Impressions from my Travels in Bessarabia in August/September, 2013

Nitschke, Klaus. "Impressions from my Travels in Bessarabia in August/September, 2013." Mitteilungsblatt, November 2013, 19-22.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO, with editorial assistance from Dr. Nancy Herzog.

It was my first opportunity to travel to Bessarabia. My job had earlier kept me from this possibility, since the organized trips were offered only during the school year.

My wife and I booked our travel adventure to Bessarabia and Ukraine via the Kelm travel organization. Mr. Kelm himself met us with a friendly welcome at the Odessa airport, and via the bus designated as “Bessarabienreise [Bessarabia Travel]” we and the other participants continued on to the Haus Liman in Sergeyevka on the Black Sea. After we were greeted and assigned rooms in our hotel, Mr. Kelm went over the travel program with us. The next day was dedicated to visits to home villages, which for me was one of the most important parts of the trip. Valerie, the friendly angel and organizer of all events, arranged for vehicles and drivers for village visits by members of our group.

More than anything, I wanted to see Teplitz, my mother’s birth place and home town. Her maiden name was Mahler, and Teplitz was my father’s home village as well. Although he was born in Beresina, he spent his youth in Teplitz and, later lived there with his first wife.

Nicolai, the driver of our car, knew just a little German. During the drive, I was particularly impressed with the beauty and spaciousness of the Bessarabian landscape. From conversations about Bessarabia I had thought of it quite differently, that is, as a fairly flat area without any real hills, or simply a huge steppe, so in my imagination the landscape was always nothing more than a flat, wide expanse. But now, although the scenery was certainly not unlike a wide open space, in its totality it showed itself as rather hilly, and nearly devoid of any industry. We had the impression that this year’s harvest had been a very good one.

Finally we arrived in Teplitz, indicated by a small village name plate. Because all village names we saw were in Cyrillic, Nicolai seemed surprised that I knew the name of every place we drove through, e.g., Sarata and Arzis, but I have indeed retained a basic grasp of Russian that would become helpful to me.

The first site we wanted to see in Teplitz was the cemetery, because in the 1990s some former Teplitz residents now living in Baden-Württemberg had sponsored a project to reclaim remaining German gravestones and to display them adjacent to this cemetery, and the first photo I had seen of those gravestones was that of my grandfather Jakob Mahler, and of course I wished to see it with my own eyes. Sadly, our search turned out to be a difficult one. Nicolai asked neighbors for the location of the displayed gravestones, and after fighting our way through the neglected cemetery, we finally located the site. It was not a pretty sight. Most of the gravestone had toppled over, and in the final end I was unable to locate my grandfather’s gravestone. Disappointed, we drove back to the center of the village, where I inspected the buildings that were familiar to me from my conversations with mother. There was the community building with the stone memorial for the original Teplitz founders., and there was the Laffka [small general store] where my mother’s brother, Jakob Mahler used to work. Across the street, I thought I recognized the location of the Gärtig property, which is now the site of a school. It was here where my father spent his years of youth and apprenticeship in Uncle Johannes Gärtig’s home.

Next we visited the old school, which unfortunately was in sad disrepair. This was the school my mother and her siblings attended. Next to the school was the path leading to the former church, now sporting a Lenin memorial, and that church building is now a “house of culture.” I was actually mostly interested in seeing where my mother once lived, although I was aware that my grandparents’ home, where my grandfather once operated a cartwright’s shop, no longer existed. We took a closer look at the old Teplitz village map and proceeded from the former church plaza to the upper Gässle [Swabian dialect diminutive for “way”], the street where the Mahlers used to live. The Mahler property stood close to the old cemetery. For me it was an odd and beautiful feeling to be on the street where my mother grew up and where she spent her childhood and youth. Using the map, we proceeded via the upper Gässle in the direction of Neu Elft. Actually we were not entirely certain that we were in the area of the upper Gässle. Seeing an old dyeduschka [grandfatherly type], we decided to make sure, but then we were joined by an old, grim woman, who sent us on with the remark “Nepetzki davai [Germans, get away from here]!” But a bit later we met some very pleasant women, who confirmed for us that we were at the right street, now called Sovietskaya Ulitza [Soviet Street]. An older woman told us that anyone who had stayed behind after the Resettlement [1940] was soon deported to Siberia.

Using the old map, we next passed a repair shop for agricultural machines. I surmised that this was the former property and smithy of Johannes Gast, and it was where my uncle Albert Mahler learned the blacksmith trade. We continued on the same street, which was not paved and had many large puddles filled from a recent rain and occupied by ducks and geese. This image reminded me of the time when I was a child in Mecklenburg [a state, formerly part of East Germany, now in the reunited Germany], because between the 1950s and the mid-1960s, villages in that area did not look much different.

Toward the end of the upper road we met up with a young woman who seemed utterly delighted to see us and proceeded to ask us many questions. I told her that my mother was born in a house on this street and had grown up here. She conversed with us enthusiastically and called her own mother, who happened to live kitty-corner from the house we were in front of. Her mother joined us and asked her daughter to go to the house, where she was to show us something. When the young woman returned, she was carrying a wooden tablet on which the name Otto Schoon was inscribed. She said she was very proud to be living in this German home. We happily thanked the two women and took our leave from them. We proceeded a bit farther on a side street where I wanted to see whether anything could still be seen in the ruins of the home in which my father lived during the final years. But there was nothing to be seen.

Shortly after, Nicolai and the rest of us went to a café on the Teplitz main street, now called Ulitza Lenina [Lenin Street], where we had some coffee and ate box lunches.

Our continued inspection of the Teplitz main street left a very positive impression on me. Many homes seemed to be in good repair and well taken care of, and there was even an agricultural technical school.

The Teplitz area is marked by broad fields, a rather hilly and wooden landscape beyond the upper Gässle and in the direction of Dennewitz and Alt Elft and Neu Elft, plus the beautiful Kogalnik River valley.

As we resumed driving, Nicolai took us to Beresina, my father’s birthplace and original immigration site of my Nitschke ancestors in Bessarabia.

On the way to Beresina we drove through Krasna, where we rested briefly, and where I revisited memories from conversations with my father. Former Krasna people once lived in Jägerhof, a part of the town of Waren/Müritz, , and my father always said that by a certain way the windows were painted you could tell that former Krasna people lived there. Those windows were painted with a greenish-blue color. So I wished to see whether that sort of thing was still to be seen in Krasna itself, and the houses I inspected there indeed had the same paint colors.

On our approach to Beresina we were fortunate to experience the impressive view from the Tarutino direction. It was as if we were driving through medium-elevation mountains and then, from their highest point, were coming upon the view down onto the Kogalnik valley just this side of Beresina. In his novel Der Herbstwind trocknet die Tränen [The Autumn Wind Dries Your Tears] Hugo Schneider described exactly that view.

In Beresina we visited the former church and its neglected, ruined condition. The so-called Ring, which is always mentioned in descriptions of Beresina, that is, the town center, was no longer recognizable as such. We had not brought a map of Beresina, and that made it difficult for us to get oriented. I also did not know where the former home of my Nitschke grandparents might have been. I must say that Beresina left the same impression on me as most other former Bessarabian villages and the condition they are found in today.

The above description sums up my experience of visiting the villages of my ancestors. The rest of our travel plan included a tour of eight more former villages, a visit to the farmers’ museum in Friedenstal, seeing the former county seat of Akkerman (combined with a church service in the Evangelica-Baptist church), the bazaar and fortress there, the Danube delta in Vilkovo, and the beautiful city of Odessa.

Of course, even though the temperature was rather cool, we were not going to miss taking a dip in the Black Sea at Sergeyevka. The beautiful beach and the waters of the Black Sea were a very pleasant experience for us.

The overall organization and execution of our travel plans by Mr. Kelm and Valerie Skripnek had certainly been prepared excellently, and the entire program came off like clockwork. Meals at the hotels, however, can take some getting used to—an aspect that could stand improvement.

Our thanks to Edwin Kelm for a great trip to the former Bessarabia, for the valuable information he provided, and for the excellent guided tours. We also owe thanks to Valerie and his energy, his consistently friendly manner, and for being open to all our needs and wishes. We can only recommend this kind of a trip to Bessarabia, and we’ll return—guaranteed! 

Bessarabian landscape.
Gravestones placed upright.
Community building of Teplitz.
The old school.
Founders’ memorial stone.
The upper Gässle in Teplitz.
View toward Beresina.
The former church in Beresina.
The road to Neu Elft.
Entering Teplitz.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editorial assistance for this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller