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On the road: Bad Essen

Bad Essen in Germany is probably not a town you have heard of, and one not likely to show up in most English language guide books. It's not even mentioned in most German guidebooks. About the only reference is usually to the nearby Varus Battle, a 1st century clash between a Roman Legion and united Germanic tribes. The few surviving Romans were sent running with their tails between their legs, and the Romans never again tried to conquer this area.

I visited Bad Essen recently with a group that was visiting extended family in Germany. I often guide private groups to the land their family had emigrated from. Frequently they just want to see the village or the area that their great-grandparents (or great-great-great . . . ) had come from from, but every few years I have a group that still has contact with relatives in the old country. Usually these are people whose parents or grandparents left early in the 20th century, and they still have uncles, aunts or cousins living in the home village.

For me this is a chance to peek inside a local's home, learn a little more about their culture and lifestyle, stretch my language abilities (since few of these groups speak the mother language, and the European relatives speak only a little English), and also a chance to see a part of the country I've never been to before.

Bad Essen turned out to be a pleasant, and very pretty little spa town that just hasn't had much luck marketing itself to the outside world. The local family arranged an English-speaking guide to take us on a walk through the village history, which stretches back over 1000 years. In addition to the town church and lots of beautifully preserved half-timbered houses we also visited a pharmacy museum, housed in a pharmacy that dates to the 18th century, as well as a working water-powered grist mill. You can find out more about Bad Essen at www.badessen.info (German only).

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