My Alsatian Family   Leave a comment

People who know me well know that I have a pension for out of the ordinary adventures.  This story is certainly one of those.  For years I have heard my family talk of our origins in the Alsace valley between France and Germany.  We have an old family photo of the first Lux to arrive in America named Mathias (pronounced mu-tee-us) with the town of Baden-Baden listed on the back.  On a suggestion from another family member, my cousin Thomas Hays (his mother is a Lux) traveled the towns of Schirrhein and Schirrhoffen in the Alsace region of France and found a cemetery full of graves with the name Lux.  Knowing that I would have some time in Europe on the way home from Africa, I started a bit of research of my own.  My approach was rather unconventional.  I searched Facebook for “Lux, Alsace” and found about 40 people.  From those, I searched the faces for people that looked remotely related to my family.  I sent messages to 10 candidates in French telling them who I was and that I was searching for family members.  I got a response from a young man named Silvère Lux who lives in Schirrhein and is currently completing a masters degree in medical imaging in Strasbourg.  We continued a friendly correspondence for around a month and planned to meet up in Strasbourg when I arrived.  Days before my arrival in the EU, I sent a message asking Silvère for suggestions of good hostels in the Strasbourg area.  He responded that his parents would be happy to host me in their home.  I jumped at the opportunity.

Schirrhein – I arrived at the train station to find Silvère and his father Marcelle waiting for me on the platform.  We awkwardly introduced ourselves on what was unusual first encounter for us all.  A quick drive in the family’s Renault Twingo and we arrived in the town of Schirrhein where Silvère’s mother Monique was waiting for us.  Her welcome revealed the same curious excitement I was experiencing.  Monique and Marcelle speak French, German and Alsatian but little English.  My 10 year old French was failing me when I first arrived, so Silvère acted as our translator.  I was shown to my recently renovated room on the second floor and calling the accommodations 4 star is no exaggeration.

 

 

 

 

 

We drove to a local restaurant for Alsatian Riesling and a local dish called tarte flambe where we were joined by Monique’s brother Robert and his wife.  They explained that Robert had recently retired and spent much of his free time researching the genealogy of his family.  Silvère told me that Robert had spent an afternoon at the local town hall looking for the name Mathias Lux in the public records.  He had found a few leads, but nothing concrete.  Robert invited me to spend two days later in the week with him; one to tour the wine road of Alsace and another to conduct a more detailed investigation into Lux family roots.

 

Strasbourg – The next morning, Silvère, Marcelle, Monique and I loaded into the car for a day exploring the city of Strasbourg.  Our first stop was a newly constructed pedestrian bridge connecting France and Germany.  Built to promote friendship between the countries, it has recently been in the news as both countries argue over who should cover the over-budget costs.  We next visited the Notre Dame cathedral which was ornately decorated with statues of biblical scenes and countless amusing gargoyles.  In one wing of the church stood a massive ancient computer that was used to track time, the position of the planets, the phases of the moon, and the location of the sun on the horizon.  The scale and detail of the vast machine is awe inspiring today and apparently made enough of an impression on the people of Strasbourg to burn out the eyes of the creator to prevent him from creating a similar machine elsewhere.

  

The Food – In addition to offering me wonderful place to stay, the Lux family introduced me to a wonderful variety of Alsatian foods and drinks.  Most evening meals were preceded by a local drink called Picon which is a mixture of an orange liqueur, beer, and lemon juice.  One evening, we began dinner with foi gras (fattened duck liver) followed by honey roasted duck breast.  Bread fresh from the boulangerie is always a central part of any French meal and ranged from simple baguettes to dark breads studded with seeds.  We often ate brie or camembert and I even found I have a taste for anis seed encrusted Munster as well.  A special treat one evening was a sizzling pan of frog legs in a tomato and garlic sauce.  Meals were almost always followed with a small glass of schnapps called l’eau de vie (water of life).  Monique found a wonderful book of Alsatian recipes in English for me so I can make some of the many dishes we sampled back in Indiana.

Time with Robert – Monique’s brother Robert came to collect me early one morning accompanied by his English teacher Annie.  Our first trip was to Haut Koenigsbourg Castle.  The castle sits atop a mountain along the wine road and was rebuilt from ruins by Wilhelm II of Germany.  At the peak of the mountain, the castle offers a terrific view of the valley and vineyards below.  The rest of the day was spent hopping from town to town along the wine road.  We stopped at a quiet hotel for lunch and a glass of Riesling.  I helped Annie with her English and she worked on improving my French.  Annie told me that her husband is the editor of the local newspaper (called DNA) and that he would be writing a story about my visit to Schirrhein and my search for family members.  She promised to send me a copy of the article when it is published.

The next morning was spent with Robert searching the local town hall records for evidence that my family came from the area.  We searched birth, death, and marriage records back through 1800.  While we found many similar names (Mathias, Antoine, Johan) we failed to find a direct link to the Indiana Lux family.  The final place we wanted to search was the town hall in Baden-Baden Germany, but the were not open during my time in Alsace.  Robert and Monique told me that they would make a trip there in the future and see what they could learn.

   

Final Days in Schirrhein – Monique Lux had part of her week off from work (I later learned that she took part of her vacation to spend time with me) and we had a very nice couple of days together.  On Thursday, we took a bicycle ride to the nearby town of Soufflenheim which is well known for it’s pottery.  In the corner of a small shop I spotted a ceramic cake mold in the shape of a lamb.  My grandfather has had a tradition for years of making a lamb cake at Easter in Indiana.  I told Monique the significance of the mold and she told me that it is an old Alsatian tradition.  She insisted on buying a lamb mold for me to take back to Indiana for my family.  The next morning, Monique and I took a drive through the Black Forest in Germany.  While there, Silvère was in Strasbourg defending his masters thesis.  We got word that he had not only done well, but received the highest mark in his class.  We celebrated his success that evening with a glass of champagne.

Thank You – I need to take a moment and thank all of the wonderful people of Schirrhein.  I came to Alsace to hoping to have a quick coffee with someone named Lux and snap a few pictures of the region.  Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the tremendous outpouring of hospitality that would be offered to me.  We shared a name and despite never having met, I was welcomed as a member of the family.  I hope to one day repay Silvère and his family for the gifts they have given to me.

 

 

2009-06-05 Schirrhein Stitch

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Posted June 8, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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