Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 2, 2006, Herald Journal

Dassel, castles and der Rathaus


I was excited to find out where Dassel’s twin, Dassel, Germany, is located. It’s only a few miles away from where my ancestors came from in Lower Saxony. I also traveled near Dassel, Germany, when I was in college.

I always loved fairy tales and stories about castles, princesses and knights in shining armor. I went on a tour of northern Europe with a class called, “The sociology and theology of northern Europe.”

The tour was at this time of year also. It made sightseeing tough because at the latitude of northern Europe there is only a little bit of daylight to see anything.

The first real castle I saw was in Denmark and I was so disappointed. It was 2:30 p.m. and already it was twilight.

At least on our bus rides around northern Germany we could see castles in the distance midday.

On the day, we were visiting near Dassel, we went to an outdoor market in Hildesheim, and in the afternoon, shopping in Hanover. Our bus parked on the grounds next to a great “castle.”

I was thrilled to see and go inside a real “castle.” I walked over to a railing of a balcony above a long spiral staircase that wound down to what looked like a huge ballroom. I could imagine the royals swirling around the room, the women in their long full skirts and the men in uniform. It was a magic moment.

After we left the “castle” we went window shopping. The streets in Germany run in every direction and soon we were lost. I wasn’t worried because our bus was parked next to the “castle,” a prominent landmark, and everyone seemed to speak at least a little English.

However, when we asked for directions to the “castle,” the Hanoverians looked at us like we were crazy. No one knew what we were talking about. I couldn’t figure out how such a huge “castle” wouldn’t be considered a landmark.

After awhile, though, the Germans asked us if we meant der Rathaus. “No, no, the castle!” I insisted. I thought a Rathaus was a beer hall.

I was shocked when I found out that Rathaus is what the Germans call city hall, and the building I thought was a “castle” was Hanover’s city hall. Hanover was bombed extensively during World War II, so the city hall probably wasn’t that old, either.

We did finally get back to the bus, though.

That night we went to a little country church that looked just like the one my mother went to in Little Germany, a region northwest of Kansas City, Mo. We stood in an arc around the balcony of the little church and sang “Silent Night.”

I was only a hop, skip and a jump from my ancestors’ stomping grounds.

It was another magic moment.

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