Tag Archives: Freinsheim

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.

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

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The wine princesses introduce the vintage and wine-maker.

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We sample our first vintage.

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We board the bus for the next village.

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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!

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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 …

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… and finish up in Freinsheim.

Viel Spaß!

Viel Spaß!

Return to Freinsheim

Matthias at the barbecue“I’m glad to see you back so soon,” Matthias said to me on our first evening in Freinsheim.

These were welcome words, as I worried Dave and I might be outwearing our welcome, having just visited here last October for the Weinwanderung. We were welcomed with a veritable barbecue feast — lamb, chicken and sausage, grilled over a fire stoked from the stalks of old grapevines.

“Does the grapevine smoke add flavor?” Dave asked.

Matthias smiled. “Okay, if you like, it makes the food more delicious. Then again, perhaps we use this wood because it burns more slowly and evenly.”

Everything tasted delicious.

imageSpring in Freinsheim is the time of ripening cherries and figs, and, this late in the season, the last days of the delicious white asparagus harvest, which attracts Germans from the cities, who are willing to wait in long lines in their cars to purchase asparagrus fresh from the field.

imageWe are here just in time for the annual Altstadtfest (I’ve tried to link to an English translation of the web site. Altstadtfest takes place June 4-7), and it looks like the weather will be perfect. The Altstadtfest will be held in the town center, just in the shadow of the church spires you see in this photo. In the foreground is the Catholic Church spire, and in the background is the Reformed Evangelical Church spire. Each has a bell, and I am told, unlike many other small villages in the Pfalz, these bells are tuned to ring in harmony.

Kings of Kallstadt

On the first weekend of my arrival in Freinsheim this past September, my relatives and I sallied forth to hike the vineyards in celebration of the annual Freinsheim Weinwanderung.

weinwanderung time to go

Ina, Manfred, Matthias and Lenny (the collie) on the first night of the Weinwanderung

Friday evening, as we headed out of town to ascend to a hilltop vantage point and await the opening night fireworks (an occasion that included the sampling of several wines), my relatives encountered friends of theirs, so we stopped to talk.

“Here is our American relative, Claire Gebben,” they said (I think), introducing me. “She’s written a book about her ancestors from Freinsheim, who emigrated from here to America in the 19th century.”

“Oh, like the ‘Kings of Kallstadt!!” All eyes turned to me. “Have you seen the film? It’s really really great.”

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Sunset on the Weinwanderung in Freinsheim

I had not seen the film. I wasn’t even sure what they were talking about. But as the three-day celebration of hiking and wine sampling wore on, over and over again we encountered friends who, when they were introduced to me and heard my story, warmed eagerly to the subject of the “Kings of Kallstadt.” I couldn’t understand half of what was said, but the delighted laughter and serious conversation that ensued was certainly intriguing.

Vineyards on the outskirts of Kallstadt

Vineyards on the outskirts of Kallstadt

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The town of Kallstadt, as seen from Freinsheim’s Musikantenbuckel

I had been to the village of Kallstadt, just 3 kilometers from Freinsheim, on my visit in 2010, where Bärbel, Luzi and I had stood on the outskirts and watched a wine-harvester. It’s a very small place.
We could even see it in the distance from the higher hills of the hike.

A few of the people we met spoke good English, and were kind enough to fill me in. “Kings of Kallstadt is a documentary film. It’s really funny, the dialect the people are speaking is our regional dialect. It’s about people who emigrated from the village of Kallstadt to America, and became really famous. Donald Trump’s family is one of them. And the Heinz family of Heinz ketchup.”

About a week later, a group of us went to see the film. The documentary is in German, but even so, I found it hugely entertaining. Simone Wendel, documentary film-maker, visits with residents of Kallstadt, especially distant relatives of the famed Trump and Heinz families, to sleuth out if there is some unique quality to this village that led two emigres to enjoy such fame and fortune in the U.S. After a humorous investigation of the lifestyles of these rural villagers, the documentary follows a tour of Kallstadt residents to New York City. They meet with Donald Trump and his brother, and also take a tour bus ride to Michigan to visit the Heinz ketchup factory. A short Youtube clip of the film is here. In the end, they don quirky outfits and carry banners and march in New York City’s German American Day parade.

Interestingly, Donald Trump and his brother were willing to be interviewed and appear in the movie, but the Heinz family made no such accommodation. For the Heinz family, perhaps too many generations had passed for them to truly appreciate the connection? Heinz founder Henry John Heinz came over just after the Civil War, whereas the Trump family arrived in the early 20th century.

Kings of Kallstadt

Scene from the documentary film “Kings of Kallstadt”

My last weekend in Freinsheim, after a hike in the Pfalzer Wald, my relatives and I stopped in Kallstadt to enjoy a glass of new wine and slice of onion cake (Neuer Wein und Zwiebelkuchen). Who should join us in the outdoor garden but a celebrity from “Kings of Kallstadt,” a descendant of the Heinz family I believe, who came over to our table and chatted briefly. Small world. Although I’m sorry to say I don’t know her name, she was delightful in person, too.

On my flight home, browsing the Lufthansa magazine, I learned about another King — Elvis Presley.

What is less known about Elvis is that his ancestors came from Germany, their original surname was Pressler. … His surname, Presley, is anglicized from the German name Pressler from Elvis’ ancestor Johann Valentin Pressler who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1710. Johann Valentin Pressler, a winegrower emigrated to America in 1710. Pressler came from a village in southern Palatinate called Niederhochstadt. Niederhochstadt became Hochstadt sometime during the 250 years after Johann Pressler left it, but there are still many Presslers there, among them a winegrower like Johann Valentin. Johann Valentin first settled in New York and later moved his family to the South.” From Geni.com

Mysterious forces at work

imageMany wonderful things occurred during my recent visit to Germany. For instance, this interview published in Die Rheinpfalz newspaper.

Look, Mom, I speak perfect German! (not) The interviewer spoke English, naturally. She recorded our talk, then translated it into German.

The photo she used was taken in the market square in the heart of the old town of Freinsheim. We sat on a bench just to the right for the interview.

Freinsheim town market place

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Still in Freinsheim a week later, I gave a book presentation on The Last of the Blacksmiths at the Altes Spital Cultural Center in Freinsheim to a full house — about 60 people (probably half of whom were relatives). My cousin Matthias Weber, sitting beside me here, had translated my talk into German in advance, which I read to the best of my ability. Afterward, I heard several times that my American accent was “charming.”

A special celebrity appeared that evening — Michael Harm — a man who lives in Freinsheim today, with the same name as the protagonist in my novel. This Michael Harm has curly brown hair, just like Michael Harm in the book. As we talked, Michael confided to me that he is named after Johann Michael Harm, the first Harm ever to come to Freinsheim. Which means he and I are related — albeit some eight generations back.

Michael HarmOf course I gave him a copy of my book and couldn’t resist asking if I might take his photo, to which he readily agreed. And look how it came out …

Isn’t that weird? My camera was working perfectly the entire trip, except for this one instance.

At first glance, it’s disappointing. But just maybe, mysterious forces were at work. This way, Michael Harm can still live in each of our imaginations, just as we like to picture him.

Roman ruins, grape harvest, and the devil’s stone

Freinsheim may be a small rural town, but during my visit there’s been so much going on I have trouble keeping up.

Friday, Oct. 3 was German Unification Day (a celebration of the day East and West Germany re-united in 1989). It is a national holiday. My relatives all gathered in a terraced garden in the vineyard, in the shade around a massive stone table. Afterwards, we hiked to some Roman ruins — two of four sarcophagi discovered a few years ago in the fields, dating back to around 300 A.D.

Unification Day brunch in the wine garden on the Musikantenbuckel

Unification Day brunch in the wine garden on the Musikantenbuckel

a uni sacrophagi

Roman sarcophagi from 300-400 AD discovered in the hills outside Freinsheim

On Saturday, the Town Council Weinlese (grape harvest) took place — the grapes used to make the town wine. About 30 gathered in the vineyards to snip grapes and enjoy a wine-maker’s picnic.

a grape harvesting

A gorgeous day for a grape harvest.

a grape harvest truck

Talk about a big toy — future wine-makers of Freinsheim.

a grape harvest table

A table spread with schwarzbrot and blutwurst and liverwurst, cheeses and wine schorles. Prost!

 

Then, on Sunday, a hike and delicious Pfalzer meal in the hills behind Bad Duerkheim. The Pfalzer Wald is the largest forest in Germany.

The Teufelstein in the Haardt Mountains.

The Teufelstein in the Haardt Mountains.

James Fenimore Cooper hiked here and wrote about his visit, in The Heidenmauer, including the tale of the Teufelstein — Devil’s stone.

Heidenmauer in the Pfalzer Wald was built by the Celts around 500 BC

Heidenmauer in the Pfalzer Wald was built by the Celts around 500 BC

More about the Heidenmauer here.

a pfalzer wald neuer wein

Of course I drank Neuer Wein and ate Zwiebelkuchen!

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.

A glimpse of the ancient, charming town of Freinsheim

Freinsheim Ringmauer

Check out this new promotional Youtube spot about Freinsheim in the Rhineland-Palatinate. Visiting there is such a fun-loving, picturesque experience. You can even hear the tolling of the church bells in one part. (Sure, it’s narrated in German, but you’ll get the idea.) I clipped one of my favorite shots, this picture of a kid leaping to touch the top of the tunnel along the inner ring of the towns ancient fortified wall.

Freinsheim an der Deutschen Weinstrasse

Ancient Freinsheim

Emigration table of Freinsheim 1853-1881

In 2010, when I traveled to Freinsheim, it was my privilege to have a meeting with Dr. Hans-Helmut Görtz, a local scholar of Palatine history. He openly shared his knowledge and supplied me with many materials, including journal entries of the Protestant parish priest in the era my novel is set, articles about emigrants from Freinsheim during the decade my great-great grandfather left for Cleveland, and a book he had authored about local historical figure Johann Bartholomäus von Busch (Der kurpfälzische Vizekansler Johann Bartholomäus von Busch (1680-1739) und seine Familie). At the end of our meeting, Dr. Görtz assured me I should feel free to email him with questions. For the past couple of years, from time to time I have taken him up on his offer.

Cathedral at SpeyerHistory Museum of the Palatinate at SpeyerOver the holidays, Dr. Görtz sent me a pdf of a “Survey in table form of emigration to overseas countries from Freinsheim.” He found a copy in the Landesarchiv in Speyer (where one also can visit the 11th century cathedral and History Museum of the Palatinate, both pictured here). So far, I’ve been able to discern the following names: Wiegand, Selzer, Höhn, Schneider, Hoffmann, Kaufmann, Gumbinger, Diehl, Schulz, Amend, Retzer, Depper, Bisgen, Schwab, Bloch, Drescher, Haas, König, Kirchner, Weilbrenner, Weibert, Schalter, Arter, Reichert, Heinz, Schmitt, Först, Fränkel, Aul, Adler, Heim, Hermann, Jacob, Kohl, Köhler, Bawel, Debus, Schaadt. Check it out for yourself: Tabellarische Übersicht der Auswanderungen. The table is not complete (my ancestor Michael Harm, who left at age 15, is not listed), but I include it here for others who might have better luck, both with finding their ancestors and/or deciphering the Alte Deutsche Schrift.