Sankt Peter im Schwarzwald

Driving through the Black Forest in Germany many years ago, I was totally unaware that I was in the ancestral area of my husband. It was only after extensive research on our family tree and a contact with a distant Australian cousin that we found out that the town of St Peter was the birthplace of the ancestor who first came out to Australia during the Gold Rush in Victoria. That cousin allowed us to add his records to our family tree and amazingly we could see the ancestral line extending back to 1430! Naturally, then, the moment we could return to Germany, this area was on our bucket list.

The town of St Peter (or Sankt Peter) is popular as a health resort in a beautiful area of undulating hills and pine forests interspersed with vast green meadows for dairy farming. It lies 20km east of Freiburg on the Black Forest Panoramic Road on the southern slopes of Mount Kandel. Founded in 1093, the town’s main claim to fame is the Baroque, former Benedictine, monastery. Although it had initially been built in 1093 by Duke Bertold II of Zähringen, it suffered several fires over the centuries and the present church with the two onion towers (“Zwiebeltürme”) was built in the 1720s. It contains the burial vault of the Duke, his wife and his son, Conrad I. Today the complex houses a “Spiritual Centre” for seminars, lectures and conferences.

Alongside the huge church is a cute little cemetery. We were hoping to find ancestors’ graves, but the custom here, as it is in many places in Europe, is to move the remains after a number of years to an ossuary in Freiburg. So although we recognised some of the surnames, they were of much more recent descendants of the family we were seeking.

The entrance to the complex is via a gateway in the Town Hall, which also houses the Tourist Information centre. Here we were assisted by some very helpful ladies who showed us a book recording all the family trees of the early residents – and this included my husband’s family! They were interested to learn about our relative and our relationship to him, and discover what happened to him after their records on him stopped. They gave us photocopies of the relevant pages and explained the various German words we would need to know in order to understand the genealogical details. They also gave us information on how to find the original family farm – Brosihof – out on the road to St Märgen. Needless to say, we set off immediately!

We were amazed to discover that the current owners of the farm – both husband and wife – are still related to my husband. The wife invited us in for a cuppa and we sat with her talking about family stories for some time. It was a wonderful result for our efforts. But apparently we were not the first Aussie relatives to seek them out – our aforesaid distant cousin had made the same pilgrimage a year or two before!

The farm now includes three houses, the smallest of which being the one our ancestor lived in. It is now used as a barn. On one side we were surprised to see a tombstone leaning against the wall – it was that of the mother of our intrepid emigrant – hubby’s 3rd Great Grandmother!

The village of St Peter is very cute, with half-timbered houses and cobbled streets in the older part, and a little square – Bertoldsplatz – opposite the monastery complex. Here shops and restaurants face the square, with a statue of Duke Bertold II of Zähringen in the middle of the fountain. We ate at one of the restaurants – Gasthof Hirschen – making sure to try the regional speciality of venison with spaetzle.

Just a stone’s throw from the square, our accommodation for the night – Hotel Zur Sonne – was not doing an evening meal. But we had a chance for a chat with the proprietors the next morning after a typical German breakfast of cold meats, boiled eggs, cheese and bread as well as yoghurt and fresh fruit. Their family name was coincidentally one of those in our family tree, a very long time ago. But we were on a tight schedule, with flights booked that night out of Basel airport, Switzerland, to our next stop in Manchester, England. And we still had to visit Titisee-Neustadt along the way.

Titisee is a very popular lakeside holiday destination only half an hour south of St Peter. I had stayed overnight there many years ago and was keen to show it to my husband. I was also looking forward to again tasting the famous Black Forest Cake that the area boasts. As we walked around the touristy part of town we found many cafes and restaurants advertising the original or the best versions of the cake, so it was a stab in the dark for us. Unfortunately the restaurant we decided upon did not have the version we had come to know in Australia, nor the one I had tried years ago in Triberg which was similar. It was dry, with a pastry base and artificial cream! Ugh.

We made it in plenty of time to the airport, via a town called Lörrach. Why there? Because to hire a car from one city to return in another place in another country added about $400 to the cost! So I had researched a depot for Sixt in the closest German town to the airport, meaning we only had a 20 minute taxi fare across the border to add to the cost instead. And then the flights were delayed due to a spectacular thunderstorm complete with lightning. I was glad we weren’t flying in that!

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