A Medieval Mystery
Klop, klop, klop, klop, klop! The staccato sounds of our footsteps reverberated along the cobblestone streets enroute to the Marktplatz. The crisp rhythm blended with guttural sounds of German conversation floating from nearby cafes. Distant ancient cathedral bells joined the morning chorus of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a perfectly delightful medieval German town still encaptured by its ancient stone walls.
Margaret and I arrived by train from Steinach earlier that morning. Our pensione had cost us each a mere $7.25 including a hearty breakfast of ham, soft boiled eggs, warm bread, butter, jam, honey and a pot of strong coffee! Perfect for college budgets. This European vacation was a welcome respite from evenings at the library and endless lectures, a “pre-celebration” of our eminent graduation in May 1976.
We strolled into the town square, the Marktplatz, surrounded by ancient houses containing shops, restaurants, and guesthouses.A choppy sea of red tiled roofs covered the half timbered houses. The Alstadt (Old Town) was encircled by over two kilometers of stone walls; beyond them were murky mysterious moats. Somehow I felt immersed in some medieval mystery.
The outdoor Christmas market was in progress…a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells, from traditional wooden nutcrackers, handmade dolls and toys, hand-blown glass ornaments and gifts, to tantalizing aromas of spiced nuts, sweet pastries, sizzling sausages and mulled wine permeating the crisp December air.
Suddenly we were approached by a dignified looking silver- haired lady.
“American, yes?” she inquired, smiling.
“Yes, we are.”
“My name is Barbara Schacht . Pleased to meet you. I love chances to practice my English. Now tell me your names, dears.”
“I’m Karen… my friend is Margaret. We’re visiting Europe during our college break. ”
“Please come to coffee in my home, will you ?” After speaking German with a nearby merchant, she returned with a box of pastries.
“Come now, follow me.” And so we did, disappearing into the patchwork of winding cobbled lanes until arriving at the corner of Klingengasse and Herringasse.
“My home dates back to 1710 and has been in my family for generations,” she stated, unlocking the door. I noticed a man in a dark coat lingering across the street.
Mrs. Schacht guided us to a table adorned with delicate antique plates and cups. The emerald green-tiled stove warmed the air about us. Crocheted ivory curtains hung in the window, framing the twin steeples of St. Jakob’s church, a reminder to thank God for the blessings of this day.
We exchanged pleasant conversation over steaming cups of coffee and scrumptious pastries, surrounded by magnificent art including her father’s paintings and an original oil painting of Beethoven working on his last symphony . Her now deceased father was a renowned artist, and her home’s upper floor housed the Wilhelm Schacht Museum.
Our ascent upstairs led to the treasured art museum. One by one we heard stories behind each masterpiece…”Die Gratulantin” , “Helmkehr”, “Birkenwald”, and many others. She recalled sitting at her father’s feet or playing in the garden as he worked. Her deep blue eyes sparkled with reminiscence.
“ My father always wanted his paintings to be known in America…not possible in those days. “
“They’re breathtakingly beautiful. I’m sure Americans would’ve loved his artistry.”
“Perhaps you might bring one home to America?”
“Oh my, I would feel honored , but the money……”
“Is $200 too much? It can be later sold to an American art museum for many times more! I want to fulfill my father’s dream before I am gone. What’s your favorite?”
My eyes surveyed the collection again, stopping at “Bauerngarten”. How could I not do this?
Soon she was packaging the artistic treasure as I scrounged for my last dollars. We exchanged addresses then goodbyes as Margaret and I stepped out into approaching dusk just as a black coat suddenly disappeared around the corner.
We walked toward the Marktplatz for the Christmas festival and St. Nicholas’ appearance. Children carrying lanterns gathered with parents while street musicians created perfect Christmas memories. Soft snow drifted gracefully from the sky.
I donned gloves and pulled my red wool scarf a little tighter. Hot chocolate sounded perfect so Margaret and I dipped into a nearby café . Emerging from the café , I was accosted by a deep menacing German voice.
“I believe you’re carrying something of interest to me, Miss Karen…”
Dropping my hot chocolate, I cried silently “Ohhhh God… help!” as the bells of St. Jakob’s church chimed and all was frozen in time.
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