January 5, 2007

Granny Wynne takes on Wertheim

I arrived in Frankfurt at 8:05 this morning as usual, but instead of going to my German class, I played hooky and spent the day with my grandmother, who was in town with her “traveling companion” Mr. Muth (“Muth – sounds like truth, stands for courage”), on the last leg of Rhine River cruise.

I can’t begin to describe how strange it felt seeing Granny Wynne in Frankfurt. It probably had something to do with drinking too much red wine before 10 in the morning, but it was truly surreal to be walking her through the streets of old Frankfurt and translating as she negotiated with the cashiers in the gift shops. (In truth, little was required of my limited German skills: The Frankfurt shopkeepers all speak English; I was needed to translate my grandmother’s heavy Southern drawl into standard American.)

After our morning cocktails and a little shopping, Granny’s tour group – mostly American retirees – was scheduled to go by bus to nearby Wertheim for lunch and sightseeing. And with very little convincing, Granny persuaded the tour director, an outgoing Dane named Réné, to allow me to tag along on the trip. (It should be said that my Grandmother has a way of convincing men of a certain age to do just about anything).

Wertheim, founded sometime in the 8th century is a tiny little hamlet about an hour and a half outside of Frankfurt. It is so small that it doesn’t even garner a mention in my 700-page German travel guide, and since I spent most of the day chatting with Granny and Mr. Muth, I missed Réné’s history of the city and so can tell you nothing about the town’s significance. All I can say for Wertheim is that it looks exactly like you’d think an ancient German village should look: narrow cobblestone streets, colorful Tudor houses, and a ruined medieval castle casting an intimidating shadow over the town below. I think I might have once seen something very like it at Disney World. Still, it was my first taste of “authentic” German culture, and so I’ll always remember it fondly.

By far the highlight of the day was the lunch, hosted by a dozen generous locals who for some strange reason agreed to take us into their homes in groups of 10 and feed us home-cooked meal. Our hostess Bettina and her four children served us a wonderful meal of goulash, scalloped potatoes, salad, and bread pudding topped with wild berry and sweet cream sauce. And would you believe that everything on the menu was produced in Bettina’s own garden? Even the meat!

After lunch, the whole group returned to Wertheim for more sight-seeing and shopping, although, being retirees, I think most would have preferred a nap. In fact, Granny and Mr. Muth did opt to return to the bus for a nap, which left me some time to do exploring on my own. Despite the threat of rain (there’s always a threat of rain in Germany), I climbed up the hill to ruins of Wertheim castle. The hill was steep, with steps that seemed to go one forever, but when I reached the top, the view of the village and the Main River valley was worth it:

While milling about the remains of the old keep, I witness the most precious scene: Two German boys, about 6 or 7, were playing hide-and-seek among the castle ruins. But it wasn’t just any old game of hide-and-seek. They had constructed suits of armor for themselves from regular household items, and had built bows and arrows from young tree branches, which really worked (well, sort of). From what I could understand of their game, they were playing “King and Vassal.” As far as they were concerned, we tourists were just a part of the scenery. The entire castle was their playground. And to think, in Arkansas, my brother and I just had a playhouse.

(To see more photos of Granny Wynne and Wertheim, visit my Flickr account by clicking on the blue box in the right hand column above.)

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