The Hill Town
I woke up around 5 in the morning, ate my usual breakfast and headed straight out to catch the earliest bus to Wilhemsfeld (pronounced ‘V’ilhemsfeld) the town where Rizal wrote the last chapters of his Noli. The importance of this town is monumental in our history. Here he found the inspiration to complete the book that changed the course of our destiny. If you’re retracing Rizal’s footsteps in Germany this town is a must visit.
The trip lasted less than an hour from Heidelberg. On my way up to the hills of what is known as Odenwald I saw countless old German houses. Before entering the forest area shrouded in mist and thick fog I saw modern houses sitting side by side with some of the oldest houses in the province. You’d think that a progressive and developed country eventually loses touch with its roots and traditional values – not the Germans. This morning was one of the coldest thus far for me. The elevation made the air much colder (I’m used to extremely hot weather so everyday here feels colder than the last).
When Rizal moved from Heidelberg to Wilhelmsfeld there was only a mountain trail that he traversed on a regular basis to Heidelberg. I wonder if it is this present road that is used now. How people traveled during winter must have been difficult in the old days. We’re so fortunate with the technology we have today. Traveling has become so easy. I don’t think I would last long if I’m going to walk my way up like what people did during those days – thank heavens, German’s have very good public transportation.
I reached Wilhemslfeld before 8am. During weekends you could hardly see a soul in the early hours. I noticed that Germans start their day late during the weekends. It felt like twilight zone walking around not seeing a single person. So I wandered like a cloud for some time until I found José-Rizal–Straße. I know not far is Pastor Ullmer’s house. Copper markers (or whatever it is called) by the Philippine consulate made it easy to locate. Interestingly, they wrote it in German. The house looks great, you wouldn’t know how old it was just by looking. Not much has change in fact you could look at old photos of the house and you’d hardly notice any difference from what it looks like now.
Not far from the Pastor’s house is the church called Evangelische Kirche where Rizal attended services. The rolling hills in this beautiful German country is so peaceful, so wonderful (I heard that they’re actually a popular town resort). I’m not surprised that Rizal liked Wilhemsfeld. It reminded him of his hometown Calamba.
One thing that I noticed is that people seem to be more friendlier from around here. I guess they can recognize what Filipino looks like. The house gates were opened so I took the liberty and looked around. The owner, who was having her tea, went out and greeted me. She did not mind that I entered the premises without even ringing the doorbell. Never even asked what were my intentions. Realizing that I violated their space, I apologized to the owner but she said “its fine, its ok, welcome”. She was too kind and spoke very good English. She told me that I can comeback at a later time and talk to her husband (who was still sleeping at that time). She said that they’ve seen several Filipino visitors including some leaders in the pass (I wonder who were those).
After my brief conversation with this kind lady I crossed the street and went to the red church just right across. There I met an old lady walking her handsome labrador retriever. I’ve never seen one with such a thick fur. The old lady does not speak English at all but she was telling me of a place a few blocks from where we were. I knew what she was talking about when I heard the word “platz” (which means park space or a plaza). She was giving me instructions on how to go to their Rizal Park! They really can tell what a Pinoy looks like from these parts.
Not far from the town’s ruthaus is a small park where the life size monument of Rizal can be found along with all his German friends that as we all know greatly influenced him. A short alley (called Ullmer weg) named after his host, leads to the humble park. They drained the pond water that surrounds the statue I believe because it gets frozen. The small space is neatly kept and cared for. Surrounded by trees and memorial metal plates dedicated to Rizal and his German contemporaries. Last year, Calamba and Wilhelmsfeld forged a sisterhood pact which I thought was good between the two towns as they share a common past through their most outstanding citizens – Pastor Ullmer and Rizal.
I always complain about Rizal monuments back home, so many of them that I feel that it has lost its meaning but for the first time I really felt good seeing this one. Its like seeing an old friend – I’ve never been this thankful seeing a Rizal monument in my life. Germany would’ve been just another country for me if it were not for Rizal. The guy opened doors for us to be connected to world that was very different from our own. Rizal remains relevant not only because he traveled the world for us to see but also because the historical mission he thought his generation could carry out has not been completed. Somehow we have to figure out how to continue what his generation started.
Just before I went back to Heidelberg, this time an old man with a walking stick, approached me and asked if I needed help with anything. I don’t think he said it in English but I think that’s what he wanted to say. He was smiling all through out. I think people here are friendly towards someone like me because I’m Filipino. The story goes that Pastor Ullmer never hesitated to offer accommodation to Rizal and it was here that he perfected his German. The people from around here still carries with them that same generous character. They’re all Pastor Ullmer to every Filipino.