It was an emotional moment when we realized that we were standing at the crossroads of the village of Oberhallau, Switzerland, where my grandmother left when most of her family immigrated to the United States in 1885.
Allen and I were fortunate to visit the fifth and sixth grade classroom at the Oberhallau School and visit with the teacher, Barbara Imobersteg during their mid-day “pause.” She enjoyed having visitors from the U.S. and encouraged me to correspond with village residents who are interested in the village ancestry.
Imobersteg said she was sure the village had changed very little from the day my grandmother left. It is still primarily a farming community with grapes for wine being a major crop. Their website is www.oberhallau.ch. The Swiss treasure the old, but they also prize state of the art technology.
In the church cemetery across from the school were the names of my grandmother’s Graf family and my great-grandmother Bauman. The school website www.schulehallau.ch gives the schedules and curriculum of the district.
We were lucky to stop in at the school during their two-hour “pause.” School is from 7:30 a.m. to 4:25 p.m. with most students able to ride bikes to school or ride the school bus. They go home for lunch during the mid-day “pause.”
Another highlight of our trip that began with the first three days in Paris and a Viking River Cruise down the Moselle and Rhine rivers, was meeting friends in St. Gallen, Switzerland. We met Margrit and Kurt Artho in Florida two years ago and they invited us to visit them in Switzerland.
We spent a day with them and enjoyed breakfast in their village of Buchs, which is about the size of Cardington. They then drove us in their Mercedes to the neighboring country, the principality of Lichtenstein. All of Lichtenstein is about the size of Morrow County. It is both an international banking center and an agricultural area.
From there Kurt drove up the mountainside, full of hairpin turns to Heidi Dorf. It is the village of writer Johanna Spiri’s children’s book “Heidi.” After a delicious lunch at the Heidi Dorf restaurant overlooking mountains and pastures, the Arthos took us to the train station where we went on to Lucerne.
Lucerne has been on my bucket list for quite a while so the first sight of the Kapelle Brucke (Chapel Bridge) was another emotional moment. The Kapelle Brucke is the oldest covered, wooden bridge in Europe and stretches across the River Reuss diagonally with a stone tower built in 1333.
Allen and I were struck by the wonderful farmland in both Germany and Switzerland. There are miles and miles of cornfields, hay and sunflowers on the hillsides. Farmland is preserved as villages and cities are kept contained.
It was fun to find ourselves just an arm’s length away from several Brown Swiss cows as we walked along a path at the edge of the city of St. Gallen. The cows’ pastures bordered on a large group of apartments and homes. There just isn’t much sprawl of malls and billboards that we have so much of in the U.S.
The German and Swiss trains are much appreciated by tourists. They go everywhere and arrive on time to the second. It was convenient and comfortable to take the train to the town of Hallau and then the bus five miles to Oberhallau, a town of just 400 where my grandmother lived. Villages, towns and cities are part of the great network of Swiss trains so there isn’t isolation in rural towns.
The other amazing quality of Germany, Switzerland and all of Europe is the age of churches and most other buildings. Guides rattle off the dates without blinking of churches from 500 to 1,000 years old.
The serendipity moments of the trip were hearing a practice session of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” in Schaffhausen and an organ rehearsal in the Jesuit Church in Lucerne. We lucked out with a hotel room in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower. And the moment that most took our breath away was stepping into the sanctuary of Saint Chappelle in Paris to the light of a dozen blue, stained glass windows.
It is all in our dreams now as we recall the words of Mark Twain who also loved Lucerne, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness … charitable views of man and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”