Taking a Long Trip … by Car through North America

Coming from Montana, he has just now reached the southern part of Alberta. By the evening, in Medicine Hat, he listens to German folksongs and "our hymn," "Gott schütze Dich, mein Heimatland! [May God protect you, my homeland!]"

Radke, Harry. "Taking a Long Trip … by Car through North America." Mitteilungsblatt, January 2010, 18-19.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

But let’s start from the beginning.

In September, 2008, a Kulm get-together took place in Möckern near Magdeburg. My wife and I visited our relatives, Hermann and Inge Gebhardt, in Zerbst. Together we then went to Möckern.

This was the fifth such Kulm get-together. The first ones had been held in Wriedel-Holthausen in the Lüneburg Heath region. They were essentially arranged by Ewald and Lilly Gade. Lilly, nee Banko, is a Kulmer, and Ewald is a genuine "Heidjer." With Kulm and Bessarabia he is on very familiar footing. He should indeed be named an honorary Kulmer.

The Gebhardts were both born in the Warthegau region [in western Poland]. Hermann’s parents were from Lichtental [Bessarabia], and Inge’s parents, Gottfried and Hulda Radke, were Kulm residents.

My own wife Gisela is from Silesia. From the many stories in our family she has meanwhile become so familiar with our customs and mores and Bessarabia that she could have been born there.

Well, we Bessarabians are definitely a special people.

In 1940 we went "home into the Reich!" At the time, Kulm had 1,800 residents. Recently, sixty-eight years later, 220 genuine Kulmer, descendants and those who had married Kulmers were getting together.

One of the guests was Emil Wölfle. Born in Kulm, after the war he immigrated to Canada. There he lives with his wife Gertrud in Medicine Hat (Alberta). We talked and exchanged addresses: “Should you come to Canada someday …”

Well, on June 9, 2009 we were, as mentioned earlier, in Canada, having arrived there from Montana. We telephoned the Wölfles and were invited with great warmth. Emil is married to Gertrud, nee Krson, of Korntal 2. Our reception was more than friendly. We were not to stay at a hotel, we were to be guests of the Wölfles.

What does this have to do with German folksongs? In the US and in Canada there are many homeland groups for the various immigrated ethnic groups. The immigrant Germans’ organization is the "American Historical Society of Germans from Russia" (AHSGR). This association, which consists of various groupings in all of the US and Canada, was holding its annual convention in a Medicine Hat hotel.

The association represents various groupings of Germans from Tsarist Russia and its successor nation, the Soviet Union. The various groupings showed themselves off via an exhibition in the hallways using literature, specific exhibits, photos and maps representing their settlement areas. It was interesting for us to see that there had been German settlements in many areas of Russia. German-speaking immigrants had come from the following areas, among others: our direct neighbors beyond the Dnyestr, who had settled near Odessa; then there was the small settlement region in Crimea; and the largest German-speaking region was around the mid-Volga area around Saratov. Some must have migrated there at the time of Catherine the Great.

Moving even farther away were the Caucasus Germans, who settled in villages in the region around Tblisi/ During the Stalin era many of these countrymen were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the different urban centers in the USSR. Their crime was that as Russian citizens they also called themselves Germans.

Today, after seventy years, these people or their descendants are coming to us [in Germany]. Many no longer know German. At times they were not allowed to speak in their foreign tongue. And here they are considered Russians!

Fate can be very unjust.

In Medicine Hat there is a German-speaking choir (the German Canadian Harmonie Choir). Its members include Bessarabian Germans, Germans from the old Germany, Austrians, and even one from the Netherlands. During the evening the choir presented a wonderful concert of German folksongs, in German. Included was our Heimatlied. It was a moving experience.   

The highlight was the dedication of these immigrants to their Canada with the song: "So beautiful is Canada," sung alternately in German and in English. For us this was an exciting, wonderful evening.

On Saturday, June 20, 2009 this German choir held its annual picnic at the home of the couple Helmut and Hilde Müller. They, too, immigrated after the war. Mr. Müller is from Pomerania, and Mrs. Müller comes from Liebenthal near Odessa. We, too, received a friendly invitation. In abundance were good food, singing, talking and discussion.

On Sunday we attended the concluding religious service of the annual convention. Here the language was essentially English. An older, German-speaking pastor, Mr. (Reverend) Krause then recited a prayer in German. Mr. Krause was born in Canada. His father came from Tarutino. The Wölfles sang along with their church choir.       

During the evening of singing we also had become acquainted with Mr. Otto Gross from Kulm. His wife Ursula, nee Engler, comes from West Prussia. Mr. Gross is a retired farmer. He immigrated after the war. With much diligence and effort he eventually came to own a farm of 1,000 hectares [ca. 2,700 acres]. Even in Canada this is a considerable property. One of his sons is now operating the grain growing farm. Another son owns a similarly large farm near High Level in northern Alberta. From Bow Island, where the Grosses live, it’s “only” about 1,400 kilometers [ca. 980 miles].  In America one must think in larger dimensions.

High Level is situated on the 58th Parallel, corresponding roughly to the geographic latitude of South Norway. Mr. Gross reports that the growing season there lasts only three months, but this short time suffices for seeding, growing and harvest. A grain growing farm of such size is also operated by the Eigner couple and a co-worker. Use of machinery is correspondingly heavy. 

There in Canada one can still meet real families with several children. Their cohesion is naturally strong. A sense of family is cultivated in earnest. This is demonstrated by the many photos of weddings and family celebrations, collections one finds in every household.

In the beautiful, large home of Gertrud and Emil Wölfle, our hosts, this was illustrated very plainly by a large family gallery. We again expressed our sincere gratitude for the fine time in Medicine Hat.

The conclusion of this German-Canadian weekend, our continued travel consisted of a tour of the Gross farm in Bow Island.

All in all, my wife Gisela and I spent six months traveling through North America. Our initial flight took us from Düsseldorf to Chicago. After two days in Chicago we took off by car toward the West. We crossed through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.    

Important destinations were Minneapolis/St. Paul with the Mississippi, the Devil’s Tower, and Mount Rushmore (both in South Dakota [-- well, the latter is. – Tr.]). Highlights in Wyoming were Yellowstone Park and Teton Park. Through Montana and Glacier Park we reached Alberta in Canada.

The most beautiful scenery, with high mountains, lakes, and glaciers is in Alberta (Banff and Jasper), and also in British Columbia (Whistler, Vancouver and Vancouver Island). Vancouver seemed simply like a dream.  

"Canada Day" (national holiday on July 1) we celebrated with the locals in Victoria (on Vancouver Island, it is the capital city of province of British Columbia). The celebration was joyous. All of Victoria was on its feet, and there was everything one might need for a great party, including massive fireworks at the conclusion. Only one thing was missing: alcohol.

The many people there celebrated into the night with music, dancing, food, and drinks on the gigantic lawn area in front of the parliament building.  No trash was seen left behind as people went home. The lawn was clean, since everyone took his own trash to ever-present trash bins. How would things have looked at home? Well, here is something we can learn from the Canadians and Americans.

From Victoria we continued southward to Seattle (US, in the state of Washington). Here we turned in our rental car and flew for a five-day trip to Anchorage in Alaska. There again we traveled by rental car across Alaska to the large Denali National Park, where there was much country scenery and many wild animals to admire. By ship we went on a tour into the Pacific. Everything we were told we would see we saw: whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and marine birds. The highlight was the "calving glaciers."  There they reached as far as the sea.

We could easily have left at home the "warm clothes" we had taken along for Alaska. Temperatures reached 29 degrees [Celsius, ca. 83 degrees F.]. By ten o’clock in the evening one could still sit outside in a polo shirt. We had imagined Alaska differently.

Again we went by plane, this time back to Chicago. By rental car we drove to our final destination, through Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, via Detroit to Ontario in Canada.

Our next goal was Ridgeville in the vicinity of Niagara Falls. There my cousin Willy Werner and his wife Cheril, nee Arnold, make their home.

My uncle Reinhold Werner (a brother of my mother Hulda), comes from Leipzig. Until 1953 we had lived together in the small village of Völkershausen near Hameln in the Weser mountain region. Uncle Reinhold and Aunt Maria (nee Fries) then immigrated to Canada in 1953. As is familiar by now, with much diligence they attained prosperity.

Willy and Cheril then took us around the southern-most parts of Ontario. The area is hilly and very scenic. Orchards and vineyards predominate there. We visited several winery estates (chateaus, as in France).

In foreign regions we like to visit cemeteries. There one can often study history and histories. In Port Colborne on Lake Erie, Cheril’s home village, the majority of the dead had German surnames. Cheril’s father was from Alsace, and her mother was an Englishwoman.

Well, those six weeks of vacation somehow had to come to an End. We were drawn homeward!

What has stayed with us of these long travels? … By car we "experienced" the land over ca. 11,000 kilometers [ca. 6,600 miles] and did not see a single accident … What impressed us? … the unending vastness of the landscape, grandiose mountain panoramas, fields losing themselves beyond the horizon. Everything is mighty, and for us Europeans simply gigantic.

What did we take with us? … We were impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the Americans, in Canada as well as in the States.

It was quite an experience! The Americans would say, "It was great!"

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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