A Quest for Family Roots in Germany
I stared at the building where she had learned her trade, snapping pictures of it in a vain attempt to capture its entire scope. I walked inside. Grooves in some of the stairs leading up to the second floor and a wooden plaque from the early twentieth century suggested the period Ilse had studied there, but no specific marker of her presence remained.
Enlarge image Many have been awed by the old city's beauty. (© Gerhard Pieschel/OKAPIA) I left the university and walked past the Heiliggeistkirche, a red-bricked, Gothic church built in 1398 that loomed over the city’s central square. I bought a lemon ice cream and sat near a group of people in an open-air café sipping coffee and soaking in the midday sun. I made my way up to the Schloss, the crumbling castle that overlooked the city. Home to German royals from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, the castle had been destroyed twice by war and once by lightning. Looking across the Alte Brucke, the city’s old bridge that had been bombed during World War II and rebuilt in its original form, I saw rows of houses nestled in the hills’ green landscape. But I saw something else, too. More clearly than before, I understood why, despite fleeing Germany to save her life, Ilse also retained an ardent love for her city. I headed toward the train station.
Staring at, and walking into, the building where my great aunt had studied had not made the ghosts I sought appear. But going to Heidelberg left me with a heightened imagination that I hoped would stay with me in Essen, a former steel capital brought to prominence by nineteenth century industrialist Alfred Krupp and our family’s hometown.