Monday, December 24, 2012

Weissenfels: One of Our Cradles

And der Saale hellem Strande
Along the Saale’s bright-lit banks
Stehen Burgen stolz und kühn,
Stand castles proud and brave,
Ihre Dächer sind zerfallen,
Their roofs have shattered in their falls,
Und der Wind streicht durch die Hallen,
The wind sweeps down their empty halls,
Wolken ziehen d’rüber hin.
The clouds above pass slow and grave.

Weissenfels is a large town (nearly 41,000) in southern Sachsen-Anhalt, a north-eastern state of Germany. It is about 20 miles south-west of Leipzig as the crow flies. It is on the Saale river and, to distinguish it from other  instances of Weissenfels in Germany, it is known as Weissenfels an der Saale. Until Germany’s reunification around 1990, it was in East Germany. Functionally the town has always been and still is an agricultural service center with light industry, but is better known as a cultural center where many famous 18th century musicians gathered or performed for the princes of Sachsen-Weissenfels. The famous poet Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) lived there. Friedrich Händel’s talents were discovered there. Many of the streets today are named after poets, musicians, and famous scientists. The town looks back to 1185 when some lord built a great castle topping the “white cliff” that gave the city its name. The Saale parts the town into a northern and a southern half. And this place also plays major role in Ghulf history. It was the gathering point for Brigitte’s family as World War II disrupted her family’s life in Lodz, in Poland and scattered its members. And here was born our eldest child, Barbara, close in time to this posting, on December 30, 1949.

The naming symbolism of life is wondrously curious. Barbara, the child of Brigitte’s first marriage, was born a Vogel; in German the word means “bird.” But Babs, as we call her, later married a man named Hohenstein. He is an American, to be sure, but the word in German is “High Stone”—so that she, a high flyer always, now bears a name that echoes the place of her birth. One of those proud castles along the Saale’s banks is shown in the winter shot of the town above. It is known simply as Schloss Weissenfels.

The war had scattered Brigitte’s family. Her father, Heinrich, had been impressed into the military and was at the Russian front, Brigitte herself had been sent off to Germany with her school to escape bombing—and she lost contact with her family in the vast confusion that soon developed. Elivra, Brigitte’s mother, set out for Germany with her youngest, Edda, still a baby. She was the first to arrive in Weissenfels where she had a friend, the mother of a son who would have married Brigitte’s cousin had he not been killed. Much later, Heinrich managed to join Elvira there—and thanks to his efforts and the invaluable help of the Red Cross, a very lofty institution in our hearts—Brigitte was found and also arrived. Last came Heinrich’s own father, Karl, a very old man, and Heinrich’s sister, Hela.

That’s the story, in barest outline. Those in the thinning ranks who still remember “real life,” as it was lived during World War II, will have no problem enriching this tale with sordid and shivery detail. But in the end, love conquers all.
The wonderful panoramic shot of Weissenfels comes from the town's own website (link). The church shown is St-Marien, the evangelical city church (Stadtkirche). The view is from the Saale to the west.

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