The thing to do, when you want a brother or sister, is to place a sugar cube on a windowsill for the stork. That was a common story told to children back when I was growing up in Germany. It’s what our Mom told my sister, Elfriede, when she longed for a little sister. Countless cubes later, her wish was fulfilled one early winter evening.
I don’t recall seeing too many storks in our village, Behringersdorf by Nuernberg. A region where they are not so rare is Alsace- Lorraine in south-east France.
In the mid-1960s, my 6th-grade class toured Strasbourg (Strassburg, in German). I was not a part of that trip, money being tight. My best friend, Petra Tegge, returned filled with stories of the beauties she saw while touring the city and its cathedral. A mere four decades later, my sister and I visited both and can attest to their charms.
Alsace-Lorraine borders Germany and France. Alsace – in the Rhine valley, and Lorraine – in the upper Moselle valley, has a long history of being a site contested between the two countries. Initially the name was created in 1871 when, as victor in the Franco-Prussian war, Germany annexed the territory, incorporating it in the German Empire. After World War I it reverted to France. Hitler seized it again during WWII with France regaining it after Germany’s defeat. (Imagine being forcibly expelled from your home and having to switch your language depending on who is the victor). A fortunate take away from all this turmoil and destruction is that this area is filled with natural beauty and is a unique cultural blend of German and French art, architecture and cuisine.
In Strasbourg, the area known as La Petite France is especially worth a visit. A stroll through its streets and alleys leads the visitor past canals, half-timbered houses, shops and restaurants. Everywhere are signs of the region’s symbol for luck, fertility and happiness — the stork. Notre Dame of Strasbourg is unique in that it was one of only a few single-spire cathedrals in Europe; a red sand-stone building, it is a treasure-house of stained glass, gargoyles, tapestries and the Astronomical clock.
About an hour’s drive south from Strasbourg, near Colmar, is the village of Turckheim. We were on our way to visit the museum dedicated to the Colmar Pocket campaign of WWII and the Audie Murphy memorial. Watching the scenery go by —naked vine-covered hills, low-to-the-ground small villages punctuated by tall church-steeples, tilled fields–I glimpsed a fallow field where a stout rabbit streaked across its brown earth; the hare seemed big enough to make a tasty Lapin au Vin (Rabbit Stew) and feed a small army.
We also spotted massive nests. On top of church roofs, town halls and ruin-remnants sat, and occasionally clattered, a real and ubiquitous resident: the Stork.
Long ago, a plea to this mythological symbol resulted in a dream come true for one little girl.
Lucky us. Right, sis?