsky got thrown out of the casino and did a runner on his hotel bill

The hot minerals springs still sprout in small fountains and indoor springs enhance the town.

About 270,000 people live in Wiesbaden with American Army Europe HQ set to increase its own population to 30,000 in Erbenheim, one of the suburbs.

In WW2 about 30% of buildings were damaged and small pockets of bland 50s/60s rebuilding is testament to that.

But many of the grand villas of the18th /19th century remain. Perhaps it is the number of these grand apartments and villas where European royalty and millionaires once came to “take the waters” that is the trigger for the move to have the town listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Around the town various grand “styles” impose themselves from neo Classical and neo Baroque to faux Florentine and a touch of Rococo.

Charming streets

Charming streets

European street life

European street life

Now Turkish immigrants mingle happily in the largely pedestrianized and charming town centre where almost everyone speaks English. I am extremely comfortable here, the faces and families remind of a summer Saturday in Sydney

Wiesbaden has a  market twice a week in the city square; as always the cheeses are spectacular.

Wiesbaden has a market twice a week in the city square; as always the cheeses are spectacular.

 

Ancestor hunting

My friend drives me through the mountains

My friend drives me through the mountains

Thanks to the kindness of my friend, Gunther, I am driven to the nearby villages named on the marriage and birth records of my maternal great grandmother and her forebears who are traceable back to the mid 1700s. This is an odd adventure as I had always identified with my Irish heritage and now I am beginning to find, in the directness and bluntness of the Germans, qualities I recognise from my family.

Strange the ways of DNA.

A line of white villages across the northern green and forested Taunus mountains are strung like irregular beads, some with houses showing the wood and mud walls of the 17th century.

Villages still nestle in the mountains.

Villages still nestle in the mountains.

 

The  wood framed village houses that used to be.

The wood framed village houses that used to be.

It becomes clear that from at least 1700 my people moved between villages – Igstadt, Beckenheim, Naurod, – inter-marrying and leaving branches of the tree amongst and between them all. The once walled village of Erbenheim has been absorbed into the town of Wiesbaden itself

Eight of my Goebel tree were born in the village of Erbenheim but the root of the tree is said to be in 30ks away in Panrod.

In 1697 in the church of Burgschwalbach near Panrod a young Nikolaus Goebel married Anna Diel from that village. Here the village nestles below the castle

In 1697 in the church of Burgschwalbach near Panrod a young Nikolaus Goebel married Anna Diel from that village. The village still nestles below the castle.

In Naurod I find a 20th century grave of a familiar family name from there; in another village the name of the male line shows on a WW2 memorial; while in a third, a Goebel is mentioned ons an 1875 veteran’s memorial.

In Panrod I visited an address I have been given as that of a living relation. He is 92 year old Horst and currently in rehab after a car accident but I am given the phone number of his daughter who now has some aristocratic title. That future encounter awaits me.

 

Is there really a direct connection?

Is there really a direct connection?

These Germans were the first of my line into Australia. They came in the mid 1800s from this Rhine region as part of a Macarthur initiated program to bring wine growers to NSW.

I realise later that the German people, responding to the European uprisings of the 19th century and kicked along perhaps by the upcoming Austro-Prussian war and their own potato famine, were themselves an emigrating people. Indeed I am told that such were their numbers and industriousness, German was once considered a contender for the mother tongue of America.

On my final days of ancestor hunting, I visit the church where the gg grandparents were married. An absolutely delightful Lutheran Pastor Fritz is welcoming; gets out the marriage lines to show me and puts me in touch with a genealogist of the parish. More is to come.

Here in 1850 my g g grandparents were wed.

Here in 1850 my g g grandparents were wed.

 

Before this very Lutheran altar.

Before this very Lutheran altar.

 

 

Hospitality and the Rhine.

Besides sharing a number of meals, Gunther’s Jill took me to the famed Rheingau where grape vines tumble down hills and the 12th century former Cistercian Eberbach Abbey once controlled the district’s wine making and now produces some of the region’s best drops.

The cloister of the old Abbey where Rhine wine has been made for 900 years.

The cloister of the old Abbey where Rhine wine has been made for 900 years.

Then it was off to one of the world’s charming spots, a pub on the Rhine at Eltville where locals share an evening drink under the shadow of the picturesque castle.

Eltville

Eltville

Famous for its roses

Famous for its roses

 

A few days later I spend the day on the river – along the UNESCO World Heritage run of it dotted with castle ruins, lines of vines down slopes and a dozen charming villages.

Castles on the Rhine

Castles on the Rhine

 

And villages along the way

And villages along the way

 

 

The hospitality of my friends, the palpable closeness of an ancestral line, the charm of the town and its people and the beauty of the Rhine — it is a joy to know that back in time…………

 

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Japan in March 5 – TOKYO

 

Tokyo – the size, the crush, the kinetic assault – overwhelming!

“From underground to mainstream, Tokyo is a radical jumble of contrasting elements where the new and nostalgic, the most elegant luxury and everyday kitsch, the domestic and exotic, the famous and anonymous all exist side by side.

So sayeth the souvenir mug and plastic folder I buy at the National Art Centre Museum shop in Tokyo.

 

How do I order the myriad of impressions and experiences offered by this city of 13 million people? Let alone the greater Tokyo metro with its estimated population of 35 million! Even chronologically doesn’t work as other impressions cut into the narrative.

Hardly soothing

Hardly soothing

From the 23rd floor of the hotel in Shibuya, across the park you can see  Shinjuku another of the many metro centres

From the 23rd floor of the hotel in Shibuya, across the park you can see Shinjuku another of the many metro centres

 

Savouring rare time alone, I sit in one of the many cafes on the 6th floor of the Shibuya Hikarie building bewildered again by the interminable aisles and arcades of restaurants and cafes that can be found in department stores, in connecting corridors and railway stations.

It is fashion week in Shibuya. This is a place on trend. “The Devil Wore Prada” with Japanese sub-titles is playing on a big screen. The scene is peopled with smart super-groomed 20 somethings eating pastas, salads and French pastries; drinking cappuccinos (@ about $7.50 a cup) and cocktails.

1.000 people are said to cross every time the lights change at this intersection outside Shibuya station

1.000 people are said to cross every time the lights change at this intersection outside Shibuya station

 

It can get lonely in a big city especially when everyone around you has a screen.

 

I was reading a novel about four generations of a Japanese family which described the starvation after two thirds of Tokyo was bombed in WW2. What a contrast/miracle is this super sophisticated internationalised scene I am witnessing. How did this town move from the depths of occupation to what the local Time Out headlines as the greatest city in the world?

Rooftop soccer is the only way to get a fame in a packed urban centre

Rooftop soccer is the only way to get a game in a packed urban centre

 

One day we are at the famed Tsukiji fish markets and to gain access to the inner markets, we have a guide. I asked about the economic miracle. She suggested hard work, the need to save face after the WW2 defeat and strong common national goals had achieved this powerhouse. I am sure there are hundreds of books that I will never read written about it.

I asked her too about what I had observed as a strong French influence (food, wine, fashion). She ascribed it to the craving for luxury during “the bubble period” when people were “turning away from English curry”.

 

The Art Triangle

Rappongi Hills is a mammoth urban development housing the Mori Art Museum inter multi alia. It is a holiday weekend and the crowd is significant. I visit the Andy Warhol retrospective and learn his painterly progress for the first time. The Flowers I saw in Naoshima make sense now. There was also a crowded second-rate pre-Raphaelite exhibition from the Tate. The others visit an exhibition of elctronic media.

Then it is off to the stunning National Arts Centre with its undulating glass façade and inverted cone restaurant on the top floor. I was informed by Cass that the Kazumi Nakamura exhibition was one of the best ever. I was content to wander the architecture – some of the best ever.

The National Arts Centre

The National Arts Centre

 

Inside the National ArtCentre

Inside the National Arts Centre

 

Too much to see; this city would take a busy year; we miss the Suntory Museum of Art but as a compensation a few streets away, found the flower shop in the U GOTO building.

 

Flower shop in the U Goto building

Flower shop in the U Goto building

 

The Tsukiji fish markets and the Ueno zoo – two different days gazing at other creatures dead and alive.

The old fish markets near fashionable Ginza will move soon to make way for the Olympic site so we were lucky to visit this cobble-stoned hive, jumping out of the right of way of the motorised carts that criss-cross the narrow aisles with deliveries.

The last months of the old fish market near Ginza

The last months of the old fish market near Ginza

The wholesale buying is done early before visitors are let in so it was mostly watching the business end of the day- the cutting, packaging etc. The range of exotic fish was less than I had expected.

Slicing the tuna

Slicing the tuna

 

Cooking the oysters

Cooking the oysters

We are told that the markets are getting smaller as the population increases its meat intake but the queues outside the small cafes and stalls in the outer market indicated popularity long into the future.

Some wonderful food in the outer markets

Some wonderful food in the outer markets

 

All zoos are problematic but hey, we had two littlies with us and needed to do more for them. The crush was as bad in the shopping streets. There was a lot of concrete and some dubiously contented animals. The lone polar bear seemed to be making the best of a bad thing while the panda looked even more forlorn. At the end of an hour, our two year old, Gulliver, wisely decided to sleep through the rest of this part of his travels

Shopping

Yep. Until you drop. That’s Tokyo. Where better than Harajuku once famed for the parade of the zanily dressed unconventional fashion sub-culture? There are the High Street shops near the station and the luxury brands along Omote-Sando, said to be the Champs Elysees of Tokyo. As if a memento to the Goth and other sub-cultures of yore, a narrow side street is home to retro shops, the best single origin coffee we found and the odd counter culture victim.

Not sure if this was counter-culture or old fashioned exhibitionism

Not sure if this was counter-culture or old fashioned exhibitionism

These young women and the baby were looking zany for their shopping

Shopping isn't all about clothes. Tokyo has wide music sub-cultures

Shopping isn’t all about clothes. Tokyo has many music sub-cultures

Showing the fashion victim side, different queues of up to half a kilometre long stretched outside the new cronut shop, Max Brenner’s chocolate bar and what appeared to be a traditional restaurant.

Queueing for chocolate. I understand that.

Queueing for chocolate. I understand that.

 

You can get cranky shopping, especially if the killer heels are hurting

You can get cranky shopping, especially if the killer heels are hurting

On the street

The scale is huge but it is the  people on the street who give a city its tone, its vibrancy or lack of. Tokyo centres are all vibrancy – busy, sometimes colourful and always something to see. There are too many photos to choose from!

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This busker was from Texas. Aged 50, married to a Japanese, he had lost his job and this was the alternative

 

Speaks for itself

Speaks for itself

 

Flashes of the  past

Flashes of the past

 

Buskers in the plaza

Buskers in the plaza

Even travellers from the Land of Oz can be found

Even travellers from the Land of Oz 

 

Food

A good gelato is a good gelato anywhere in the world, any weather

A good gelato is a good gelato anywhere in the world, any weather

You can’t go past the basement level of the big department stores. Choice upon beautifully presented choice – sushi that might have come out of a French kitchen; pastries from master chefs; salads; noodles; seaweeds.

There was a small restaurant where the cook had trained in Lyon and we were able to order the yakatori in French; there was sushi in a restaurant said to have invented the California roll (though obviously not called that). None of the eating in Tokyo was high end but that’s one of the things about Tokyo. The small places, the ramen bars, the basement take-away are all of a satisfying quality.

Great sushi

Great sushi

 

Even better ramen

Even better ramen

 

After all the good food, any wonder this appealed

 

As the other side of the souvenir mug says:

The cutting edge image mix we present is a product of our ability to see beyond existing attitudes and create a new editorial process that reflects the imagination, energy and chaotic beauty that make up today’s Tokyo and its attitude to art and design

 

THAT’S TOKYO    –     IMAGINATION, ENERGY AND CHAOTIC BEAUTY

 

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March in Japan 4 – TAKAYAMA

Takayama – a time capsule from the Edo period

A few days in the mountains. Glimpses from the train through the drizzling mist indicate spectacular scenery as the train winds its way upward through forests and alongside clear streams. Snow is still on the ground.

The preserved streets of the old centre are busy with Japanese tourists even in this weather. I imagine the crush of summer. Like all tourist area, it has a huge range of foods and confections for sale. The local Hida Beef is especially famous. we however, as well as more delicious udon had the only non- Japanese meal of the trip here – Japanese pizza.

The preserved wooden house/shop lined street convey all the charm and simple elegance I associate with traditional architecture.

A street in the preserved Edo town

A streetscape  in the preserved Edo town

Kusakabe House  a merchant’s home which was rebuilt in 1880 is described as having many feature of late Edo period, namely as described:

  • An overall two-story design with stairwells, all made of Japanese Cypress (Hinoki).
  • Exposed heavy beams and pillars.
  • A gently slanting roof with moderate eaves.
  • Slender latticework on the windows.
  • A dark brown paint finish made from soot.

Was it Roosevelt who they say, offered to buy this house?

 

Kusakabe Heritage House rebuilt in 1880 - architecture of the Edo period when the Shogun ruled

Kusakabe Heritage House rebuilt in 1880 – architecture of the Edo period when the Shogun ruled

The dark heavy beams of the house

The dark heavy beams of the house

 

At the Kusakabe Heritage House, our little one met up with a racoon.

At the Kusakabe Heritage House, our little one met up with a racoon.

 

Snow in the garden of the old  17th century majestrate's house

Snow in the garden of the old 17th century magistrate’s house

hard to  imagine these sketches of torture in the prison of the house when all around has that elegant serenity of the architecture

Hard to imagine these sketches of torture in the prison room of the house when all around has that elegant serenity of the architecture

 

The hotel, Takayama Ouan, is one of the few high-rise buildings at the edge of the old town. It has an onsen (traditional hot bath) on the top (13th) floor. The hotel blends western and ryokan elements with tatami (straw) mats throughout so shoes are left in lobby lockers.

The hot spring bath affords a view of the town and the mountains that surround it. There are separate baths for men and women as well as three private baths that can be used for 30 minutes on a first come, first served basis. Bliss.

The morning market and the old town

Older women sell hand made good luck monkeys, pickles and apples displayed simply and minimally at the morning market.

Morning market

Morning market

Apple seller at the morning market

Apple seller at the morning market

Then it is on to wander the streets of seventeenth century wooden houses.

Cafe in a courtyard. probably packed in summer

Cafe in a courtyard. probably packed in summer

Modern touches abound…not a surprise really!

Modern touches abound…not a surprise really!

parking the car is hard everywhere these days

A few streets away from the heritage area, I note that parking the car is hard everywhere these days

From bears to barred doors

We are travelling with 2 littlies so it is time to focus on what they might like….a teddy bear museum. Yep, living kitsch but luckily it is a short walk from a supposedly, most splendid museum  – the Hida Takayama Museum of Art. Michelin has apparently given 2 stars for its collection of Art Deco and Nouveau items but alas all we could see were in the museum shop which was open briefly after closing hours.

 

The river runs through the town

The river runs through the town

 

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A house on the edge of the town centre

 

And not a bad comment on the river of life

And not a bad Takayama comment on the river of life

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