Apr 282013

Ausfahrt Frei Halten! Do Not Block The Driveway - Frankfurt, Germany

This is how I feel today, Ausfahrt frie halten! Do not block the driveway! We are about to pull out of having parked ourselves in Frankfurt and don’t need to have anyone blocking our way, yes we do.

A sign pointing out a few details regarding the old city wall in Frankfurt, Germany

This small sign is attached to a large wall, actually a small segment of what remains of the Staufermauer – old city wall. Built around 1180, the sign notes that this section was rebuilt in 1711 after the adjoining Jewish ghetto burned down.

Sketch of the old Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt, Germany

We were on our way to the former location of the Jewish ghetto and a museum that has been dedicated to this part of Frankfurt’s history. This sketch by Peter Becker from 1872 titled “Hinterhäuser in der Judengasse” is part of the depiction and uncovered ruins that had been the small corner of Frankfurt where Jews were segregated over the centuries.

Basement and foundation walls uncovered in the old Jewish quarter in Frankfurt, Germany

During excavation for a new building the foundation walls and basements of the old Jewish ghetto were uncovered. It was originally the plan to simply build over them, but protests helped create the situation that the city and builder agreed to build a museum as a memorial to the dark history of Jewish isolationism that occurred not only in this city, but cities across Germany. Many of those people who walked the narrow streets and alleys in this compact unsanitary ghetto were murdered during World War II.

Model showing the relative compactness the Jewish ghetto was forced to occupy in Frankfurt, Germany

This model in the Judengasse Museum depicts the cramped quarters Jews were forced to live in. Not only were they living with overcrowding due to the tiny area, they had little access to clean water and were often victims of crime and exploitation. In the 1860’s there was a lifting of the ban that prohibited their travel, many Jews tried leaving to what was thought were better lives in other cities, but that would all be crushed 70 years later with the onset of war.

Artifacts from the old Jewish ghetto on display at the Judengasse Museum in Frankfurt, Germany

There are a number of artifacts on display that were excavated during the archeological dig that ensued following the decision to protect the ruins of Judengasse. Another display features a few remaining parts of the old synagogue that was destroyed. It starts to become depressing here seeing items that had been handled by people who may have been marched out of their homes and deported only to be murdered at the hands of people filled with rage and politically motivated hatred.

A Mikwe (ritual bath) among the ruins of Judengasse in Frankfurt, Germany

There a couple of Mikwe (ritual baths) that were uncovered and are now viewable as part of the museum. Sadness accumulates while looking in and walking upon the stone passages that had once been used by people who unceremoniously were taken away and their memories buried along with their tortured souls. I need to get out of here.

Marker showing one of the people who had been buried in the Jewish cemetery prior to its destruction during World War II

Next to Judengasse is what remains of the Jewish Cemetery. During World War II it was destroyed but following the war it was partially restored and set as a memorial to honor those who died here. While walking along the wall I came upon this marker noting that Dora Kirchhoff once a resident of Judengasse died during the war. Kirchhoff is a variation of the spelling of my maternal family name. One other interesting factoid I learned while here, the houses in which Jews lived had symbols on the outside of their homes, this often led to what they would take as their last names. The house with a red shield on it (Rote Schild) became Rothschild – yes that Rothschild.

Caroline Wise at McDonalds at an automated ordering station in Frankfurt, Germany

The good old Hamburger Royal with Käse – quarter pounder with cheese can be ordered in Frankfurt on these automated kiosks to save you time of standing in line. Of course we ate at McDonald’s in Germany, it’s the Hamburger Royal after-all.

Katharina Engelhardt, Caroline Wise, Jutta Engelhardt, Stephanie and Klaus Engelhardt, and John Wise in Frankfurt, Germany

With less than 24 hours to go we finally get a group picture, even if it’s a little cramped. From left to right; Katharina Engelhardt, Caroline Wise, Jutta Engelhardt, Stephanie and Klaus Engelhardt, and John Wise. Had we had another set of hands in the garden that could have snapped our photo I would hopefully not loom so large over on the right side, but these self/group photos are a difficult task.

Schwanheim train station just outside of Frankfurt in Germany

From visiting Jutta we continued on the 12 train line out to Schwanheim for a visit to one of Christian Engelhardt’s favorite restaurants. He was Caroline’s paternal grandfather and I needed to know what an old German guy thought was great food, as I have come to know that this man loved food, something he and I have in common.

Grüne Sosse from Frankfurter Hod Seppche in Schwanheim, Germany

The place of our pilgrimage is called Frankfurter Hof Seppche. Staying with the theme of trying Frankfurt specialties, we start the meal with händkase and Caroline opts for another apple wine. I ordered the giant plate of meat with roasted potatoes and mushrooms; and loved it. The grüne sosse just seems like the perfect meal for Caroline and she orders a last time during this visit to her home country.

The sign outside of Frankfurter Hof Seppche with a Bembel as part of it. In Schwanheim, Germany

Leaving Seppche we take notice of their great sign, a Bembel surrounded by a wreath. Back when I lived in Germany I thought Germany food was boring. Nothing but boiled flavorless foods, oh how I was wrong. I suppose I should reevaluate a lot of my perceptions and prejudices I entertained back in my 20’s and early 30’s, but today right here right now is not the time as I race the clock to finish yet one more blog entry.

On streetcar number 12 back to Frankfurt

Back on streetcar number 12 for our return to Frankfurt. How long before our next visit? I hope it’s not another 18 years.

Apr 122013

Caroline Wise and Jutta Engelhardt in Frankfurt, Germany

We are all rendered helpless at least twice in our life; birth and death. Yet at birth we are tenderly cared for with love, attention, and laws that attempt to ensure our successful transition into a functionally competent young adult that will be ready to contribute to our society. Approaching death we are often alone without love or the attention of our families nor our friends, as they may already be gone or they too are suffering the isolation that plagues our later years.

From the wealthy enclave of Santa Barbara, California to Europe’s banking capital in Frankfurt, Germany, we all too often find the elderly are a burden and frustration while we have all benefited from these parents and workers who probably did the best they could while they were young and able. But in our impatience we are quick to satisfy our own needs with an indulgence verging on the obscenely vulgar, while at the same time seeing the needs of the elderly as unreasonable.

How do we justify ignoring these vigor impaired people who were once so important to our very existence? How do others live with themselves as they reveal their anger or disdain in the way they treat these people nearing the ends of their lives, as though they are but nuisance obligations that no longer deserve respect?

The negligence we offer the elderly while lavishing doting care and affection on dogs and cats is an abomination of our broken social contract that allows us to merrily put on display our shallowness by only embracing the young and beautiful, in addition to the cute and furry. If it weren’t for the fact that most of us will suffer the pains of time, maybe then I could understand that a fringe was being sacrificed for the betterment of the whole, but these people who paved the way for us, are our future, they are who we will be someday.

Alone and often depressed in their private lives they bloom in smiles and laughter when once again they find themselves in a setting with their friends and family; even when enduring the pain and hardship of illness or loss that has brought them into the situation of being hospitalized or placed in hospice. Where were we when they needed us to help ensure they wouldn’t hurt themselves? What of the societal responsibility to protect them from inadvertent self-abuse through their own neglect?

For a moment one can find hope in the despairing moments our elderly loved ones spend in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, as we once again see their spirit and ability to fit in with those around them. But all too soon they will find themselves returned to the lonely isolation that distanced them from our ideas of normal. They are not to blame, just as an infant cannot take responsibility for their own helplessness. Babies have not yet made friends nor can they communicate very effectively in a complex world they are yet to comprehend. On the other hand the elderly are trying to comprehend a world that has become faster and more advanced in the complexities that often exceed their abilities, do we help these people or push them to the side?

Too often our own sense of responsibility to ourselves leaves us with the easy and selfish choice of tossing these once productive and caring people to the curb of obscurity to die alone after suffering a growing sense of failure; why else are they now alone in a world that works best when we are laughing and sharing in our success?

My mother in-law is a survivor of World War II and as a young girl had to deal with the hunger and destruction of the country she was born in, along with the death of her brother in battle and the subsequent abuse from a mother who suffered too with the incomprehensible loss. Now, as after the war, she is at the mercy of those around her who try to find the time to share with her while she’s losing her sense of place and likely her home, so others may care for her and her encroaching weakness.

During her early life she studied medicine, gave life to two girls; my wife and her sister. She helped countless others who were in desperate need of life saving services in her capacity while working for the local blood donor service. Not only are those who give blood of importance to the ill and critically hurt, but those who make it their life’s work to accept these donations enable the conduit between those who are in need and those who work tirelessly to save lives. And yet most of her days are now spent with a newspaper or television. Some of her friends have already passed. Guilt tells her that her needs are not important, one mustn’t burden those who are entangled with lives that surely have no time for someone becoming frail of mind and or body.

This sweet woman needs little more than a buttered bread and her family’s love. Other sweet old ladies have trouble getting either. Even on these occasions when my mother-in-law is for a moment the center of attention, I know this will be short lived, not only because we will return to our “busy” lives, but because she can no longer be in this life much longer.

I do not know with any precision how much longer she will be with us, but I do have to face that within weeks she’ll again be alone. When she’s gone we too will be a little more alone, as the cycle of our own aging process moves us closer to the lonely door of death.

Apr 082013

Oh my oh my, this morning came on fast. Everyone was awake by 5:00 a.m., as Katharina had to be at school by 5:30 for a 6:00 departure for the 12 to 14 hour drive across Germany and France before getting on a ferry for the trip between Calais and Dover across the North Sea. Later today she’ll be settling in with her host family in Eastbourne in the south of England.

Stephanie Engelhardt, Jutta Engelhardt, and Caroline Wise - this is the first picture of these three together since Jutta's daughters became adults. Frankfurt, Germany

Spent the better part of the day with family, the first half with Jutta. Stephanie was able to join us today, as Mondays are her day to work for family needs. First up though we had to go to Jutta’s apartment to collect some clean clothes and pick up her laundry that needed washing. The reason for the fresh change is that Jutta is moving to a rehabilitation facility tomorrow morning. But before Caroline and I joined Stephanie for chores, we went over to Bergerstrasse to a small meat market (metzgerei) where a couple of days prior I had discovered the tasty joy of the Schweinebauch Brot (pork belly sandwich) and I needed another. Back at the apartment we sorted some things we are considering bringing back to the States with us and then helped Stephanie fill Jutta’s bags. When the three of us finally arrived at the hospital, one could see that Jutta’s smile was reaching new heights of happiness. It has been more than 18 years since Jutta has seen her two girls together, and this is the first photo of the three of them together since her daughters were little girls.

After spending some hours with my mother in-law it was time to go visit Stephanie’s mother in-law. Christa is Stephanie’s husband Klaus’s mother, she is in hospice. Christa has heard much about Caroline and I from Jutta due to all of her adventures with us in the United States and wanted to meet us. In celebration of being in hospice, Christa has thrown away caution and embraced some old bad habits that are making this life transition a little easier, so we brought cigarettes. A small bottle of wine was sitting by the door to her balcony. I loved this woman’s smile and her attitude that lets her have a bit of smoke, drink, followed with a shot of oxygen. We didn’t get to spend much time with Christa, but I’m happy to have had to opportunity to meet my brother in-law’s mother.

Inside Adolf Wagner restaurant in Sachsenhausen, Germany

After this visit, it was back to Bürger Hospital to see Jutta once more. By dinner time we asked for a restaurant recommendation and Jutta suggested Das Gemalte Haus – The Painted House. We drove over to Sachsenhausent to find the place closed on Mondays; bummer. Just a few doors down was another restaurant and it was offering Apfelwein (Apple Wine). This is usually a good sign that the place will be serving traditional German fare. We checked out the menu that like all German restaurants is posted outside and thought the menu looked appealing enough that we decided on eating at Adolf Wagner’s seemed like it would be a good choice. Sure enough it was. Time to get back to Stephanie’s place to let Caroline try and get some work done before going to sleep far too late.

Jan 102012

Jutta Engelhardt and Karen Goff meeting for lunch in Phoenix, Arizona

After a quiet day yesterday; there has to be some time to recover from jet lag, Jutta and I met my mother, Karen Goff, for lunch today. During Jutta’s 2009 visit, between remaining busy with so many activities and travels and my mother’s occasionally demanding work schedule, we missed the opportunity to meet up with my mom. That won’t happen during this vacation, as we make sure that these two have plenty of chances to get together between now and February 18 when Jutta returns to Frankfurt, Germany.

Jan 082012

Jutta Engelhardt playing the Theramin at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

Mom and daughter time makes way for me time. Dropped the girls at The Musical Instrument Museum at 10:00, wished them well and encouraged Caroline and Jutta to take their time, enjoy a nice lunch at the cafe, before calling me to pick them up. While they walked the halls of the museum and listened to just a fraction of the instruments on display, I took off to celebrate that the next hours would be all-about-me! I would need that time, as tomorrow Caroline will go to work and Jutta and I will have the entire day to spend together. From the smile Jutta wore while playing the Theramin, I can only guess these two were enjoying themselves. Sorry, but there are no photos of me having an equal day of fun. Hmmm, as I now write this, I do not have the faintest idea what I did to spend my time productively, if in fact it was in any way put to good use.

Jutta Engelhardt playing the drum at The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

An obvious trend is developing as a potential hobby for Jutta – drumming. On a previous visit, Caroline suggested we take her mom to a drum class with an old friend of ours, Frank Thompson. Reluctant at first, Jutta fell into the rhythm and thoroughly enjoyed herself as Frank taught us some basics. Now here at The Mim, Jutta is again, getting her groove on. Maybe we should pick her up a set of bongo’s to take back to Germany?

Caroline Wise and Jutta Engelhardt in a self-portrait at The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

A picture worth a thousand memories. After more than seven hours the call came in, “We are ready to go.” If there is one regret during these visits between Caroline and her mom, it would be that there aren’t more days like this with such happy photos and big smiles.