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 intact.


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.


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.

Diane Lewis;

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