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Once to New Braunfels and back

Our trip to Texas

Who’s knocking?

"Look, guys, you know what a New Braunfels German American Heritage is?", my wife asked one night. "What is that?" Rabbit replied and we joined her on the sofa. So, we looked at the laptop with question marks in our eyes and still couldn't figure it out. So, we wrote an e-mail to the USA.

You’ve got mail!               

"You've got mail!", it sounded from the laptop speakers one evening. John from New Braunfels had written to us. He was in Germany some time ago and had also visited our Hanseatic city of Buxtehude. He reported enthusiastically about his trip and his home Texas in America.

"We should visit John, see his country with our own eyes," Rabbit bubbled out of his mouth. "Since our Indonesian adventure, we have known how to travel far. What do you mean Hedgehog? Before I could answer, my wife added resolutely: "This time not without me! We had to laugh.

RabbitRabbit, ouradvisor advisor, replied to John's mail. He ended with the question: "May we visit you sometime? “

The answer didn't take long. It was an evening at the beginning of December. Our roommates sat comfortably on the sofa and jingled on the keyboard of their computers when Rabbit dared to go.  "Uh," it continued to jingle. "UHMM - We're going to America!" Suddenly it was quiet in our dwelling.

We loved those days when not we, but our roommates, had question marks in their eyes. Rabbit told them about the events of the last days, about John, emigrations, the USA and New Braunfels.

The big guys made quick decisions. Yes, we were allowed to go to America! But a flight was still too dangerous for us alone. A feel-good box was prepared the next day. More precisely, there were two, one for the presents and one for us Buxtehuder Schlingel®. Our roommate thought out loud: "Tradition - Christmas - Gifts ...".

What traditions are cultivated there? What is different there? Do they speak German, or do I have to pick up Rabbit's translation booklet? That will certainly be very exciting. It was with these thoughts that our adventure began the next day at the post office in our Hanseatic city of Buxtehude.

We had already travelled far to our new adventure. A journey over the big water, the Atlantic, with the airplane and further with cars we had already behind us. The three of us were on the road for about as long as we had been on our adventure in Indonesia.

1583732196_n... A dull "Ding Dong" penetrated our gift box. "Two packages from Germany for you! - "Thank you, we are waiting for it." Was that John's voice? "Cindy! Our visitors from Germany have arrived."  Now we were sure. We had reached the destination of our journey. So, no German was spoken here. That was no longer a problem for Rabbit and me and my wife would certainly understand everything very quickly.

After our gift box was opened, our eyes needed a little time to get used to the light again. We looked into the radiant faces of our hosts. What a lovely greeting! Cindy and John took us immediately in his arms.

20171113_160242_Curious and joyful they unpacked the presents. They already knew some things, they looked at us questioningly at others. Our roommates had packed typical Christmas things. Christmas stollen, gingerbread hearts, a rabbit and hedgehog book, a Buxbüdel (bag) and, and, and...

We got to talking quickly. John told us about the Wurstfest, the "Edelweiss Kinderchor", the Sophienburg, the Weihnachtmarkt and much more. Now you probably think that these are all German words. And you are right! These terms have been preserved as a tradition for many years. Why, you ask yourselves? We were promised that we would experience and see much that had its roots in German origin. We were curious and planned the adventures of the next days.

IMG_5701The next morning it started. I stepped outside the door and was amazed. At first, I didn't know why. Something was different here than at home. In front of the house stood a deer with his family and fed himself on the fresh grass. A deer family in the garden? Then it struck me - there were no fences anywhere. The animals could move freely.

A short time later we drove to Landa Park. There it looked like a golf course - hills and short cut fine grass. "But we can't play golf. What do Cindy and John want to show us", I pondered.

IMG_5480IMG_5491Soon we knew. Here we could romp, eat, play and guess almost 100 different tree species all day long. We saw the Comal River flowing through the park. "Throughout the year there are many festivals here that remind us of Germany, for example the Wasserfest or the Wurstfest. Concerts and the fireworks on July 4th, their Independence Day, are also part of the program throughout the year," John explained. Rabbit scratched his ears, which made him look doubtful. "He murmured indistinctly to himself. "What's that supposed to be again? Even in Texas people talk as incomprehensibly as they do at home." My wife was thrilled, as she now saw the free-range deer and stags grazing and playing peacefully in the park. We sat down together in the green and watched the hustle and bustle.

After a while John reported further, as if he had read my thoughts: "No, we don't want to play golf, I want to show you something. And when you hear the story, you will understand a lot!

IMG_5483He led us to a monument. On the memorial we saw a man with a woman and a child. On a plaque it was written: "This monument is dedicated to the memory of the German Pioneers who helped convert a wilderness into the great state of Texas."  Cindy explained that the first German people here were called pioneers.  They found a completely undeveloped land and began to build their settlements from scratch.

Rabbit, our advisor, had become thoughtful again. He sat down on a tree trunk and remained silent. Meanwhile I climbed a tree and looked into the distance, lost in thought.

What was that like?

IMG_5506Cindy and John´s story very interesting and we listened with pleasure. They reported: The German pioneers came here a long time ago, in 1845. At that time the Brothers Grimm were still collecting their stories and the German Fairy Tale Road did not exist yet.

Many of your great-great-great-grandmas and great-great-great-grandpas, aunts and uncles made their way from Hamburg, Bremen and other ports to the 'New World'. Arriving there, they searched for free, uninhabited, wild land. They walked far, very far and settled for example in Texas, founded new places, cultivated their traditions, their language and the crafts they had brought with them.

Now this was their new home and the place New Braunfels in Texas was born. On March 21, 1845 Prince Carl von Solms-Braunfels founded this settlement. He came from the town of Braunfels in what is now the German state of Hessen. The descendants of these inhabitants still live there today and John is a great-great-great-grandson of these people.

But why and how did people from Germany come to the USA, to the New World?

In this long past time more and more people moved to the cities, because they wanted to work there. They hoped for a future with a better income than they could get in the country. That worked out very well at first, but more and more people came to work. After all, there were so many that not everyone found work and was hungry.

They heard of a distant country, with room for all - America. At first some courageous families set off on their way to a new life. Over time, emigration was offered as a journey without return, a journey into a new future. It must have been a difficult time, but their cohesion gave them the strength to hold out.

IMG_5489Another historical plaque called 'It all began here' indicated that music and singing strengthened the community. Another tradition that is still cultivated today. But of course, our day with the two was not over yet, because we wanted to get to know the place where they live. The time together with our new friends passed quickly and it was already late afternoon. "Let's explore the city" my wife said to me full of exuberance. "In the park it was so relaxing. My little legs don't hurt and I'm not tired yet either". Of course, I agreed to explore New Braunfels.

We explore the city of New Braunfels

IMG_5552Cindy and John took us first to the 'Main Plaza', we would say marketplace. It was the place where people could meet to talk or make music. Suddenly the Long-Ear shouted: "There are Hänsel and Gretel on the fence! Look, I'm telling the truth! "Yes, my friend," I replied, "You're right. There is a nursery school here and the name also goes back to the German tradition. But in the English language there is no 'Ä' and so Hansel and Gretel are written there". Rabbit was so happy about his discovery that he made jumps, just like the two figures on the fence. 

IMG_5580IMG_5571Slowly he calmed down again and we looked around on the main square. Many Christmas lights shone on the trees and also a Christmas tree shone into the sky. "Hach is this beautiful here" said my wife and ran to a pavilion. Also, this one shone in the golden light. 

"And there is a castle! We also have to go there" she shouted to me. But Cindy quicklycorrected me. "No, it is not a castle, that is the County Courthouse There the people must go, before a judge if they were bad! I immediately thought of our rabbit. But since we had arrived in Texas, luckily his behavior had been exemplary. I was secretly happy about it andsmiling to myself.

IMG_5511Then we saw Prince Carl - you remember, it was the man who had founded New Braunfels. His image was perched on a monument. This was illuminated, so that it shone inthe evening sky. We collected all the impressions in our heads so that we could report about it at home. Cindy and John also liked to click-click with their camera, for our roommates. Did they miss us already?

The hours passed. It was now dark and so our 1st day in America, far away from Buxtehude, came to an end.

The night passed quickly and Cindy and John wanted to show us more of their homeland.

The Sophienburg was the first stop that day. It was not a castle, but a museum and archive, the place where things were displayed that had belonged to the great-grandmas and grandpas of New Braunfels. The Sophienburg was named after Princess Sophie, who was later married to Prince Carl. The museum told of the history of German immigrants, as did our Rabbit and Hedgehog Museum at home in our alleys. The collections included photos, newspapers, historical, oral and written government and church records, as well as information about the people.

IMG_5416   IMG_5425   IMG_5432

IMG_5429It was very exciting to see what the people had taken with them from Germany at that time and kept until today. We even admired the fairy tale figures of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf and pictures of another tale, The Seven Little Goats.

By a magic mirror (a computer screen), we could read in the old New Braunfelser Zeitung, which reported many, many years ago about a Christmas market.

As interesting as we found it in the museum, we wanted to experience more, much more. So, we drove in John's car towards San Antonio. Of course, we were allowed to go to our favorite place at the back window, from where we could see everything. On the short drive we saw many things that reminded us of Hamburg: the big highway, dwellings and pubs, big shops and really many signs leading to parks. San Antonio is a green city with many recreational opportunities.

IMG_5600Soon we had arrived in the middle of the beautiful old town in the district Alamo. Alamo was a Catholic mission 300 years ago. The settlement, which could be recognized from afar by the poplars, was named after Alamo – Spanish for the ‘poplar' trees which were nearby at that time. The Alamo later became the mission of San Antonio de Valero, from which the great city of San Antonio emerged. IMG_5613In the neighbourhood we explored also beautiful lanes with old houses and saw the high lookout tower of La Villita. Imagine, with its 230 meters height it was the highest tower in the USA until 1996. Unfortunately, we could not go up into tower, because it became already late again.

IMG_5672The beautiful day came to an end and so John drove us, past New Berlin, back to New Braunfels. When we drove through Seguin, he wanted to show us something. John told us about a legend. There a nut claimed to be the world's largest pecan nut. We thought it couldn't be but see for yourself! Not even with our robber leader we got up to this big nut, which probably weighed 500 kilos.

Back in the car we fell asleep happy and content and didn't even notice that the two big ones had carried us to bed.

Christmas with friends

The next morning, we had a good night's sleep. It was Christmas Eve. Of course, after the delicious breakfast Cindy had prepared for us, we went for a little stroll through the alleys of New Braunfels. On our way there was a bakery. This belonged to Uwe and we were greeted in German. Uwe had lived in Germany before and had only come to Texas a few years ago, an emigrant of the new era. He was happy to hear news from his former homeland. My wife and I talked to him for some time while Rabbit looked around.

It wasn't long before he came back as fast as a lightning. Stiff as a stick he stood in front of us with his ears raised high and pointed into a corner of the bakery. "Santa Claus is here" he spoke with an awesome and excited undertone. "Der Weihnachtsmann is Santa Claus in this country," said Uwe. "Go over to him and his wife - Mrs. Claus."

IMG_5549Of course, we followed Uwe's advice and sat down with them.

"How did you get these names," my wife wanted to know. Santa reported that this was based on a European tradition, the Saint Nicholas custom. Since the poem 'The Night Before Christmas' from 1823, people believed that Santa Claus had a sleigh with which to distribute the gifts. So Santa Claus became famous.

"But among us", he whispered suddenly, "I only became really prominent in 1931, when a beverage company took the old story as a model and published pictures of me - with red coat, cap and white cuddly beard.

While we were talking some children had already gathered who also wanted to go to Santa. So we said goodbye to the two lovely characters, wished them a Merry Christmas and went back to Cindy, who was already waiting for us. She had bought Christmas biscuits and John stood in front of the door and watched the hustle and bustle on the street.

IMG_5543On the way home, we stopped at friends. We were greeted warmly, as a visit from Old Germany should have been. While the grown-ups drank a coffee and talked about the past Wurstfest, we had made ourselves comfortable in the sleigh. From there we admired her Christmas tree and the decoration in the living room. Everything was festively decorated, just like at home.

Wurstfest"Wurstfest," Rabbit asked. "What is that? John had already mentioned the word in Landa Park. The big ones looked at us in amazement. Obviously, they couldn't imagine that we didn't know it. The Wurstfest was the biggest German folk festival in America. The emigrants have been celebrating it since the first days, following the German Oktoberfest tradition. "And how did the name "Wurstfest" come about," Rabbit asked. John explained: "The Oktoberfest begins with the tapping of the first beer barrel. Here at the Wurstfest some people stand on the stage and bite together into a long queue of sausages". We looked at each other in disbelief, but other countries had different customs, especially as everything else was very similar to the Oktoberfest.

At some point we set off again and strolled on through the alleys. Also here the houses were decorated with many lights and in the front gardens stood Santa Clauses, reindeer sleds and many other figures, like snowmen, deer and of course also glowing Christmas trees.

IMG_5927Then we went back to the house of our host parents and admired their tree. "A really sharp thing," it came from Rabbit. We hedgehogs looked at each other. "There, don't you see it? There are lots of chillies hanging in the tree." We could hardly hold ourselves with laughter. We had never seen anything like it before! "I only know chili from cooking", my wife said and shook her spines in amazement. "We have to get to the bottom of this," she added.

Cindy had not noticed anything of our conversation. She said: "Now you have to dress up, because we are going to church right away".

Our roommate had sent along our beautiful festive clothes. So, we changed quickly and went out. Cindy and John were enthusiastic. Also, they had made themselves chic and so we could go together into the church.

IMG_5558IMG_5919The church was full of people, just as we had experienced it with us. It was a solemn hour with speeches and beautiful songs, even those we knew and could sing along. In addition, countless candles laughed and the atmosphere was very devout and festive.

The service passed quickly and we walked home. Rabbit was already looking forward to his presents and was overconfident, he jumped through the streets and sang the songs from the church. "Finally presents... Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum...".

Finaly presents

IMG_5563But what was that? Under the Christmas tree, the decorated Christmas tree, there were no presents, not even a piece of coal! Rabbit was disappointed, sad and worried. "Did something happen to Santa Claus? Or is he not coming here because there is no snow for the sleigh or is he even stuck in the chimney? John explained: "In America, and therefore also in Texas, Santa Claus only comes through the chimney at night. Milk and biscuits are then ready for his refreshment. And on Christmas morning can the presents be unpacked. So it's time for you to wait and sleep another night."

Sleeping was not really for Rabbit and us to think about. We were sooo curious.

So that the time passed faster, we sat down in the comfortably furnished kitchen in front of the laptop and starting a Skype-Session with our flatmates. Thanks to the time difference it was already early Christmas morning in Buxtehude, while Texas had a deep night.

The darkness passed. Well, we were excited. And indeed! In the morning there were colorful glittering packages under the tree. "Hooray, Santa Claus was there! So, he must be well and he didn't get stuck in the chimney. Hooray, hooray, hooray" called Rabbit in his pyjamas. "Get dressed quickly, our presents are waiting for us!  We did that and with a "Merry Christmas!" Cindy and John greeted us at the Christmas tree.

Each of us got a big one of these shiny packs. "What's in there" asked Rabbit, shook his and listened to it. But he could not guess it. How also. There are hundreds of things to be happy about. So, my wife said: "On the count of three we start, then we unwrap the presents from Santa Claus. Did the Christmas elves also pack us something nice?  One! Two! Three! Cindy and John watched us fotunate.

IMG_6074IMG_5979Each of us had received real Texas hats. Rabbit and me a cowboy hat and my wife a summer hat with sweet pink flowers. Stop! There were others! We had seen them on TV before. They were glittering party hats. Everyone got one in a different color. We also put them on our heads, stood together in front of the mirror and admired our presents. We thought they were great!

Cindy and John were happy with us. John said: "We have another surprise for you! You are allowed to stay with us until New Year's Eve!"  We were very happy and with emotion a few tears flowed out of my wife's eyes.

Happy New Year

The time flew by. New Year's Eve, the last day of the year, was soon upon us and we decorated the party room. In the evening many friends came to our house. We all sang, laughed, ate and toasted together at midnight. "Happy New Year! So, we greeted the New Year and our party hats made us look festive. The evening was beautiful, but at some point ears and spines were so tired that they had to go to bed.

IMG_6014But we couldn't sleep long this morning, because there was soon a traditional lunch, which led to misunderstandings at first. Cindy said: "Here are the Black Eyed Peas!"

Rabbit jumped up immediately and sang: "Got a feeling ... it's got to be a good good day ...." Cindy almost dropped the tray out of her hands laughing. "Those are beans, rabbit, beans!", explained John. "In Germany you might know them as Schwarzaugenbohnen."

No, we didn't know such vegetables, not even my wife, but they were very tasty. IMG_6007Then Cindy served us Tamales. These were delicious meat, cheese or vegetable specialities wrapped in corn dough. For Rabbit she had prepared extra carrot Tamale, which tasted very good to him and he praised them in high tones. Of course, there was also dessert. What do you think that was? Guess what!

After the snacking we thanked Cindy very much for the effort she had made on New Year's morning. All three of us hugged her and she got a kiss on the cheek from everyone.

Time to say good bye

Then came the day we left. We had to say goodbye, but we were also looking forward to our roommates and the fairytale town of Buxtehude. Our host parents had already prepared our feel-good package. Sadly and gratefully we slipped in and the way back to our homeland began!

... A dull "Ding Dong" penetrated our feel-good box. "Two packages from the USA for you." "Honey! The boys and Mrs. Hedgehog are back", we heard our roommate say.

Two packages? - Yes, Cindy and John had also put together some surprises for the two of them.

We were home again, with many experiences, great experiences and ready for something new. It was sooo beautiful and still today we like to talk about our adventure 'Once to New Braunfels and back'.

Thank you very much Cindy and John!