Burghausen Castle is located in Bavaria in southern Germany, east of Munich and is situated on the west bank of the Salzach River, built atop a ridge. The castle stretches for over a full kilometre and is divided into six courtyards. It is also the longest castle in Germany and Europe.
Back to the Roots – a Journey of Nostalgia
By Heidi Trautmann
It was springtime in1945. We were refugees from Eastern Prussia and had just come from Linz in Austria where we had got involved in a heavy air-raid on to the main station. There we lost most of our baggage and ran, and we ran as far as Burghausen. My grandmother, my mother and my father who had joined us in Linz coming from the desert, as one of the Rommel army. Here we stood now, exhausted, with some suitcases on a hand-cart. We had come in from the west of the old city of Burghausen, looking down on to a small lake and facing beyond it the whole length of the remarkable castle, and as I learnt later, at a length of 1051 m on top of a ridge.
Right there I stood again just recently, after 65 years, and I tried to see it with the eyes of the child I was then. Nothing has changed. The lake is still as black as ever surrounded by a belt of high trees, and the silhouette of the castle was just what I remembered and also the knights I saw on horseback were still there in my memory and I smile, a smile of regret, of nostalgia.
I had come here from Cyprus for a school class reunion, my first one, and the feelings I had when I confirmed my participation were somewhat divided. Going back to the roots of my childhood, to those years I am still most aware of, is like putting on the sandals I was wearing at that time. Also, meeting my friends and playmates with today different face lines, lives and destinies after 60 years was something I felt reluctant about because I was going to meet my beginning and at the same time the mirror of my own time going by.
The first evening we met across the river Salzach on the Austrian side, in an old romantic restaurant. We had the sun facing us setting over the castle, and the light sparkled in our beer glasses on the checked table cloth as we sat under old chestnut trees, a place we knew well when we were children. From here we could see the bridge, the border then between Germany and Austria, which in those days for some of our classmates represented a problem whenever they crossed the border; they were searched for food or goods and often the hidden treasures were taken away from them, an orange or a banana, one of the classmates told me.
The river has not changed its colour, a rich milky green, coming all the way from the Alps passing Salzburg, only one hour away, a river famous for its salt barges, as all the cities are along its course, cities with an Italian appearance because of its typical facades. A river which made the cities rich and famous in the middle ages. Napoleon passed here and it is on the hill named after him that we had booked our hotel rooms.
Under the now European chestnut trees we looked at each other comparing our faces with the young smiling ones on old class photos and by acknowledging and remembering moments shared in the past , we erased 60 years and moved closer exchanging stories of our childhood adventures and later lives. Where was the common level of our experiences, what did we really share, the fun of bathing in the black lake or ice skating there in winter? Was it climbing trees or whispering secrets in our friends’ ears? Was it looking after boys together or reading Tarzan books or Tom Prox and Billy Jenkins, newly brought in by the American troops?
We presented ourselves with our family names first. Who are you? “Ich bin die Pirelli Heidi”. My maiden name. It seemed to ring a bell with most of them. And when the one or other woman said: I am such and such…“die Ebert Erna”, my memory gave me a kick and we laughed and embraced each other. We were at the age of twelve then, so I remembered mostly the girls as we had not much to do with the boys in our class, at least I only remember a small handful of them, whose names had stayed in one corner of my mind; among them Billi, a small timid boy. Has he really changed? I try to build bridges. But I had only two years to share with them.
When I looked out of my window the next early morning I wondered at the deep bluish green colour in nature, what a luxury compared with ours in Cyprus, a juicy green, and before the sun got up I walked down the lane, past the old post office to the area where we had arrived 65 years ago. Life is like a circle closing slowly with the passing of years.
I stopped to talk to house owners who were early risers like me and worked in the garden, tended their chicken and bees. Oh no, they would not have a gardener employed, they do everything themselves, and how beautifully they did it. Summer had suddenly exploded shortly before I arrived and we had the same temperatures as in Cyprus, for some days even up to 38° C. I do remember the old times when my grandmother after the war had everything growing in our garden, from tobacco, potatoes to all kind of vegetables and berries but in those days it was a mere necessity and I learnt everything about preserving for the winter months, also how to keep the butter cool in summer and the eggs fresh because we did not have fridges, just our grocer had one with a drawer at the bottom to put slabs of ice in.
I continued my memory walk through the famous “Grüben” , a narrow lane with narrow breasted houses, painted in pastel colours from pink to sky blue, some of the houses I knew so well, had we not as children bent out of the windows and let our spittle fall down on passersby and then fall over back into the room giggling madly. In another house was the shoe shop where we got the small yellow-black Salamander shoe magazine to read, or the butcher where I knew I would get a free Vienna sausage to eat. People still lived and worked there in my times, today the shops are occupied by art galleries, but, no, there, at the beginning of the Grüben is still the old bakery selling brezels to school children but today I noticed they speak High German and not Bavarian, and while I was asking for “a Butterbrezn, bittschön” these new kids were asking for “eine Butterbreze bitte”.
On my way through the Grüben I discovered bronze plates let into the paved lane honouring the many famous jazz musicians who have played here since the 70s on the occasion of the traditional Burghausen Jazz Festival and I took pictures of the plates, just look at them: Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman, Fatty George, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz, Count Basie and so many other personalities who have been here, all recorded.
I came by the hospital where I spent some days as a child in a big room with many wounded soldiers. I had a bad head wound and stitches were necessary and I remembered some soldiers hobbling over to my bed on the one leg they still had left, to console me, the little girl of four.
In front of this hospital I got my first piece of chocolate thrown out of the car by the first black American I had ever seen. I can still feel the taste on my tongue.
Over the following two days the group of 46 classmates opened the books of their life stories and let us take part in it, so many different new worlds opened up to us, two others had come from far away, from Pennsylvania, from Canada. Even one teacher at the age of 87 had come, and the old feelings of rebellion dwelled up in their breasts. We sat together, ate and drank at different places around town, all laden with memories, we walked together through all six courts of the castle and we heard our children’s voices ring from the ancient walls; we strolled around the market place where all our school buildings were and some still are today, the elementary school, the two different lycees, one for ancient languages the other more modern, and there the convent of the English nuns. All the buildings have not changed their appearance and hold so vividly my whole childhood stories and it makes me smile, a little sadly. I also think of all the Cypriots who had to leave their country in the years of trouble and for whom it is so vitally important to one day come back and see it all again.
Some of us, close friends from Munich, had a last nostalgic swim in the beloved lake at the feet of the castle and the tickling of the seaweed growing in the shallow water was just the same as 60 years ago. How lucky we are to have had a good life and to be able to come back to the roots and enjoy it and our laughter rang up to the old castle walls.