Reports from Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine, May 2009
Updated: 6/12/08

23 May 2009
Chorne More Hotel
Odessa, Ukraine

Warmest regards from the lobby of the Chorne More Hotel where I am using my small laptop I purchased in Berlin, Germany, before arrival in Odessa.

Our 15th Journey to the Homeland tour group arrived on 22 May with an evening Welcome Dinner at Ukrainian ethnic cafe. Tour members are all doing well.

Today tour members traveled to various locations including Bessarabia, Kutschurgan, and to villages near Kischinev, Moldova. You should be receiving comments from tour members of their memories visiting the villages upon their return to Odessa with a later email. Some of the tour members are staying overnight in Tarutino, Bessarabia (today in Ukrine) and in Kischinev.

On 18 May in Berlin, their was a gathering of the local Germans from Russia - primarily Spat Aussiedler and some Aussiedler. Some of the tour members and I who traveled earlier to Berlin before the beginning of the tour, had a memorable experience at this event. The gathering was organized by Alexander Rupp, who attended the AHSGR/GRHS Convention in Casper, Wyoming, July, 2008.

With best wishes from Odessa, Ukraine

Michael M. Miller

24 May 2009
Chorne More (Black Sea) Hotel
Odessa, Ukraine

Journey to the Homeland Tour: Odessa, Ukraine & Stuttgart, Germany Sponsored by the Germans from Russia Heritage Collecötion, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo.

Our family travelled with Michael Miller and Elvira (translator/tour guide) to the villages of Mannheim, Selz and Kandel about one hour north of Odessa.

We passed beautiful fields of wheat and barley and experienced rural life in this land of our ancestors. We arrived in the villages and were moved as we walked across the same soil that earlier Volks walked, visited churches where they were baptized  and married--churches now mere ghosts of their earlier grandieur--mostly in ruin. We were saddened by the level of poverty that we saw and the poor prospects for further development in these rural communities.  People still gather their water from wells, still have outhouses for bathrooms, and transportation is mostly by foot or horse.  The people are subsistence farmers today with just enough land to grow crops to feed their families and a few goats and cows to provide milk and cheese. We wondered how different the villages might be today had the Germans not left the area when they did. We were moved by the friendliness of the people and inspired by the spirit of Frau Reisling with whom we had lunch and heard stories of her return to her ancestral village where she has restored the home her grandfather built. Her path to return included time in Siberia, Latvia, and Austria. Frau Reisling knew personally Msgr. Singer--a relative of Wanda and Kay--and told stories of his visit to the village. We also sensed a sense of envy of the achievements of the Germans who left the Ukriane and came to America. We were reminded of the debt we owe to the courage of our ancestors who had the courage to pack up their families and venture into the unknown of the promise of the new land in America.

Mary Anne Ingenthron
Davis, California

Chorne More (Black Sea) Hotel
Odessa, Ukraine
25 May 2009

I write thís message upon returning from the Kutschurgan District villages of Elsass, Strassburg and Selz about one hour from Odessa near the Moldovan border. Today some tour members and I visited the school at Elsass including classrooms with students and teachers. We talked to the 11th grade English class about the Germans from Russia who once lived in these villages.

On 26 May, we depart on Czech Airlines from Odessa to Prague to Stuttgart for 26 to 30 May. We will be visiting on 27 May the Germans from Russia society offices in Stuttgart - Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russlandand the Heimatmuseum der Bessarabiendeutschen. On 28 May, we take a daytrip to Alsace, France from Stuttgart.

For most of the tour members, they depart Stuttgart, Germany for USA on 30 May. I will return back to Fargo, North Dakota, on 8 June.

Sharon Dobler Vegas of Idaho and her sisiter, Carol Dobler Harris of North Carolina, share this message: "In 1884, Christian Dobler left southern Ukraine (Bessarabia) hoping to find a better life for his family. In 2009, two great-granddaughters returned to Teplitz, Bessarabia, his birthplace.

We were surprised to find the town looking much the same as described in records from the 19th Century. People we met with the help of our interpreter, Galina, and driver, Vladimir, remembered German times. They helped us locate plots of land that had belonged to the Doblers. In the cemetery, we found two headstones with the Dobler name. The inscriptions were badly deteriorated but one seems to be that of Georg Adam Dobler, the father of Christian.

It is exciting and moving for us who have lived the good life they sought to see where is all began.

We will be sharing more messages from tour members with an email message later likely after I have returned North Dakota.

With best wishes from Odessa, Ukraine,

Michael M. Miller

27 May 2009
Hotel Astoria
Stuttgart, Germany

We arrived safely to Stuttgart evening of 26 May with cool weather and rainfall. All tour members are in good health.

This morning we visited the Germans from Russia societies in Stuttgart -Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland and the Bessarabiendeutscher Verein. At the Verein, we were greeted by Ingo Isert, head of the Verein, and by Mr. Schaefer, President. Also joining us for greetings with Edwin Kelm, president for many years. Mr. Schaefer mentioned he will travel to Tripp, South Dakota, to visit relatives this summer.

On 28 May, we travel to Alsace, France with bus tour. We will have lunchin Sessenheim, Alsace, France, tasting the famous Alsatian Flammkuchen.

On 30 May, most of the tour members depart Stuttgart for Amsterdam on onto the USA.

With best regards from Stuttgart,

Michael M. Miller

Additional Tour Member Comments:

Thank you Michael Miller and the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at North Dakota State University Libraries for a well-run and exciting Journey to the Homeland. It was especially memorable for Ginny to explore where her mother (born Wölfle), uncles, aunts, and cousins grew up.

Ginny’s ancestral villages that we visited were Kurudschika (now a part of Petrivs'k ), Kolatschowka (now Kalacivka), Kulm (Pidhirne, Podgornoje), and Alt-Posttal (Malojaroslawetz II).

The area’s farmland was similar to Alberta … dry grain farming for the most part. We were surprised at the lack of grain elevators. We were told that the grain is trucked directly to ships at Odessa at harvest time.

We also noticed the lack of stores. We saw none in the smaller villages; it seemed to be a subsistence economy. Every home seemed to have extensive and well-tended vegetable gardens and vineyards. Only Tarutino seemed more like a town with a number of small stores and some not-too-old 3 story apartment buildings. It was a bit more prosperous than the villages, probably due in part to a large substation on the oil and gas pipelines serving western Europe from Russia, and seemed to be a market center for the district.

Our first destination was Tarutino where we stayed at a house that was recently converted to a simple hotel (more like a bed-and-breakfast). The Flaigs and their driver and interpreter also stayed there. The owner spoke German and invited a German lady who had lived continuously in Tarutino since before World War II to spend the evening with us.

To get to our destinations Leo, our driver, drove us over some horrible “gravel” roads (actually just a little crushed rock on dirt) . Just short of Kolatschowka the road disappeared through a frontier post into Moldova. Leo got out, talked with the guards, and learned the way to drive off-road through some fields and under a derelict old railroad bridge to where the road picked up again to avoid entering Moldova.

Tanya, our interpreter, was great and was invaluable. Without her we would not have met the many villagers nor learned as much from them. At each village she would approach strangers and invariably within a minute or two all would be involved in conversations about their village and its history.

Even though many of the people in the villages are poor, they are extremely warm and hospitable. It was amazing and heart-warming that we could unexpectedly appear out of the blue and, after just a few conversations through our interpreter, be introduced to others and invited into their homes for food and drink.

Thanks you for such a good trip.

Lee Bruch and Ginny Weisse
Seattle, Washington

It was a good experience seeing the land and surroundings our forefathers moved from. Now I understand what they must have given up to leave this area and thank God they did. 

David Volk
Marionville, Missouri

What an experience!  The people were mostly friendly. The churches that were destroyed were a shock. Can’t help but think what it would be like, if the German people would still be living here.  What destruction can come from crazy people like Hitler & Stalin? 

Richard Volk
Webster, North Dakota

This tour was an amazing experience. The villages are very interesting. It was an incredible experience to be in the churches where my family celebrated Mass, Baptisms, etc. Also to be walking on the same roads and seeing the same countryside as my family. Very Special!

Wanda (Volk) Archer
Walla Walla, Washington

There are times when I wish I was a poet, so I could beautifully express a deep feeling. Others who have made the Return to the Homeland Tour will understand. In the Ukraine, we were not really tourists. We had never been there before, but we really were returning.

Sharon (Dobler) Vega
Boise, Idaho

To see and walk in the villages and countryside where my mother grew up was the biggest high sight of my trip. And the warmth and hospitality of the current residents, the way they would go out to their way to welcome us and help us was a very worming experience. 

Ginny Weisse and Lee Bruch
Seattle, Washington

Seeing Teplitz was like stepping back in time. I imagine that it looks much the same as it did over 100 years ago when our ancestors lived there. It was exciting to find gravestones with our family names. Since they had been gone so long, I did not expect to dine any. An amazing experience!

Carol (Dobler) Harris
Greensboro, North Carolina

We found the three villages we had planned on, but it took many hours over two days. Serge, our translator, and Valerie, our driver, were very persistent and must have asked over 20 people for directions. Villagers even got in the car to give better instructions. The villages were Stryberri, Neu Strymba & Sholtoi, all NE of Kishevew (Chisenau). The lack of road signs did not deter them. No headstones or houses, but we saw the views they must have seen!

Leroy & Janet Damm
Pullman, Washington

I was especially moved by the opportunity to talk with the villagers in Mannheim, whose own ancestors inherited the land and houses our relatives forfeited in pursuit of a better life. In spite of having significantly fewer material possessions, they were warm, generous, and hard working. I hope to bring back home a sense of connection to those positive virtues still alive and well in the Black Sea of the Kutschanger villages today. It was also a blessing to share this experience with my husband, w uncles and a cousin and to get to know better both of my relatives and my heritage.

Mary Anne (Volk) Ingenthron
Davis, California

For the most part, everyone began this trip as a seeker and everyone found something – a deeper understanding of our forefathers and mothers at least.

Jon Ingenthron
Davis, California


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