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Genealogy Visit to Germanyby Earl Ross
Click on map to visit Baden, Hesse and Pfalz-Wuerttemberg
Objective:

To visit the villages, churches and cemeteries of my wife, Joan's ancestors in Germany. The areas included were in Baden, Hesse, Pfalz and Wuerttemberg.

Our residence for two weeks was a Time-share exchange in Deidesheim, Pfalz. It was used as a place to sleep and eat breakfast and the rest of day was spent exploring. Since neither of us spoke or read German, each day always presented a few challenges.

 

Lessons Learned:

Since we visited only small villages we sometimes found hardly anyone who could speak English. All of the German speaking people tried very hard to help us -- and were usually able to understand a few words of our conversation.

Our greatest challenge was finding our rental car in the fourth basement of the Frankfurt airport and learning how to open the trunk so we could stow some luggage. Should not have posed such a problem to us since it was only an Opel Asta -- but it did. This took about an hour of our time after we arrived and signed the rental car paperwork. To complicate things we were tired from the overnight flight and it was our first experience following directions in German. The car rental agent made things sound pretty easy and straight-forward, however there were times when we thought we might be spending our entire two weeks at the Frankfurt airport looking for the car.

When we finally surfaced from the underground level four and saw the light of day it was at the approach to the M 5 Autobahn where we wanted to go. Our first while on the Autobahn was spent trying to understand the road sign markings and what they meant. All the while staying in the right hand lane with the trucks -- and other cars 'whooshed' by us in the outside lanes. We learned that there are not many signs to remind you what road you are travelling on. The road markings are generally just before the exit to an intersection. At that time it will indicate the road number and several of the larger locations will be listed -- sometimes they may be as far away as 50-75 kilometers. So it is helpful to always know the long range direction that you headed. Once we caught on to the 'system' life became easier while driving.

We generally found German drivers to be courteous and they followed the rules and expected you to follow the rules also, even though we didn't always understand the German road signs or the writing associated with them. Examples of this courtesy included when on a four lane superhighway and suddenly the construction ahead reduced the lanes from two to one, the German drivers started to merge as soon as the sign was posted. There were no people sneaking ahead in the vacant lane trying to cut in at the last minute. The drivers were also courteous at letting us in when it came time to merge.

Driving through the villages was always exciting. It was often a cobblestone very narrow street which allowed two small cars to pass -- however there were usually cars parked on each side of the street, but never across from each other. There was always room for one car to pass at a time. The German drivers seemed to know which side had the right of way -- and we never encountered any problems, just went with the 'flow'.

One of our owners of this Time Share worked at the reception desk everyday but Sunday. He spoke quite good English and tried very hard to make sure we were having a good experience in Germany. He was always quick with the Computer printout of directions to an almost daily recommendation of a tourist site -- of which we had minimal interest. Not sure he was familiar with the likes of Genealogists who are sometimes pretty focused on what they do and we were focused to get to villages, churches and cemeteries.

We were amazed that every small village in the Pfalz had as many as 10-12 small wineries in operation and all had signs out front letting the passerbys know that Neu Wein available.

The villages we visited in the Pfalz all were centered around the wine industry. The village in Hesse seemed to be more industrial and a bedroom community for the larger cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen. The terrain of the Baden villages was more hilly and the valley's were used for crop farms and also served as a bedroom community for the larger city of Karlshrue. The villages in Wuerttemberg were set on beautiful hills and small mountains abundant with small inns and hotels for tourists to stay. The major industry here seemed to be logging of coniferous trees and tourist spas.

Our stop in each was the church. It was often not hard to find since the spire of the church towered above the rest of the town. All of the churches we visited were Roman Catholic, despite the fact most became Protestants after they arrived in the U.S. These churches were all old -- most built in the 1700's, all exceedingly well maintained, all looked like they were being used. All had lots of Art work and expensive adornment and almost all of the churches were open during the day for worshippers. Most of them had Post Cards, of the church, for sale at the church. Almost all had an extensive pipe organ.

It took us awhile to figure our how to find the cemetery -- until we learned that outside each church was a Friedhof sign which pointed to the direction of the cemetery. Always within walking distance from the church but usually at the edge of town.

We often saw more people working on grave sites at the cemetery than we saw in the rest of the village. Some people went to the cemetery as often as every other day. They changed the soil for the plants, dead-headed the flowers, pulled weeds, and trimmed the shrubs -- all on the grave site itself. The Friedhof's were all beautiful and well maintained places. It would not be unusual to see older ladies pushing a wheelbarrow of new plants and soil on their way to the Friedhof.

We thought it unusual that we found no old cemeteries, until we learned that cemeteries are only used about 25 years before the stones are recycled for other uses, and the cemetery is built on, paved over or burials on top of old graves. One gentleman told us that the tombstone cost about 20,000 and the cost of their home was 70,000 DM's -- a sizable investment.

The part of Germany that we travelled in was almost devoid of litter -- despite no deposits on their bottles. We were waiting in line at a local supermarket and the cashier had been stocking the cigarette rack as well as the candy bar and gum racks before the patrons were ready to check out. When the lady customer ahead of us in line came up to the place where she would normally put her groceries it was full of empty cardboard cartons. She immediately started to collect these cartons and take them to the waste container -- did not want to see litter. We saw many old ladies out sweeping the street (their half) and digging weeds out of the concrete cracks and curbsides, or washing down their front door, or putting a sealing coat of oil on the door. While we thought everyone was very neat and tidy, subsequently we learned that the law requires each resident to maintain the property in front of their house to the mid-point of the street or be subject to a fine.

The visit to Freinshim, Pfalz was one of the better experiences. The Tourist information (I) lady was young and spoke reasonably good English. Since the shops were all closed in most small towns from noon to about 2:30 PM -- our visits to the churches and cemeteries were scheduled during that timeframe. This Information lady xeroxed about 20 pages from her guidebook that were in English that provided us with directions for either a 4 or 7 mile walk around this walled village and the sights that we would see. She also made an appointment for us to meet with the local parish priest at 2:00 PM. He was there promptly at 2:00 PM and opened the church for us and talked with us for well over 1 to 1 1/2 hours, giving us the history of the church and how it initially started in the building now housing the Protestant church. For awhile both congregations met in the Protestant church building, but that didn't work out so well. So the Catholic's built their own church building. When we told him that Joan's KUHNEL ancestor was the Headmaster at the school he took us to the house in back of the Sanctuary. This was the Headmaster's house and obviously the house where her family lived. It was a stately house that any HeadMaster would be proud of. It was currently under reconstruction on the inside and was going to be used by the Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches as place for youth activities.

As we toured from village to village, WC or Toilette's were not always obvious. We found no McDonald's, Burger King's or Wendy's in these places -- and am sure they were in the larger metropolitan areas, but not in the places we visited. It did not take us long to learn that in almost every Friedhof (Cemetery) had WC facilities available.

It was in Freinsheim where we were able to purchase an original oil painting of the village -- this was better than our usual post card purchase.

People continued to be helpful to us throughout the trip. While in Hainfeld, Pfalz we stopped a couple who looked like they might help us find our way around the town -- they were on their way into a local eating establishment. They understood a little, but another lady who was riding her bike by our conversation and stopped her bike to talk with us. She spoke quite good English, and was helpful in explaining some things, and told us that her daughter had been an Au Pair in California, so felt like we were with a kindred spirit.

Later in the trip while inside the church at Volkersbach, Baden, three people came into the balcony while we were looking around the lower level. It was a mother, her daughter and her granddaughter who had stopped in for a short morning prayer. When done Joan waved at them. They did not speak English, but did read the names on Joan's Pedigree chart and tried to be helpful. While we attempting at dialogue one of her daughter's friends was on her way to the store and spoke quite good English. When she learned she was researching the surname WEILER she walked us to the WEILER residence in town and rang the bell-- and said the WEILER's that lived there spoke pretty good English, however they were not home. But we have the address and will followup with a letter. Our new friend Andrea Atabey pointed out Der Engel which was an Inn that used to be run by the WEILER family and now housed the local LOTTO shop. Andrea pointed out other things about the town and where we could find a WC and get a cup of Coffee -- and even invited us to her home for this service.

An interesting thing about each church that we visited was that they all had a monument to the dead and missing soldiers from WW I and II listing all the names of the soldiers who were killed or missing during these wars. We were also impressed at how long these lists of soldiers were for the size of the village.

Even though we found no old cemeteries our visits to the cemeteries were very helpful because it affirmed that the names we were seeking were still being found in that cemetery. Many grave sites with Joan's family names were still being side by side -- even though the cemetery was no more than 25 years old. We knew we were in the right place for this family. We did not find these names then in any of the other cemeteries visited.

Our last helpful people place was Salzstetten, Wuerttemberg. We found the church and it was locked. No Information office was apparent. When we néeded some direction and did not know where to turn -- we often went in the local Apothecary shop. Often these people spoke pretty good English, and usually came out of their shop to point to where we go next. In this case he was directing us to the local grocer as a place that probably had some postcards. When we arrived at the Grocery the only person there was a 16-17 year old boy, who was tending the store. He did not speak English but did read Joan's Pedigree chart. He got on the telephone and called Herr Prendle who was the record keeper for St. Agatha Church. While there another patron came in and he engaged the customer with our dilemma. The boy had difficult time explaining so that we understood where Herr Prendle lived. He indicated it was on the right side of the church. When we got there we found several houses. He thought the address was 21, but none of the houses had that number. We stopped and asked a guy who was working on his car in his driveway where Herr Prendle lived. Yes, he knew but spoke only German and tried to give us directions, so we set off walking in that direction thinking we understood what he said. However, when we walked past the house once again he hollered from a block away that we had past the house once again.

We rang Herr Prendle's bell and he was home. After discussion of why we were in town he showed us the original church record books from the 1700's. It was great to see the original books and that they were in superb condition and very readable -- even though we had read these records at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. We discussed a Professor who was also researching the surname KREIDLER from Salzstetten. He said that he lives in Bonn but comes to the village for several weeks each summer for research and enjoyment -- since he was born there. As it turns out we had corresponded with this gentleman and exchanged information. Upon leaving Herr Prendle's home we decided to have a cup of Kaffee and randomly picked a Cafe in town. We later learned that this Cafe was run by Mrs. Singer the mother of the customer that we had met earlier that day at the Grocery store. When Mrs. Singer's son got back to the Cafe he called a Rita KREIDLER to come to the Cafe to meet with Joan. She came right over with her KREIDLER family group sheet. She did not speak English, but wanted to help us as much as she could and asked us to keep the copy of her Family Group Sheet. While it did not connect who knows what we will learn in the future about the KREIDLER's from this small village.

Lunch was another Kaffee and Kuchen from the local bakery.

There was a village of Ruppertsberg that was walking distance from our place in Diedesheim and that was where Joan's ECKEL's came from.

Generally speaking we know no more names than when we went over - however it was an education and cultural experience for us. We learned how really close some of these villages were to each other and that the graveyard still had these names on tombstones. A very special trip.

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