Belgium and Germany Trip 2001
My dad, Fred, and I started our trip on Sept 6th from my parents house in Baraboo, Wisconsin which is about an hour drive northwest from Madison. We drove to Chicago O'Hare and got to the gate 2 hours early for an international flight. Thunderstorms started to hit O'Hare and we left about 10:30 pm or an hour and 1/2 delay. I tried to sleep on the plane, but I was freezing cold. After a 7 hour flight we arrived at the Dusseldorf Airport on the 7th at 1 pm German central time or 6 am Wisconsin time. After getting my first stamp on my passport we picked up the checked luggage. Albert and Nicole, our cousins from Lanaken, Belgium, were waiting for us on the other side of customs. It was nice to see them and they gave us the European kisses on the cheeks. We rented a car from Avis at the airport, a new navy blue Mercedes C220 diesel 6 speed manual transmission (you can't get an American car with automatic). This was a surprise, we did not expect to get a new car with only 190 km on the odometer. Got on the Autobahn in the overcast and drizzle with my dad driving and me with the my GPS trying to set it up for Germany while Nicole was giving us the right directions to get to Lanaken. We were still being passed easily at 100 mph. Everything is metric so we had to use the dash trip computer to display miles per hour and kilometers per hour.
We drove to Lanaken in extreme eastern Belgium to stay at our cousins. They treated us to a box of Belgium chocolates which we quickly devoured. Jacky, Nicole's and Alberts son, met us at Lanaken and we all went out for our first Belgium dinner. We had a very tasty meal of mussels and fish along with several beers. I had my first European beer called Palm.
On Sept 8th after a restless sleep, still both us trying to adjust to the 7 hour ahead time difference, drove to western Belgium to visit more of my dad's mothers relatives in Torhout and Lichtervelde. We went to the area in Lichtervelde where my Grandma Annabelle was born along with her brother Camile, and her younger sister Leona. Albert is one of Leona's 3 sons. We then went to Leona's house and saw Leona for the first time. She greeted us with hugs and kisses and said " I love you" in broken english to me and my dad. She doesn't speak english so as she spoke Nicole would translate. We then enjoyed a large belgium cake that Albert and Nicole had picked up at the bakery. Jacky bought some truffles and they were gone in seconds. The truffles are amazing. Camile, Leona's brother, then came a few minutes later. It was quite a scene as we were all trying to ask questions and everybody talking in Flemish and German. After several hours we left to find a hotel room.
On Sunday Sept 9th Jacky, Fred, and I went back to Lichtervelde and attended a Catholic church service where my Grandma Annabelle was baptized. Then we asked the pastor, Emiel Dobelaere, if we could look at the church book to see if we could find Annabelle's baptism record. Sure enough he found it for us. She was baptized on Dec 28th 1908 and named Gabriella Angela Vercruysse. She, as we found out later, was called Annabelle in the States because Gabriella was pronounced like Abriella or then made to Annabelle which she kept for her American name.
Some history... Annabelle, along with her mother Alida nee Boussauw, left her brother Camile and sister Leona when she was 11 years old to come to America. They arrived to New York from Antwerp on June 1st 1920 on the ship Kroonland. Annabelle married my grandfather, Frederick Charles Kruse, in Chicago in 1930. Alida went back to Belgium to be with her other 2 children. Annabelle always wanted to come back to Belgium to see Leona and Camile but never made it. Camile had come to Wisconsin to visit her in 1983 just before she died. Leona and Annabelle never saw each other in person since she left in 1920, when Annabelle was 11 and Leona was 5 years old.
We learned of a tragic event of the Vercruysse family, Annabelle's dad, Leon, died of a motorcycle accident while going to see Leona just after she was born in 1915. Leon never got to see his new daughter Leona. At Leon's funeral they put Leona in the silk lining of her dad's casket and said to Leon, "Here is your new daughter". We all shed tears as Leona told the story and got the translation.
After visiting the church at Lichtervelde we went back to Leona's house in Westrosebeke for more cake and ice cream. One difference is they call ice cream just "ice". Anyway we had lots of "ice" and more chocolate. We were overwhelmed with all the goodies and I being a "chocoholic" from birth was getting my ultimate fill. Camile came later. Leona's son Alphonse was there with his family, son Philip and his wife Antja and child. After some visiting and seeing more old photographs we said our final good-byes to Leona and her second husband Hector. Camile at almost 90 years old still drives a car and he took us to see Alida's grave site.
On Sept 10th we went towards Hamburg with Jacky . We stayed at a nice old guesthouse called Gasthaus Grote (like a bread and breakfast) in a very small town where my mom's dads side of the family came from south of Luneburg and Hamburg called Barnstedt. The breakfast was awesome with fresh eggs and milk, breads and jams, and meats. Most of the small towns have these guesthouses called gasthauses.
The next day we drove to Hamburg, to see the famous sea port on the Elbe River. They have a neat little Emigration museum. We got lunch at a sea side deli and had the best fish in my life. The salmon was unbelievable.
That late afternoon of Sept 11th we drove to the Kruse ancestors area of Neukirchen, Klein Belitz, Viezen and Reinstorf. I have been researching church records from the Mormons at Dodge City for the last 2 1/2 years and was amazed to finally see the region with my own eyes. Took some digital shots and then got to our hotel at Satow, "Hotel Wiede". We turned on the TV and stood there in shock as we watched the planes hit the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York. We went from extreme excitement to extreme shock in a few minutes. My dad and I lost our appetite that evening as the shock took hold. It felt we just had someone die in the family. We imagined being grounded in Germany for a month until the airlines made all of the security adjustments to the planes.
On the 12th we toured the Neukirchen church which was built in 1233. My great grandfather and my great great grandmother came from the little town of Viezen and immigrated to the U.S. through Hamburg in 1869. The Kruse's ancestors were all baptized, married and buried at the Neukirchen church. The current Pastor Lange gave us a tour of the inside of this centuries old building. The Neukirchen church is the church for the small towns of Viezen, Selow, Gross Belitz, Klein Belitz, Reinstorf, Juergenshagen, and Wokrent. We then toured other small churches the next few days with lots of ancestral history like Satow, Gross Tessin, Schwaan, Bernitt, Berendshagen with small towns of Gnemern and Perniek. We met a group of 5 kids at a bakery in Juergenshagen and dad was giving them a English lesson. A very cute 12 year old girl called Nancy took on a school girl crush with my dad as he taught them some more English while Jacky and I were filling up on baked goods.
We stayed at a small hotel at Selow, and then one night in a little hut in Juergenshagen. The prices are very reasonable at less 50 dollars a room and some were cheaper. The money is the Duetch Mark or called D-mark for short. It was about 2 D-marks to the dollar so a 100 D-mark room was around 50 bucks. One afternoon we went a few miles north to the Baltic Sea or East Sea west of Rostock and had the most excellent fish dinner of the trip.
After touring church sites and old grave yards we went to Berlin on the 15th to tour the Berlin gate called the Brandenburger Tor. We saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall and the Berlin capitol. The area is very crowed with tour buses. Also saw "Check Point Charley", and old Allied check point, and the bombed out church that stands as a monument to the World War II destruction of Berlin.
Later that afternoon we got out of crowded Berlin and headed toward Cologne. We decided to go down to Lutherstadt Wittenburg to see Martin Luther's site of the Lutheran Reformation. We went to the town square and it is very beautiful with cobble stone roads and picturesque buildings surrounding tall statues of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon. We went into the Martin Luther museum located in the middle of the square. Then went to the Castle church where Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses on the church door in 1517. The original door and church were burned and destroyed completely in a war and then rebuilt to nearly exact specs by the Prussians. The new door has a transcription of the 95 theses in bronze. We met Bill Otto, a visiting retired pastor from Mequon, Wisconsin and were very surprised to finally speak to someone in English. He was very cordial and gave us quick tour inside. We didn't realize it but we were just in time for a church service to be given by pastor Bill Otto at 6:30 pm. It was great to hear the organ play as we sang some songs. They played my favorite hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." They gave a tribute to the people recently lost to the World Trade Center tragedy and thanked the people of Wittenburg for a large out pouring of prayer and support. We then stayed overnight in Wittenburg and had a fabulous meal at a potato restaurant, and of course more ice and beer.
We then drove back to Jacky's house on the 16th to Cologne and made good progress on the famous German Autobahn. My dad got the Mercedes up to 125 mph before it started to shake. I did not feel comfortable going 115 mph which was our normal cruising speed. Could not stay in the fast lane for long as many with Audis and Porsches were passing us like we were standing still. We got in several traffic jams which Jacky told us to expect.
We called the airline the next day to confirm flight on 17th and was aboard our United Boeing 767 on time. The security level was multi-tiered with police and military equipped with Uzi's. We were very lucky to get our reserved flight as we heard many people were stranded. The flight was non-stop to Chicago and took 8 1/2 hours. We had 2 meals served and had choices of several movies. We did not sleep a wink as we chased the sun back to the states as it stayed above the horizon.
The seven hour ahead time difference took us 4 days to finally get used to on the way over but was much easier going back. We arrived in Chicago at O'Hare about 630 pm and drove in the rain back to Baraboo, Wisconsin. .
All in all we had a great time, the German and Belgium people are very kind and help you greatly. The food was excellent and better than the states. The tap water was good also. The beer is very good as most is locally brewed. The chocolate truffles in Belgium are to die for. They even let dogs in some of the restaurants in Cologne. We were not able to locate any Kruse ancestors over there that are living. It looks like they all migrated to the states.
We also want to thank Jacky for going to northeastern Germany with us, we would have had a very tough time with the language without him and Nicole and Albert for helping us from the airport and letting us stay the night. The young kids are being taught English as a second language in the last 10 years while most of the adults cannot speak any English. We drove around 1200 miles total and the computer showed a very good 43 mpg for the whole trip. The gas prices came out to be an expensive 5 or 6 dollars per gallon.