My Native Country

The German region Rheinhessen (Rhine Hesse, or Rhinehessen) is where I was born and spent my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Its name is as confusing as its tumultuous history, which I can only paint in very broad brushstrokes. The triangular area west of the Rhine river, today bordered by the cities Bingen, Mainz, and Worms, has been populated since the Stone Age some 20,000 years ago. In antiquity, it became a major center for the stationing of Roman legions, and ruins and relics dating to that era continue to be unearthed during modern-day construction projects. Once the Romans were run off, various Germanic tribes called it home.

When Karl the Great, King of the Franks and Roman Emperor, died in 814 AD, the fraternal feuds erupting among his progeny led to centuries of animosity and warfare, in which the land that bordered both Germany and France was kicked back and forth like a soccer ball between the two countries.

During the Napoleonic era, it become part of a French Département, “Mont Tonnerre,” named after the most prominent mountain, Donnersberg (thunder mountain). In 1818, following Napoleon’s defeat and the Vienna Congress, the heretofore unnamed region was christened Rheinhessen and was attached as a new province to the German Grand Duchy of Hessen-Darmstadt on the opposite side of the Rhine. The Versailles Treaty in the wake of World War I rearranged European borders once again, and Rheinhessen was occupied by French forces until 1930. At the close of World War II, it became part of the newly created state Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate), an act which rendered its name slightly confusing, as it is no longer part of Hessen. Mainz, the capital of Rheinland-Pfalz, is where, in more recent history, I attended university and met my now-husband. Tumultuous history indeed. 😊

My roots, though, lie nearer the city of Worms, known as one of the sites where the Nibelungen Saga played out. As opposed to the mythical events relayed in that legend, the (not-so-appetizing) Diet of Worms actually did take place there in 1521. Martin Luther was summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V and asked to denounce his theological teachings, then considered sacrilegious. When he refused, he was declared an outlaw and had to flee for his life. In the safety of the Wartburg he translated the Bible into German, making it possible for native speakers to read and hear its words in their own language, rather than in Latin, which was understood only by the privileged and well-educated.

Rheinhessen’s many cities and even more numerous villages are steeped in a rich history, while the landscape is steeped in the richness of Father Rhine, which borders it in the East and North. This statement is true both figuratively and literally, as the region’s riverine portions experienced repeated episodes of flooding before the watercourse was straightened. Flat stretches of fertile land are interspersed with rolling hills, with some steep sections abutting the river. Because of the semi-embrace of one of Germany’s major streams, the area is blessed with a mild climate well-suited to viticulture, i.e. the cultivation of grapes. It is one of the country’s major wine-growing regions and is particularly known for its numerous white wine varieties. Other agricultural products, including cereals, potatoes, and sugar beets also do well, but heavy and prolonged cultivation has led to loss of natural habitats, exploitation and depletion of the soil, and a host of other attendant undesirable and detrimental effects.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Arriving in Germany from America’s drought-stricken West in September, my first impression of a very verdant countryside through the window of the airplane never left me throughout my visit. My visual sense kept enjoying the greenery while my skin and mucus membranes relished the higher humidity. Even though my second home Colorado might be geographically more varied with its vast prairies, majestic mountains, and big sky, I seemed to feel the pull of my native country more strongly than during previous stays. A result of my, or my Dad’s, advancing age? My missing him and other loved ones? My increasingly nostalgic childhood memories? A growing disillusionment with the goings-on in my current home nation? I suspect it’s a combination of all of the above.

Leaving one’s birth country for a new one is often fraught with the melancholy of parting from old family and friends, and with the perpetual state of feeling the pull of two worlds, while possibly never being completely at home in either one of them.

Ach, I long for [Germany’s] Southwest and know exactly, that near the root of a tough, crooked vine, lies my own.

This is my translation of „Ach, ich sehne mich wieder nach dem Südwesten zurück und weiß genau, daß irgendwo bei der Wurzel irgendeines zähen, krummen Rebstocks meine eigene liegt.“ The nostalgic lines were written by Rheinhessen-born teacher and author Elisabeth Langässer (1899-1950), in a letter from postwar Berlin in 1947, only a few years before her death.

The featured photo above shows the famous gothic Katharinenkirche in Oppenheim through the window frame of an old castle ruin, with the tree-lined Rhine River in the background.

55 thoughts on “My Native Country

  1. As history students in the 1970 I and my classmates chuckled at mention of the Diet of Worms, but your post reminds me now that Worms remains a living, breathing city rather than simply a stage where an important drama was played out many centuries ago.

    Your description how it feels to revisit the land (indeed, the continent!) of your birth is very moving, Tanja. Your recent trip seems to have been unsettling and uplifting in equal measure. I hope that, looking back on it and reflecting on your new life in the US, you remain content and at peace with the direction your life has taken.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like your description of “unsettling and uplifting in equal measure,” Mr. P. What I regret in looking back is how much time I have spent away from loved ones, and I don’t think that feeling will ever leave me. But I think that this is something every expatriate has to deal with.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Moving permanently to another country must be an extraordinarily difficult decision. Unlike you, I would never have been brave enough to to do it, nor strong enough to cope in an adopted homeland..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass es uns, je älter wir werden , immer stärker zu unseren Wurzeln zurück zieht. Wahrscheinlich auch weil wir wissen, dass irgendwann (was aber hoffentlich noch lange dauern wird) unser letzter Besuch in der Heimat kommen wird. Darum müssen wir bei jedem unserer Besuche so viele Eindrücke, Gerüche, Gefühle und Ansichten in ins aufnehmen und mit zurück in unsere neue Heimat nehmen – die wir aber auch lieben!
    Viele Grüsse

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Frisch weht der Wind
    Der Heimat zu;
    Mein Rheinisch kind,
    Wo weilest du?

    (Or so might Wagner have written, with “Irisch” moved to the southeast.)

    You Can’t Go Home Again,, says the title of a posthumous novel by Thomas Wolfe. Of course you can literally go home again, but time works changes on it and you, and neither is the same as when you grew up there. Who wouldn’t feel nostalgic?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderfully rich history your childhood home has, Tanja. I still recall how much fun we had with the ‘Diet of Worms’ during history lessons. We had a somewhat biased interpretation in a Roman Catholic school… My husband recently drove to Washington State and was struck by how similar the rolling hills were to areas we knew in Scotland. I think I always wanted to live in a forest but I do remember tears running down my face as I landed in dusty Cairo for the nth time. Lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kerry. I’m glad my post brought back some memories of your own child- and adulthood. I don’t think I ever appreciated Europe’s lush greenness until I experienced the drought in the West. I actually like the desert and semi-desert, but only when it receives its average precipitation. It’s so sad to see plants wither and die from lack of water.
      I think your home in Texas is less prone to drought, so even if it’s not Scotland, at least it’s not like dusty Egypt.
      Best wishes,

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the country of our childhood and upbringing becomes a very strong part of us, even if we leave and settle elsewhere. I’ve only moved from Scotland to England, but I can understand the emotional pull of our first home.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It must be very difficult to live so far away from your birthplace, Tanja. (Especially in this trying time in this country. ) I was especially enchanted by the architecture. Those castles are like everything I imagine when I read fairy tales. I would enjoy more pics of your trip, if you have them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Julie. The most difficult part about being so far away is not being able to spend time with family and friends. I also miss the landscape, but my life has been enriched by getting to know some parts of North America I would never have seen otherwise.
      There will be more photos in some future posts. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ever since we traveled to some of Ancestral Puebloan sites in the American Southwest, my thinking about N. American history has changed. There has been much human activity, but the populations had so much more space to spread out; they also didn’t leave volumes upon volumes of written records. I find it quite fascinating to imagine what life was like before the tsunami of Europeans arrived on the American continents.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello dear Tanja,
    Thank you very much for the introduction to your native homeland, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking words and beautiful images. I have yet to visit Europe and do hope there will be an opportunity to visit this special region in Germany someday.
    All best,

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Liebe Tanja,
    ich möchte dir ein Zitat aufschreiben:
    “Die beiden schönsten Dinge sind die Heimat, aus der wir stammen,
    und die Heimat, nach der wir wandern.”
    Zitat von Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740 – 1817)
    Liebe Grüße für dich…..von Rosie

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How nice that you were able to visit your homeland. And thank you for the history lesson. There is so much more of it in Europe than here. One can go home again, depending on what you expect from the return, and although changed much remains to warm the heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My older brother used to work in Germany and sent me some of the pictures of his neighbor. They are all beautiful so someday I’ll go and see them on my own eyes😌💕

    I especially wanna see the beautiful architecture. It would be absolutely wow moment👀✨

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh these pictures of “Father Rhine”! They remind me of my youth and days spent on the banks of that great river, and make me long to go back to my native country. I sincerely hope a visit may be possible again some time this year.
    I’m glad I “stumbled” onto your blog here. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen so far.

    Liked by 1 person

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