Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Scouting Report

Just one of many old photos found in the Gasthof Roseneck showing 
Wallenfels in the period around 1900. This view is most likely
the center of the village. More of these photos are in the local history museum 

July 20, 2016

I'd spent the day on July 18 touring around part of Franconian Switzerland with my friend Christian Dudek, who is a driver for a limousine company based in Nuremberg. He showed me some places that undoubtedly I will be showing to you during our time in this region. 

Calling ahead, I'd booked a room at the Gasthof Roseneck in Wallenfels. This is the only hotel in Wallenfels. I arrived shortly before six and met the owner, a jolly man who showed me to my room. I had a small single room with two narrow beds in a tight space. I couldn't complain, because it was only 44 Euro with breakfast. 

 Wallenfels has a tradition of timber going back at least 300 years. 
The valley supplied timber all the way to Amsterdam, floated 
down a series of connecting rivers and canals by "Floesser," 
which are floatmen. They built barges of logs which ended up being
used for all manner of things. Wallenfels was famous for this.

Heading out into the beer garden at the back of the house I ordered a Hefeweizen and enjoyed that as I browsed the menu. The Roseneck is locally known for its great food. I was eager to try some. I ordered the "Franconian Tapas" and loved it. It was four tastes of local dishes, duck, freshly-graved salmon served warm on crunchy crackers, little sausages with delicious sauerkraut and some ham made from wild boar. I ate every single morsel and used the bread to sop up all of the juices. It was delicious. Here is the menu for the Roseneck:

It was a lovely evening and I went for a long walk after dinner, taking many of the photographs you see here. The Catholic Church was locked, but I found it open the next morning when I went to take more photos. The town was quiet. 

 The Catholic Church glows in the setting sun. It is the only church in town. 
It appears to have been built in the late 1800s. 

I slept well and enjoyed a lovely breakfast from the buffet. The breakfast room, doubling as one of the dining rooms, is full of bric-a-brac. I noticed some old photos hanging in the hallway. I took photos of these photos. Later, after another round of photos and a visit to the church I went back to the Roseneck and asked the waitress who was working breakfast if I could borrow a stepladder to capture the photos hanging too high to reach. These images are likely available in greater number in the regional museum, which the owner told me is located in Marktroda. That museum is mainly dedicated to the 300 year history in Wallenfels of the "Flosser," or the industry of cutting timber and floating it downstream as far as Amsterdam. That's right - Amsterdam. 

 Muehlgraben (Mill Ditch) has changed a lot in the 66 years since this image was made

 That's a "Floesser" preparing a log raft to float downstream. Logs from here went
as far as Amsterdam

 A kind of meeting or club house for the "Floesser Verein"

 A "Floesser" memorialized in wood near the clubhouse

 Undated photo taken of the west side of Wallenfels

 One of the lumber mills and the river which passes through the valley

Timber is still the dominant industry in Wallenfels. There are two very large lumber mills. It also appears to be one of the only employment opportunities in a town that appears to have hit hard financial times. Many former restaurants and shops are closed. There are many vacant houses. Overall, Wallenfels seems to be a very economically depressed town. It's likely that most of the population drives to other nearby towns for work. 

Even though it sounds as though I enjoyed my stay at the Roseneck, I could not stay there for multiple nights. The rooms are right out of the 1980s and the internet access is terrible. Rooms are too small for a multiple night stay, as well. We will certainly have at least one lunch there during our explorations. The restaurant staff takes Tuesdays off. 

 What I think is the oldest and by far the most attractive house in the town, probably early 1400s, a former mill house not far from the church. The photo below is from the other side the next morning.

 Note the "3/50" notation at lower left of this old photo. It's how I surmised that there must be 50 old
images of Wallenfels in the local history museum at Marktroda. 

 An old barn and below, the Rathaus or town hall

 The old school house, built in 1904 and now used as the local
information office. For some reason I did not go inside. 

As I was checking out I asked the owner for some information. He's the one who told me about the long history of the lumber industry in Wallenfels. He also told me that the name "Schlee" was widespread in Wallenfels. In fact, a fellow named Schlee lives right next door. I walked over there and he was standing outside, watching some fellows cutting concrete across the street. Through the din, I asked him if he was related to the Schlee family who emigrated. He said that he was not. I asked for and received permission to photograph the sign on the front of his house. 

Suggestion: You send your family group sheets and a short letter (in German) to this man and ask him to pass it along to one of the Schlee families who is connected with your emigrant ancestor. 

 Many houses in Wallenfels are vacant or nearly so

 This man lives next to the Gasthof Roseneck

 I did a quick look around the large and steep cemetery, 
this stone is near the rear of the church
 Math(ias) Schlee died in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. This memorial
was erected in 1895.

I drove next to the small town of Steinweisen. A customer and the cashier at a grocery store where I'd stopped to buy a six pack of water had told me that the best hotel in the region was located there. I checked it out, but rejected it because the rooms are too small for a multiple night stay. I was also not too crazy about the atmosphere. It's a place popular with families who come for the multiple indoor and outdoor pools. 

 Approaching Neufang from Steinweisen. Below, the main and 
only street passing through the hamlet.

 The villagers were awarded a prize in 2000 for the best 
clean up or restoration of a village in the state of Bavaria

Continuing on and up to Neufang, located just five kilometers away through thick pine forest. Neufang looks to be a prosperous little place, with at least two butcher shops and a large bakery. The church is beautiful and very old. The door was standing ajar and I went in to take the photos you see here. I looked at every grave in the cemetery, which surrounds the church, and saw none for "Wohlfahrt." By the way, "Wohlfahrt/Wohlfart" means charity in old German. 

 The Catholic Church from the east side
 The entrance is on the west end of the church
 The crest above the entrance
 Main altar detail
 A woman had just left the church where she lit
a candle at this altar on the left side
 The old baptismal font
 The pulpit features the Four Evangelists
The rear of the church with organ and real balcony

As there is no town hall in Neufang, and no one answered when I rang the bell at the priest's house, I figured I would go to one of the butcher shops to ask about anyone living here with the family name of Wohlfahrt. Who better to ask than the butcher, who probably sees each resident at least once per week? The kindly woman, aged about 80, told me that there were no families with this name in the village. I asked about the local economy, as so many of the houses looked to be in great shape. (As opposed to Wallenfels) She said that many people worked in other, larger towns. Prior to 1950 the population worked as farmers or in the forest. 

Neufang sits on the top of a plateau. I imagined it would be very cold in the wintertime. This is why most of the houses I saw had large piles of firewood. (The same as in Wallenfels, which lies in a valley) 

 Home and office of the priest near the church 

 Crest at a local bakery which seems to be making bread
and other items for several bakeries, below, the cemetery around
the church

Still in search of a hotel, I decided to drive to nearby Kronach. On the way, I enjoyed the splendid landscape and forest. The roads here are steep! My Volkswagen was getting a workout. I was glad we're not visiting this part of Germany in the wintertime. 

Kronach surprised me. I have driven past a few times but had never had a reason to stop. Today I did, and I drove up into the upper part of the old town near the large castle. The famous local son is the father of Lucas Cranach, both well-known painters from the 1400s and 1500s. 

After checking out one place recommended by the tourist office, I was delighted to find a lovely hotel built into three old houses. The one I liked the best is above a brewery. The helpful clerk showed me the room that I will reserve for you, number 403. It includes a small balcony with a terrific view out over the rooftops of the town and the castle. It's a large and comfortable room with double sinks and a choice of either a bathtub or spacious shower. And oddly, it has air-conditioning. You don't find this very often in Germany. The room was occupied and so I didn't take photos. The hotel has a restaurant as well with a broad terrace which looks inviting. I was still full from breakfast so didn't try the food. But you can tell a lot from the way a restaurant looks when you've been living in Germany as long as I have. We will enjoy this place. Kronach has a large old town center which will be nice to explore during down time. 

 Where we will stay in Kronach

Get a preview of the Stadthotel here:

With all my missions accomplished I drove back to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, passing Bamberg on the way. Original vital church records for Wallenfels and Neufang are kept in Bamberg. 
- James Derheim
European Focus Private Tours
Established 1989