Thursday, December 24, 2015

Senior Zone Conference in Heidelberg - December 10-12, 2015

Schloss Heidelberg
Three times a year or so there is a senior zone conference where all of the senior couples in the mission gather for meetings and activity. Our senior zone leaders, Elder and Sister Ricks, planned a really nice conference in Heidelberg. Heidelberg is about an hour south of Frankfurt. The river Neckar flows through the city and is crossed by a picturesque stone bridge that is called the "Old Bridge" (Alte Brücke) that was built in the 1780s. The castle is 250 feet above the old city and is a famous ruin. Portions of it have been restored and some work is ongoing.

Heidelberg is a university town, and the university is large -- 50,000+ students from around the world. The city was spared from heavy bombing during World War II because there was little industry or military infrastructure there. As a result, much of the old city is a baroque masterpiece. They also host an enormous Christmas market -- more about that below.

We arrived on Thursday night and joined the couples for dinner at a great restaurant. The food was "echte Deutsche Speise" (traditional German food), and the atmosphere was perfect. We tried to play a couple of games and do some get-to-know-you things, but the room we were in was full, and there was really no moving around in there.

Elder Jarrard swears that sweaters make you look thin. Elder and Sister Gubler are in the background and they live in Heidelberg.

We sat between the Newmans and the Harts. We love these people.

Elder Wilcox is standing at the end of the table Elder Burke is to the left and Sister Newman is looking at the camera. The Wilcoxs and Burkes are Military Liaison couples and work with Institute and lots of other things.
 We stayed at a wonderful hotel in the middle of farm fields outside the village of Eppelheim called the Birkenhof. A family owns the hotel, a really nice restaurant, and farms and stables surrounding the hotel. The view from the breakfast room was breathtaking. I asked the manager about the plants covering the fields around the hotel, and he said they were planted to keep the nutrients close to the surface during the winter. They are plowed under in the spring and planted with hops for brewing beer (of course - it's Germany).

Birkenhof Hotel and Restaurant Stephan. We borrowed this from
We promise it is winter -- the warmest December in Germany since the 1700s

The hotel entrance from the road

Sister Kirk ready for meetings.
We held our conference in the Relief Society room of the Heidelberg Chapel. The chapel is modern and spacious, but it is flanked by a school and backs up to light rail tracks. That's actually helpful for the members who come to church by public transportation. The theme of the conference was modern prophets and of course, Christmas. The presentations were really uplifting. We were especially amazed at the sacrifices some of these senior couples have made to be here to serve. And the first part of many missions has been deeply challenging for so many of the sisters. Many of them (some of the men, too) do not speak any German, and finding a way to be useful has been a hurdle to overcome. But every one of them expressed their love for the Savior and their desire to serve, and they have all found creative, wonderful ways to be tools in the hands of the Lord. One volunteers two days a week in a USO at an Army post. One couple leads a large addiction recovery program, and the wife, who is a professional therapist has found a niche that she filled with great energy. Others love and serve young single adults and even spend time as volunteers in a hospital.

Gathering for our conference
When we weren't in meetings, we took public transportation into Heidelberg to visit the city and spend time in the Christmas market. Jeff gets a little antsy when he is packed like a sardine in a narrow street with 100,000 of his closest friends, but all in all, we really enjoyed Heidelberg. Jeff talked to three different groups of people and gave them each a card and an invitation to learn more. One young woman we met at the top of the Königstuhl (the mountain directly above Heidelberg) had ridden up the mountain on a bicycle. It was very cold and windy and getting dark. We persuaded her to put her bicycle on a bus and not ride down in the dark. She was very interested in  finding out more about our message. A group of young guys from New Jersey attending a semester abroad at the university were really nice young men. We gave them a card, too. And Jeff met a man from Togo on the train and talked with him and gave him a card. He has been in Germany for 11 months and is one of the 100,000 or so refugees who have flooded into Germany this year from Africa and Syria. They are all seeking a better, safer life for their families. There is some antipathy toward this "invasion" of non-Germanic people, and there is ongoing debate in Germany about whether this is good for the country.

Throngs in the Christmas market

Street performers

President and Sister Stoddard joined us. Moving this crowd on trains was interesting.

Elder and Sister Mumm are from Idaho. They are loving it here. Jeff somehow became the leader on the trains. Unfortunately, he led the group onto a train going the wrong direction at the end of the evening, and we all ended up in a quiet residential neighborhood at 9pm waiting for a train to take us back in the other direction. The sisters started singing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." That attracted stares from the few there.
We rode in the front car of the steep funicular railroad that goes to the top of the mountain

It's a long way down.
View from the top of the Königstuhl (King's Throne) was worth the ticket

The wind was howling up there
At 1804 feet, it's not much of a mountain, but it looks really high.

Elder and Sister Kirk, smiles frozen in place

Elder and Sister Ricks (second mission for them - our senior zone leaders)

Elder and Sister Hart - kindred spirits. We love them.

Elder and Sister Johnson
Sunset comes early as we head down from the top of Königstuhl

Last but not least, a look at the Christmas market, the castle, and the old city at night and in the daylight.
Entering the interior courtyard of the castle

Sister Kirk is carrying her cup of Kinderpunsch (hot fruit juices and spices)

View from the wall of castle looking down on the old city

Christmas market tents inside the castle walls. There's much more in the old city below.

These things are really cool. However, there is a "saloon" at the base of every one we have seen. Mulled wine and other alcohol drinks are popular elements of the Christmas markets.

Like we said -- a few thousand of our closest friends. People are very polite and cheerful. 

Two-story rotating tree inside the Käthe Wohlfahrt store. Okay, this store was amazing. Even Jeff enjoyed gawking at the stuff in this store.

Beautiful Hotel Ritter (Hotel Knight) in the old city.

Old gate to the city at the end of the Alte Brücke.

Looking across the Neckar at the newer part of Heidelberg

The wall on the hillside is part of the old castle and encloses an English garden that was built for an English princess who married in to a German noble family.

The Newmans, Mumms, and Kirks on the Alte Brücke

The camera makes Elder Kirk look like the Michelin Man

One of the narrow streets of the old city leading into the Christmas market


  1. One of my favorite places in Germany. If you haven't been yet, you must get to Rotenberg ab der Tauber if it is in you mission. Lovely walled city with many very old, original buildings. Then too, Berlin is a most spectacular place. Merry Christmas friends.

  2. One of my favorite places in Germany. If you haven't been yet, you must get to Rotenberg ab der Tauber if it is in you mission. Lovely walled city with many very old, original buildings. Then too, Berlin is a most spectacular place. Merry Christmas friends.

    1. Rotenburg is in our mission and is on our list to visit. It is as far south and east as you can go in the mission, so we are planning to go by train some Friday afternoon and stay over.