September 4/08 Thursday
Last night I fell fast asleep and had a real sound sleep. Woke up at 4:30, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Charlie woke at 7 and got dressed. I have to say this, the breakfast buffet was excellent and the coffee was exquisite. We left out baggage in the baggage room and headed for the market where we bought the tour tickets. I won’t say any more about the entire Eagle’s Nest experience except to say it was worth every penny and more.
They have between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors each season. To keep the record straight, Hitler never spent a night here. It was strictly for meetings and to be somewhere quiet. It was given to him as a present on his 50th birthday by the party. Geez, I even saw one guy in a wheelchair. Smacked of a pilgrimage. It was wonderful to say the very least. It’s way up there in the clouds. The changing of buses was my first clue. They are state of the art and everybody is talking on a cell so as to avoid each other on the way up. The buses are equipped with special brakes due to the steepness and the ess curves.
After getting off bus number two, we are escorted through a long tunnel, then into a brass-surround elevator. When you get off, you have arrived. You walk through a dining room and then outside. The view is breathtaking. The walk up to the cross is tough – straight uphill. I had an asthma attack and had to stop and use my puffer. After a few moments, I was OK to proceed. Charlie who had been smoking since the age of 14 and only quit a few short years ago, is like a mountain goat. He wasn’t even breathing heavily. Goes to show you, if you’re going to get it you will. If not, you won’t. End of story.
The worst thing I could say about the tour – it was nowhere near long enough. I could have spent all day at the Eagle’s Nest. Instead, we were only given 30 minutes. Then we had to leave to let the other tours through. After we came back down to Berchesgaden, we had lunch. We also bought a book on the Eagle’s Nest and then it was time to leave. Total length – 4 1/2 hours.
A word to the wise, if you’re going to visit the Eagle’s Nest, be prepared to be soaked. OK the cost isn’t bad – €50/person but the accommodations are expensive. I mean, this is the city of tours, besides Eagle’s Nest, there is the Sound of Music Tour, the Salt mines Tour, the Kőnigsee Tour, to name a few. All the tour guides speak perfect English along with several other languages.
When we were back in Salzburg, we got our luggage from the luggage room and walked to the train station where I bought 2 first-class tickets to Graz. 1st class is definitely better. Much bigger seats and not so many people. I bought a cheap telephone to use in Austria from T-Mobile. I called Fritz to say we’re on the train.
What a great country. You can smoke in most places. If not, there is a sign to say so. I guess they figure people are responsible enough to make their own choices. They do not have a Nanny government. That’s what I call a democracy. It’s more than a one vote thing – it’s a whole philosophy of personal choices. It works for them. Hell, in Slovenia, the gas station beside our hotel had a lovely cafέ with a bar. You could have a drink if you wanted. I never saw anyone drunk – that would show a weak character and they would not tolerate that. Personal choices, that’s what democracy should be.
September 3/08 Wednesday
Hansi came to pick us up at 7AM to drive us to Lubljana and train station to Salzburg. We had breakfast at McDonald’s. Sure is different from home McDonald’s here. It had a cafe feel with nice tables and chairs. Awesome coffee and they brought our Big Mac’s to the table. I bought tickets – 2nd class – I thought I’d try it out. After all, we’re not going far. Hansi stayed with us until we boarded the train. What a guy.
There were a group of of students on the train. I am guessing they were going to Munich to school. They were cute and full of giggles. We had a hell of a time lifting those big sucker suitcases on the rack. The train ride was nice. Very scenic. Charlie had not seen the alps before this. He was in awe – in total awe. I was glad we had the opportunity to see for ourselves. I used to tell him about the high medows and how the Rockies didn’t have them and that Alpine country was far different. Now, he saw for himself.
When we got to Salzburg, Charlie had the bright idea to walk to the hotel from the train station. It must have been 90F. We were sweating buckets. My feet hurt and I was mad at him. Got into hotel. What a rip-off. The room was so tiny, it was giving me claustrophobia. I nearly tripped over the step to go into the bathroom. Never mind. It’s only one night, €140. What a rip.
We were right pissed off but decided to go outside and look for a place to eat. We found one – The Pitter Keller. €46.80 and worth every penny. We felt better then. It was lovely, a courtyard with a canopy of trees. Really lovely. Tomorrow is the Eagle’s Nest Tour. That’s why we’re here.
Sept. 1, 2008 Monday
Had breakfast at the other Gasthaus with the other guests – most of them from Germany. Found out one couple had skipped out on their hotel bill and Hansi paid. That is so mean. We then drove around to Branko’s to say hello to his wife. His lawn was immaculately groomed except for a large square area. “I wonder why he didn’t cut there,” asked Charlie. We soon found out. Branko has a couple of pet goats. He lets the grass grow for them to eat.
Next stop to Andre’s apartment building and then his bistro where I had a scoop of ice cream. We then said our goodbyes to everyone. Hansi and I took off to Maribor to see about land registry and my birth documentation. Turns out, we were at the wrong office for the registry and the priest who had the documentation was out. Hansi brought me back to Charlie because he had to say Mass at 6PM. He is more or less free all day unless there is a wedding, a christening, a funeral and such but he has to be back by 6PM to say mass.
Charlie and I had a huge dinner at the hotel. The dinner was one of the best I had on this trip. Just wonderful. Then we went to bed.
September 2, 2008 Tuesday
Hansi picked us up and drove us to Mureck. We had breakfast at a place called Erika’s. Hansi talked to some women inside the café who knew all about Sternthal. They were real nice and quite excited about the story of Hansi and I having not seen each other in sixty-three years. Also, there was a woman in a small Tabak store that I might also be related to. She very much wanted to get together with me to see if that is so. She is also a Zacharias on her mother’s side.
I tried to buy a SIM card but it would work on my phone. Apparently, it is not an open phone. Very disappointed. We then began to drive back. Took picture of the famous bridge that was destroyed during war. All rebuilt now. There are no guards of any kind at the border. We drove back to Locavek and up to the house. We spoke to the man across the street from my family’s house. He told us several years back, Albert and his three sisters were there in his house talking about their property and asking him questions. One of the sisters lived in Canada and one in Australia, so I knew they were Hani, Mother and Aunt Frieda. Apparently, they said they weren’t interested in the land – just the money. He was very surprised when I told him that all but my mother were dead.
Back down the hill to Golob. Hansi had split his pants and asked for a needle and thread so he could sew them up. Meanwhile Charlie and I walked to the school where Mom, Hansi and her siblings went. I took pictures from the outside from every angle. Then a woman walked out – out of curiosity, I guess. I told her that my mother had been a student there many years ago. She walked over to me. She was very nice and invited us in the school to have a look around. She gave us a tour. There were 33 children and 4 teachers. The children ranged from the age of 6 to 17. What a place. They had a computer lab with one teacher. Those kids were learning the computer at the age of 6. Another teacher taught German to a small class – I think three. Since this was just the second day of the school year, they were getting to know each other. We took a couple of pictures and were given some items the students had made. This year they were celebrating 120 years that the school had been built. Talk about an exclusive school. 33 students – 4 teachers.
When we got back to Golob, I told Hansi where we’d been. He said he wants to go too since he also went to school there. I went with him and he went inside to talk to some people but we didn’t stay long. I guess one disruption per day is quite enough. He seemed very happy. Later, as we drove towards Lenart, we saw some children walking home from school, a couple of them with cell phones stuck to their ears.
We then drove to Lenart to see government office re land inquiry. The man in charge, although very nice, said this was the wrong office and to go to this other office in the yellow building across the street but today is too late. We took Hansi to dinner (BTW, the split in his pants opened again but he bravely walked into the restaurant with Charlie close behind.) It was time to head home. Hansi had to say Mass. Well, I guess he was in a bit of a hurry and, wouldn’t you know it, he was caught speeding. That took a while for forms to be filled out, etc. I learned the next day that his congregation waited for him. He is so well loved.
It all started here. My protector, Hansi. My “older brother”, Hansi. He had a gentle nature and lived with my family from 1941 until 1945. He was my grand-parents’ foster child.
His father had died in a work-related accident. His mother had nobody to look after the young boy while she worked. The German government wanted to place him with a German-speaking family and that’s how he came to live with us. I’ve been told those were very happy years for him.
This picture was taken some time in 1944, one year before the world we knew ended.
The country was called Yugoslavia at that time. Before WW I, it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is still referred to as Lower Styria by the Austrians, of course. The hamlet was called Lugatz. That same country is now called Slovenia and the hamlet is now called Lokavec.
Our family had owned and lived on the farm at # 7 Lugatz for many generations. But all that was of no import for what was to come. In times of war home, country, assets, ownership, family – nothing matters. It is all razed as though it had never existed. The looters take what they want, happily tossing the rightful owners aside. Well, if you’re on the losing side, that is.
And so it was that Spring of 1945, my family and I were rounded up and thrown into a concentration camp in Sternthal, our home and land seized, our family and the life we knew, in tatters. And so it was that Hansi was separated from us. But life goes on.
One evening, while watching television with my husband, the phone rang. I answered. I heard a voice asking if this were Erika. I said “Yes”. He said “This is Hansi”. I knew immediately who it was for there was only one person called Hansi that I ever knew in my life. Of course, I remembered him only through stories my mother told me and through family pictures. We corresponded from that moment on. When he asked if I would come to his 50th Jubilee as priest, I answered “Yes”. Sixty-four years had passed since we had last seen each other. Read more…