Sunday, July 16, 2017

Climb Every Mountain

This was a week with Tom's brother Rob and his family,  a little family history in Germany and some self-reliance work with special friends in Austria.  In between, we felt like we climbed every mountain in Salzburg Austria, Füssen Germany and Innsbruck Austria.  We have been uplifted by the beautiful Alps wherever we have  gone.

Near the top of the Alps outside of Innsbruck, Austria
On Monday and Tuesday morning we met with several missionary couples, including an emotional farewell to Elder and Sister Simoncini in Italy.  We also prepared for our upcoming trip to southern Germany and Austria.

Six months ago, my brother Rob told us that he planned on visiting Germany and would like to visit us as part of his annual vacation with his family.  The date was set for July 11 and the plan was to initiate the trip with a visit to the “Rueckert Sites” in Bavaria.  After that, Rob and his family would continue traveling through Germany and into Austria, following the “Romantic Road”.  We went ahead and circled the date on our calendars and decided that we would also travel through southern Germany into Austria. and coordinate our travel with Rob where we could.   With this idea, our plan for this week evolved.  The timing was good, as many Europeans are on Holiday during July and August and our Self-Reliance Activities are much less.

As we contemplated this trip we tried to include a few things that we had wanted to do, but had not yet had the opportunity.  This included:
  • Sister Rueckert’s number one tourist wish was to do the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, Austria.
  • We had both wanted to visit the Alps up close and personal.
  • We also knew that anyone that ever visits Germany has to visit the Neuschwanstein (Disneyland) Castle.
  • We were also aware of a special family that I had known in Brazil who had moved to Innsbruck, Austria.  This was the family who had brought our son Abraham and his biological sisters into their home 27 years ago.  We ended up adopting Abraham and they adopted his sisters. 
  • Of course, we also had a little more family history to do. 
My brother Rob arrived in Frankfurt on Tuesday morning, July 11, as planned.  They came to our apartment and we organized our plans for the week.  We then had lunch together before beginning our trip.  After lunch at a local Italian restaurant, we left for the “Rueckert Sites”.  We started with the last home of our grandfather before he immigrated to the U.S., the home in Steinach an der Ens. This is where he learned the gospel from his brother.  The owner of the home, Christian, has been so good to let us take people through his house.  Once again he was gracious and we visited his home with Rob and his family.  Kate went with us in our car for lunch and Emi and Josh traveled with us to Christian’s home.  This gave us a chance to get to know our nieces and nephew a little better.

With Rob and his kids in front of the Steinach house

Rob, Sarah, Josh and Kate in the original cellar of the Steinach house

All of us in the living room where our Grandfather heard the gospel for the first time
After visiting the home in Steinach, we visited the school and Church in Steinach.  We then went to their prior home in Hochbach (Hochbacher Strasse 4), where my grandfather was born and to the house in Bergstshofen (Buchheimer Weg 1) where my grandfather’s mother was born.

Rob and his family under the Hochboch sign, the city where our grandfather was born

Looking at the Hochboch house
Rob in front of the Bergtshofen house, which is currently vacant
 Throughout this little trip we shared family history stories to better understand the significance of each site.  By almost 6:00 pm, Rob and his family continued onto their hotel in Rothenburg and we went to visit our dear friends Werner and Dorotha Rückert.   This was our first visit to Werner and Dorota since we have been able to identify common ancestors in two of their family lines.   We shared updated Family Fan Charts and documentation to support our findings.  As always, Dorota fed us wonderful German pastries.  This is our 5th visit with Werner and Dorota and each time they have been warmer.  We feel like we have a dear friendship with them.

Werner and Dorota Rückert on their 25th wedding anniversary
As we discussed our family heritage we explained why we place so much importance on our family history.  This gave us a chance to share a little of our testimonies about families and about our Church. As we discussed the concept of eternal marriage, they advised us that this very day was their 25th wedding anniversary.  We declined drinking some wine with them but wished them well on this special day.  Our discussions are always mixed in English and German.  We asked them if we could invite some missionaries that speak better German to visit with them and answer their questions better than we could.  They accepted!  We pray fervently that they will be able to have open hearts to ponder the message that the missionaries will bring.

We had arranged to spend the night at a local hotel in Ulsenheim that is owned by the Meyer family, the brother of our friend Günter Meyer.  When we got there we met his brother and sister in law.  His nephew also works there.  We shared our family history with them, letting them know that they are related to us.  Günter’s mother was an Endress.  Four generations back they came ffom the same family as the mother in the Bergtshofen home.  The next morning they showed us the house that my 2nd great grandmother had lived in, which was just a block from the hotel where we stayed.  This is a part of our family history that was new to us.  We were delighted to make new discoveries.

Fränkische Suppe, deliciously served at the Meyer hotel (Scwarzen Adler)
Irma Elizabeth Endress (maiden name) with her son and grandson.  She married Hermann Meyer.
The home in Ulsenheim where my second great grandmother Endress was born.  Her brother was the great grandfather of Irma Endress shown above.   
Ulsenheim is where many of my ancestors are from.  We also have many familienregisters available for Ulsenheim, so it is the location for much future temple work.

We then went to the parish in Illisheim to look for ancestors of Werner Rückert’s mother and Barabara Meyer’s father.  We were successful in finding a few more generations back.  Each of these  were their relatives, so the family names that we find are also our relatives.

The following is an example, the wedding record of Werner Rückert’s mother‘s parents.   We accomplished the same for Barabara Meyer.  We love Family History work!

Marriage record for Werner's parents in laws
After finishing our work in Ulsenheim, we continued onto Munich, where we would eat lunch.  We also wanted to visit Rückert Strasse, which is the location of the Alpine mission home.  We had heard about this address for some time and were now able to visit it in person.  The mission home is near to the site where the Oktoberfest activities occur each year in Munich in September and October.  We were glad to be there in a quieter time of the year.

English translation: Rückert Street
In front of the Church location on Rueckertstrasse 2
Neighboring street of Beethovenstrasse  The Rückertstrasse sign for the next block is in the background.  Famous people  on neighboring streets.

Map of the local area.  You can see Rückertstrasse next to the main park, which is the location of  Oktoberfest

One photo of a portion of the park which is enormous.  We understand that it is completely filled during Oktoberfest.
When we arrived that evening in Salzburg we checked out the downtown area in preparation for our Sound of Music tour the next morning.  We walked around the Mirabell gardens behind the Mirabell Palace that had been built by one of the Archbishops for a birthday present to his wife years ago.  While we did, we saw a sign advertising a concert of Motzart and Vivaldi in the castle.  This was at 7:45 pm and the concert was to begin at 8:00 pm.  Since Salzburg is the birthplace of Motzart, we decided to attend.  The setting was beautiful and the concert was amazing!

Sister Rueckert awaiting the Motzart concert in the Mirabell Palace in Salzburg, Austria

The ensemble playing Motzart's Salzburg Symphony in D

Sitting in the concert hall during intermission while others were out of their seats
In front of the birth home of Motzart, photo taken the next evening
The weather this week was a challenge.  Rain was scheduled just about every day in every city we would be going to, so we tried to do the best we could.  On Wednesday we carried our umbrella but most rain came while we were driving and at the end of the evening while we were eating in an outdoor restaurant.  Our Sound of Music tour was reserved for the next morning, but we saw that sun was forecast for the afternoon.  We decided to do a tour to the salt mines in the morning and then an afternoon tour for "Sound of Music".  We arrived early the next morning to make the change and were successful.

The tour of the Salt Mines was recommended to Sister Rueckert by her visiting teacher, Sister Sabin, so we decided to do it.  Salzburg was named for this gigantic salt mine that has been mined for the last 500 years.  In German, Salzburg mans mountain of salt.  The tour included wearing special overalls, riding a salt mining train, sliding down into the mine area and riding on a boat on an underground salt lake.  All was cool, but no photos were allowed inside the mine area.

In our special attire for the salt mine tour
Photo of us on the train as we began

Going down the slide, Sister Rueckert was a little anxious. However, she felt better by the second slide.
This tour included the drive to the mine and a visit to the neighboring city.  We returned to Salzburg in time to catch the 2:00 pm Sound of Music Tour.  The promise was that the tour would be full of singing the songs.  However, our tour guide was not a singer so we were a bit disappointed.  However, he did play most of the songs and Sister Rueckert sang away.  Some of the others on the bus joined in.

Waiting to get on our bus tour

Sister Rueckert on the bus

During the tour we learned a lot about the filming of the Sound of Music.  We had watched it on our date night the previous week, so the movie was fresh in our minds.  It is interesting that the outdoor scenes by the Von Trapp homes were filmed in two locations.  One was in the gardens of a private palace that faced the lake.  However, whenever there was a scene with the home in the background, it was in a yellow building which is now a Mozarteum Music school.

Our first stop on the tour was across from the Leopoldskron Palace.  This is a view from across the lake of the private palace gardens.   This is also where the lake scenes were filmed and outside shots which were facing the lake. 
This is a distant photo of the yellow home where other outdoor scenes were filmed.  The tour bus did not go to this home but drove a distance away and pointed it out.  However, when ever the film showed scenes with the home, this is the home that was used.  Since it does not have a lake near it, the film fictitiously created a yellow home near a lake.
Our tour guide, in his Austrian attire

This is the original Gazebo where they sang I am 16 going on 17.  It was originally at the Leopoldskron Palace but has since been moved to the Hellbrunn Palace grounds for easier viewing by the tours.  The inside of the Gazebo has been locked since an 80 year old lady got injured jumping from bench to bench.
We drove by the Nonnberg Abbey several times, but could not get close enough to visit it.  The inside scenes were all filmed in Hollywood.  We tried to get to the abbey by car after the tour but were unsuccessful without climbing the mountain to get to it.

The original Nonnberg Abbey where Maria actually lived before joining the Von Trapp family.  This has been an abbey since the 700s and still has 22 nuns.
We then went on a bus ride to the lake regions to see the scenery of Austria.  Much of this scenery was shown in the beginning of the movie.  During this ride the singing on the bus improved a little bit.  We stopped at a beautiful overview of Lake Wolfgang and stopped and took photos:

Photo taken of scenery from the bus
We stopped to take photos of Lake Wolfgang.  I believe that the village is St. Gilgens.
In front of Lake Wolfgang with the others on the tour bus
We then continued onto Lake Mondsee to see the Mondsee Cathedral where the wedding scene was filmed.  A more distant location was needed, since the local cathedral would not allow the filming inside of it.  This is a beautiful church and a beautiful setting.  We spent about an hour there, walking to the church, visiting the surroundings and getting a snack to eat.
Mondsee Cathedral, tour group in the forefront
Sister Rueckert in the Church where Maria walked down the aisle and was married
The tour finished at the Mirabell Gardens behind the Mirabell Palace.  This is where several scenes of Maria and the children were filmed, most famous is the Do-Re-Mi song.

Main garden, photo taken from the steps that they sang on.  We took the photo the night before our tour.

Photo of another part of the Mirabell Gardens which we took at the end of the tour, prettier blue skies.

As we finished the tour, we had a few hours of day left.  We decided to seek out the points that the tour had missed.  We did this that evening and continued the next morning. We learned why the tour had skipped them.  We could not get to the Nonnberg Abbey, even with a car, certainly not with a bus.  We also could not access the gate in front of the yellow home, only walking access.  However, we did find the actual location of the filming of Maria in the meadow in the Alps and followed a winding mountain lane to the location which appeared to be on private property.  Another reason they can't do it on the tour.  We did park our car, walk across a front yard and find what we thought was the perfect place that the scene would have been filmed.  Below Sister Rueckert is doing her Maria impersonation.
The hills are alive with the Sound of Music!
Friday morning we pursued a few more Sound of Music sites with limited success and then began our trip to Füssen, Germany where the castles of King "Mad" Ludwig II are located.  We had a reservation for one of the castles at 2:50 pm  (ticket pick up by 1:50 pm) and hoped to get an opportunity to see the famous Neuschwanstein Castle the same day.  On-line reservations for this castle were no longer available.  It is probably the most famous and visited castle in all of Germany.  It served as the basis for Walt Disney's sleeping beauty castle in Disneyland.

We got stuck in border crossing traffic to come back into Germany which put us behind our schedule.  We were pushing it tight until I made wrong turn, which cost us a few more minutes.  In the end we arrived at the ticket center at about 2:00 pm and I let Sister Rueckert out at the ticket center while I parked the car.  When I came back she had secured our 2:50 tour tickets at the Hohenschwangau castle and had gotten 6:00 pm tour tickets for the Neuschwanstein Castle.  I should have left more of our arrangements to her care, she did awesome!

As predicted there were thunderstorms but in between it would clear up.  Although we got rained on quite a bit, we had moments of clearing that gave us a chance to have a little blue sky in our photos.  We first went to the Hohenschwangau castle which was built by King Maximilian in the early 1800s. There he raised his two sons, Ludwig II and Otto.  Otto was institutionalized and Ludwig II became the next king.  While living in this castle, Ludwig oversaw the building of his dream castle, Neuschwantsein.  In fact in one of his rooms he had a telescope which allowed him to watch the construction of the new castle.  There was also a most beautiful view of a nearby lake in the mountains from the King's floor.  No photos allowed, but I haven't ever seen a better view.  It was obviously planned in the beginning.
Hohenschwangau Castle viewed from the parking area
Riding to the castle on a horse drawn carriage in the rain.  It cost us an additional 20 Euros to get him to take us up without the carriage being full.
Right outside the Hohenschangau Castle

After the tour and the rain at the Hohenschwangau castle

At the Hohenscwangau castle with the Neuschwanstein castle behind us
View of the Newschwanstein from the Hohenschwangau castle
Horse drawn ride back from the Hohenschwangau with view of Neuschwanstein castle
After coming back to the parking area, we boarded a bus to take us above the Neuschwanstein castle. From there we walked up to the Marien Bridge which oversees the castle and a waterfall.  Talk about a postcard perfect view.  Even though another thunderstorm was on it's way, the view was breathtaking.

Perfect postcard view of the Neuschwantstein Castle
Same view without the zoom, showing the mountain base of the castle
Us with the castle behind us

View of a waterfall below from the bridge
Right after we left the bridge, on our way down to the castle, we were hit with another thunderstorm. We were thankful that it didn't hit us while on the bridge.  We waited out the storm and then continued our descent to the castle.  The following are a few of the photos as we approached the castle.

With the castle behind us.
Zoomed in as we approached the castle

From the front of the castle
Once we got to the castle we started planning our descent after the tour.  We would not have time to get to the last bus ride back.  I went down below to a parking area where the horse drawn carriages departed.  The last one would leave at 6:00 pm.  So we devised a plan.  We would schedule a dinner at the restaurant below with my brother Rob and his family, who had just arrived in Füssen.  Their previously scheduled tour was the next morning.

On the way back up from the parking area, I took a few more photos from a different direction.  Notice that once again some blue sky is beginning to appear.
Middle view from below
Looking up at the castle from the back side
Another side view, lots of blue sky
As we went into the schedule tour time, we all received an audio guide instrument.  We were instructed to listen to the tour in each room.  An actual tour guide went with us to make sure all were in each room and then they turned on the narrative.  This was actually a very impressive way to keep tours moving and comprehensive.  New tours started each 5 minutes and could accommodate any of the languages on the audio box.  They know how to move the amazing volume of people through the castle.

We had to go up more than 200 steps and then back down again as part of the tour.  This castle was never finished before Ludwig II's death.  He was determined to be unfit to rule and was removed from his throne on one day while he was only 41 years old in 1886.  He was found dead at the bottom of a lake the next day.  The death remains a mystery until today.  There were no heirs and the mostly finished castle has been a tourist attraction ever since.

Part of Ludwig's fascination was with the operas of Richard Wagner.  The decor throughout the castle is based on these operas.  The magnificent throne room is amazing, but the final throne was never placed in the room.  All of the furnishings are original to the late 1800s and tell an amazing story of his passion and excessive tastes.  No photos inside were allowed, so you will have to trust us on this one.  It is worth a visit if you are able.

Scale model of the castle, shown after the tour
After the tour it was raining again.  We descended partially down the mountain to find Rob's family waiting for us by the restaurant which was now closed.  Although we couldn't eat there we did solve our transportation dilemma as Rob gave us a ride back to our car.  We then went into Fussen and enjoyed a wonderful evening with Rob, Sara, Kate, Josh and Emi.

Enjoying Apfel Strudel with Rob and his family in Füssen, Germany

We had to have apfel strudel, since we had only eaten Italian and Chinese food with them up to that point
Saturday morning we took the short drive to Innsbruck, Austria.  It should have been short, but the traffic was the worst that we had experienced.  It seems that everyone was driving down the mountain to Innsbruck.  We never could understand the delay, but it finally worked itself out.

When we arrived in Innsbruck we tried to find a rondevous point with one of our friends that did not work out.  We will introduce these good people in our Sunday activities.  We did end up parking at the Hungerburg station for the tram ride up the Nordkette mountain.  From there we bought the full pass up to the top and down to the city in three different types of trams.

We took the Funicular down into the city and back while we were waiting for the stormy weather to pass.  Partly cloudy skies were forecast for 2:00 pm and we had arrived at 1:00 pm.  Back at the Hungerburg, we took the next tram to the Seegrube station which is 1,905 meters high (6.250 ft.).  They were holding a music festival there that night and we had many people coming up with sleeping bags and tents.  The view was amazing as we saw goats and hikers along the way.  We were already up into the clouds with limited visibility.  However, we took the next tram to Hafelekar with an elevation of 2,256 meters (7,400 ft.).  At this point it was very windy and cold. Our windbreakers didn't do the job against the cold, but they did help a little.

On the Funicular going down into the city
On the tram going up to Seegrube

We went out to take some looks at certain lookout points and only saw clouds all around, no visibility.  We went into the cafe there and decided to eat some hot goulash and wait for the weather to improve.
Some hot goulash at the top of the mountain with a little strudel for dessert
While we were eating, we saw the cloud lift and close up again several times.   Finally we went out and determined to wait and watch.  
Original visibility - nothing beyond the ledge

Covered in clouds when we started our wait.  Barely able to see the outline of the peak of the mountain.
We were rewarded with some amazing views while some of the clouds lifted.  I also determined to climb the last 250 meters to the peak of the mountain.  Photos follow:

Clearer views of the peak
Elder Rueckert on the top of the peak

Elder Rueckert waving down to Sister Rueckert
The winds going up were very strong and the escalation was a bit tough, but the experience was worth it.  Even though the visibility was limited, it was amazing to be at the top of the Alps.

Selfie looking off one of the sides of the mountain peak

Photo taken by a fellow hiker, an amazing feeling

One more photo at the top
 As I came down we took advantage of some temporary clearing to look around the other side of the mountain and got some great pictures.

Sister Rueckert sitting on a bench on the side of the mountain
A little windy but worth it

We can imagine how beautiful it would be on a perfectly clear day, but it was good to also experience the extreme cold and difficulty on a normal day in July.  We can only imagine the experience in the winter time.  Independent of the weather, we were awestruck with the beauty of God's creations in this part of the world.  The mountains are majestic!

On Sunday we went to church at the Innsbruck Ward and finally met with the family of Günter and Ingrid Jäsche.  I last saw them over 20 years ago while we lived in Brasil.  Today the three children have spouses of their own.  They met us in Church and took wonderful care of us.   We realized that this is the first time that we attended all of the three hour block in German.  We have attended sacrament meetings in our neighboring ward in German, but not the other meetings.  We have also attended in many other languages.  We understood more than in previous occasions.  We must be making some progress.

We finally met with Günter and Ingrid at 3:00 in their home with their 3 biological children that are with them in Austria.  Günter and Ingrid drove 7 hours from Prague, Czechoslovakia today to be with us.  We had a wonderful Brazilian stroganoff which was followed by a Brazilian parfait.  Wonderful food and better company.  

We took time to talk about the self-reliance initiative in their ward.  Their family includes the ward mission leader, high priest group leader, young women president, relief society president, elders quorum president and a member of the bishopric.  It was like talking to the complete ward council.  We discussed some of their individual self-reliance needs and their PEF loans that three of them brought from Brasil.  They were very receptive and anxious to do more in their ward.  They are already having My Foundation lessons in Sunday School, but they need much more.

This family had adopted the three sisters of our son, Abraham.  It was good to get caught up with them and all that has happened since then.  What a wonderful family that is trying to do all in their power to strengthen the Church in Austria.  Their ward was a branch before they arrived.
Family Photo of Günter Jäsche and family with us

We stayed this weekend in the Stefanbrücke Hotel outside of Innsbruck.  It is a wonderful mountainous setting with a spectacular view of the mountain ranges around us.  Today, on Sunday, the rainy weather has left.  A nice place to end our mountain climbing week.

Hotel where we are staying near Innsbruck
View from the front of the hotel

View from down the street