Our Journey to the Past: Emmental & Krasna, Bessarabia
By Leonard G. Kopp, Portland, Oregon
May 25 - June 5, 1999
May 25 - Day 01 of the MAX RIEHL BUS TOUR to the ancestral villages of KRASNA, UKRAINE and EMMENTAL, MOLDOVA. 2 buses and 69 people. Leave Koblenz, Germany at 5AM. Go through towns of Limburg, and Giessen, to Dresden. A small tour of Dresden, and then on to Goerlitz, Germany for overnight stay.
For my wife Deana, and myself, the day began at 3:00 AM at the hotel in Koblenz. An hour later, we, and our luggage, arrived at Mosel-Land-Ei, the chicken, egg, & mushroom company operated by Max Riehl and his gracious wife, Francesca. (Max was the organizer of this bus tour.) In the company restaurant, Francesca, and her helpers, prepared a delicious breakfast for all of us, - scrambled eggs, bread, and coffee. The eggs were cooked in a huge frying pan that looked like it could hold maybe twenty dozen eggs, or more.
By 5:00 AM, the storage compartment of the 2 buses had been loaded with mounds of luggage, - and with many boxes of food that would become our roadside noon-day lunches while en-route. Shortly after 5:00 AM, the buses departed with their load of food, luggage, and 69 enthusiastic passengers. 22 Americans, 8 Canadians, 39 Germans.
Eastward toward the German city of Dresden. Lots of beautiful farming country and towns along the way. A rest stop around noon was in the parking lot of a side-of-the-road café & deli, which had good restroom facilities. Small tables were set up next to the buses, and on them were put plates of sausage & other meats, cheeses, hardboiled eggs, bread, and other eatables. A tasty fare, indeed. Coffee and bottles of water, fruit juices, coke, and beer were also available. Later on, a short stay in Dresden, and then on to Goerlitz, Germany for dinner and hotel.
By now, we were beginning to establish friendships with some of the other passengers. Since this was a German tour, German was the language used by Max Riehl and by the drivers when they addressed the passengers. Because of my limited German, - and since English translations were not always forthcoming - my wife and I soon began to rely on some of our newly-found German friends who could speak some English. A couple of very helpful German passengers became our on-board translators, - as well as very good friends - for the remainder of the journey.
May 26 - Day 02: Enter the country of Poland, and drive via Breslau to Rzeszow for an overnight stay.
Up at 5:00 AM. Breakfast at 6:00, and departed at 7:00. Arrived at the Polish border ten minutes later. Polish police checked all passports. Cleared to leave around 8:00, - not a very long wait, as borders go. Our first Polish rest stop was an experience. The WC (water closet) was tended by a filthy-dressed, inebriated nit-wit who collected a half deutschmark from everyone who lined up to use his smelly facility. But, besides serving an immediate need, this little experience turned out to be a good introduction into what we would encounter in this department in the days yet to come.
A noon-time stop for a picnic lunch. Then on again through the countryside, in an easterly direction toward Ukraine. Now the scenery seemed to take on a more rural appearance. Many small farms and many small towns. Having to slow down, or stop, because of cattle walking on, or along, the roadway was not uncommon. And many stork nests were seen on top of buildings, and even on utility poles.
Arrived in Rzeszow, Poland about 7:00 PM, for dinner and hotel.
May 27 - Day 03: Enter the country of Ukraine, and drive via Lvov to Vinnicija for an overnight stay at the PODOLJE HOTEL.
This morning, breakfast at 6:00, and departure around 7:00. Arrived at the Ukrainian border around 9AM. Leaving Poland was no problem, - but entering Ukraine was another story. We each had to fill out a declaration of the valuation of items we were bringing into the country, and also how much money we had with us. Their checking of these declarations and of our passports, seemed to take an awful lot of time. It was about noon when we finally got our clearance to enter Ukraine, and continue on our way. If any of us had complaints about the inconveniences we had to endure at THIS border crossing, (and most of us did), we could not possibly imagine that we were all going to experience the "Mother" of bad border crossings a few days later at the Moldova border.
Most of the roads in Ukraine cannot be described as "good". "Bad" is a far better description, - and some are worse than others. There were some stretches of fairly good road, but not very many. And the rest stop "facilities", - they could best be described as just plain "down to earth". A roadside stop by a large group of trees was now the norm for us. A walk into the woods. Ladies to the left, - men to the right !!
Arrived in Vinnicija, Ukraine around 9PM, for dinner and hotel. We are told that tomorrow morning we must hit the road very early.
May 28 - Day 04: Early departure, traveling by Uman and Odessa to KRASNA, - where we will stay overnight with host families.
Up at 2:30 AM. Getting ready to leave in a hurry was somewhat of a frantic experience. Buses left at 3:20. We have many miles to drive today, - about 300 miles to Odessa, and another 100 to Krasna. The hotel had prepared for each of us a take-along bag of breakfast goodies. Around 6AM we stopped along the side of the road, and had our breakfast - (by a large group of trees, of course.)
Ukraine is a beautiful country, with large areas of farmland, - and quite flat. Mile after mile of nice looking fields and pastures. And in some places, many well-kept gardens, one next to the other, along the roads. Many people, probably from neighboring villages, were working in the fields and gardens with hoes. I saw no mechanized cultivators being used in the fields. Actually, I saw very little farm machinery anywhere. I hear that the lack of spare parts, and the continuous need for maintenance of their old machinery, are serious, ongoing problems.
There were no fences to be seen out in the country. Herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and geese were seen grazing in pastures near the road, - and they always had herdsmen with them. But I never saw one herdsman on horseback. They were always on foot. Quite often cattle and goats were staked out in the grassy areas along the roads, with long chains or ropes. And once, we saw cows being milked out in a pasture near the road.
We arrived in Odessa before noon, and then enjoyed a two-hour tour of some of the highlights of the city. The Potempkin Steps, - a staircase of 194 steps that connects the Port of Odessa with the upper part of the city. A walk along a beautiful, wide, tree-shaded boulevard to view several monuments and statues. And the stately Odessa Opera House.
Then, back on the buses and on toward Krasna. But first, a lunch and pit stop on the shore of the Black Sea near Akkerman. We arrived at Krasna around 6PM. Our buses were met by a throng of townspeople. They greeted us with the traditional bread-and-salt welcoming ceremony.
We each were assigned to a host family, - in whose home we would stay for the next two nights.
My wife and I had a very charming couple as our hosts. Anna and Nicolai Popozoglo. Anna and their 14 year old son met us at the bus. They helped us with our luggage. Bless them. It turned out to be a loooong walk to their house. Besides the 14 year old son, they also have two married sons, and a divorced daughter. The youngest married son, Alex, and his wife and baby, lived with the parents. The other married son, and the daughter, live nearby, but they, and the other three grandchildren were at the parents' house much of the time we were there.
After we arrived at her home, and rested a while, Anna took advantage of the evening sunlight to give us an outside tour of the premises. The courtyard, the summer kitchen, and the root cellar. The barnyard and some of the animals. Grape vines and cherry trees. And the garden - an immense garden - all freshly hoed and well taken care of.
We could tell that Anna took great pride in her garden, - as well she should. These people rely on their gardens and animals for their food, - in much the same way that we rely on our favorite supermarkets. At the far end of the garden, one could look across a large field and see a small chapel in the distance. That field used to be the old German cemetery. We would be visiting it, - and the chapel - tomorrow, - Saturday.
Anna, and the girls, prepared a great evening meal for us all. Sliced sausage, chicken, several cheeses (including sheep and goat cheese), tomatoes, bread, and hot tea. And some schnapps.
Conversation-wise, we got along surprisingly well. No one knew any English, but Anna and Nicolai, and their children, knew a few German words, - not many, but enough for me to converse with them. Along with much sign-language, - my wife drew pictures, and that pleased all of them. We taught them a few words of English, and they were eager to learn. My wife showed them pictures of our children and grandchildren, and they enjoyed that very much. They were surprised to hear of my heavy connection with the town of Krasna (Krasnoye, as they call it). I told them, in German, that my father was born in Krasna in 1884; my grandfather in 1858; and my G/grandfather in 1823. And that my GG/grandfather was in the group of original settlers who founded Krasna in the year 1814.
Our hosts' home was not lavishly decorated, but it was clean and well-kept. Very simple furniture throughout the five-room house.
Four of the rooms had beds in them. It appeared to us that they took pride in keeping themselves and their home clean. Stepping into their home was like going back many years in time. Even though they had electricity, we saw it used only for lighting. ( Alex did have an old television set, and it worked, - sort of. ) Their methods of cooking, baking, and clothes-washing, were strictly from yesteryear. Their cooking was done on a wood-burning stove in the summer kitchen located across the courtyard from the house. Baking was done in a large, hand-built, brick oven located in one of the rooms in the main house. We ate some bread and cookies that came out of that oven, and they tasted great. Clothes washing was done in a big washtub, and the clothes hung on a line. We washed our hands and face at a spigot attached to the outside of the house.
A five-foot high wooden fence, with a gate in it, ran from the summer kitchen building across the courtyard to the house. On the other side of that fence was the barnyard. The barn was attached to the house. Actually, there were several small barns for different animals. They had two cows, two calves, a sheep, a sow and nine young pigs, and many chickens and geese. And one horse, - that is used to pull a wagon. At night, all these animals occupied the barns and the barnyard. Also in the barnyard was a manure pile, - and the family outhouse.
Early in the morning, around 7 o'clock, the cows and the geese are turned loose out on the main street. The geese seem to stay close to home during the day, and are rounded up and brought back into the barnyard in the evening. The cows mingle with other cows that had been turned loose by neighbors up and down the street. A herdsman drives this herd along the street and out of town into a pasture somewhere. One evening I saw the herd of cows being brought home from the pasture. As they came down the street, I watched in amazement as each family's cows left the herd and, without any coaxing, walked into the family yard where they belonged.
Anna's husband, Nicolai, works as a janitor at one of the schools in Krasna. The son, Alex, is in the scrap-metal business; collecting it and re-selling it somewhere. I wasn't able to determine where he sells this scrap-metal, but he said that he does a "gute biznez". He said that he makes more money than his father does, - and he seemed quite proud of that fact. Alex also had an old car, - and once he got it started, it ran OK, - sort of. Before we called it a day and went to bed, we gave them the things that we had brought along as gifts. They all were extremely appreciative.
May 29 - Day 05: We sightsee and visit in Krasna, and stay over- night again with the host families.
This morning's breakfast was a cheese blintz, sliced sausage and cheese, pasta, tomatoes, bread, and hot coffee. Very good. It looked like it was going to be a nice, sunny day. Soon after breakfast, Alex took my wife and me for a ride around Krasna in his car, stopping here and there for me to take pictures. We also visited the dairy outside of town. Krasna appeared to be a laid-back little village; population maybe less than 1,000 (?) - situated in a valley, with low, rolling hills on three sides of it. A few trucks and tractors, and motorcycles-with-sidecars running about, - but the horse-drawn wagon was a more common sight. I assumed that none of the houses that we saw today were there in 1940, the time of the resettlement. We also saw the site of the old German Catholic church, which, I am told, was demolished during the 1940s. Just why it was demolished is not clear to me.
Then, on to the old German cemetery. It doesn't look much like a cemetery, - it looks more like a hayfield. Actually, that's now what it is - a hayfield. The old headstones and other markers had been removed and demolished many years ago, - broken up and used in the building of foundations and fences, I am told. A few men were cutting the hay with scythes, and raking it into small piles by hand. A small, horse-drawn hayrack was hauling the hay away. The area around the perimeter of the cemetery has been used for more recent burials.
I walked the length and breadth of that big field, - and wondered just how many of my relatives are buried here in unmarked graves. As well as relatives of all the others in our group who came to Krasna today to dedicate a small part of this field, and its chapel. One can still see depressions in the ground that probably indicate gravesites, - but, other than that, the old cemetery is like a large open field covered with grass and a few trees and bushes, - with a goat and cow, or two, staked here and there. The scene could make you cry.
The ceremony dedicating the chapel and the memorial began around 11AM, and was very impressive. The day was sunny and warm, and by noon the temperature was in the 80s (F). Besides the 69 of us who traveled here, there were many townspeople gathered also, outside the chapel. Several singing groups, - one group made up of ladies from our tour. An Eastern Orthodox priest performed the dedication ceremony, and bouquets of flowers were placed at the memorial in honor of all who were buried in this field from 1814 to 1940.
At 1PM, everyone made their way to a school nearby where a scrumptious luncheon was being prepared for us by some of the Krasna ladies. It certainly was a feast. The vodka flowed freely. Much singing and hilarity, - with dancing in the aisles. Ahhh, - what fun! After all this frivolity came to an end, our trusty "taxi service", - in the person of Alex and his car, - picked up my wife and me and delivered us to his parents' house again. Besides Anna and Nicolai, their four children and four grandchildren were all there. We had a late snack, - and a little more vodka. We had a great evening visiting with all of them, and taking lots of pictures.
May 30 - Day 06: We depart Krasna, and drive into the country of Moldova, to the town of Emmental, where we will stay over- night with host families.
This morning we must leave Krasna. We were sorry to leave so soon, - we had such a good time with our host family. They were very sad to see us leave, also. We made several new friends here in Krasna, and we hope to continue to correspond with them in the future.
The buses departed Krasna about 8AM, bound for Emmental (Pervomaisc), in Moldova. About noon, we arrived at the town of Strassburg, in the Kutschurgan District of Ukraine. We parked next to the ruins of the old German Catholic church there. What a magnificent church it must have been in its prime. Even its ruins are impressive. We also had our lunch there, in the shade of the trees bordering the ruins. We are now quite close to the border. We will be crossing soon from Ukraine into Moldova.
We arrived at the Moldova border checkpoint at 2:45PM. Passports were checked. Only about 150 miles to Emmental. But now, we are into a long wait again. Max called Emmental to give them an estimated time of arrival. It would turn out to be an optimistic estimate. Finally, at 5:45, we are told that we can go on. But, a few minutes later, we are stopped again at another checkpoint. Max and the drivers go into the office with the passports. A lady vendor got on the bus, selling pirogeys, a roll filled with ground meat & vegetables. We bought some. It was good that we did, - it would turn out to be a long night. After an hour, or so, Max and the drivers returned. We are off again. But not for long. During the next three hours we were stopped at least three more times, and traveled the goodly distance of maybe ten miles. Even the police in a dumpy little town stopped us and had a session with Max, and the drivers, and the passports. WELCOME TO THE MOLDOVA TOLL ROAD! Very frustrating, to say the least. The Moldovan border guards and police are a bunch of gangsters and highway robbers. They kept stopping our buses for one reason only; - to exact money from us for the privilege of traveling along their crappy roads. After yet another forced stop and toll payment, Max Riehl decided not to pay any more tolls to those highway robbers. The next time we were ordered to stop, we just drove around the barricade, and went on. Thankfully, we were not stopped again.
Now it is very late. We arrived at Emmental, our destination, at midnight. Here, as in Krasna, we were assigned to stay at the homes of host families. Our host and hostess helped us with our luggage, loaded us in a car, and drove us to their home. They knew no English or German words, so we didn't do a whole lot of conversing with them. They had a large, well-kept, nicely furnished house. It was now 1:00 AM. Dinner was served at 1:30. Then off to bed. We had had a long, trying day, - and it was finally over.
May 31 - Day 07: We sightsee and visit in Emmental, and stay overnight again with host families.
Up at 6:30. After breakfast, I left the house with my camera, and walked up and down several of the streets near by. It was a nice, sunny morning. It would be a warm day. Later that morning, our group attended a ceremony at the local Eastern Orthodox Church. A bread and salt ceremony was performed by some of the local townspeople.
Later, we all made our way to a school nearby where we would be entertained by a choir, and by a group of high school students. The choir was from nearby Chishinau, the capital of Moldova, - and was led by one of the most busy, energetic conductors I have ever seen. He had an accordion strapped on, with which he played appropriate lead-ins and introductions to the songs. When the choir was singing, he was bouncing around in front of them, back and forth from one section to another, extracting from them vocal sounds as beautiful as you have ever heard. The group of high school students was from Emmental. They did recitations, sang songs, and put on several acting skits. They were excellent, talented performers. Later, at the school, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch that was prepared by local townspeople.
After lunch, we all walked out to the old German cemetery. There were many old gravestones still standing, but the lettering on most of them was so worn and weathered that you could hardly read it. I did find an old gravestone with the name "Salome Kopp" still readable on it (probably a relative of mine), - but the dates were too worn to read. Our group gathered around one of the larger old gravestones, and performed a ceremony dedicating it to all the Germans who were buried in that cemetery. Back to the hosts' home, and time for a rest before dinner at 9PM.
Tomorrow morning we will bid goodbye to our hosts, and depart Emmental and Moldova.
The remainder of our journey will be more "touristy." We will need to drive for many hours at a time each day, because we still have a long way to go, - but there will also be several opportunities to sightsee in some of the larger cities we pass through.
June 01 - Day 08: We depart Emmental and Moldova, and enter the country of Romania, and drive to the city of Sibiu for an over- night stay.
A comfortable hotel room again, - and a SHOWER. What a treat!
June 02 - Day 09: We continue west through Romania and the Carpathian Mountains, and enter the country of Hungary. Drive via Szeged to Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, for an overnight stay.
June 03 - Day 10: After a few hours of sightseeing in Budapest, we depart Hungary and enter the country of Austria, and drive to the city of Vienna for an overnight stay.
June 04 - Day 11: Sightseeing in Vienna during the day. In the evening we continue on through Austria and into Germany. We drive all night toward Koblenz.
The past three days have been more easy-going and less tense. The scenery in the various countries was ever beautiful. The border crossings ranged from far-less-frustrating to downright-tolerable. The days were filled with many hours of driving, but the atmosphere on the buses now was far more relaxed. At times, someone would take over the bus microphone and tell us all a few good jokes. Others broke out in song. Occasionally, a bottle of wine found its way among the passengers for sampling. All in good cheer. A good time was had by all.
Budapest and Vienna are gorgeous cities. And we were able to do some sightseeing in both of them.
My wife and I want to say that we found our hotel accommodations on the journey to be very good. And the dinners and breakfasts served by those hotels were excellent.
June 05 - Day 12: Arrive at Koblenz around 6 o'clock in the morning, and end our journey with a big breakfast get-together in the restaurant at Max Riehl's Mosel-Land-Ei.
Our journey into the past has come to an end. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, - and a real eye-opener. For my wife and myself, the inconveniences at some of the borders will not diminish our overall good memories of the journey, - especially our stay with the host family in Krasna. And we are most grateful that we were able to make the trip. I walked some of the same streets in Krasna that my father, and his forefathers, walked, - and for that I am very grateful. My thanks to my wife, Deana, for writing a very helpful daily diary of the trip. And finally, our thanks to Max Riehl for all the time and effort he put into making this unforgettable journey possible.