Category Archives: Freinsheim and Palatinate history

Wine-tasting with wine princesses

Freinsheim wine princess Anne II

Freinsheim wine princess Anne II

Before arriving in Freinsheim, my cousin Matthias emailed the plans for April 2. “We have tickets for a wine-tasting with the wine princesses from 2-7 Saturday.”

What could this be? Celebrity princesses holding court behind a wine-tasting counter, pouring out sips from jewel-tinted bottles of wine? Not exactly. Here’s how it worked.

The Urlaubsregion Freinsheim (think chamber of commerce, German-style) organizes a wine-tasting to five different villages in and around the region, guided by the wine princesses from each of five villages. Each princess introduces two wines unique to her village. In our case, the tour included: a Riesling and a dry Weisburgunder in Weisenheim am Sand, Viognier and Grauburgunder in Erpolzheim, Chardonnay and Rose in Herxheim, Auxerrois and Cuvée in Weisenheim am Berg, and white and red Spätburgunders (Pinot Noirs) in Freinsheim.

But pictures say it best.

We meet the wine princesses.

We meet the wine princesses.


We hike to our first wine-tasting, in a forest park at Weisenheim am Sand.


The wine princesses introduce the vintage and wine-maker.

2016 wine-tasting 3

We sample our first vintage.

2016 wine-tasting 1

We board the bus for the next village.


We hike to a pleasant garden among the vineyards.

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The wine princess introduces the wine and wine-maker.

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Zum wohl!


Inside the bus.

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Next stop, the Herxheim am Berg Schlossgarten.

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Back on the bus …

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… for Weisenheim am Berg …


… and finish up in Freinsheim.

Viel Spaß!

Viel Spaß!

Marriage under the Code Napoleon

In our family tree, 19th century ancestor Johann Philipp Harm, the father of Michael Harm, married twice. Johann Philipp’s first marriage in 1827 was to a woman named Elisabetha Harm Bruch, a widow more than ten years older than he was, and his first cousin. This first wife passed away in 1832, childless, when Johann Philipp Harm was just 36 years old.

“We think this first marriage was about property,” Günter told me on my first visit to Freinsheim in 1988. “To keep Elisabetha’s property in the family.”

Code Napoleon

An 1807 edition of the Code Napoleon on display in the Hambacher Schloss museum in Neustadt an der Weinstraße

A hint to a mystery, passed down from generation to generation, which may have its source in Code Napoleon civil laws.

Elisabetha and Johann married in the late 1820s, a time after Napoleon had been driven back from the Pfalz. Nonetheless, a version of the Code Napoleon, a unified set of laws on personal and property rights, had endured, including laws of equal inheritance for male and female alike. So if family lore is correct, Elisabetha Harm may have inherited property from her deceased husband? Or from her parents after they’d died? (Her parents would have been Johann Philipp Harm’s Uncle and Aunt.) If she’d had other siblings (I don’t know), they would have received an equal share.

On the other hand, when it comes to women’s rights, Elisabetha’s marriage to Johann makes little sense. The Code Napoleon was a blow to the revolutionary era’s progress on the equal rights of women.

In post Revolution France, the ideas of female equality received a setback in a series of laws known as the Napoleonic Code. Through it, the legal right of men to control women was affirmed. Although most of the basic revolutionary gains – equality before the law, freedom of religion and the abolition of feudalism – remained, the Code ensured that married women in particular owed their husband obedience, and were forbidden from selling, giving, mortgaging or buying property.
–from ‘The Wife is Obliged

Which begs the question, why on earth would Elisabetha have married Johann Philipp, her cousin not her lover, solely to turn over control of her property to him. So he would work her land for them both? If they did marry to keep the land in the family, what would have happened to the land if Elisabetha had never married? Did the government have right of succession?

Ah, a tangled web of mysteries. Ideas, anyone?

A picture’s worth …

Jet-lagged, but arrival back in Freinsheim has brought a barrage of sights to share.

Freinsheim's "Eisentor," the old main gate

Freinsheim’s “Eisentor,” the old main gate

red grapes

Time for the grape harvest

weingut oberholz

Weingut Oberholz

Freinsheim town center

Freinsheim town center and Rathaus


Matthias and I have reviewed the calendar during my stay. The story of the Harm brothers descendants continues.

Freinsheim, revisited

Vineyard in the wine-growing region of the PalatinateThe last time I visited Freinsheim was the fall of 2010 during the annual “Wine Hike” / Weinwanderung. (Ostensibly, I was there to research my novel, but hey, a girl can have fun too, right?)

Soon I’ll be headed back there, about the same time of year, but so much in my life has changed. I’ve studied more German, for one thing. I feel as if I’m so much closer to my relatives, for another. But most of all, I’ve now made the leap from aspiring writer to published author. The book I went there to research — relying on Freinsheimer hospitality for a whole month! — has become a reality.

And they’re setting up a book talk for me, while I’m there, in a renovated old hospital that is now used as a cultural venue. My presentation will be Monday, October 6 at 7:00 p.m. I’ll talk about my book (hopefully in German) and read from it, and will have help from my relatives during the Q&A. Heartfelt thanks to the Weber family for setting this up. A link to the announcement of the event (in German) is here.

The trailer

My nephew Nicholas Gebben put together an awesome book trailer for me. I hope you like it:

The Last of the Blacksmiths trailer

Wine trails and a delightful surprise

When I visited the Pfalz region of Germany, I especially enjoyed the wines. The Rieslings are crisp, not cloying, the Spätburgunder is as fine as a good Pinot Noir, and the sparkling Sekt is equal in quality to French champagne.

19th century sparkling wineWine-making is so ubiquitous to the culture and lifestyle of the Pfalz, the entire cellar of the Bad Dürkheim Heimatsmuseum is dedicated to a viticulture exhibit. The rack shown here is an example of the traditional method of fermenting champagne. According to the Heimatsmuseum curator, it was an iffy proposition — 10- to 20-percent of the bottles could be counted on to explode, the champagne wasted.

Wines from the Bad Dürkheim region were exported to Cleveland in the 19th century, thanks to the Dürkheimer wine-makers George and John Fitz and a Cleveland wine importer named Leick of Kirchheimbolanden. (Apparently Leick and his brother married the Hege sisters from Dürkheim, so a connection was made.)

In particular, the Fitz brothers produced the 1848 Dürkheimer Firemountain label especially for export. Records show the wine was also exported to New York City, Cleveland and New York City being areas with high Palatine immigrant populations. While the year on a label normally indicates the vintage, in this case, all wines carried this year. The year 1848 was a reference to the 1848 Revolution for democracy, the Fitz brothers reaching out in solidarity to exiles forced to immigrate to America after the revolution was crushed. It’s not clear how long the 1848 label lasted. But wine exports continued until Prohibition  brought an end to the once lucrative trade.

These days, the Mosel region seems to dominate German wine imports to the U.S. However, I recently stumbled on a delightful surprise. The Fitz wine-makers of Bad Dürkheim are still in business. Now called the Fitz-Ritter Winery, the history of their revolutionary 19th century activities is even posted proudly on their website:


In 1837, the Fitz estate founded the first “Champagne“ Production in the Palatinate (second in all of Germany). Johannes Fitz, known as “the Red Fitz,” had imported the necessary know-how from the Champagne region of France which had been his exile home following his activity for the German Democracy movement at the Hambach Festival in 1832.

Five years later the first „Palatine Champagne“ emerged from the Bad Dürkheim winery.  …Just as it was back then, today the Sektkellerei Fitz (Sekt is the German word for sparkling wine) still produces “Sekt” from Burgundy and Riesling wines by traditional bottle fermentation.

No wonder the Fitz wine-makers reached out to those suffering exile in 1848–John Fitz had been an exile himself in 1832. I checked into it, and the Fitz-Ritter wines are again being exported to the U.S. Oh happy day!

Heimatsmuseum viticulture display

Hermann Sinsheimer

sinsheimer houseOn any visit to Freinsheim, Germany, one of the first stops on the “wall walk,” a tour of the narrow corridor that rings the old inner wall, is always at the former home of Hermann Sinsheimer. I snapped this photo of the house (if you look closely, you’ll see the resident cat in the window) and the accompanying stone-etched plaque that adorns the facade on my first day in Freinsheim in September, 2010. Roughly translated, the plaque reads:

The lawyer, writer, and journalist Hermann Sinsheimer was born in this house on the 6th of March 1883. His passion for theater and literature before 1933 drove him to write what he observed of German cultural life. Also, what he wrote in exile was influenced by his happy childhood in Freinsheim. He died far from home, in London, in 1950.

A more complete write-up of the life of Hermann Sinsheimer can be found here, at the AJR (Association of Jewish Refugees) Journal.

While Herman Sinsheimer has languished in obscurity for decades, of late, several books have been published of his work. One is the letters of Hermann Sinsheimer, written while he was in England back to his friend Frida Schaffner in Freinsheim. Dr. Hans-Helmut Görtz edited these letters with Erik and Gabriele Giersberg. They’ve been published in a comprehensive book Briefe aus England in die Pfalz. The book (768 p., hardcover, many photographs) is edited by the Stiftung zur Förderung der Pfälzischen Geschichtsforschung in Neustadt an der Weinstraße. It costs 49 Euros. Whoever is interested in buying a copy should send Dr. Görtz an email at

Another book, just released and available on Amazon-UK, is an uncensored release of Sinsheimer’s 1953 autobiography Gelebt Im Paradies, published in 2013 by Deborah Vietor-Engländer. This book includes Sinsheimer’s childhood reminiscences, his reflections on anti-Semitism, on accounts of his days in Munich and Berlin, and of living in exile with fellow German Jewish refugees in England during and after the war. The book is available here:

The book jacket reads (translated from the German):
Hermann Sinsheimer (1883-1950), theater director, theater critic, editor of Simplicissimus and editor of the Berliner Tageblatt, wrote his autobiography “Gelebt im Paradies” in the Palatinate, in Munich and later in Berlin, completing it during his exile in England starting in 1938. In the book, he provides portraits of his contemporaries, from Erich Mühsam to Joachim Ringelnatz, from Alfred Kerr to Frank Wedekind.

Was Germany once a paradise? In Sinsheimer’s youth in the Palatinate, certainly, but in retrospect in exile Sinsheimer also reveals the fullness of the paradise lost he suffered during his years in Munich and Berlin, the destruction he witnessed, and his insights and memories of historical events.

Lived in Paradise is a first release, because here the text kept out of the 1953 imprint has been returned in its original, uncensored form, to properly stock the shelves of German literature. Sinsheimer’s autobiographical essay Deutschland, not included previously, is a document free of hate, a reflection of the exile as he considers German thinking of tomorrow. This text is published here for the first time in German. The political writer reflects on what happened, why the Germans could have done what they did, driving the Jews, including large parts of the scientific and artistic intelligentsia, out of the country. In 1942, Sinsheimer asks: What should be done after the war with Germany is lost?

Yes, the book is in German, but if you dare, I highly recommend delving into the observations and insights of this thoughtful, courageous man.

Traveling musicians of the 19th century

art music bandBrowsing through photos of my visit to Germany a few years ago, I came across this image of a traveling music band, a photo I took of a display at the Culture House Museum in Bad Dürkheim.

lichtenberg castleThe scene reminded me of a wonderful museum I visited during my travels: the Pfälzer Musikantenland-Museum in Kusel at the Burg Lichtenberg. It’s a stunning setting, a former castle that’s now something of a village, with shops, a dining hall and a family and youth hostel guest house.

At the Musikantenland Museum, I picked up a flyer that provided “A Little Bit of History.”

The western Palatinate (primarily the area comprised by the former Bavarian Rhine Landkommissariate of Kusel, Hornburg, Kaiserslautern and Kirchheim), known as “Musician Country” is one of the few regions of the German-speaking cultural world with a tradition of itinerant musicians or Wandermusikanten.

After the Palatinate attained freedom from French occupation in the era of Napoleon (1797-1814), one encounters the vocational description of musician more and more often in western Palatinate archives. The freedom from guild obligations allowed a considerable number of local popular musicians to make a living from their natural talents. Economic causes (overpopulation, famine, bad harvests in the poor soil of the western Palatinate, similar to the reasons which drove many people from the Palatinate to emigrate to America in the 19th century) were also responsible for the first travels of musicians around 1830. They traveled first to neighboring countries (France, Switzerland) or to other German states (Prussia), then to the rest of Europe (Spain, Holland, the British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia etc.) and finally — after the middle of the century — literally to the entire civilized world.

After thorough practice during the winter, these western Palatinate musicians set out in the spring and remained away until fall, if they were seeking to make their living in Europe, or came home after two, three, or more years if they traveled overseas.

In the prime years around the turn of the century, approximagely 2,500 musicians were traveling about, earning the considerable sum of many millions of gold-marks annually.

The Musikantenland Museum at Burg Lichtenberg houses not only instruments, uniforms, and so on, but also souvenirs the men carried back from their travels. More information about the itinerant bands (and their demise) can be found at a brief history of Itinerant Musicians.

On the start of modern public education

To make things easier for blog visitors, I’ve been scrolling through my earliest blogs to add the following categories —
Cleveland and Ohio history, and
Freinsheim and Palatinate history

Just this morning, I came across a post from 2010 about the 19th century system of public education in the Palatinate known as the Volksschule. It’s very brief, based on my scant knowledge at the time.

I’ve learned much more since then, especially about a couple of key figures of the 19th century — the Humboldt brothers. The full text of the article snippet pasted below, originally published in Prospects:the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 3/4, 1993, p. 613–23. ©UNESCO:International Bureau of Education, 2000, can be found here:

wilhelm and alexander von humboldt

At the Schiller institute, there’s a terrific overview of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s vision for education, in an article written by Marianna Wertz. A few of Humboldt’s views are excerpted below:

Philosophically, education has only three stages: Elementary education, scholastic [secondary] education, and university education. Elementary education should merely enable the child to understand and express thoughts, to read and write, and merely to overcome the difficulties involved in the major ways of describing things. … [The child] therefore has a twofold concern: first, with learning itself, and second, with learning how to learn. …

Scholastic education is divided into linguistic, historical, and mathematical studies … The student is ready to graduate once he has learned so much from others, that he is now able to learn for himself. …

… I also deny the possibility of purposefully setting up an essentially different establishment for future craftsmen, and it is easily shown, that the gap resulting from the lack of trade schools, can be completely filled by other establishments. …

Everyone, even the poorest student, would receive a full education, variously limited only in those cases where it could progress to further development; each individual intellect would be done justice, and each would find its place; none would need seek their vocation earlier than what their gradual development permits; and finally, most, even if they left school, would still have had some transition from simple instruction to practice in the specialized institutions.

Hence, by 1857, the year my great-great grandfather turned 15, there was a Volksschule system in place in the Palatinate where all children attended school until that age, regardless of whether they were destined for farming, the trades or a university education.

Remember how Latin was once a curriculum requirement in high school? Ever wonder where that came from? Humboldt continues:

And now, only a couple more suggestions on the learning of ancient languages. Proceeding from the principle that, on the one hand, the form of a language must become visible as form, and that this can happen better with a dead language, whose strangeness is more striking than our living mother tongue; and on the other hand, that Greek and Latin must mutually support each other, I would assert:

—That all students, without exception, absolutely must learn both languages in the elementary grades, whether it be both at once, or whichever one of the two is begun first. …

Hebrew … must be likewise strongly encouraged, not merely because of the theologians, but also because its grammatical and vocabulary structure seem at first to be radically different from Greek; are closely related to the language structures of primitive peoples; and therefore expand the concept of the form of language in general. …

The scholarly schools would admit no one who does not possess a firm foundation in elementary knowledge and is not at least nine years old. They would have five classes, and the elementary schools, two. …

Education in the elementary schools would comprise:
—mathematical relations and proportions,
—recitation exercises,
—the first and most necessary concepts of
human beings and the human species, of the Earth,
and of society,
—geography, history, natural history, insofaras they can yield material
which the mind can work on within the sphere assigned to each.

At its core, this whole system is based on the idea that, as the ancient Greeks believed, “nothing can be more important for our world than a comprehension of this characteristic feature … an uncommonly subtle feeling for everything beautiful in nature and art.”

Silvester and Gustav Adolf Days

Sometimes, traveling in a foreign country leads to a disconnect. Like the time Dave and I went to Canada in early October to celebrate his birthday, and everyone kept saying “Happy Thanksgiving.” (The Canadian Thanksgiving is always the second Monday in October.)

When I was visiting Freinsheim and asked Ina how Germans celebrate New Year’s Eve, she kept talking about Silvester.

“Silvester? What’s that?”

Turns out it’s the German New Year’s Eve.

In Germany, New Year’s Eve is Silvester because December 31 falls on the feast day of Sylvester I, a pope in the 4th century and later a saint. There’s a great article about Silvester, and its pagan origins, in The Local: Germany’s News in English. In it, I learned there are some strange traditions, such as lead-pouring. And here’s another one:

Those who stay home on Silvester in Germany are likely to be watching the 1963 TV recording of the British comedy sketch “Dinner for one”. The programme is an indispensable German New Year’s tradition since 1972 and holds the Guinness record for being the most frequently repeated TV show in history.

gustav adolph dayAnother German holiday disconnect is a strictly Protestant one. I heard about it while browsing through Tante Marliese’s photo album. There were a slew of church women marching in the street. She pointed to the picture and said, “They’re marching for Gustav Adolf Tag.”

“What’s that?”

“A Protestant day celebrating the end of Catholic persecution.”


As an American studying 19th century U.S. history, where I often encountered stories of Protestants persecuting Catholics, I felt compelled to research this one.

Near the middle of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), Gustav Adolf was a Swedish King who invaded Germany, thereby rescuing German Protestants from Catholic persecution. He is still popular with Swedes as well. Among other things, they make a pastry with his image on it to commemorate his death. More details found at:The Squeee

Once again, I realized, time has a way of shifting even the hardiest convictions. One final twist of fate: Swedish King Gustav Adolf died in a battle near Leipzig in 1632, leaving behind one daughter, Christina. She took up the Swedish throne in 1633 at the age of six, then grew up to be an extraordinary and intellectual person who converted to Catholicism. As a result, she abdicated the throne and moved to Rome, where she ended her days.