Why Wuppertal?

Many rea­sons. Tucked away deep in the Cederberg, this old-world vil­lage gladly shares them with you

South African Country Life - - Travel - WORDS AND PIC­TURES RON SWILL­ING

“If you want to go to heaven, you have to first stop by Wuppertal to get a taste,” Jurie van Rooy, owner of the Wuppertal Mis­sion Stores, tells me as the low af­ter­noon sun plays in the shop cor­ners. It’s late and the as­sis­tant stops sup­ply­ing the chil­dren with Chap­pies and

Nik Naks and switches off the chip fryer.

Time to go home.

Like some of the other peo­ple I chat to, Jurie left Wuppertal for a stint in Cape Town but re­turned to the peace of the mis­sion in the Cederberg moun­tains. “It wasn’t for me,” he says of life in the fast lane. And I can un­der­stand why. This ver­dant vil­lage oa­sis, which ap­pears in the val­ley af­ter a stony gravel road that snakes through the moun­tains in a series of hair­pin bends and steep de­scents, of­fers wel­come and rest.

I rel­ish the un­fa­mil­iar, old-world at­mos­phere as I drive into the vil­lage, but ex­pect it to dis­si­pate as soon as I get to know the place. So I’m sur­prised when I con­tinue to feel ut­terly charmed as I ex­plore the streets of the vil­lage later on with their quaint homes, most keep­ing to the orig­i­nal 19th cen­tury style of white­washed walls and thatched roofs. It’s late af­ter­noon when I walk through Wuppertal Sen­traal (as it’s called by the lo­cals), and with most places clos­ing shop at 4pm, the res­i­dents sit on their stoeps or in­side with doors wide open, ra­dios softly play­ing. They wave back and friendly dogs rush out, tails wag­ging.

The sur­round­ing moun­tains turn a deep red­gold as the sun dips. I stop on the street to chat to Wuppertal-born Eve­lyn Paris, re­mark­ing on the love­li­ness of the vil­lage that in my mind’s eye re­sem­bles the fish­ing vil­lages of old, a mix of Mykonos Old Town and Pater­nos­ter.

Although the golden era of the mis­sion sta­tions of the 1800s has long past (and their role and long-term ben­e­fits are al­ways de­bat­able), some of that en­ergy seems to re­main deeply in­grained in the vil­lage. Ini­tially a farm called Ri­et­mond, it be­came a Rhen­ish mis­sion when mis­sion­ar­ies Jo­hann Got­tlieb Leipoldt (grand­fa­ther of Afrikaans poet and botanist C Louis Leipoldt) and Theobald von Wurmb ar­rived in the en­chanted val­ley late in 1829 and bought the farm. It be­came a Mo­ra­vian mis­sion in the 1960s, and re­mains one to­day.

Laugh­ter from chil­dren play­ing echoes through the streets. The school hos­tel that homes more than a hun­dred chil­dren from the out­ly­ing ar­eas is in the cen­tre of the vil­lage and pro­vides a safe haven for them af­ter school, un­til the bell calls them to sup­per. Along­side is the sound of run­ning wa­ter from the chan­nels. Fed from moun­tain springs that run into the Tra-Tra River, the lei­wa­ter is used to ir­ri­gate the crops grow­ing in bands on the low-ly­ing land, a fer­tile strip with rows of veg­eta­bles, and dot­ted with horses, cows and sheep.

De­spite the re­cent in­stal­la­tion of cell­phone re­cep­tion, Wuppertal still of­fers a step into

the past. Many of the orig­i­nal build­ings have sur­vived the rav­ages of time and have been restored. The shoe fac­tory is still housed in the orig­i­nal 1865 build­ing, mak­ing it the old­est shoe fac­tory in the coun­try.

The shoe­mak­ing tra­di­tion was passed down from Ger­man shoe­maker, Chris­tian Häfele, who came to help Leipoldt in 1834 when Von Wurmb re­turned to Ger­many, and it con­tin­ued with mis­sion­ary Strass­berger in the early 1900s. The Wuppertal res­i­dents kept up the prac­tice, be­com­ing known for their well­made shoes. The youngest mem­ber of the four­man team, Clin­ton Wy­nand, ac­knowl­edges his shoe­mak­ing pre­de­ces­sors. “The old peo­ple’s spirit is still here, giv­ing us a help­ing hand.”

The four men carry out the var­i­ous stages in the shoe­mak­ing process, start­ing at one end of the long build­ing with the trac­ing of pat­terns and the cut­ting of leather, mov­ing along to the hole-mak­ing and stitch­ing sec­tions in the mid­dle of the room and end­ing at the far end where Arnold Gertse glues on the soles.

An af­fa­ble char­ac­ter with sparkling eyes, Arnold holds up hik­ing boots and vel­skoene (with riem­pie laces no­gal – they’re the real deal). “I learnt ev­ery­thing from my fa­ther, vis­ited the fac­tory af­ter school, and worked here for 30 years.” Arnold’s roots run deep in Wuppertal soil, and his fore­fa­thers are buried in the grave­yard. “I made Nel­son Man­dela’s shoes. Navy blue leather and size ten,” he tells me with pride, as he sits sur­rounded by a hilly land­scape of wooden shoe lasts that have sur­vived the cen­turies. Then he smiles, think­ing back to the first pres­i­dent of our Rain­bow Na­tion, and says, “Big feet.”

Madiba vis­ited the small vil­lage in the late 90s, and I no­tice the photo of him on the wall of the lo­cal Lekker Bekkie restau­rant, among a black-and-white photo of C Louis Leipoldt and pho­tos of the wind­ing moun­tain pass, a gi­gan­tic river pool in which chil­dren frolic, and a dra­matic rock arch.

Housed in the orig­i­nal Leipoldt house, the restau­rant has the thick walls, blue shut­ters (no glass), reed ceil­ings and thatch roof typ­i­cal of the mis­sion houses of the time.

The restora­tion of the build­ing was funded by Lanok (now Casidra or Cape Agency for Sus­tain­able In­te­grated De­vel­op­ment in Ru­ral Ar­eas), and a hand­ful of women from the com­mu­nity es­tab­lished the restau­rant in 1997.

Pies and toasted sarmies are the reg­u­lar fare, but the Wuppertal ladies will make tra­di­tional meals of ei­ther bobotie or lamb with sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and roost­erkoek, if or­dered a day in ad­vance. Fresh scones with straw­berry jam and cream, and a cup of steam­ing rooi­bos tea are al­ways on of­fer, as is a farm­house break­fast.

It’s also worth overnight­ing in this un­usual Shangri-la, rather than rush­ing back to civil­i­sa­tion. So, I make a plan to re­turn the next morn­ing af­ter my night at the self-ca­ter­ing Kloofhuis, for break­fast and a lekker cup of mo­erkoffie.

On the way back, I wan­der through the streets, past the old grave­yard with the graves of the mis­sion­ar­ies, and past the large, star­tlingly white 1834 church, be­fore re­turn­ing home to pull out a chair on the stoep, to watch the last of the light slink be­hind the moun­tains, and look for­ward to what the new day will bring.

It be­gins with bird­song and a visit to Lekker Bekkie, af­ter which I stroll to Red Cedar Cos­met­ics. There’s no need to drive around the small set­tle­ment, home to about 500 peo­ple. “Every­body knows every­body,” I’m told. With only a small gro­cery store (sell­ing good slap chips – a key road-food sta­ple for a trav­el­ling writer), a butch­ery and bak­ery, Red Cedar, the Rooi­bos co-op and the Wup­perthal Shoe Fac­tory, you can hap­pily park your car and walk.

At Red Cedar, I hear the short his­tory

of this es­tab­lish­ment, run by five women.

The project was funded by USAID and started in 2004 with 12 par­tic­i­pants. “Red is for rooi­bos and Cedar is for the Cederberg moun­tain re­gion,” Linda Ban­tom tells me, re­fer­ring to their name Red Cedar. “The or­ganic rooi­bos ex­tract is full of an­tiox­i­dants that slow down age­ing.” The per­fect in­gre­di­ent for a cos­metic range in an area where rooi­bos is sec­ond only to mother’s milk.

At the Wup­perthal Orig­i­nal Rooi­bos (Pri­mary Agri­cul­ture) Co­op­er­a­tive, I hear from CEO Barend Salomo about the his­tory of rooi­bos, and its har­vest and pro­cess­ing in the first few months of the year. He also ex­plains its his­tory. He’s cer­tainly in the know. With 11 sib­lings, Barend was weaned on rooi­bos when the next baby came along.

“Rooi­bos runs in my veins,” he says. “My fam­ily was one of the orig­i­nal Khoi fam­i­lies in the val­ley, and we used rooi­bos for skin prob­lems and stom­ach aches, for eczema, and as a sub­sti­tute for mother’s milk. My great­grand­fa­ther was eight years old when the first mis­sion­ar­ies ar­rived in Wuppertal,” he says.

As the story goes, when the mis­sion­ar­ies looked down into the val­ley and saw the river, which re­minded them of the Wup­per River in Ger­many, they called it Wuppertal (Wup­per val­ley). To­day Wuppertal in­cludes 16 out­ly­ing set­tle­ments. All the rooi­bos for the co-op is grown in the vicin­ity and is cer­ti­fied or­ganic. The co-op is Fair­trade com­pli­ant and fol­lows bio-dy­namic prin­ci­ples – ad­her­ing to its phi­los­o­phy of liv­ing in har­mony with na­ture.

Barend also had a stint work­ing in Cape Town be­fore he longed to come home. He trans­lates and short­ens a few lines of a poem by DJ Op­per­man for me, ex­press­ing his fond­ness for his home turf. “On the day when it was time to do some sow­ing, God’s bag was leak­ing.

The best of the seed fell onto Wuppertal.”

And with the lo­cals’ pride and love for their vil­lage, it’s no won­der peace and har­mony pre­vail.

TOP: Arnold Gertse proudly holds up a well-made boot. All shoes can be made to size and or­dered from the shoe fac­tory. LEFT: John Gertse and his brother fol­low in their fa­ther’s foot­steps, keep­ing shoe­mak­ing in the fam­ily. BE­LOW: Wuppertal streets are rem­i­nis­cent of those on a Greek is­land or Pater­nos­ter of old.

LEFT: In­gar Va­len­tyn from Wuppertal Tourism gives ex­cel­lent ad­vice on what to see and where to stay in the vil­lage. RIGHT: Many of the early mis­sion­ar­ies are buried in the old grave­yard near the church. BE­LOW: Mia Ben­ito waits for her aun­tie out­side Lekker Bekkie restau­rant.BE­LOW RIGHT: Barend Salomo at the Wup­perthal Rooi­bos Co-op, which is Fair­trade com­pli­ant and fol­lows bio­dy­namic prin­ci­ples.

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