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1999 Trip To Germany And Poland

On May 25, 1999...

We left Ontario airport on a flight to Cologne, Germany -- our first trip abroad for the express purpose of finding our German roots. We arrived in Cologne about 2:10 pm on May 26 and were met by our friend, Gerhard Roeb, who had spent a year at the U.S. Salinity Laboratory back in the 1980's. He had taken the train from Jülich to Cologne to meet us. We wondered around and through the famous St. Peters Cathedral (its twin towers are over 500 feet high) before boarding the train to Jülich, about 25 miles to the west. After checking into a guesthouse, Gerd picked us up to have dinner at their house. We knew his wife, Marion, but it was the first time we had seen their two boys, Johannes and Martin. By the time we finally got to bed that night, we had been up for 32 hours. The bed never felt so good. My biological clock was clearly confused and I woke up about dawn even though I could have used a few more hours of sleep. I decided to get up and go jogging. I found a perfect place to jog – in the moat of a 16th century fortress, the Citadel Fortress of Jülich.

We spent two more days with the Roebs. On Thursday we got a short tour of the research facilities at the KERN research center and saw an open pit coal mine nearby. On Friday Gerd took us to Kommern to visit an historical museum of old, restored buildings and homes from the 1500’s and 1600’s. It was a great way to get a feel for how our ancestors would have lived. Some of the houses had clay floors like those that Grandpa Carl Maas said they had in their home in Braunsforth.

Saturday, May 29

Gerd picked us up at the guesthouse and we went to Duren to pick up our rental car. I had been paying close attention the past two days to the road signs and regulations and felt I was ready for the highways and byways of Germany. But nothing prepares you for the autobahn where speed is limited only by the power of your car. More than once, while traveling about 80 miles an hour, a car would fly by us like we were standing still. I know they were doing at least 140 mph. The first time it happened I was startled because I had just looked in the rear view mirror and never saw him coming. For the most part, cars were traveling between 70-100 mph. Despite the higher speeds, I felt safer on the autobahn than on our freeways. Germans are very disciplined and careful drivers. They always signal and always return to a right hand lane after passing so that the left-hand lane is always open. There is no passing on the right.

Gerd led us to the nearest autobahn and we were on our way to Potsdam. I had been thinking about driving into Berlin but he advised against that. The traffic and congestion are pretty bad, not to mention the problem of finding your way. We arrived in Potsdam about 7:00 pm and after finding the first three hotels fully booked, we settled on the Hotel Mercure which was very nice but expensive (204 DM per day). The exchange rate was 1.85 DM per dollar.

Sunday, May 30 - Berlin & Charlottenburg, Germany

The train station in Postsdam was only a short walk across the Havel River where we boarded a train to Berlin. We thought the best and most efficient way to see the sights was to take a city sight-seeing tour bus. It was a beautiful day, if not a bit hot, and there was so much to see that we stayed on the open double-decker bus and took the two-hour tour a second time. We got off once so that I could walk to the remnant of the Berlin wall to take a picture. Berlin has many impressive buildings and museums and I’m sure you couldn’t see it all if you had a week.

From letters sent to Grandma Hermine Maas in the 1940’s and later, we had the addresses of two aunts and two cousins from her mother’s side who were living in Berlin. I also had the 1946 map of Berlin sent to Grandma that showed where the addresses were. One lived in the former British sector, one in the French sector and one in the Russian sector. I had planned, if possible, to find each of them but we only had time to find one. Besides we were a bit handicapped by not having a car to drive to them. Earlier, while in Jülich, we checked the computer directory for Berlin to see if any of the surnames were still associated with the addresses. None seemed to be. Nevertheless, on our way back to Potsdam, we got off the train in Charlottenburg (a suburb of Berlin) to find the address where Grandma Maas’ cousin, Emil Schmidt, lived after World War II. Emil was the son of a sister of Grandma’s mother. It was only a few blocks to Pestalozzi Strasse and we walked down the street looking for #69, only to get to the end of the street and find that we should have started in the other direction. They number buildings consecutively down one side of the street and then back up on the other side. So the #69 that we wanted was across the street from much lower numbers.

The buildings along the street are mostly adjoining, 5-story, brick or stuccoed-structures with shops on the ground floor and apartments above. The entrance door is locked but an intercom is available to call the occupants. Cars enter through another locked door and as a car went through I caught a glimpse of the courtyard inside, revealing that the building was built as a rectangle around the courtyard. There were 27 names on the intercom buttons of #69. Surprisingly, one of the names was Schmidt/Lindenkamp. No one answered the intercom but while we were standing there, two women came out of the building. With limited English, one of the women said she didn’t know the people we were looking for, but said they had moved out about 4 weeks earlier.

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