Kyra's Excellent Adventure, Part 9: Going Medieval, part 1: Regensburg
Time to finish up my blog series on last year's trip to Germany (here's Part 1) before my husband and I head off on our next adventure, later next month. Stay tuned to find out where we're going!
We bookended our trip into eastern Germany with stops in three beautiful medieval cities. The first one was Regensburg, which is especially known for its cathedral. I remembered the cathedral from when we were in Germany in 1978-79; in June of 79, my best friend from back home came to spend the month with us, and she and I went all over the place on the train. Regensburg was one of those stops. I was excited to see the cathedral again this time. It's very squeezed in among a lot of other buildings and a good chunk of it was covered in scaffolding, but we still got some great views of it. Here it is lit by the sunset:
That evening, we all went our separate ways for supper. My husband and I found ourselves in this square near the cathedral. The yellow building was the site of the Perpetual Diet. From Wikipedia:
"The Perpetual Diet of Regensburg or the Eternal Diet of Regensburg[nb 1] (German: Immerwährender Reichstag) was a session of the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) of the Holy Roman Empire that sat continuously from 1663 to 1806 in Regensburg in present-day Germany.
"Previously, the Diet had convened in different cities but, beginning in 1594, it met only in the town hall in Regensburg. On 20 January 1663, the Diet convened to deal with threats from the Ottoman Empire (the Turkish Question). Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Holy Roman Emperor had been formally bound to accept all decisions made by the Diet. Hence, out of fear that the Emperor would disregard the Diet's role by not calling sessions, it never dissolved and became a perpetual diet."
With the obvious jokes, my husband and I grabbed an outdoors table at a small restaurant on the square, the Hofbräuhaus Regensburg, and ordered Abendsbrot, delicious breads and cheeses and a selection of interesting wursts. This was the view from our table:
This square was really pretty busy with people coming and going, eating ice cream and hanging out with friends, and we had a wonderful, relaxing time sitting and eating and watching the world go by. This was one of our favorite restaurants in Germany. Actually, they were all our favorites, but we had a really nice time here.
We spent the night at a nice hotel, in an old building but renovated with an elevator! At this point I was getting kind of tired of lugging my suitcase up and down narrow stairways. The hotel was on the Street of the Happy Turks, in a very hip and happening part of town. Lots of people out enjoying the town at night, lots of fun.
The next day we set out to do our sightseeing, including a return trip to the cathedral.
The inside is just as spectacular. We got there just in time to enjoy the short noon service, organ music and a brief sermon (in German). A nice, peaceful break from all the touristy running around.
The Danube River runs through Regensburg. My husband and I walked across this bridge with this cool medieval gate tower and got a great view of the city, with the cathedral and interesting medieval buildings.
March 22-27: Get your fantasy boxed sets here at the Towers of Fantasy Tomes event, hosted by Romantic Fantasy Shelf. Binge on fantasy reads for 99 cents, free, Kindle Unlimited, and more!
March 20-25: If you're an international Kobo customer (I'm not sure if this sale is good in the US), don't miss the March 40% Off Box Sets sale! All three of my box sets, Love and Magic, Daughter of the Wildings Books 1-3, and Daughter of the Wildings: The Complete Series are part of this sale, in the Fantasy and Science Fiction section. Use promo code 40MAR.
I'm also running a 40% off coupon on these box sets on Smashwords. Buy Love and Magic, Daughter of the Wildings Book 1-3, and/or Daughter of the Wildings: The Complete Series with the on-site coupon code and save 40%! Deal expires March 25.
I'm happy to announce that Mages' Exile, Book 2 of Defenders of the Wildings, is now available. If you've read Mages' Home and are wondering if things can get any worse for Silas and Lainie, the answer is yes, they can! Some characters from the Daughter of the Wildings series make an appearance in Mages' Exile, and we get to know our villains better. Also, can you spot three famous Arizona locations in the book?
This weekend only, through March 3, Mages' Exile is available at the special launch price of $2.99. After this, the regular price will be $3.99. Available at your favorite ebook store:
Amazon.com | AU | CA | UK | Amazon International
Barnes & Noble | Google Play | iTunes | Kobo
Smashwords | DriveThruFiction | More Stores
To celebrate the release of Mages' Exile, Mages' Home is also on special this weekend for only 99 cents. The price goes up on Monday March 4, so don't miss this!
Amazon.com | AU | CA | UK | Amazon International
Barnes & Noble | Google Play | iTunes | Kobo
Smashwords | DriveThruFiction | More Stores
Hope everyone had a great holiday season! I'm still recovering from Thanksgiving and Christmas. But edits on the next book of Defenders of the Wildings are proceeding at a steady pace (Thank you pomodoro method!), and now it's time for the cover reveal! First, though, I want to let you know about a new Facebook group for readers of romantic fantasy, Romantic Fantasy Shelf. (If you aren't on Facebook, there's also a website starting up, also called Romantic Fantasy Shelf.) We're kicking off the group this month with a full month of games, giveaways, and author takeovers. (I'm on today, Jan. 5.) Come join us and discover lots of new romantic fantasy books and authors!
And now, on with the cover :)
Art by Yuriko Matsuoka. I've been really excited about this cover. Of all the Wildings covers, this comes closest to capturing Silas the way I see him in my mind. And I love the canyon background!
I'm looking to release Mages' Exile in February. To make sure you don't miss the release date, sign up for my email newsletters! No spam, and I won't share your address with anyone else. When you confirm your subscription, you'll get a link to a free copy of Tales of the Source-Breakers, a subscribers-only collection of backstories that go with Source-Breaker.
Um, okay. Finally back :D I've been busy, revising and editing Mages' Exile, book 2 of Defenders of the Wildings, and writing the first draft of my next series, yet to be named, set in the Islands of the Wildings world, the home of Silas's ancestors. I've also got a few more blog posts to write about our trip to Germany, which I'll try to finish soon.
In the meantime, here's a sneak peek into Mages' Exile. (My newsletter subscribers got to see this first, and they'll also get first look at the cover, a tiny snippet of which illustrates this post.) This scene shows why you don't take the kiddos along on your fantasy quests if you can possibly help it, though if you've read Mages' Home, you'll know that Silas and Lainie didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. (Note: this is not the final version; still some edits to go.)
Half-climbing, half-crawling, Silas left the winding path and headed straight up. Another measure and a half up, he pulled himself up onto a shelf cut into the slope, a good bit wider and longer than the ledge below. At the far side of the shelf, where the canyon wall rose again, five or six swordbeaks strutted in an agitated circle, spitting out curls of flame that hissed in the rain. In their midst, Garis sat on the ground, laughing and clapping his hands.
Silas’s heart skipped a beat and he stopped short. He suppressed an urge to run right over and pull Garis away from the swordbeaks; the last thing he wanted to do was upset the critters even more and provoke them into attacking. He held silent and motionless for a moment, observing the situation. It didn't look like the swordbeaks had hurt Garis, but they were clearly unhappy at his presence. A dark cleft split the canyon wall behind where Garis was sitting. The swordbeaks' den? No wonder the beasts were angry.
"Garis," he said, fighting to keep his voice calm.
"Look, Pa, fire chickens!" Garis shouted. The swordbeaks chittered, flapped their tiny forearms, and breathed out more fire.
Fire chickens. Silas closed his eyes, overcome by one of those brief, unexpected moments of sympathy for his own parents. “Hold still, Garis. Don’t scare them.”
“They ain’t scared, Pa. They happy and dancing!”
Great gods, what was he going to do? Silas studied Garis and the surrounding flock of swordbeaks, trying to work out how to get the critters away from the boy, or the boy away from them, without provoking them. He could slip a shield between the beasts and encircle Garis with it, keeping a strand of power extended to pull Garis and the shield out with, through the ring of swordbeaks. But wielding that much power with that much precision and control, without hitting any of the swordbeaks, in this place of wild magic while he was still suffering the effects of that weapon, wouldn’t be easy.
Still, it was the best he could come up with. Ignoring the discomfort, he began to draw power, shaping in his mind the shield he meant to make.
Watch for Mages' Exile, book 2 of Defenders of the Wildings, coming (hopefully) in January 2019! And in the meantime, stay tuned for the reveal of the amazing cover! To make sure you don't miss out on the release, and for early cover reveals, sneak peeks, special offers, and more, sign up for my email newsletter.
I'm pleased to announce that Mages' Home, book 1 of Defenders of the Wildings, is now available at all major ebook stores (and a number of smaller stores) for $2.99 or the international equivalent.
AU | CA | UK
Barnes & Noble
iTunes | Kobo
More Stores (This takes you to Books2Read, where you'll find links to a number of other international stores)
You can read the prologue and first chapter here.
Defenders of the Wildings is the follow-up series to Daughter of the Wildings, and Mages' Home catches up with Silas and Lainie some six years after the end of Daughter of the Wildings. They have a new home and the life they've dreamed of, and things are much better for mages in the Wildings now. But the Plain settlers aren't the only ones who hate (or used to hate) mages, and when a company from across the western sea comes to town, trouble soon rears its ugly head again. Only Silas and Lainie have a lot more at stake now than their own lives.
Defenders of the Wildings tells a self-contained story, and can be enjoyed even if you haven't read Daughter of the Wildings. (Though I hope you have, or will!) It's a three book series, Mages' Home to be followed by Mages' Exile and Mages' Uprising. It introduces a bunch of new characters I had fun writing, and gets us caught up with the characters from Daughter.
Defenders was originally 6 books, and I kept changing the order of books 1, 2, and 3 before I really got a handle on how the story went, then I combined them into 3 books. So there was a lot of work to do revising this series, and book 3 (formerly book 6) was nearly double in length by the time I finished the first big revision on it. It turned out to be a lot more epic in scope than I thought it would. But I think it's all come together pretty well :) The second revision of book 2 is proceeding apace. No promises on a release date, but I'm aiming for 3-4 months from now.
I've also started writing my next series, which is set in the Islands of the Wildings world, where Silas's ancestors came from, in a time period well before the migration of Island mages to Granadaia. This will be a trilogy plus prequel. It's still a long ways off; stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, I hope you'll pick up Mages' Home and enjoy starting this new adventure through the Wildings with Silas and Lainie.
I'm down to the last few editing passes on Mages' Home, Book 1 of Defenders of the Wildings, so it's time to show off the cover!
And the full wraparound:
The artist who did the covers for Daughter of the Wildings unfortunately was not available to do these covers, so I commissioned Yuriko Matsuoka. I love her vision of a more mature Lainie and an older and (possibly) wiser Silas.
Here's the blurb:
Once, they were hated and hunted by mage hunters and Plain folk alike. Now, former bounty hunters turned renegade mages Silas and Lainie Vendine finally have the life they dreamed of - a home and ranch of their own where they can live in peace and raise their family, and the friendship and respect of their non-magical neighbors.
When a company from across the western sea comes to Prairie Wells, bringing marvelous new inventions, Silas and Lainie figure it only means more prosperous times ahead for the town and for them - until an old and vicious hatred of mages rears its head.
As troubles stirred by unseen enemies divide the town, many of Silas and Lainie's neighbors turn on them. When danger strikes at the heart of their home and family, Silas and Lainie must fight to protect everything they love, everything they've worked for, before it's all destroyed.
Read the Prologue and Chapter 1 here (warning: contains mild spoilers for Daughter of the Wildings).
I've set a tentative release date of September 22. To make sure you don't miss the release and the very limited-time introductory price (release weekend only!), sign up for my email newsletter. You'll also get news about special offers, giveaways and book promotions, book recommendations, exclusive sneak peeks, and more, including a free copy of Tales of the Source-Breakers, a subscribers-only collection of prequel stories to Source-Breaker!
Kyra's Excellent Adventure Part 8: Into the East, part 3: Dresden
Sorry for the long break in the travelogue. I've been working hard on books; the second half of Book 3 of Defenders of the Wildings needed pretty much a complete rewrite. So most of my meager brain power has been going to that. But it's finally done, and now I'm working on final edits on Book 1. Watch this space for a cover reveal, coming soon!
So, on to Dresden. Dresden was planned to be one of the highlights of the trip. Once known as the Florence of the Elbe, a jewel box of beauty and culture, the city suffered devastating destruction from Allied firebombing near the end of World War II, a horrific, nightmarish tragedy. There's a lot of controversy over the reasons for and necessity of the bombings, but I believe the ultimate responsibility lies at the feet of the Nazi regime that led Germany into a terrible and completely unjustified war of aggression and conquest.
Since my previous visit to Dresden in the 70s, beginning after the fall of the GDR and reunification there's been extensive restoration work, and the city is once again a treasure. We were especially looking forward to seeing the Frauenkirche, the famous church that was reduced to ruins, left as a pile of rubble during the Soviet era, and finally rebuilt, 1993-2005.
Driving into the city, we passed the dreadful, ugly apartment blocks that once housed the families of Red Army troops stationed in East Germany. 10, 14 stories tall, I guessed, and no elevators. They don't look like dwellings; they look like warehouses for storing human cogs in the machine.
Past the Soviet-era apartment blocks on the outskirts of town, we drove into the city, and parked in a parking lot in front of this department store, built after reunification.
We didn't go inside. According to my mom, we could have spent a whole day just in that store, and we didn't have an extra day.
Our main destination was a short walk away, the square around the Frauenkirche. The church is breathtaking in its beauty and magnificence, outside and in.
In that shot of the balconies, you can see the resemblance between the Frauenkirche and the small church in Forscheim attended by our relatives (that we actually visited the next day; doing a little time traveling here!). We were fortunate enough to get there in time for the mid-day devotional, so we got to hear some wonderful organ music and an inspiring service.
The square and streets around the church are also beautiful, lined with elegant buildings. And there's a cafe there where you can get a strawberry parfait that's about a foot tall.
After this, my siblings and their spouses took off to go visit a castle, while my parents and my husband and I headed to the next attraction, the Gallery of Old Masters at the Zwinger palace.
On the way, we walked down this street lined with a mural of all the kings of Saxony. It's a history lesson in pictures, and it was fun reading the names and seeing the changing styles of clothing and armor from Konrad the Great in 1127 to Friedrich the Bitten (Gebissene) in 1307, followed by Friedrich the Serious (Ernsthafte) in 1324, followed by Friedrich the Strict (Strenge) in 1349, who was succeeded by Friedrich the Argumentive (Streitbare) in 1381, then later, Friedrich the Gentle (Sanftmuetige) in 1428, and so on to the late 1800s (unfortunately, my picture of the very end of the mural is blurry so I can't see the names and dates at the ends. They aren't all Friedrichs; there's also some Augusts and Georgs and other names in there too.) My husband had fun giving names to all the kings' minions.
My husband is a big art history buff, and the visit to the Zwinger was the part of the trip he'd been looking forward to the most. By this time, I was pretty tired, not just from the day but from the whole trip, and needed a break, so I sent him into the museum with my parents and told him to have fun, then I got to enjoy a couple of hours to rest and recharge.
I went to a cafe on the square by the Zwinger, which is also where the opera house is and a bunch of other cool historic stuff, and had an ice cream sundae. Germans are very serious about their ice cream sundaes, and the fudge-mocha-hazelnut concoction I got was delicious.
After that I retired to the courtyard of the Zwinger with my Kindle Paperwhite and my phone full of music and my earbuds.
Here's what I was reading:
If you like character-driven epic fantasy with a strong female lead and heavy romantic elements, this series is definitely worth checking out.
And here's what I was listening to:
I bought Kamelot's new album The Shadow Theory right before we left on the trip and hadn't really had time to listen to it. Finally, now I had the chance! Unlike their previous album, Haven, it didn't grab me by the throat with its sheer awesomeness on first listen, but as I listened through a few times, its brilliance started to grow on me. It's supposedly inspired by Jungian psychology, but I don't know anything about that. Instead, I got a definite dystopian vibe from it. Maybe because that was the theme of Haven, and partly because of the repeated catchphrase "I am the empire" which, vocalized in a growl, encapsulates the essence of totalitarianism. The children's choir on "Burns to Embrace" singing "We are the last to walk the earth" was especially chilling. It seemed a fitting album to listen to while visiting a city that survived two dystopias in the last century, the Nazi regime and the Communist GDR. And really, when you think about it, one is just as bad as the other. Some of the tactics and underlying philosophies might differ, but when it comes right down to it, there's really no difference between them. In both systems, the rights and freedoms of the individual are crushed beneath the demands of the state/collective, a philosophy that has put many tens of millions, if not hundred of millions, of people in graves in the last 100 years.
The most beautiful song on the album, Vespertine (My Crimson Bride) (link goes to Spotify, where if you log in/sign up for free, you can hear the whole album) offers a note of hope, and also seemed especially fitting. This probably isn't the real meaning, but to me, the song speaks of a beautiful woman fallen to ruin and madness, yet still living as young, vibrant, and beautiful in the memory of her beloved. It reminded me of a beautiful city fallen into despair and ruins then rebuilt to its former glory by people who refused to give up on the memory of what it once was. Every time I hear that song (and it's one of my favorites, so that's pretty often), I'll always think of Dresden.
These guys kept me company while I hung out in the courtyard:
And just a few more pictures from the area near the Zwinger:
After my husband was done with the museum, which he very much enjoyed, definitely one of the highlights of the trip for him, we walked across a bridge over the Elbe River, which is quite a beautiful river.
The only thing I didn't like about Dresden were the pay toilets. All three bathrooms I visited there made you pay. The one in the museum, you had to scan your ticket to get in. No way I was buying a 19 Euro ticket just to use the facilities, so my husband let me use his. I was hoping the museum's computer system didn't record that that ticket had been used to get into the ladies' room and deny my husband access to the men's room if he needed to go later. At the cafe where I had my ice cream, if I had thought to bring my receipt downstairs with me (the WC - water closet - was down in the basement), I wouldn't have had to pay, but there isn't anything that tells you that until you're already in the stall! And even at the McDonald's, you had to drop a coin in the turnstile to get in. At least you get a coupon for a discounted drink in exchange, but come on. Paying to get into the bathroom at McDonald's? At least, as long as we were in McDonald's, we enjoyed getting drinks with ice. No Dr. Pepper (by this time, my husband was seriously jonesing for a Dr. Pepper Polar Pop from Circle K), but yay, ice.
Aside from that minor quibble, Dresden was an amazing experience, deeply moving and thought-provoking from a historical perspective and filled with lots of wonderful things to see as a tourist.
Next time: Going Medieval, part 1
Time for a quick break from the travelogue to catch up with some news. First of all, have you ever seen one of those commercials that go, "Our buyer goofed, and now we have to clear out all this overstock"? Well, that's how I feel right now! I submitted three books for a sale at the Kobo store, hoping one would get accepted, and they took all three. So right now, for a limited time, three of my romantic epic fantasy novels are only 99 cents! My goof is your gain; here's your chance to get caught up on some of my backlist for a bargain price :)
In Urdaisunia, a land torn by war and drought and abandoned by the gods, a widowed rebel and a prince walk intertwining paths of danger, love, and war to save the land they both love. 99 cents through Aug. 13. Included in the SFF Book Bonanza sale below.
Click here for links to all stores
In a quest that spans centuries, Sevry, the last king of the magical land of Savaru, searches for the woman who holds the secret to bringing his destroyed homeland back to life. 99 cents through Aug. 13.
Click here for links to all stores
In a world where music is magic, disgraced musician Sarya dyr-Rusac hears strange and powerful new music on the wind. Torn between the man who loves her, whom she can never have, and a beautiful man in chains who appears in her dreams, begging her to sing him free, she must discover the meaning of the mysterious music she heard before the world itself is torn apart. 99 cents through Sept. 6.
Click here for links to all stores
Looking for more 99 cent books? Check out the SFF Book Bonanza 99 cent sale, July 23-29! Books in a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy genres, 99 cents at Amazon.
July 1-31: It's the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale! Most of my books are 50% off with the on-site coupon code (it's right there on the book pages; just click "buy with coupon" and you're good to go), including some books that I rarely/never discount otherwise. Some books will move in/out of the sale as they go off/on other promotions. Now's your chance to stock up on my backlist!
And while you're at Smashwords, here are some other authors to check out:
As for writing progress, I'm still working on edits on Book 1 of Defenders of the Wildings and revisions of Book 3. That's been a lot of work; I've had to add some large chunks of new material to the book. On the plus side, I've added over 14,000 words to a draft that was way too short. I think we'll be having a cover reveal for Book 1 here pretty soon. Watch for it! (p.s. my newsletter subscribers already got to see the cover!)
I also did a re-edit of Sarya's Song in preparation for these promos. Nothing huge, tightened up the beginning and added a bit of polish to the rest, straightened out a few things that might not have been quite clear, stuff like that.
Back soon with the last few posts about my trip to Germany!
Kyra's Excellent Adventure Part 7: Into the East, part 2: Out of Darkness Into the Light
I was going to try to finish up these posts about my trip to Germany faster, but I've been busy editing books. Watch for a news/update post coming soon. In the meantime, on with the travelogue.
Last time, I wrote about my memories of the old DDR, eastern Germany when it was under Communist rule. On our trip this year, I wasn't sure if I was looking forward to this part of the trip; my anticipation was colored by previous experience. On the other hand, I was very interested in seeing how things had changed in the nearly 30 years since the Iron Curtain fell and the Berlin Wall came down.
Wow. The first thing I'll say is that the food we ate on this part of the trip was the best we had in Germany, which is really saying something because we had some seriously amazing meals. Whether it was epic home-cooked meals or an invitation to a favorite restaurant, we had some awesome food.
The other big thing that hit me was I had no idea what beautiful country this is. The weather was warm and sunny and beautiful (this time of year, April, it could have still been cold and rainy), much nicer than I remember it being in July of 1979. Clear blue skies, rolling hills, green meadows and forests; it's idyllic. In fact, my youngest brother went from kissing the ground after we left East Germany in 1979 to, this time, being so taken with the area he even asked about houses for sale in the towns we visited (there weren't any).
We spent a night at the Hotel Falkenstein in a town near where the first group of relatives lives, also the town where my grandfather was born. It has a hip urban vibe, very comfortable rooms (with hot water, even! unlike the hotel where we stayed in 1979), and, as usual, a wonderful breakfast. And an elevator, always a plus (not every hotel we stayed in, mainly small traditional, boutique family-owned hotels) had one.
We joined our relatives, my dad's cousin and his wife, their son A (who's my age), and A's wife and daughter for a truly epic Abendbrot (evening meal of bread, meat, cheese, and side dishes). I mean, it was epic, unlike any other Abendbrot we'd had so far. Ham, Wurst, different kinds of cheeses, a variety of breads, along with smoked salmon, steak tartare (I didn't try any, but those who did said it was delicious) beautifully-arranged salads and vegetable plates, and tons of it. And ice cream for dessert. This was the same apartment this family lived in when we visited them in the 70s, but now it seemed so much lighter and airier, more modern (even the building, a Soviet-era apartment block, looked like it had been cleaned up and modernized), with a beautiful modern bathroom overlooking lovely gardens behind the building. -->Correction: they might not have been living in this building; my dad recalls that it was a different building, but similar to this one.
After the meal, we worked some of it off by going out for a walk to see the nearby church, that my great-grandfather built (or actually re-built) the dome on when it was being restored. Here, we're standing near the grave of my grandfather's cousin and childhood best friend, the ancestor of the relatives we visited here.
And just for fun, here's a picture of the church while it was being restored, in 1910. That's my great-grandfather way up at the top.
After a while we walked on, coming to an empty lot in front of the church. Cousin A asked if we knew what place this was; after a moment, someone figured out, or maybe he told us, it was where that awful state-owned hotel used to stand. It was long gone, torn down. We stood on the spot and celebrated its demise.
Cousin A and his family were not living with his parents (based on my memories from before, I had assumed that they were all living in that one apartment), and he was very anxious for us to come see his house. So on our way back to the hotel, we followed him to another nearby town to his house, an old house that he and his wife restored and remodeled (I noticed that home improvement stores are all over the place in Germany). It was beautiful, everything in it, every inch of it top-notch and lovingly put together. Back in the communist days, he wouldn't have even been able to dream of having a house like this.
After we admired the kitchen and the living room, with its beautiful ceramic stove built in, he led us up to the top floor (3 or 4 stories up) to his study. Under the peaked roof, while his daughter swung from a hammock hanging from the ceiling beams, he gestured out the window at the breathtaking view, the sun setting in the west beyond the rolling hills and forests. "Das Vogtland," he said proudly, referring to this beautiful region covering parts of eastern German and the Czech Republic, which lies not too far away.
Cousin A took part in the protests that brought down the East German Communist government. I find myself extraordinarily proud of this.
The next day, we visited my grandfather's birthplace, which you can see has been cleaned up very nicely since the eastern bloc days. Like all private property, it was confiscated by the Communists when they took over and became property of the state, then after reunification, returned to the original owners. That whole process had to have been a huge mess, and I believe some of the cases are still working their way through the courts.
We also visited the one real tourist attraction in town, a "palace" (actually the residence of the town's ranking official, not royalty). It was very pretty, with the trees leafing out and the moat around it. In the eastern bloc days, the moat was filled with old tires.
We drove on to meet up with another cousin and his wife. They were unable to accomodate our mob in their apartment and the wife is in somewhat fragile health, so they invited us to meet them for a midday meal at a restaurant, the Berggaststätte Steinberg. And boy was it great. What can I say, more amazing food. I had the Vogtland Sauerbraten with apple red cabbage and potato dumplings. Oh, and it was lovely to see these cousins too :) I still remember how adorable their daughter was as a toddler in 1979.
We also stopped to look at the Göltzschtalbrücke, which has to win some kind of prize for how many vowels in a row. It's a big, very impressive red brick arch bridge crossing one of the river valleys of the Vogtland.
And then onward, to the next town, where my great-grandmother came from [Correction: my great-grandmother's father], and the next hotel. Finally, after more than a week, we got to stay in the same hotel for more than one night! By this time we were all ready for a break from hauling luggage in and out of the cars and up and down stairs. This was another nice place with a great restaurant, that prides itself on its daily fresh-caught trout.
This is a little farther north, not far from Dresden. It's also beautiful country, rolling hills, forests, and farms with small, charming rural villages. It's near what's called the Saxon Switzerland, a more rugged, hilly region with beautiful scenery and great opportunities for outdoor activities. ("[Something] Switzerland" being a traditional way of designating a hilly or mountainous region; during the Nazi era, referring to a region this way was banned, but the names have since been adopted again.)
We went to the home of Cousin H, another cousin of my dad's and his family (this is the cousin who keeps us supplied with a big carton of German chocolate every Christmas!) Once again, they laid out an epic Abendbrot for us. After the meal, we took a walk around the countryside. This picture is from right outside their house. The house is literally built right on a brook, with rolling green fields just on the other side. The buildings up on top of the hill used to be the communal farm. Since the fall of the DDR, they've been renovated and are now used as a community center. I enjoy the irony that among the events held there was the recent celebration of a teenage boy's church confirmation (Cousin H's grandson).
There's also a beautiful memorial to people from the village who were killed fighting in WWI and WWII, and also who were taken from the village by the Nazis and by the Soviets and never returned.
I'm skipping over a day, when we went to Dresden; that will get its own post.
A couple of mornings later, we went up the hill to another town where there's a church where my ancestors on this side of the family have worshipped for over 250 years. It was built by the same architect who built the famous Frauenkirche in Dresden. While the outside is fairly humble, the inside is gorgeous, a miniature of the Dresden church. It had fallen into serious disrepair during the Communist occupation, but has since been beautifully restored. Another relative had arranged for the organist/assistant pastor to meet us at the church. She gave us a presentation about the history of the church (translated from German by the aforementioned teenage grandson of our cousin), then played a private recital for us on the original, world-class organ. We even got to go up to the organ loft and see the workings of the organ.
That same day, we visited Cousin H's daughter and her family (the boy who translated for us at the church is her oldest son). They own a deer ranch, raising venison for restaurants, and live in a house that's been in her husband's family for like 500 years. They invited us over for afternoon cake, a German tradition of which I highly approve :D Three different kinds of homemade cakes, very fancy and delicious. Their 6-year-old daughter glommed onto me, probably because I radiate a Grandma aura, and asked me to come see her room. Up in the beautifully-finished attic loft, it's a little girl's dream room. She told me all about her toys, and I did my best to act like I understood what she was saying (Note to self: Start Duolingo more than two weeks before the next trip), and showed me how she can tell Alexa to play a song (yes, she has an Amazon Dot), and I learned that little girls in Germany are just as crazy for "Frozen" as little girls in the U.S.
After cake, we went out to look at the deer, and when we got back, they rolled out a full dinner for us. Venison from their ranch, sauerbraten, rouladen, wild forest mushrooms (I don't eat mushrooms, but those who tried them said they were delicious), and three kinds of dumplings. It was all so good. Again, one of the best meals we had in Germany. And they brought out a small plastic tub with ice cubes in it for our drinks! I don't know what the thing is about not putting ice in drinks, but after more than a week of lukewarm water and sodas, we were ready for some ice.
Visiting with our relatives was one of the most memorable parts of the trip, and one of the main reasons for making the trip to Germany in the first place. They greeted us like old friends, and showed a warmth and generosity that were truly moving. Their generosity and kindness to us were no more or less than when we visited them in the 70s, but now instead of worrying about the sacrifices they were (willingly) making for us, we enjoyed their eager sharing of their abundance. Things haven't been easy since the fall of the DDR and reunification; the Communists left the economy and the country in a shambles, on top of the devastation of the Nazi regime and WWII. But it's a rich area, in both natural resources and hard-working people, and we were glad to see that, after suffering through more than seven decades of tyranny, war, and hardship, from the aftermath of WWI to the fall of the Berlin Wall, things are so much better there. The lightness I noticed wasn't just a matter of weather and time of year and less pollution. It's the light that comes to a country when its people are free to live, to choose their own course in life, to enjoy the fruits of their own labors, and to exercise freedom of expression, worship, conscience, and association.
Next time: Into the East, part 3: The Jewel Box
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