Our nicest Christmas present was a parcel from England containing a self-made book, half diary, half photo album. It came from a family in St. Ives, Cornwall, Brian and Pam Baker and their 13-year-old twins Nick and Debbie we had met and befriended last summer at a ‘Hock’ (meaning ‘sitting‘ in the Swabian dialect), a festivity during which the people of a village put tables and benches onto the streets, sit together and chat, eat the local specialities like Spätzle (the Swabian variety of pasta) with lentils and sausages, salt pretzels or home-made bread and dripping and drink beer, but also the wine and cider and the fruit schnapps of the region.
Brian had been stationed in Germany with the British army, travelled a bit at that time, fell in love with the landscape of the Land Baden-Württemberg in the southwest of Germany and decided to show it to his family one day. The day had come, they had put their tent on the camping site near Göppingen, a town between Stuttgart and Ulm, and were exploring the area.
As Pam wrote in her foreword, they had decided that each member of the family should write a piece on what had impressed them most.
As you can imagine, their accounts differ widely from each other; I’ve edited them, smoothed away some of the twins’ grammatical constructions and spellings in case they were too original, I hope I haven’t introduced new mistakes, though.
BRIAN: TRAINS AND TECHNOLOGY. I must admit I wasn’t completely honest when I talked my family into these holidays. I raved about the beauty of the Swabian Alb, not that it isn’t beautiful, it is (hills and forests), but what I was really interested in was the Märklin Museum in Göppingen. When I was a boy I used to go to a neighbour’s and play with his Märklin model railway, I loved it! Later I somehow forgot about it, but then I chanced upon a newspaper article describing the museum and my childhood memories came back to me. I simply had to go there!
I didn’t tell Nick about it, so that it was a surprise when we went there, and what a surprise! Boys will be boys (no matter their age!) We bought a mini club locomotive and some wagons as a souvenir and start for our own collection.
We train freaks will be back for the biannual meeting of the friends of Märklin model railways, count on us! I’ve learnt in the museum that the average number of participants is 40.000 (in a town of 50.000 inhabitants!), that train-maniacs come even from Japan and that Christie’s once auctioned off an old locomotive for 100.000 pounds!
P.S. I’ve started playing the lottery.
NICK: FOSSILS AND HAMMERS. When Debbie and me heard about hiking up and down stupid German mountains we just thought, "Yuck! Not our idea of summer hols." But then Dad told us to find out about bus routes, buy tickets and plan routes, and we changed our minds. We’ve only just started learning German, but Dad has forgotten so much and Mum’s German from school is so rusty that we are the ‘one-eyed among the blind’ (as the Germans say).
One day we climbed up the Hohenstaufen near Göppingen, 682 m (2236.96 feet!). We had never been so high up before and were very proud, of course. A man who could talk English told us that millions of years ago the whole area was covered by a deep ocean. Crazy! He told us to go to the village of Holzmaden and visit the museum there and to take hammers with us. Funny idea, to smash the exhibits or what?
The Museum Hauff is fabtastic! Outside they have some terrible plastic dinosaurs for kiddies (well, we liked them, too!) and inside maps showing that the area was covered by an ocean reaching south up to the Alps. There wasn’t much oxygen in it, dying animals sank to the bottom and didn’t rot there. They were covered by mud and when the water had gone and millions of years later people began to dig out the fossils they found alligators and fish nearly completely intact, teeth, scales and all. There is a tree trunk on the wall, 8 metres long with sea anemones clinging to it. They look like dainty flowers, but are animals really. Boy, were we impressed.
But the highpoint was a hole in the ground opposite the museum, heehee! You buy a ticket and rent a hammer, if you haven’t got one, and then hammer along, and you can take all the fossils you find with you. I found two plates of slate with the imprint of ammonites, I really did! I showed them off at school, you bet. When we go to Germany again, my parents can drop me there, do whatever they like and fetch me again at the end of the hols, I want to find a real ammonite!
DEBBIE: CAVES AND CASTLES. We learnt from a book that the Swabian Alb rising up south of Göppingen is a kind of plateau, Dad says that’s like a plain, but not on sea level, which then declines towards the Alps. It’s full of caves many of which you can visit and explore. I was a bit frightened at first, but then I liked it. I want to become a spelaeologist (specialist for caves, looked that up!). Then I can explore the caves with oxygen flasks on my back like the men had we saw one day.
Or I’ll become a painter, I don’t really know. I haven’t written so much, I’m including my sketches of the many old castles near Göppingen. It’s so wonderful, you stand on a mountain in the ruins of a castle, look round and see one or more other castles. I like the Wäscherschloss, Hohenrechberg, Stuifeneck, Reußenstein and Teck best (Malu helped us with the pronunciation). Or I’ll invent a time-machine and become a princess, I think it must have been romantic to live in such a castle. Nick, the old spoil-sport, keeps telling me to imagine life without a bathroom and central heating, well, I’ll be a princess only in summer then!
My best day out was when we went to the Gutenberg Höhle (cave) and the Paper Museum in Oberlenningen. They’ve got wonderful things made of paper there. My fingers got all itchy, and when nobody was looking, I touched them all. Mum tells me I’m a paper fetishist, I’m not sure I know precisely what that means, but I love paper, I really do.
Next year I want to do water colours.
PAM: HISTORY AND HEALTH. I did know about the Staufer dynasty whose cradle stood at the foot of the Hohenstaufen; as its most powerful member, Frederich II was born in Germany, but lived his whole adult life in Italy, there aren’t any really impressive castles in the area, only the small ones belonging to minor members of the clan, but I didn’t know about the Romans being here. We learnt about them when we went to the small town of Lorch to see the Romanic cloister (a bit of culture doesn’t hurt kids) and found the reproduction of a Limes tower. Unfortunately there wasn’t any time left to go to Aalen to see the Limes Museum. We’ll do that next time. Better having something to look forward to than being bored, is what I say.
While the others were looking for fossils I went to one of the spas of the region, to Bad Boll, entered the sulphur spring which has about 90°F, indulged in a fango (mud) bath and had a massage afterwards. I felt reborn!
Our host pointed out the buildings of the firm Wala in the neighbouring village of Eckwälden, famous for anthroposophical medicine and Dr. Hauschka cosmetics which has already reached Hollywood. Julia Roberts uses it! I herewith declare publicly that I’m going to brush up my German, I simply must be able to follow a tour through the firm next year.
Everyone we met asked us if we had seen the famous towns Tübingen and Ulm, if we’d been to Stuttgart, but no, we didn’t want to do them during our first (short) visit, we just wanted to get a feeling for the area and enjoy the ‘simple’ things. The only town we visited beside Göppingen (which is nothing much to write home about, sorry, Göppingers) was Schwäbisch-Gmünd on the other side of the Hohenstaufen, a small town with a nice market square with a fountain and baroque houses, two impressive churches, a Romanic and a Gothic one, lots of half-timbered houses, in one word: a German town out of the holiday brochure.
As you can see, dear readers of these pages, we’ve hit on the perfect holiday region, each member of our family has found something to her or his heart and wants to come back. What more can one want?