Open Forum: Chasing history

Posted: July 26, 2014

I could try smuggling bullets onto the plane, but opt for transparency instead. When I show the first Dulles TSA agent what I have, she shakes her head and summons her supervisor. Fortunately, as soon as he lays eyes on them, he waves me through saying munitions of such historic nature are of no threat.

In a sense, history is the reason for this trip I’m about to embark upon to Germany. The Civil War bullets and other accompanying artifacts that just passed through security are gifts for my hosts who will be showing me much of their country over the next eight days as part of a business trip.

Before that, and of more importance personally, I’m taking a few days to connect more deeply with my family history. Both my maternal and paternal ancestry emigrated from Germany in the early 1700s, and I simply want to spend time in the center of each town hoping to develop a strong memory and appreciation for the area.

Following my TSA success, and after landing at Frankfurt International, my next challenge is simply to find my way. In a land where I don’t speak the language, claiming my bag, clearing customs, and renting a car goes quite smoothly.

A few minutes later, I’m out on the Autobahn being passed regularly by high-speed Germans. I exit at Mannheim and follow a beautiful winding road east along the Neckar River to Mosbach — home of my maternal ancestry.

Here I simply stand and absorb. It’s a vibrant city center on a Saturday morning. The cobbled streets and painted timber-frame buildings are classic Germany. Mentally block out a few of the modern signs and it’s easy to imagine what this city center was like 300 years ago when the decision was made to leave for America. After an hour of wandering and letting the imagery sink in, it’s time for me to leave, too.

An hour further east is the much quieter village of Rublingen — a small cluster of farm houses surrounded by lush fields of corn and wheat. Only a handful of people are seen, and none speak English. I hand a page written in German to an old man sweeping his driveway. It explains why I came to Rublingen and asks if anyone with my family name still lives here.

He seems to understand the question and shakes his head no, but then begins rambling in a language I don’t understand. He’s smiling while talking animatedly, and I would have given anything to understand what he was saying.

On a ridge above town sits the ruins of an old castle which surely housed the lord of this land in the 1720s. It’s easy to visually imagine the angst that an over-taxing lord forced upon my ancestry, compelling them to leave for America.

After walking nearly every street in town, it’s again time for me to leave. Just outside of Rublingen, the road spirals a few miles sharply downward into the Kocher River Valley where I have reservations for the night. Here I have perhaps the best celebratory drink of my life. Savoring a German pilsner while deeply immersed in thoughts and images of my ancestral homes is nearly overwhelming. In a biergarten full of weekend patrons, I doubt any have as meaningful a reason as I for savoring this moment.

Tim Koppenhaver is a resident of Winchester.