Tuesday, July 3, 2018

On the Road: Leipzig (July 2-3, 2018)

The Bach statue in front of
ThomasKirche, Leipzig
I had hoped to catch up on writing about the museums in Munich, but there's only so much time to write when you're traveling. This afternoon I head to Berlin already. I chose a latish train to allow time this morning for a visit to the Bach Museum in Leipzig, which was closed yesterday when it would have been more convenient. I sit now in a café not far from Bach's Thomaskirche, aiming to get myself fed early in the day today. Yesterday, traveling by rented car in the countryside in search of ancestors, I found myself in places where food was hard to find. I eventually had a lunch of fried trout and beer (Altenburger) in the town of Langenleuba-Niederhain. Everywhere beer.

Currants for sale
It happened to be a market day in Leipzig. I enjoyed watching people and looking at the bounty of fruit, cheeses, mushrooms, vegetables, and meat on offer. The variety of fruit was impressive: blueberries; cherries; peaches; apricots; red, black, and white currants; raspberries; gooseberries; figs; strawberries; and more. Some of the vendors were from as far away as Poland. Many vendors felt it important to say their produce was from Germany. "Deutsche Erdbeeren, Deutsche Himmelbeeren!" I bought cherries, black currants, and blueberries. I had a quick look at the Bach Museum and at Bach's Thomaskirche, where his remains lie today (having been moved there from a spot not far from where I was staying, near the Johannisplatz, the site of a church destroyed in WWII).

The courtyard of Colditz Castle
On the way, I stopped at Colditz and took a quick self-guided tour of the castle infamous as a WWII prison for allied officers, and, I learned, as a psychiatric "hospital" used even before the concentration camps were set up as a place to extinguish patients rather than care for them, usually by intentional starvation (after the war, it was used as an actual hospital). A bit incongruously, there was an exhibit of nude photography from the East German era, that was as interesting for the cameras on display as for the photographs. In the prison museum is a collection of artifacts, including fake German uniforms prisoners painstakingly made for escape attempts from blankets and cardboard, complete with insignia and other details. The famous glider was never used, apparently. The prison was liberated before an attempt could be made. It was to have been catapulted from the windows above the chapel (just to the right of the tower in my photograph of the courtyard here).

Wheat fields near Langenleuba-Niederhain
Langenleuba-Niederhain, the town from which the German ancestors on my mother's side emigrated, is about 50 minutes south of Leipzig. It was a quick drive through flat farmland (mostly wheat and corn) studded with dark lollipop trees along the roads and relieved here and there by patches of forest or a village with red-orange or black and grey roofs and always a church spire. Huge combines were harvesting wheat. Crows in the fields behind them appeared to be gleaning kernels left behind. Raptors (probably kites) circled overhead, perhaps looking for mice or voles.

A traditional house, Langenleuba-Niederhain
I found the church in Langenleuba-Niederhain after asking directions several times. It's a bit outside of the cluster of buildings at the center of the village. I was disappointed to find no graves of any kind there. I also found the closest cemetery (and another closer to the village of Flemmingen), but in both the oldest burial I could find was from 1966 and most were much newer than that. Strange in Europe to find a cemetery with no old graves. A woman tending a gravesite said there were no old graves in the area. A man at the library told me the same and that there were no records as old as I was seeking anyway (lost in the war? Lost in the confusion following the fall of East Germany?). I didn't quite understand the explanation given but it sounded as if they had all disappeared. I learned also that records for Langenleuba-Niederhain are kept in Flemmingen at the Pfarramt there (in the custody of one Herr Coblenz at Pfarramt 27 Flemmingen, Thuringen, 04618, who was not at home either of the two times I tried to enquire).

Eventually, I gave up, but there were buildings both old and new in the traditional Saxon style in the village and in the neighboring villages, always with a stone ground floor (often but not always with shallowly arched wooden lintels over the first-storey windows) and a half-timbered second story. The drawing we have of the home of ancestor Christoph Heinig in the town is one of these (Christoph was father of Gottfried Heinig, my great-great-grandfather, who arrived in the US in 1859). Perhaps a letter to Mr. Coblenz will turn something up.

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