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Completed the Gladiator Assault Challenge!

7 miles. 35 obstacles. A number of cuts, scrapes and bruises. One pair of really sore feet. One banged-up knee. I’m healing quickly, though.
Lots of good camaraderie on the trail. Tough, but doable, and fun obstacles. I think I’ll do another some day.

One Muddy Hessian


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The Hessian Goes Home, Part 3: Lessons in Anglicization

Parts 1 and 2 are available here:

Since covering those two landmarks, it was time to go to the main, the town itself. The official family records state the John Henry Gall was born in the city of Buchenburg, Vohl, district of Kassel, on 24 March 1834.

A closer look at the records, though, shows something that I should have anticipated but did not. His entire name was Anglicized. He was actually born “Johann Heinrich Galle”. So they changed the spelling of the last name, and changed the first and middle names completely. “They” being (I’m guessing) the port authority personnel at New Orleans, where Johann made landfall in the United States. In any case, it stuck, to the point that Johann Heinrich appeared before a circuit court in Missouri in 1866 to renounce all allegiance to King Ludwig of Germany and swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and thus became a US citizen.

The trip to Buchenburg was up steep hills on winding roads. The city sits at the confluence of several forests and sparsely populated farmland, so it really feels out in the wilderness.

I guess the town's mascot is a homeless tramp?


The downside is that almost all the houses appear to be pretty recent construction. No old half-timbered farmhouses. In fact, I saw very few buildings that could have been around during Johann’s time at all.

At the edge of town we saw this house.

Really, it’s a pretty non-descript, modern German home. But take a closer look at that placard near the mailbox.

The family tree states that what is now “Gall” in the United States was “Galle” in Germany, and sometimes “Gallen”. A long-lost cousin, perhaps?

I knocked, but sadly, there was no answer. I took down the address, though, so I may try and reach out by letter and see if anyone responds…

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The Hessian Goes Home, Part 2: The Church

First off, Part 1 is available here:

During our travels to see where the family came from, we saw the small town nearby Buchenberg (marked with a “B”) where John Henry was from. This nearby town was called Kirchlotheim (marked with a “C”).

The family records we were sent by our diligent cousins said that Buchenberg did not have its own church, so they traveled to Kirchlotheim for marriages, baptisms, funerals, etc.

The church itself was built AFTER John Henry came to the U.S., so clearly he never stepped foot there. But it’s possible (likely) that his siblings and nephews and nieces did. This church was modest, and there were two memorials in the back yard to those locals who gave their lives in the World Wars. No Galls are listed, but there is a Wolf listed. One of John Henry’s grandmothers was a Wolf according to the family tree, so another possible family connection. The church was locked, so we were not able to venture inside sadly.

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The Hessian Goes Home, Part 1: The Castle

For my birthday, we planned a trip back to the homeland. As I mentioned in this blog’s very first post, the first Gall in America came from near the city of Kassel in the state of Hesse, Germany.

I was skeptical of my ability to find out more about the family tree back in the Fatherland. Kassel was a major industrial city during World War II, building Tiger tanks, Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulfe aircraft, locomotives, engines, and other apparatus of war.

The allied response was predictable.

The prospects of family records surviving that were small, to say the least.

However, other, more diligent researchers found out that the Gall family was actually from a small, outlying town to the southwest of Kassel.

You’ll note the large lake, and large forest to the southwest Kassel, which is marked with an “A” in the map above.

Our accommodations were in a castle overlooking the lake, marked with an “A” in the map below. And the “B” marker to the west of that? That’s Buchenberg, where John Henry came from.

The castle we stayed in was AMAZING. Called Schloss Waldeck, it was quite modern, comfortable, and had an excellent restaurant and bar.

Of course, it looked a little more wintery to us, since it was February.

The approach wrapped around the outside, exposing you to the battlements.

And while it was truly modern inside, walking in reception, there’s no mistaking you’re in a castle:

We had a beautiful room with a great view.

So what does this castle have to do with the family tree?

It was the closest castle to the town the family came from. I’d like to think John Henry had been to the castle; he almost certainly would have known of its existence and location. Heck, maybe he even met the Grand Duke!

Next week: the actual town John Henry came from, and the Gall family tree gets a little larger.

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From the Archives: The Forgotten Castle

That title’s not hyperbole. I literally have forgotten which castle this is. I had a Saturday with no plans before my wife and daughter got here to Germany, so I pulled out the map, and saw an icon for a “castle ruin” just east of Kaiserslautern. Perfect! So much of my preferred genre of fiction takes place in doom-haunted castle ruins, I thought I’d go check one out in real life!

It was up a steep hill (as all castles tend to be):

Through the trees, until I came upon the backside of the castle. Also like other castles in the Rhein valley, the architects took advantage of the boulders already in place.

The little village at the foot of the hill had some interesting features, too. A pretty church:

With a pretty set of doors:

One thing that I found interesting was the chisel marks on the stone:

There was also another church. Much smaller; in fact so small, it would best be called a chapel.

But wait, what’s that strange detail on the keystone? Is that some sort of pagan symbol? The Eye of Horus, perhaps?

I guess The Da Vinci Code got it right. Either that, or the Freemasons have infiltrated the Catholic church.

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From the archives: Oktoberfest

It’s the happiest time of the year for Bavarians!

No, not Christmas; Oktoberfest! Beer, sausages, giant pretzels, and women in dirndls! What more could one ask for?

My parents made the trip out, and experienced it with me; it was fantastic having them around.

We arrived early to see the parade going in. When they deliver the beer to Oktoberfest, they don’t just have some scruffy guy wheeling it in on a dolly. No, they do that with class.

Appropriately, the beer wagons are accompanied by musicians.

Eventually, we wandered inside. The Oktoberfest grounds are essentially a large park on which they erect large “tents”. I use that term in quotes because these tents would be considered the Taj Mahals of the tent world. Really, they’re more like full-blown buildings.

Alas, these tents are dominated by tables with reserved seating, and we were not able to find open seats. When the weather is fair, this isn’t a problem, because there’s plenty of uncovered outdoor seating. But when the weather’s like this:

Well, no one wants to sit outside and drink their lager in that.

We were getting wet, and it was cold, and there were no seats we could find. We wandered, hoping to find something. In a back alley, we found no seating, but we did stumble across some of those beer delivery horses.

I had actually given up hope. We were sick of getting rained on, and decided just to head into the city and find a table at a restaurant. We were just going to pop in, use the latrine, then head into the heart of Munich. But the little tent we found turned out to be a full-blown restaurant. With seating available.

They had schweineshaxen, which is roasted pork knuckle. It tastes much better than it sounds.

And, I earned another check on my man card: having a liter of beer at Oktoberfest with my old man:

Poppa Hessian does not care for your pictures when beer and pork are available

Mom was less impressed by the liters of beer, but the apple strudel won her over quite handily.

I acquired (legally, by purchasing) a Lowenbrau liter beer glass; which is an excellent souvenir, especially in light of the pictures above.

Ein prosit!

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Archives: Burg Satzvey

From the archives: when my parents visited in September, we took in a Renaissance Festival at Burg Satzvey, a castle about two hours north of us on the outskirts of Cologne, between the towns of Mechernich and Euskirchen.

The castle, while small, is beautifully preserved and picturesque.


The castle remains the seat of Count Beissel von Gymnich who, as far as I could tell, was not in attendance.

The event that attracted us to the castle was a Renaissance Festival, and the accompanying knight play. The festival was neat, and added lots of flavor to a tour of the castle grounds.


Even the kids got into the act:


The main event, though, was the “Ritterspiele”, which translates literally as “Knight’s Play”. It was a play that involved lots of swordfights and jousting; basically, my dream movie acted in live action. The problem was that it was all in German, and my German is sub-par, at best. I can tell you this. There was jousting and sword fights. Some peasants got murdered and their house burned down. A princess was saved from burning at the stake. A man was knighted by a bishop, but he turned out to be a villain. And there were freedom fighters who helped the heroes, who as near as I could tell were star-crossed lovers of a sort. Characters fought and died, and gave impassioned speeches and defected from one side to another.

I must say, you don’t need to know the language to understand the knights fighting and betraying each other. It could’ve used more explosions, but that’s true of all entertainment in my mind.

It was a dim, cloudy, cold, overcast day:

And because of that dimness, and the distance we were from the action (we were in the cheap seats), please excuse the blurriness and the occasional (very un-medieval) speaker that gets in the way of the shot.

The star-crossed lovers, with the leader of the rebels, meeting on top of a house for some reason.


The real stars of this show, at least to my dad and I, were the knights. These men knew how to handle their animals, and the horses were clearly well trained. The armor and livery were all impressive as well.


Of course, after all that excitement, I had to cool down with a little of King Ludwig’s brown.


Up next: Heidelberg!

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