Exploring My Roots


I arrived in Basel, Switzerland on a Saturday, and opted to go there because it was where I thought my Grandfather (Grandpa Ley) on my mom’s side was from. Basel immediately had a different feel than France. No more scarfs. People passed by and say hello. I found myself in Basel on a record breaking hot holiday weekend. I hunkered down at a campground about a 40 min cycle east of Basel. I have never experienced a campground that crowded. The owner squeezed me in literally 2 feet from the Rhine River, and I was surrounded on the other three sides by tents also no more than 2 feet away. The owner later told me it was the largest crowd they had ever had too. On top of the campers, they allowed others in to use the pool for a fee. Need-less-to-say it was wall to wall kiddos. I didn’t know it was a holiday weekend, so I would have to wait until Tuesday for the town hall to open to try and research my family roots.


I had seen advertisements for a free music festival (called Imagine) that was to take place in Old Basel that evening, so I cycled back to town from camp to check it out. Impressive! Here’s a couple things that struck me as being very different from a festival in the US. Mounds of bicycles, and I’d say 90% unlocked, and no beer advertising. Part way through the concert I ended up talking with a very cool gal, Duscha, who was at the festival with the family of the guy who has been putting on on the festival for 13 years. Introductions were made, and I ended up learning about the festival. The slogans for it all relate to anti-racism efforts (like “imagine” a world without racism…)and the two-day, multi-stage event was funded primarily by foundations. So instead of beer or Redbull slogans advertising around the stages, the foundations were listed. All the music acts I saw were really good too. I was told that they try to feature up and coming artists. All pretty cool. Dancing the night away with new friends totally made the healthy cycle home worth it.  


The next night day I layed low in the record breaking heat. Jumping in the Rhine River was definitely the thing to do. All along the river, people were swimming, boating, and enjoying the water. I did some writing, and I decided to stay put at my campground that evening. Even more crowded than the day before, the party literally came to me as I sat in the opening of my tent. The folks next to me were hosting a bbq for friends, so besides official campers, a crowd of friends showed for their party. It was fun to meet more locals, including Tim, a cool cat from London, who works as a snowboard guide in Switzerland, and his sporty girlfriend from Basel, who is a social worker and told me about some interesting aspects of how social systems work in Switzerland.


So I had heard the rumors about Switzerland being expensive, but I didn’t think it would matter much in camping mode. Wrong. I’d say everything from camping to groceries was about three times as much. I figured if I am going to stay in Switzerland, I needed to try some alternative means. Time to try again with WarmShowers.org and more “stealth” camping. I lucked out with Olivier responding to my request to stay for the following night! A fellow touring cyclist, with some great adventures throughout the world under his belt, he opened his door to me even with another cyclist from Costa Rica already planning to stay. Steel and I were up and out early from the campground and got to Olivier’s place around 9:30 a.m. Olivier was super welcoming. He offered me coffee and muesli (so Swiss), gave me a key to his place, and took off for work. Wow!
Steel and I spent the day trying to track down my family roots. We began our explorations at the Rathaus ( German for Town Hall), a beautifully restored building in the older historic part of Basel. Turns out family records were in a different old building, so after lunch (because everything closes between 12-2 p.m.), we spent time with an archivist, who could not find any of the four names I had. When I wrote to my niece in the US (our family archivist), she provided me with details that the family I was looking for was actually born across the boarder in Lorrach, Germany, about 15 miles North of Basel. Later that evening, Olivier cooked up a mean BBQ…and we had fun talking about past adventures and thinking about future ones. He offered advice on various routes through the Alps. Turns out his brother has a mountain bike school…Steel really wants to go there…so we shall see.
The next morning, Steel and I headed to Lorrach. So Switzerlandland has this absolutely amazing bicycle network, but my gps does not seem to know it. I followed my gps to Lorrach up and over forested area. It was lovely but took me about 2 hours. I followed a bicycle route along the river and through flat forested area back to Basel and it took me a bit over an hour!
A nice local showed me where the Rathaus was in Lorrach, but unfortunately it was about to close, not to reopen until the following day. Oddly though, somewhere along my travels, someone had written down for me the name of a castle, Rottelin Burg, in Lorrach (like back in France maybe before I knew my family was from there), so I decided to go try and find it. Wow…holy, cool old castles. It was quite a cycling trek up a steep hillside to get there, but worth it. Turns out they started building it in about 400 AD…I’m not sure I’ve ever been in structure close to 2000 years old –that’s like really old! I had fun trying to picture my grandpa Ley and great grandparents frolicking at the castle. Now there’s an outdoor stage setup on its grounds -definitely an inspired setting.
From the castle, I decided to check out cemeteries in the surrounding little communities that bore a couple of our family surnames, like Brombach and Rottelin. Visiting cemeteries totally made me think of my grandma and grandpa Ley. They sort of had a thing for cemeteries. As a kid, I remember going with them many times to various cemeteries. They had this sweet dog, Dumdum, and they used to say that Dumdum liked visiting cemeteries. Ha! My Grandpa Ley was a concert violinist when he was in Germany, so I tried to imagine where he might have played around town. It was just a cool day reflecting and thinking about my family and the struggle to come to the US by boat, and all the dreams that the US must have represented to them. In the States, my grandfather was a railroad engineer. I know my Grandfather got the tip of finger sliced off in a car door and that ended his violin career, but I wonder how he ended up working on the railroad? I sure wish I had thought to ask all those questions when he or my mother were still alive.
Olivier did not get home from work until about 9 p.m., but still suggested that we should cycle into the city to have a drink along the Rhine. I’ll never pass up an opportunity to let a local show me around! There’s a particular strip along the river in the old part of Basel where mobile food and drink carts are set up in the summer, and people line the banks of the river. People just sit, drink, and hang out, or make a bbq. You will see lots of bright colored water-proof bags bobbing down the river along side their owners –during the day and evening. It’s the thing to do. You join up with friends, hop in up river and float along. Then you get out, put on your clothes, and grab a drink. It’s totally the thing to do after work or on the weekends. So cool. I really enjoyed my time in Basel. Next up cycling the Alps!!

3 thoughts on “Exploring My Roots

  1. Cool. Keep your eyes open for Mt. Hiener in Germany. Don’t know much about my namesake mountain but I presume I am royalty.

  2. Lisa, it’s soooooo fun reading about your travels, looking @ your pics & knowing that you’re ok. You are a crazy lady. Love you lots & hugs & kisses!!!!