Königswinter, black-red-gold flag
Königswinter, black-red-gold flag

[Rhineland, spring 1920] After their first meeting in Bonn, the awkwardness between Chiara and John, officers with the American Forces in Germany at Coblenz, and their German relatives quickly disappeared.

They talked on the phone, Chiara sent photos of her children, her mother Amber and all her relatives over there in America. She also talked about her fears for the family’s Mountain Men winery.

Winegrowers on this side and the other side of the Atlantic

Lottie and Matthias shared their worries. Prohibition had been in effect nationwide in the U.S. since 1919, vetoed in vain by President Wilson. Now all beverages with more than 0.5% alcohol content were banned, including wine and beer. For the winegrowers, this threatened their existence. The winery of the American Bergmanns, the “Mountain Men” in the Shennandoah Valley in Virginia also had to fight for its continued existence. Like most winegrowers, they switched to grape juice and continued to grow wine only within the scope of legal exemptions. Bergmanns on the Rhine, who had come to love the Virginia winery, felt with them from the bottom of their hearts.

A wedding in February

February of the year 1920 was warm, already at the end of the month the first crocuses bloomed. Kathi loved these little flowers with her splendid colors that radiated optimism even in rough times. Kathi and Max knew well that they had hard years were ahead of them, but they were in love, gave strength to one another, and wanted to change things for the better.

Kathi’s family and friends had come to the Bergmann estate for her wedding, and Chiara and John could come as well. Kathi and Susan showed them their “Stübchen”. Chiara was eager to see the place where her beloved grandfather had spent so much time as a child. Now Kathi and Susan ran a soup kitchen here, a small low-priced grocery store, and Kathi still drove around the villages delivering food. Helene the seamstress worked miracles out of remnants. Chiara was deeply moved: “Grandpa Lorenz would be so proud on you”, she said.

“I’m sure this isn’t easy for you,” Kathi said. “John and you are here, your children at home, you must miss them very much.” Chiara smiled wistfully. “Oh yes,” she replied, “we both miss them, even though I know they are in the best of hands with their grandparents. But both children would be very disappointed if I had left their dad to work here alone. After all, it’s not for long; John will be in Coblenz for just under two years. In the summer vacations the two of them come here, they want to help on our little army farm. Then we will definitely meet again. We all want to do our part to rebuild our world. But for now, let’s celebrate your wedding.”

Bring our world back into balance

Joscha and Marie had also come for Kathi’s wedding, much to the delight of their families and friends. Hungary had gone through bad times after the war, the family was worrying about them. Finally, the Csabany estate near Budapest was safe and looking forward to better times, and Joscha handed over its management to a cousin.

Late in the evening, when the family was still sitting together, Joscha took a deep breath. “Austria and Belgium want to negotiate an agreement to settle the Austrian debt to Belgian citizens”, he said. “Maybe I can help, Marie and I will go to Brussels.”

When he saw Lottie’s frightened face, he added, “I know it won’t be easy, they have every reason to hate us. I want to do it, for Mama, I want to find out if our Brussels friends are still alive, and if there is any hope to re-establish old relationships. It is not easy for anyone in these days, not for you in the occupied Rhineland, and not for Chiara’s family either.” Chiara gave him a grateful smile. “No, it is not easy for all of us. I agree with you, we all have to do our best to bring our world back into balance. And … you two would be welcome to represent Austria in the USA, too!”

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