I haven’t heard a clamoring for more blog posts, but I didn’t want my friends to think I have evaporated. I have been in Nice for a week and a busy week it’s been. In addition to stocking up on the basics (wine, toilet paper) and seeing many friends, I have also started looking for a long-term apartment. It’s too bad I can’t stay where I am, as it suits perfectly–especially not having to take Ellie out for late night or early morning walks. I am looking for an apartment with a jardin, but so far none have materialized.
I have also started some regular activities. On Tuesday morning there is a meeting of France Grande Bretagne, where French people go to practice their English and vice versa. This week I made the acquaintance of Francoise, a retired realtor who lives near me. We had coffee yesterday and today she took me to meet another realtor friend (an Italian lady) who showed me an apartment in a great location, but too small and dark. I met another realtor at lunch on Wednesday. Ellie and I shared a table with 2 gentlemen. In addition to the realtor, the other was a dealer in foie gras. He offered me a serious discount. Later, I had a rendezvous-vous with my Norwegian friend, Inger, but I was too knackered and cancelled.
I have not yet joined a gym but plan to do so soon. I went to a conference on Thursday about music during the occupation that was quite interesting. I met an American woman who has lived in Nice for 50 years and is apparently a well-known children’s book author–in French. She has published more than 120 titles.
I also met a Canadian man with a dachshund who came by to play with Ellie in the garden. That’s the thing about Nice–both planned and impromptu meetings are easy. And the internationalism. Tomorrow I will have lunch on the beach with my Italian friend, Eduardo, my Irish friend, Noel, and his French girlfriend.
Sorry for the disorganization of this post, but I’m just writing as I remember. Probably will be off the grid next week as Susan is coming in from Boston.
I arrived in Nice yesterday afternoon. When I left Strasbourg, it was cloudy, rainy and windy, with temps in the high 50s. Flying over the Alps was memorable–they seemed to be almost touching the plane. And then, suddenly, sea. Turquoise and calm. The temp was in the 80s and the beaches were full of sunbathers. And I breathed a sigh of relief. I was home.
My new apartment is magnificent. It’s an art nouveau building but with all the modern comforts, including a washer/dryer. And it has a charming garden. This morning I let Ellie out to her private space without needing to get dressed.
Samara and Tarek live directly across the street, so I went over to borrow some wine. Later they cooked me a tasty and healthy supper of rice and vegetables with Algerian spices. It was delicious and Tarek gave Ellie her own portion. She licked the bowl clean.
So in addition to being knocked out emotionally over the last few days, I’ve also been physically challenged by traveling to 4 cities in 3 days. Cathy and I have finally reached France–2 days in Strasbourg before I fly to Nice on Sunday.
I found Frankfurt pleasant but sterile. The old section is entirely reconstructed–it was basically destroyed during World War II. My mother’s house was outside the destroyed zone and is filled with trees and early 20th century houses.
On the other hand, Bamberg was untouched during the war–probably because its main industry is beer. It is a beautiful town of 70,000 people, which was once (briefly) the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. An archbishopric, it has a 11th century cathedral that started Romanesque and finished Gothic. Perhaps the most interesting building is the Alte Rathaus (old city hall) which cantilevers over the Regnitz river. The city is a UNESCO world heritage site.
On Wednesday night Cathy and I had dinner at a brewery that has been there since the 15th century. I had a game meatloaf with a special beer that is only brewed in the fall.
Yesterday (Thursday) we drove to Heidelberg, where Cathy lives. My hotel had a fabulous view of the old bridge across the Neckar river. We had dinner at another very old restaurant where I had a delicious soup with a local dumpling specialty, served with a side of potato salad and a wheat beer. Needless to note, my tummy felt like a lead weight after.
There is so much more to report but I need to unpack both physically and mentally.
My exploration of my past began on Tuesday in Frankfurt. I had arranged to meet Ellen, who is a volunteer with the Stolpelsteine organization in Frankfurt. She fetched me at my hotel and we took the S-bahn (subway) to see the home where my mother grew up.
My mother’s father was the President of a bank in Frankfurt in the 1920s and this mansion was always described by my mother as a kind of fairy tale castle. The house is in a leafy residential neighborhood, across from a lovely park. It survived the war and after was broken up into condos and offices. Ellen and I walked through the park, had caffe and kuchen.
On Wednesday, it was the house of my father, where the Stopelsteine were laid. His father was a hops dealer (Bamberg has 10 breweries) and owned the house, along with 9 warehouses, all of which were expropriated under the Nazis. According to the letter that Mr. Fichtl gave me, the man who “purchased” the business was not a Nazi, just a speculator taking advantage of opportunity to make a killing. If I understood correctly, the same family still owns the business today.
I forgot to mention yesterday that there were local reporters and photographers who interviewed me and took pictures of me and Ellie with the stones. I was not the reason for the press interest, though it appeared that Bamberg was greatly honored that I had come from so far. Rather it is the 20th anniversary of the Stolpelsteine project, which to date has laid more than 60,000 plaques.
I will write more about the Stolpelsteine and the artist, with whom I had dinner on Tuesday. In the meantime, here is a link to the English version of the site. http://www.stolpersteine.eu/en/
The past 2 days have been intense. Perhaps the most emotional moment came this morning, as a group gathered around for the installation of the Stopelsteine of my grandparents. A gentleman said “I have a letter for you from your father.”
The gentleman was an elderly historian of the Jews of Bamberg and he had received the letter in 1996 in response to his query about my father’s family. And there was my dad’s voice coming to me through the years.
The ceremony itself was short and nicely done. First the artist, Gunter Demnig, installed the 2 stones that he had engraved. A member of the city council gave a short speech about my grandparents, emphasizing the importance of remembering the victims of the Holocaust. I talked briefly, which I will post later and then a representative from the Bamberg synagogue read a Hebrew prayer.
More to come in future posts.
Ellie and I are now in the land of our ancestors. Arrived in Frankfurt this morning. Flight was ok but Ellie was treated like royalty. One of the Singapore Airlines flight attendants fell in love with her. When she heard that Ellie likes cheese, she insisted I take a block of Camembert for the dog–this after the passengers’ breakfast consisted of an American cheese sandwich. Always travel with a dog.
Lunch in Frankfurt consisted of–what else–frankfurters! Here is the signage for the cafe where we ate.
Big day tomorrow. Going to take it easy today.