Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Saint Goar

Last fall I signed the kids up for a youth retreat offered through our church. It sounded good, so good that I signed up as a chaperone as well. Then I consulted a map and realized I signed us all up for a retreat in northern Germany, six hours away by train. Somehow, I thought it was just south of us, a few kilometers away. Geographic confusion aside, we had a great time. The train ride was fast and efficient. I enjoyed the scenery, lovely patchwork fields and forested sections and ultimately the Rhine River, and the chance to read. The kids enjoyed sitting away from me, breaking out their electronics and indulging in some serious screen time.  The kids eventually rejoined me when I started talking to some British tourists. The allure of English language beating out even Temple Run, the app they like these days.
The retreat for the Episcopal youth of Europe was held in a youth hostel on the banks of the Rhine, in a small town called St. Goar, named after a monk known for caring for Rhine sailors and who died in 575. While Tori travels for middle school sports, Adam and Royce do not. They took this trip very seriously, packing stuffed animals to sleep with and asking me over and over if I knew who they were boarding with. As it turns out, the kids sleep in big bunk bed rooms. The twins unpacked their small bags, made their beds and promptly joined roving groups of kids, playing ping pong, drinking slurpies and running around. I went in for a bed check of one girls’ room. Ten girls were up talking and one little Royce was asleep with a smile on her face. She told me she tried to stay awake and listen to the older girls (up to age 13) as long as possible.
Right behind our hostel, the Burg Rheinfiels is one of the main attractions in the area. We literally walked off the hostel’s outdoor eating area and up a series of the steps that took us to the castle in a few minutes. The Castle, built in 1245 by Count Dietner V of Katzeninbogen, was the largest fortress along the Rhine and said to be the largest fortress in Europe. The original grounds of the castle were five times the size of the portion we walked through. We entered through a clock tower and wandered around. The small museum explained that 600 people lived within walls during medieval times, though the number swelled to 5,000 during sieges. Burg Rheinfiels is also known for its mine tunnels. The kids brought flashlights and took off, while I waited outside for them to return. They eventually came back, wild eyed and covered in dust. When Tori told me it was “a tight squeeze” and “terrifying in a good way” I knew they were going through some very small pitch dark tunnels. On the way back to the entrance, the other adult leader and I had eleven kids in tow. Needless to say, walking through dark hallways, up spiral staircases and the like, we soon were down to a group of only three kids. Luckily, we all reunited at the castle shop. The allure of small wooden swords and toys and ice cream pulled those kids out of the tunnels.
The other local attraction near St. Goar is the Loreley.  At this point on the Rhine, the land rises 120 meters above the water, which contains strong currents and rocks. Man ships have crashed there, adding to the legend. The story goes that a beautiful girl, Lore Lay, was sentenced to death. Crossing the river, she saw her beloved and called to him. His ship crashed into the rocks and she threw herself into the rocks as well. We looked down at the rocks and a small statue there. The kids wanted to hike down there but we nixed it. Too much danger for a group of 30 pre-teens. Plus we were lucky enough to get them out of the castle!
The religious part of the trip was nice too. I remain surprised at the number of Bible stories our kids know, thanks to years of religious study at their school in Hong Kong. I found it comforting to see all these kids spending their weekend at this retreat. My kids and all the rest had to miss very sporting events and parties to come. As I wondered if all was worth on the train ride home, the kids singing religious songs in round all the way home convinced me it was.


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