Liedolsheim Evangelical Church

Evangelische Kirchengemeinde Liedolsheim

For just about my entire life there’s been a picture of the church in Liedolsheim somewhere in the background. At our house, my grandparent’s, and both my aunt’s and uncle’s houses, and now mine: the picture above is in our living room, along with another I’m saving for a future post.

As children we were all told about the Bible in the church that contained a record of the births of all of our family members, from when the French burnt the church down right up to my father, the last one born before the family emigrated to the U.S.

Seeing this church in real life was a big thing for me. I wasn’t anticipating it: it snuck up on me as we approached the village in my cousin’s car. I see the steeple rising over the houses and building and it clicked. Wow! It’s real! Seeing the legendary Bible was special too.

While researching Liedolsheim I came across this document, which outlines some history about the church and its bells. I found it on a site that contains some more Liedolsheim history over here.

The story of the bells is fascinating. You wouldn’t think that bells are something that would need replacing very many times. You would be wrong.

The church has been there since it was rebuilt in the 1730s, after it was burned down by the French. (The family story is true.) The church it replaced was there at least as far back at 1485.

In 1898 the steeple was raised an additional five stories in order to make it possible for everyone in the growing village to hear the bells. 19th century urban sprawl!

The church will have to  be a part of my story, of course. My grandfather loved to sing, and his singing in the choir will play a part in his story.

Hate, Bigotry, and Writing About It

As of right now my book opens with a young boy harassing another because he is Jewish.

I’m writing about a time in Germany where Antisemitism was not yet the law of the land, but was still widespread. The story is set in a place where it is historically documented to be very deeply felt, and almost undoubtedly on public display. I’ll need to portray several characters that display varying degrees of bigotry and hate, and they’ll need to be more than just cardboard and slogans.

But even as I write the book, I wonder: since it will be labeled fiction, will I be criticized for this? I don’t really care: there’s a story to tell, and bigoted and hateful people played a tremendous part in it. That’s a fact, and telling the whole story (or even an approximation) means portraying those people.

The battle over “political correctness” and the right to never be offended is marked by two very extreme sides. On one side we have Trump and his ilk who proudly parade their bigotry and wear any criticism as a badge of courage and validation. On the other we have those who want to decorate the world with rounded edges and padded walls to protect everyone from contrary opinions and “microaggressions.”

This video covers my opinion rather well.

Research on Liedolsheim

Greetings from LiedolsheimMy grandfather’s story starts in his home town, Liedolsheim, moves to France for World War I, and then returns to Liedolsheim until he is forced to leave before members of the NSDAP (Nazis) try to kill him. Again.

So of course, writing about this involves a lot of research about Liedolsheim. Liedolsheim has always been present: pictures of the Village Church were always visible in my grandparent’s home, and I heard the name many times in my childhood. I visited there a few times in the 80’s when I was in Germany too.

But writing about it, and especially writing what I want to be more historical fiction than just fiction, is a different story. Especially when the story starts in 1914 and ends in 1928.

There’s a lot of information easily available about this period in Germany. The transition from the German Empire before the war, to what was effectively a military dictatorship by the end of the war, to the doomed Weimar Republic, has been studied quite thoroughly, and the information is readily available.

Liedolsheim has a Wikipedia page under it’s new name, Dettenheim. (The German version is better.) the Wikipedia even contains some information about the period I want to write about. And of course the village is still there. Visiting again will help me a lot.

But how do you learn what it was like to live in a small village 30 kilometers from “the city” before cars and trucks were common? Before even radio was readily available? This has been my challenge the last few weeks. I should have started this project 30 years ago…but too late for that now.

Fortunately I have family still there, and the process of reaching out has begun. But there’s still that but that’s hard to quantify: thinking like a man born and raised at the turn of the last century.

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