The Pig That Killed Their Grandfather


The Burger Hof Gasthof-Hotel outside historic Bamburg,Germany, offers more than a cozy room and tasty meals. The proprietors: the fourth generation to run this charming, quiet respite, also offer local perspective through their stories.

The night we stayed, we met the two owners, Christine Schmitt and Linde Raposo, whom, upon learning we were from San Francisco, opened up as share with us their own long-ago adventures in the Bay Area town of Pacifica.

As we talked, they also shared a bit of the family history behind the Gasthof. Their grandfather who bought a more modest version of the facility in the early 1900’s met a sad and untimely demise, “all because of a darned pig.”

After returning from the First World War, their grandfather married, had five children and planned for the family’s future with the purchase and development of the Burger Hof Gasthof.

Because he’d been in WWI, he was exempt from serving in WWII. But the rationing restrictions in wartime also forbid the slaughter and use of any farm animals for personal use. The army reserved the right to “distribute” food provisions itself. As the proprietor of an Inn, however, he needed to make his family’s livelihood by feeding their paying guests, so chose to cook and serve his pig.

When this was reported by a neighbor to the authorities, he was offered a choice: three years in jail or going back to war. Believing this war would only last a few weeks, he chose the latter. Sadly, he was captured and sent to a Russian POW camp. He managed to escape and made it within one mile of the border (and one hour from home) when he was found and sent back to prison, where he died, likely of malnutrition. It wasn’t until his children had children or their own and his wife was 65 that they received official confirmation of his death.

As Linde shared, “Of course this was very sad and made for a very hard life for my grandmother. Not as hard for me, since I never met my grandfather. But our family will never forget the hardship caused by that darned pig.”

As we travel Germany, helping introduce our 23-year-old son to the country where he’s accepted his first job, we realize that history which seemed so distant, is but a story away.

I was born in Berlin a year after the wall was erected but moved when I was two. So it was never very real to me. But, we lived about 5 kilometers from that wall that separated a country, and countless families and friends for 28 years.

Last week, as we toured the museum explaining the wall’s history, it hit me how hard it must have been for my Grandma, to have her newly-wed daughter move so far away into the eye of the communist storm with limited means of communication.  And how unimaginable for my mom, without German language, to start a life and a family here while my dad worked border patrol for the US army.

Certainly nowhere near as devastating for the local German families, a few of whom were profiled in the museum, to help put faces and stories to history. Stories of a son digging a covert tunnel to free his mother and 37 others before it was discovered; of newlyweds taking a picture on their parents’ balcony, with the wall in the background–a daring moved since it was forbidden in East Berlin to photograph the wall. In fact, most who lived near it, focused on not seeing it at all, to help partition their own emotions and desires for a different life and livelihood.

Last earlier this week, October 3, was German Unity Day, celebrating the country coming back together about a year after the wall, the symbol of separatism, came down. 17 years later, Germany is still reconnecting its people, its infrastructure, its sense self.  

As for pigs, they are still very much on the menu here.


Do You DuoLingo?



Confession: I am middle aged, but spend the first part of every morning watching cartoons.

Brightly-colored characters speak in short sentences, flash simple words and phrases, and wait on me to respond or reiterate what they’ve just said. All from my phone.  And with every correct reply, like Pavlov’s dog, I look forward to my reward: the satisfying “DING.” Better yet, I earn a trumpet serenade by accumulating my daily quota of 30 XP (experience points).

Not so far off from my kids mornings with Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer years ago. The biggest difference: I am an old dog, learning a new trick—the German language. (ich bin ein alter hund and lerne einen neuen trick). My cartoon pals are all on my iphone german language app, DuoLingo.

I harbor a tiny flame of hope that in one month, when we help move our son to Berlin for his first job, I can be marginally more helpful knowing a tiny bit of local language.

But to be brutally honest, my husband an I are gleefully signing up “to help” for a marvelous excuse to travel, see new sights, taste new foods, dance to new music, communicate a little (ein bisschen) in a new language, and embrace our new stage of life as empty nesters.

So, in addition to many hours on the internet scanning apartment listings, indulging in HouseHunter’s International in Berlin, watching Rick Steve’s travel tips, I am having some fun taking a daily dose of language with my free DuoLingo app.

With Oktoberfest around the corner, it is fun (if a tad nonsensical) to learn to talk about drinking beer, drinking beer with your husband, drinking beer with your friends, and yes, even on occasion drinking beer with a cow or dog.  I don’t plan to drink with animals, but it makes me smile to translate those sentences while sipping my morning coffee.

So, even if your near term travel will be mostly virtual from the comfort of the internet, why not introduce a few choice words into your vocabulary and your relationship? It’s fun getting a little lost in translation together.