Thursday, Feb 23, 2005 I awoke once again in Haus Wally. Yes, out of all the german-sounding “houses” in the area, I stayed in Haus Wally. With Max, the large German shepherd, of course, guarding the place. I am not making any of this up. I dialed the radiating heater down and set out on the train again for a town called Oettingen. What? You haven’t heard of that one? Sure enough, an obscure farming community out in the sticks, with only a bridge just big enough for the Allies to try bombing it during the war to put it on a map.
But even though a taxi was the only way I could get out there expediently, I had to go, I had to know. Why did the grandfathers of my grandfathers live there? What were we and what did we do? Yes, before the Lehenbauers picked up lock, stock, and barrel and moved out in the late 1800’s, we were there.
I had the taxi drop me off at the edge of town. I wanted to take a picture of a town plaque with the town name on it but the only thing I saw bearing the name of my local heritage was a beer truck. So be it. I mean, who knows how important that beverage was to my ancestors? ‘Oettinger Bier’ it was. I walked through, amazed at how old the structures were, occasionally checking the names on door bells just in case some relative had remained.
The town is proud of its historical buildings and hence it is quite quaint and preserves, like the land of Kings and Castles, some of its original mystique. Very cool, because the past is what I came to find. Shooting pictures left and right, the townsfolk gawked more than typical privacy-oriented Germans are wont to do. And that was before I turned the camera on myself and started narrating some video clips. Yeah, glad that family moved away” they probably thought. Anyway, I unwittingly stumbled onto a museum which happened to be free every third Thursday or something, although I already had my Euros out to pay.
The display was photos and facts about the destruction and displacement of families during the bombing of World War II, but that was after the period of my interest. So I asked for access to the upper floors. Interesting, but no family found yet. So I asked the main Frau. Lehenbauer? Yes, she had seen that name. REALLY? Yes. Apparently I had been preceded by distant relative who dropped off a comprehensive Lehenbauer genealogy. My name was even in that book, date of birth and all. I was relieved to find no date yet entered for my decease.
Well, long story more, the nice lady pulled out an old tax record. Seems only the wealthy could afford grave stones so tax records is where we found the poor Lehenbauers. Well, some things never change. The surprise? For over one hundred years we lived in the same house. She handed me an old map with its location and pointed north. For one hundred years, the Lehenbauers were……WEAVERS. Ok, I can accept that. First farmers, then weavers, then Lutheran ministers. But we certainly are diversifying now!
The house had been refurbished, but it was still in the same spot. I took pictures, I did video, the people stared. I found a house on the corner that appeared to be in its original form and took a picture of that for an example. There was a barn against the back of the house, and a cat currently on the porch. I walked around to see what they saw, the older trees, the river, the neighborhood.
I’m glad we moved. Ok?
I mean, if we were from the Garmisch area with the alps, the mountains--cool! But this was the Iowa of Germany, it seemed to me--the farmers’ fields and Oettinger beer. And sowing ain’t my thing either. I recognize that some love both Iowa and sowing, no offense. But we, the family, eventually moved on. Still, it was cool to see, to know, and even visit the church of our then religion. It was history, and it is a part of me. I took home brochures and info for further study at a later time. Now it was time for a long ride back. What was that taxi number?
Pics: Pic 1 A view down a classic street in Oettingen
Pic 2 Town name, finally found it written somewhere!
Pic 3 The house the Lehenbauers lived in from 1750 to 1870 or so (it has been re-built)
pic 4 An older house 3 places down from the Lehenbauer house, this is probably what the houses here used to look like around the 18th century