Homecoming Tour 2007
By Diane Lewis, Alberta, Canada
My May 2007 Homecoming tour to Odessa, Ukraine and Germany was
a fruitful experience and one with many cherished memories.
I live in Alberta, Canada so flew to Chicago to met the 17 American
members of our tour group. Many hours later we arrived in Odessa
all safe and sound with all our luggage. A few hours later we were
royally wined, dined and entertained in authentic Russian fashion.
I was part of the large contingent of nine "Glueckstallers"
who spent the next two days together visiting our ancestors' home
villages. We were ably accompanied by bus drivers, a photographer,
a videographer, translators, and a tour guide who said the right
words at the border crossing.
My main village of interest was NEUDORF, in the Glueckstal colony
where grandpa Bischke (and the Werth and Will families) lived before
immigrating to Eureka, South Dakata USA in 1885. I took photos of
their former house which still stood and was built in the long typical
German style. An abundance of blue paint decorated many of the houses
and even their front yard gate and fences.
Our next stop down main street was at the former Lutherian church
building, now Russian Orthodox. Members of the congregation were
singing their last hymn as we were welcomed inside. I was surprised
and overwhelmed when a Russian woman rushed up to me and spoke in
English, inviting me to meet the priest. God works in mysterious
ways because my gift for the village was six Russian New Testament
Bibles, which my new friend accepted after inspection and approval
by the priest. We exchanged addresses, hugs and had our photo taken
together and too soon - I had to leave.
As we departed we saw the long communal barns built after the First
World War on the outskirts of the village, the foundations of which
were build using the old tombstones from the German Cemetery.
Our next scheduled stop was the village of Glueckstal where we
enjoyed a supper meal and accomodations with host families after
visiting the museum and the American monument. I was overwhelmed
by the immense size of the former Lutherian churches and saddened
to see that the sanctuaries in Bergdorf and Gluckstal were used
as "club houses or party venues". Sadder yet, was the
Kassel church which was desecrated by the Russsian Army and now
stands open to the elements and in ruins with only the outside walls
BESSARABIA & LIEBENTAL DISTRICT
On my third day at Odessa I travelled to FRIEDENSTAL, Bessarabia,
with a private driver and translator. We identified three ancestral
homes on my grandmother Forchert side (also The Mutzenberger and
Ernst families) and had a short visit with the Russian families
living in the houses now. Both were very hospitable and helpful
with information and I left with a gift of a
large homemade cheese. The Edwin Kelm Museum in the village was
worth viewing with it's many photographs and old German household
and machinery artifacts. The Friedenstal Orthodox church which was
very impressive on the hillside appeared quite new but was closed.
On our return trip to Odessa we stopped in FREUDENTAL, Liebental
District, the former home of my 4th gr grandparents (the Fenslein
and Becker families). The stop here and the church visit also proved
eventful. The Orthodox priest escorted us to an open field next
to their cemetery to view the remains of four or five weathered
German tombstones and then invited us to meet the mayor in his office.
The village appeared quite prosperous and modern and is noted for
its vineyards and cut flower market gardens.
The mayor accompanied us back to the church and after the priest
put on his robe the three of us had our photo taken together inside
the beautifully ornate church, which they were so proud to show
us. My gift of Russian Bibles for the village people seemed small
in comparison to the gift I received from the priest - two 13x16
inch framed icons of Mary and Jesus. I was overwhelmed by his generosity
and close to tears as I accepted his gift.
GERMANY - (STUTTGART & WEISBADEN)
Prior to leaving Alberta, I hired a German/English speaking taximdriver/translator
to drive me to three German villages of my Mutzenberger and Ernst
ancestors north of STUTTGART. The driver also made some genealogy
contacts for me with the church and village administration offices
prior to my trip so I was more than satisfied with my results.
The highlight of my day was our visit to the village administration
office in Murr. We were escorted into the basement vault and shown
the ancient Mutzenberger family tax and property file which was
started in 1692 and was over two inches thick. This was a valuable
find even though I could not read German. These files have not been
copied by the LDS church. I left with two small bound history books
of the village - gratis.
The German countryside was lush and unusually hilling with an abundance
of vineyards and was a picture paradise with the old half-timbered
buildings and tall steepled churches; a place worthy of a longer
stay for both sight-seeing and genealogy.
The climax of the trip was the Russlanddeutschen Bundestreffen
in WIESBADEN. The venue was enormous and well set-up; the music,
talent and dancers were very proficent, both young and old. One
had many opportunities to learn more about the German/Russia history
or make contacts with other village people from "New Russia".
- All in all- my trip was wonderful, as were my travelling companions
and I would recommend it to anyone. Thank you Michael Miller for
a great trip.