This report and narrative is about a most wonderful 2-week vacation trip to Europe from Sept 23 to Oct 7. 2002. Our son Gregory was tour guide for his parents Gary and Grace Gauer. Greg had been in Europe 3 times previously and converses in the German language. It was our first trip to Europe and full of new experiences for us. The trip was primarily in southern Germany and Switzerland with a half day each in Austria and France.
We left Minnesota by United Airlines on Monday evening, September 23rd, changed planes in Chicago for non-stop to Frankfurt and arrived there in the early afternoon Tuesday. Greg rented a car (Ford Mondeo) and we drove down near Kaiserslautern to the city of Ramstein, which is where he stayed when he was stationed at Ramstein Air Base in 1997,1998 & 2000. We checked into a new and very beautiful Hotel Europa for 2 nights, which is owned by the daughter of the family Greg rented from in ‘97.
On Wednesday we drove up to the Mosel River valley, saw vineyards on the steep slopes, visited an old castle, Burg Eltz, and walked and shopped in the tourist town of Cochem. We missed the English Language Tour of the castle and joined up with the German Language Tour and followed along using a descriptive printed copy in English of what was being communicated to the group.
Thursday was travel on the autobahn in the rain southeast to Bavaria, almost to Austria. On the autobahn: Use the left lane sparingly and watch your rear view mirror for the flashing lights of fast and mysterious Mercedes traveling about 160 km per hour. Smaller cars are popular, Pick up trucks and Sport Utility Vehicles are very rare. Long distance trucks are more compact, most often with stub cabs and larger single and tandem wheels without duals and not like our 18-wheelers. Gas is expensive and many roads are narrow. Towns are compact and most were built before land surveys and planning. Land is precious. Electric trains are common and people use them for travel. Every town has a Bahnhof Strasse, a train station street, which leads to an "i" for tourist information of local hotels. At the tourist information in Fussen we selected the Kurhotel Ruchti for Thursday night.
On Friday, we used the advance tickets Greg ordered by Internet for English language tours of two castles from the time of King Ludwig II. King Ludwig II had grown up in Hohenschwangau and built Schloss Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle, in the years 1869 to 1886. It has some floors unfinished because he died in a mysterious drowning at the age of 41 in 1886 just after being committed for insanity. After leaving the castles, we headed northeast to near Steingaden and stopped at Wieskirche, "the church in the meadow – a pilgrimage church of the scourged Saviour", built in the 18th century. It is a most beautiful, large Baroque church located in open farmland.
We drove southeast to Garmisch-Partenkirchen near the Zugspitze, which is the tallest mountain in Germany, and stayed downtown Friday night at the Drei Mohren Hotel. We walked up the street to enjoy the decorative architecture - some buildings were painted with murals, and found an Internet office to check our email. Saturday morning we crossed over a pass and into Austria west of Innsbruck for the drive west through the valley and many tunnels on the way to Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
The Gauer homeland is next to Liechtenstein in eastern Switzerland
in the Wartau area of the St Gallen Canton. Today there are 20 address listings of the Gauer name in the St Gallen Canton. The hamlet of Gretschins is in the foothills along the Rhine valley and just up the road from Weite and Fontnas. Gretschins is at 600 meters altitude and 136 meters above the Rhine River. We stayed at the Hotel Alvier on the 2343 meter, 7687 ft., Alvier Mountain both Saturday and Sunday evenings while we were in the area. Hotel Alvier is high up at 975 meters (3199 ft) and reached either by cable car or by one lane switchback road from Oberschan at 668 meters (2192 ft). Greg drove us up and down the narrow road very carefully. Afterward he commented "been there – done that".
Greg introduced us to Heinrich and Irene Seifert who live just across the strasse (street) from the Wartau-Gretschins Evangelical Reformed Kirche and in sight of the ruins of Burg (castle) Wartau. Heinrich is a retired Sanitar worker (plumber) and has a family tree showing that a Jakob Seifert had married Elsbeth Gauer on 4 April 1848. Elsbeth was a sister of Mathias Gauer whom we are more than 99% sure was my great grandfather. We enjoyed Saturday afternoon coffee and evening meal in their home. We also met and visited in English with Urs Lendenmann, next door neighbor to the Seiferts and enjoyed his historical knowledge of the area. Sunday morning Grace, Greg and I attended the Sunday morning service at the Kirche in Gretschins. Urs sang in the choir, as it was a special Harvest Celebration Sunday. The service was entirely in German, but we could follow the format of the songs and liturgy. After church, we had coffee and cake with Urs.
The Seifert’s son Bruno and his girl friend Tanya joined us for the main midday meal at Heinrich and Irene’s after which 6 of us (excluding Irene) hiked from the Seiferts house up a meandering path to Burg Wartau.
It was a beautiful sunny day as we walked and climbed through hilly dairy land complete with Brown Swiss cows and the sound of their musical bells. When we reached the heights of Burg Wartau, almost 200 feet up, at 661 meters altitude, we found a stone fence wall surrounding the stone tower shell of the castle and grassy areas where people were enjoying picnic lunches. We stood on the wall in awe and enjoyed the view of the Rhine valley and Liechtenstein on the east and back to the Wartau-Gretschins Kirche on the west. Later in the afternoon, Irene joined us for a drive north along the Rhine valley and a walk through the very old village of Werdenberg near Buchs. Bruno and Tanya also spoke English to us and Greg translated German for us to talk to Heinrich and Irene.
We drove back up to the Alvier before dark and found that the restaurant was closed on Sunday night. In the dark and through the woods we walked down about 45 meters, 150 ft, altitude on a narrow and steep trail to the Maiensass Restaurant. It was a very isolated and family place where no English was spoken and no credit cards were accepted. We used almost all of our Swiss Francs to enjoy a good meal. It was so very foreign and wonderful. The Euro will be used next year in Switzerland.
On Monday, We visited Jakob and Dorli Gauer at Azmoos and received his copies of Gauer family information prepared in 1937 by Leonhard Gauer and dating back to the Gouwers of 1609. Jakob is an architect and is currently rebuilding a house for his family. Dorli and daughter Anna spoke English for us. Anna is high school age and was home to meet us, help with lunch and show us her very numerous medals and trophies for skiing and piano. Jakob’s mother showed us some very old pictures.
They prepared a meal for us with a Raclette, a double deck electric grill, placed on the table to cook bacon, potatoes & cheese etc. In the afternoon Jakob and Dorli drove us about 14-km south to Malans where we found and met Hans Donatsch. There are two places in the area called Malans and this is the one south of the Heidiland area at Maienfeld. Hans is 82 and has been working for 52 years on a complete family tree of the Donatsch family. On his family scroll we saw the Christian Donatsch family that my Great Grandfather Mathias Gauer was living with at the time of the 1895 census in Center township, Dubuque County, Iowa.
We left the Gauer homeland on Monday evening just before dark and headed for Luzern through more tunnels and along valleys and lakes. We drove through Luzern after dark and decided to continue south to find a smaller town with easier access to a hotel. We drove into the town of Sarnen and stayed at the Hotel Metzgern,
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were non-driving days at the town of Interlaken between the two large lakes of Thun and Brienz. Tuesday afternoon we checked into the Beau Site hotel. Greg and Grace did the laundry at a Laundromat several blocks away and returned 3 hours later with clothes still damp. The hotel would have charged over $100 to launder our clothing by the piece. It was convenient and easy to purchase tickets from the front desk for day trips to the Schilthorn and to the Ballenberg outdoor Museum. Interlaken is a very great international tourist area where the front desk clerks, waiters and shop clerks speak several languages. Many Europeans know 2 or more languages.
On Wednesday, while Grace remained in Interlaken to enjoy and absorb local culture (shopping). Greg and Gary started the journey to the mountains at 10:30 from the Interlaken Ost (east) Baunhof by electric train to Lauterbrunnen where we transferred to a funicular, a steep cable drawn train, for a ride up to another electric train ride and the car-free town of Murren. Murren is primarily a beautiful winter ski village and summer base for hikes. We walked through the village and had lunch outdoors at a hotel on the way to a first cable gondola ride to an intermediate peak with a transfer station. The final gondola ride to the top was above the tree line and over the snow. We visited the revolving restaurant at the top of the Schilthorn Piz Gloria that had been the site of one of the James bond movies. We enjoyed the view and took some pictures of the beautiful still and sunny day.
We returned to Murren again by cable car. Greg hiked down to the valley and I traveled down on a 3rd cable over pastureland to a transfer station and a 4th cable gondola down along a sheer rock face to a bus station. The bus traveled back to Lauterbrunnen for return by train to Interlaken Ost at about 17:00. Greg returned about 2 hours later.
On Thursday we all took a boat trip on Lake Brienz to the town of Brienz and transferred to the bus to Ballenberg. On the way we saw signs to the town of Kienholz (Gary’s cousin’s in MN & WI have the Kienholz name). Ballenberg is great living history with people in costumes to demonstrate the old crafts. We saw old barn-houses and farm buildings complete with cattle, swine, sheep and goats. Horses pulled wagons. We could not see it all in the time we had. At the end of the day we returned to Interlaken Ost by electric train.
On Friday we drove west along the south shore of Lake Thun to the town of Thun in the area of the Graf family homeland. We parked at the Bahnhof and walked through downtown and up many steps to the old castle museum. We drove through Uetendorf and Thierachern the towns of my great grandmother Elizabeth Graf. On the way north out of Switzerland we skirted Bern on the east and reentered Germany at Basel. We were delayed by a very long line of trucks being stopped at the border and began looking for a hotel after dark. We found one town with all of its rooms taken and moved on successfully to stay at Bad Krozingen at the Hotel Sonne.
The trip on Saturday continued with a walking tour through the city of Freiburg. Crowds of people were about especially at a bazaar on the plaza next to an old church. In the afternoon we drove through a part of the Schwarzwald, Black Forest, interspersed with rolling dairyland country. We stopped at the Haus der 1000 Uhren, House of 1000 clocks, in Triberg-Gremmelsbach where Greg had previously purchased our cuckoo clock. We stayed at the Hanauer Hof in Appenweier that evening.
All of the hotels that we stayed in were unique, clean, and family owned with nice restaurants. Some of the very old hotels were built originally with bathrooms down the hall and subsequently made modern with small private bathrooms. We stayed in doppelzimmer rooms with two single side-by-side beds and Greg stayed in einzelzimmer rooms with one single bed. The beds all had bottom sheets, comforters with duvets and large square pillows. No blankets were seen as common in the US. No English was spoken at some of them and Greg managed to interpret the important information.
Sunday morning, we went into Strasbourg, France and visited the Strasbourg Cathedral. It is old and so very large that the construction took the lifetimes of a series of architects. We entered the back with many other tourists, as a mass was in progress at the front, a good distance away.
Everyone does a lot of walking, wears durable walking shoes and from outside appearances are in good physical condition. White tennis shoes, company logo jackets and baseball caps can identify some tourists. Greg had advised us before we went to leave such items at home. We encountered a bus tour group in Interlaken with these articles of attire, sure enough – some were from Iowa and Missouri.
John Deere tractors were seen in Germany. We drove near Mannheim where they are made. Some very small and wide tractors were used in Switzerland to cope with small sloping fields. We saw some special small field combination truck tractors also. People were raking hay by hand on the very steep slopes near Murren. We saw many sheds and barns on the mountain slopes in certain areas. Some farmers live in the towns and go out to their land to work. The villages are very compact with extremely narrow streets. Houses are well built with excellent windows and plumbing. The main rivers are tamed and lined with stone. Restaurant waiters do not expect or accept a tip. Tips are necessary, however, at the very clean WCs (rest rooms) located at all autobahn rest platz (place). Computers are everywhere as here.
On Sunday afternoon we drove north to the Frankfurt area and stayed at a hard-to-find motel near the airport. We did not stay at the Airport Hilton because we were told that rooms there were available for $300 per night. The return flight on Monday was slightly longer at about 8.5 hours to Chicago because of the prevailing winds. The planes had flat panel screens on each seat back with movies and a channel to watch a GPS map showing trip progress with estimated arrival time.
We did not keep a diary on the trip and have reconstructed it from memory, maps and receipts. We were too busy looking. We learned to recognize some German words and want to learn more German so we can understand, research and communicate, especially when we return to visit the very special people we met along the journey. The welcoming hospitality of the Gauers, Seiferts, Urs Lendenmann and Hans Donatsch was something we’ll always remember. They added so much to an unforgettable trip.
Swiss White pages
The Hotel Alvier site is http://www.hotelalvier.ch/