2010 Memories of Tour Members

Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine
20-30 May 2010

North Dakota State University Libraries Tours

Gilbert E. Schauer
Longview, Washington

Really I don't know where to start on giving you memories of visiting the villages. It is a dream come true, like I said before which has been many years ago when my mother said, "It would be nice if one of my children could go and see where I was born." Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be possible. And Michael you did make it possible, I feel so indebted to you for doing it. It’s like Elvira (I think that was her name the one that was in service) said it is almost like coming home. That's what I felt like when I was there in Neudorf and Kassel. More so since I have been home and thinking about the whole tour. I learned two things while over there, and like I think Sergy and Michael said, "We can sure thank our God that our parents and grandparents left and migrated to America." The second thing is now I understand why my parents, especially my Mother, were satisfied with so little. As long as she had a roof over her head and three meals a day she was happy. If I could afford it I would like to get all of them over here, knowing well that they wouldn't want to leave their home. I have talked to my brother who lives in Bismarck, telling him about all the potholes in the roads. He said what do the utility trucks do (he worked for MDU for many years). I said Melvin I didn't see a utility truck, but I did notice that their telephone and electrical poles were propped up from maybe three sides, some ready to fall over. He said I guess I never realized that there are countries or places like that.

Michael I don't want to make this too long, again I want to thank you for doing such a good job. Making a dream come true. A time I will cherish, and never forget. I enjoyed all the ones that were with us. I feel that my family friends really grew. A fantastic bunch each and everyone. Make sure if you are in the area to stop and stay with us.

Again I had the most wonderful time. God Bless each and everyone of you. I also include Sheila, you played a big part in this too.

Audrey Schauer
Longview, Washington

Our trip with the Germans from Russia in May 2010 was truly more than I ever dreamed it would be. We met so many wonderful new friends and really enjoyed getting acquainted. It was also wonderful to have our daughter Tauni also with us.

Our highlights were going to the villages of Neudorf and Kassel, staying overnight where Gil's parents were born and raised. His father had been in Neudorf and came to the US at the age of 13 years old, and his mother was from Kassel. She came over at the age of 16 years old. Both moved to North Dakota and met and were married there. Thanks to translator/guide Sergey and driver Sergy along with those who had made the maps, we were able to see the home plots of both of his parents along with the churches they most likely had attended. The visit to the school, store and museum were so interesting. Sergy's interesting housing for the night due to lack of homes in the area makes for great stories to share. (jail)

Our trip in Odessa to see the Sea with Vic, Tauni, Pat, Manny, Gil and I…the elevator which was found being a gondola. Still wonder how Vic ever got me into it, but now I would not have missed it for anything. Pat and Manny, our Yellow Taxi ride and how frightening but she got us to the church.

Our time in Germany and France was delightful. Many thanks to all who made it possible for us to go. We know it takes a lot of time and planning to put together an event such as this. This truly was an adventure of a life time.

Vi Bitterman
Iowa City, Iowa

On Sunday, May 23rd, I visited the Bessarabian village of Friedenstal, where my mother was born.  In April, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of my mother’s arrival at Ellis Island with her parents and siblings. I am grateful for my grandparents’ determination to give their family a better life.

In Friedenstal, we found no trace of the large Lutheran church my grandfather helped build. The family left shortly before the church was dedicated. We drove along the main street and could see a number of houses that looked like the typical German houses. 

I think Bessarabia is a place of great contrasts. We saw three children, probably in their teens, riding in a small cart filled with green grass and being pulled by a lone horse. As we passed, we saw that the teen sitting at the back of the cart was on a cell phone!

The countryside is as lush and green as related in stories handed down by family members. In all the villages we visited in Ukraine, we were greeted with warmth and hospitality. We visited the school in Rohrbach where one room was devoted to the village history. Even though it was a weekday, school was not in session so we ate our sack lunches in the school cafeteria. I especially enjoyed the three children who came into the building while we were having lunch. They went up on the stage and sang a couple of songs for us.

Our accommodations at the St Paul’s Lutheran Church Guesthouse were very good. I enjoyed the two group meals in Odessa which included musical entertainment. One meal was at a Ukrainian Restaurant and the other at a Russian Restaurant; both had traditional ethnic food. It was a very interesting and memorable trip.

Richard and Mary Mussell
Anoka, Minnesota

A desire of Mary’s to walk in the footsteps of her maternal side of the family, to see the landscape they saw overcame the anxiety, trepidation about making the trip, and we committed ourselves to go.

Research helped us locate the ancestral village of my great-grandmother, more research gave us background on the how and the why of their arrival there and how they came to leave.

To stand in front of the Lutheran Church in Bergdorf built in 1851, the church she married my great-grandfather in was a terrific experience. Talking with our tour guide and using old plot maps we were able to identify what we thought could have been their lot. The home on the lot was not theirs but to see the contour of the land and how their home would have lined up, where the sunrise and sunsets almost made you think of the words to the song Sunrise/Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof, it was very special.

Odessa proved to be a transition stop. A beautiful city with narrow streets, automobiles parking on sidewalks, electric street cars that just jumped out of the 1930s and small yellow buses that looked like they were on their last legs. Wow the Black Sea! What an awesome feeling it was to stand on that beach.

As we left Odessa for the villages you noticed how lush the country side looked, large fields that look to be 100 acres or more growing corn, beans, wheat, oats and granola. All the crops looked great. We noticed there were no fences and that storage facilities or elevators were non-existent. Our guide said it was not possible to have private ownership of the land. A person could only own the small lots in the villages, the State owned everything else. We could see livestock, cows, horses, and goats, they were tethered to stakes in the ground and grazed only on what they could reach until relocated, not sure if water was brought to them or they were taken to water. The milking of the cows and goats took place right where they stood.

The blacktop road to Kassel, one of the villages, was marked with large potholes. Our driver had to zig and zag to avoid them and slow way down when forced to go through them. It seemed that either they did not want company or did not consider repair a priority.

Some of the villages visited had blacktop streets along with dirt. Natural gas pipes were above ground ten feet overhead which gave the illusion of a fence. Transportation of residents was by foot, bike, cars, one horse wagons but no sign of a pick up truck. The front yard of each home had a solid fence at the road; each had two access points a person gate and a larger one that would allow a vehicle to drive through. Several of the homes had a bench for sitting next to the fence; you would see folks resting on the benches. The lots were narrow and deep, house was to the front, garage, animal pens, gardens and vineyards to the back. Chickens and geese seemed to have free range, hard to tell to which home they belonged, this along with cows being lead or herded on the streets caused one to keep an eye out for "landmines."

We had the pleasure and good fortune to be house guests of a family in Glueckstal. They were gracious hosts who pampered us and even though we had a language issue we made a connection. They had a lovely home with all of the comforts we think are must haves.

The Germans are gone from the villages and the beautiful churches that are standing have been converted to community centers. The current residents are Russian or Ukrainians, we did see some churches that were changed to Russian Orthodox.

If you are considering a visit, if you have a connection to the former residents of these villages, the Germans from Russia, and you have the ability, make the journey to the homeland. We believe you will not regret your decision.

Jim and Alice (Zimmerman) Ackerman
Fargo, North Dakota

These memories - nobody will ever be able to take from us. We've been sharing stories with our friends and relatives. In our wildest dreams we never thought we'd walk on the soil that our ancestors came from, what a privilege. We were lucky enough to go to a village named Glueckstal and stay overnight. Our hosts were so gracious and wonderful. Hopefully we will be able to stay in contact in the future.

The food was so delicious, especially in Germany the pastries were awesome. We thoroughly enjoyed the outside markets in Stuttgart, Germany. We had the perfect weather to just take our time to wander from booth to booth and mingle with the people, look at and purchase their wares.

Hopefully we will be able to make this trip again - we know, there is a lot more to see and do. It was great to meet our fellow tour members, people we hope will stay in contact in the future.

Victor Flegel
Waukesha, Wisconsin

It was a revealing experience for me that I'll long remember. I was surprised and saddened with the conditions of the villages of Leipzig and Kalatschowka where I was born in 1938. The population left is mostly elderly people as the young leave early since there is no future for them there. Most buildings are in bad shape and the properties are not kept up. There were no remains of the German cemetaries or churches.

The hotel in Tarutino "Bessarabisches Haus" where I stayed one night was nice. The food was excellent. Swetlana, the owner, and two waitresses greeted us at the front door with a fresh baked Kranz of bread and three glasses of wine. Albina, my translator and guide, was knowledgeable and fun to be with.

The Bessarabian Museum in Stuttgart was quite impressive.

Karen and Roger Reede
Paynesville, Minnesota

This trip was a most pleasant and enriching experience for us. It was made so by our fellow travelers, the comfortable, convenient hotels and the very relevant tours and information. Elvira was an energetic and pleasant guide, organizer and teacher. The abundant opportunities to eat ethnic Ukrainian and Bessarabian food were wonderful and delicious. We especially appreciate the generous and tasty meals provided by Louisa’s and Sergey’s families.

The tours of Selz, Manheim and Elsass were unique chances to visit sites where Roger’s ancestors lived, much like going back in time. The huge, half gone, ghostly churches are unforgettable tributes to a courageous and devout people. The similarity of the rural landscapes in Ukraine and Alsace to the Midwestern areas to which they immigrated is striking.

The highlights of the Stuttgart area were the evening with the Bessarabian musicians and the trips to Selz, Sessenheim and Souflenheim. The Bessarabian and Selz museums provided unique views of the history and lives of the Germans from Russia, without which the experience would have been incomplete.

Thank you, Michael for your excellent planning, guidance and interpretation of this unforgettable experience. Our suggestions for making it even better would be to shorten the bus tour of Stuttgart (emphasizing the historic and shopping areas), to provide directions to the Last Supper statues in Souflenheim, to visit the Friedenthal farm museum (depicted in the Bessarabian Museum), and to see the Strasbourg, France cathedral.

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