Bier Trip to the Homeland Part III: Old is a relative term

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I took this to capture the onion-domed village church in the distance.  The Bavarian landscape is familiar to any southern Wisconsinite.

Over the past couple of days the group has experienced some sights that have messed with my notions of time and space.  In terms of space, the drive from Munich’s airport to our hotel let me to wonder why on earth we’d traveled all this way to come back to southern Wisconsin.  The landscape is eerily similar and, save for the street signs, one could easily think that we’d barely moved at all, let alone journeyed over thousands and thousands of miles.  I’m not sure who the first German Bohemian was to settle in southern Wisconsin.  However, I now believe that they did so by simply getting off a westward-bound train when things looked familiar.

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Typical Bavarian Farmhouse, geraniums adorning the window boxes and barn attached to the stuccoed front in the rear.

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The size of our hoard qualifies earns us a full bus. Luckily is has tables in the back . . .

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As numerous rounds of cards are required daily.

The compression of time is a far more nuanced and complex discussion.  I was struck by how some structures made to look old were actually quite new, and vice versa.  Equally striking was the interwoven nature of my family’s “dates” and histories with those events of the past.

 

1754:  Wies Church completed

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Wieskirch exterior, Steingaden, Bavaria, Germany

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The interior is concerned a masterpiece of the Bavarian Rococo style.

This church was built as a pilgrimage site, and located smack in the middle of the countryside.  It is dripping in the pastel gilt that is textbook Bavarian Rococo.  It commemorates the miracle of a wooden statue of Jesus that was reported to be seen weeping on several occasions.  This miracle, one that I would have thought to be thoroughly shrouded in the mists of time reportedly occurred in 1738, less than 100 years before…

1822:  Franz Langer born

1845:  Valentine Bier born

1853:  Franz Langer family emigrates to U.S.

1855:  Hohenschwangau Castle completed

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Hohenschwangau Castle was built in relative modernity on the ruins of 11-12th century fortresses.

 

I knew nothing about the Bavarian monarchy prior to this trip.  While the Wittelsbach family consolidated power as Dukes for many years, Bavaria was only a Kingdom from 1806-1918.  Thus, while this castle was made to look old, it is really quite new.  It was built as a summer hunting residence for King Maximiliian the II and is where his son, King Ludwig II, grew up.

1876:  Telephone invented

1881:  First public electric utility established in the U.K.

1882:  Valentine Bier family emigrates to U.S.

1886:  Neuschwanstein Castle completed

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Perched high on a hill, Neuschwanstein Castle truly seems like the stuff of fairy tales.

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Hohenschwangau with Neuschwanstein in the distant

This castle, commemorated on calendars and puzzles worldwide, is built just a stone’s throw from Hohenschwangau.  Ludwig II built a fantasy castle decorated on the inside with fairy tale scenes from Richard Wagner’s operas.  The interior is amazing but photographs are not allowed;  a peek at interior shots is worthwhile.  Ludwig II gazed out from a window in Hohenschwangau as his dream, the exterior conceived by a set designer rather than an architect, went up across the gorge over years.  He only slept there for 172 nights before his strange tale ended mysteriously.  The castle is only a pastiche of the medieval:  inside was running water and a telephone (that only connected to the post office and Ludwig’s mother).  All of this opulence existed while my ancestors, and countless others, toiled in poverty and obscurity in Wisconsin.

1894:  Franz Langer dies

1918 / 1919:  Vincent Bier & Mary Alice Langer, my grandparents, born

1918:  End of WWI, Bavarian Monarchy dissolved

1922:  Valentine Bier dies

1933-1945:  Dachau Concentration Camp in operation

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A sobering view from one of the reconstructed barracks over the expanse representing the rows of former barracks, surrounded by guard towers and razor wire.

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Gates of the camp with the taunting phrase, “Arbeit macht frei”  or “work makes you free.

We  spent several sobering hours at Dachau.  The horrors committed and endured here rendered the experience solemn and horrifying.  The experience is etched forever in our collective memories.

1945-1946:  Ethnic Germans “transferred” out of Czechoslovakia

1951:  Thomas Bier, my father, born

Overall, an interesting couple of days taking in sights, surviving the rain, and thinking about the compression of time.

 

Here’s a few parting shots that don’t fit in with the theme but need to be seen:

 

Patrick dressed in a natty fashion for our castle tour, feeling that royalty is truly in his blood.  His management of this schnapps glass suggests otherwise.

We had rainy days for our tours of the Bavarian castles, but managed thanks for the preparedness of the numerous former Girl Scouts in our group.

Bier Trip to the Homeland: Munich Themes and Variations

Everyone seemed to survive the night, although a fair contingent did not make it to the delightful breakfast at the Eden Wolff Hotel.  Interesting quote from breakfast:  “I have trouble finding good liverwurst in Chicago” –Amy Bier, age 25.  The hotel is located just across from the city’s main train station, and I enjoyed watching the early Sunday morning traffic slowly increase in the early morning sun, as backpackers and travelers arrived to the city.  My roommate, Joan Shadel, is an excellent travelling companion.  In all, I recommend both her and the hotel.

Our formalized tours starting tomorrow, today our group split up.  A contingent went to the Museum district.  They took in the Documentation Center, a new museum at the site of the now-razed Brown House.  This is where Hitler launched his party from, and the museum details the personalities and situations that led to the rise of National Socialism.

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A light repast of pretzel, emmentaler, weisswurst, bier & cribbage at the Viktualienmarket Biergarten 

All who went learned something and came away with questions and answers.  Another intrepid trio also continued on to a hike around the city and the English Garden that yielded a total daily step count of 34,196 (11 miles).  They were the only ones to truly earn their dinner.  Louise and I became knowledgeable with the old area of Munich with the help of Rick Steves, and probably can now carry an umbrella as official tour guides.

 

 

The group reconvened for a lovely evening at the famous Hofbrauhaus, where we joined by my cousin Emily Laning who arrived from a work trip to Bulgaria.

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Prost!

 

Let me organize my observations into a few themes and variations:

 

 

 

MUNICH THEMES AND VARIATIONS

Leiderhosen  are a thing that people wear for real.  True, they are de riguer for the employees of tourist-heavy areas.  However, I spotted a fair number of common citizens attired thusly:  middle aged men shooting the breeze, a homeless man sifting through the trash, a guy next to us at the biergarten looking especially natty in an embroidered denim ensemble.

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Leiderhosen and Dirndls:  on trend and coming to a neighborhood near you.

Catholicism is a big thing in Munich.  A lot of the historical sites have something to do with stomping out the “Protestant Threat.”   We were touring churches this morning, a Sunday, during mass time.  The incense hung chokingly heavy in every church we entered, and I was surprised to see the pews mostly full.  We learned that St. Michael’s Church was built by the Jesuits as their northern outpost in the fight against Protestantism during the 1500’s.

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St. Michael slaying the so-called and much feared “Protestant Threat.”

St. Peter’s Church contains a weirdly fascinating side altar containing the bones of St. Munditia, a 4th century martyr.  These were a gift from Rome for a job well done–defending against the Protestant threat.

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Relics  of St. Munditia at St. Peter’s Church

The heart of the city is the Marienplatz (“Mary Place.”)  It contains a 16th century column surmounted by a gold statue of Mary.  The base has cherubs at each corner defeating symbols of the four greatest threats to the city at that time:  the dragon of war, the lion of hunger, the rooster-headed monster of plague and the serpent of–wait for it–Protestant heresy.

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Marienplatz.  Look at that cherub kicking some Protestant serpent butt!  (Note:  I do not endorse kicking anyone’s butt, Protestant or otherwise.)

You can’t escape the memory of WWII.  From the museum I mentioned above, to the fact that anything old only looks that way after being rebuilt, the shadow looms long.

The name Bier can get you anywhere.  The entire desk staff at the hotel knows us and our name.  In fact, the concierge was palpably confused when I told her that people back home are often reluctant to pronounce our last name correctly when reading it aloud for the first time for fear of offending us.  (We tend to get a lot of “Buyer” type pronounciation.)  The hotel bartender gladly received instruction on how to make a proper Wisconsin brandy old fashioned.  (The German version is basically brandy over ice with a slice of orange and a hint of bitters).

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Hofbrauhaus conviviality built on Bier–literally & figuratively.

Uncle Jim has pulled out his driver’s license so many times to flash his name that I’m thinking of getting a lanyard type situation for him to just wear it around his neck. This was done to greatest effect at the Hofbrauhaus, where Gene managed to score us a table for 10 in an impossibly crowded courtyard and a new friendship culminated in shared beers, gingerbread hearts, and hearty handshakes.

There’s always room for dessert.

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Apple strudel. The polite and of the table and . . .

 

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our end of the table.  How’d that hole get in the table?

 

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Bier Trip to the Homeland

After years of muttering about how we “really oughta,” we’re doing it.  We’re taking all of the rich first-hand narrative information about our family history and doing a mission of discovery.  I along with an assortment of my Bier relatives are spending our first night in Munich.

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Our guide, Christiane Haack. She was quite popular holding this sign in the arrivals hall.

This trip was about two years in the making, and we set up an itinerary to accomplish several things:

  • Go back to Ketzelsdorf (Koclirov) and see the village that our ancestors left behind.  
  • See a little of the other villages that other relatives came from (more on this later)
  • Stop by the nearest big city, Prague
  • Take in a smattering of German and Bavarian culture in Munich.

The trip ranges from my parents at the older end of the spectrum to my cousin, Nick Laning, who is 17.   Here’s a fun little tree to see how we’re all related and who’s along for the ride.   The tree is set up in relation to my great grandfather, Edward Bier.  He’s the youngest of Valentine’s kids, and the most recent common relative of us all.  Trip participants are circled:

Edward A Bier Hourglass Chart

We spent this first day getting here, wandering around the city in bleary-eyed fascination and taking in a delicious dinner of sauerbraten, bread dumplings and bier at the Augustiner Keller Biergarten, proudly serving Augustiner bier which has been brewed since 1328!

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Louise Bier and dessert and some scrap metal on the wall that we sat next to.

Now I’m in bed writing and the younger and heartier of the group are out pub hopping.   Also Uncle Jim. For my family, discovering our “German roots” is not proving to be that much of a stretch!

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Mom and Dad walking home from Augustiner Keller

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Discovering our German roots in the hotel bar–Bier and Riesling