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1999 Trip To Germany And Poland

Monday, May 31 - Travel to Greifswald, Germany

We left Potsdam about 12:30 and drove around Berlin via A10 (the ring road), then north on A11 and B198 to Prenzlau and last on B109 to Greifswald. The area immediately north of Berlin was much like North Dakota but as we headed north it reminded me of the area around Alexandria, MN with rolling hills, lakes and lots of trees. The landscape around Greifswald could be compared with parts of southern MN. Everything was very green this time of year. We arrived about 4:45 pm and were surprised to see a Best Western hotel. It was a welcome sight because without prior reservations, we found that it could be difficult finding a place to stay. Moreover, we realized that we might be able to make advance reservations for the rest of our trip. We booked the room for four nights (133 DM per night including breakfast). I was excited that we were finally in the town where the Evangelisch church registers were archived that might hold the birth, marriage and death records for our Maass ancestors. I could hardly wait to get to the Landeskirchliches Archive in the morning to begin my search.

Tuesday, June 1

The archive’s hours were 9:00 am to 3:30 pm and I was there when they opened. The archive is in an old three-story building at Karl-Marx-Platz 15 on the third floor. Again entrance required using an intercom to be buzzed through a locked door on the first floor. There may have been more to the archive, but I only saw two rooms with the church registers stacked in a bookcase on one wall. Not very impressive and I couldn’t help thinking that here they were keeping this priceless collection in a firetrap. The woman who let me in didn’t speak English but she handed me a form I needed to fill out first. Since I had my friend in Jülich call ahead with the list of church registers that I wanted to see, she already knew what I wanted. Within minutes I was poring over the church register for Hohen Schönau, the village where Carl Erdmann Maass lived. It didn’t take long to hit paydirt. The marriage record for Carl and Wilhelmine confirmed that our great great grandfather’s name was David. Moreover, it cleared up the spelling of Wilhelmine’s maiden name. On civil records that I had seen at the genealogy library in Riverside, it appeared to be Rick or Risk. Here it was clearly Rix, although later I saw it spelled Riex. In any case, the last letter is an "x". It didn’t take long to find the birth records of all of their children including the 18-year-old son who died in Hohen Schönau. These records provided the middle names of the children and sponsors that were unknown until now. Next, I learned that David was a master tailor too and that he died on May 27, 1858 at 7:30am at the age of 48. Friederike (Prahl) Maass, his wife, lived until April 20, 1887 passing away at the age of 76.

The record of David’s death revealed that Carl, Julius and Johanne did indeed have other siblings in Germany. When he died, six sons and two daughters between the ages of 7 and 22 survived him. Of course, Carl would have been the 22 year-old son. One puzzling aspect of this entry was that it stated the 7-year-old was a son, with the word for daughter, written first, crossed out. In fact, Johanne would have been seven years old at that time and so "daughter" would have been correct.

Marriage records for two sons and one daughter were also recorded so now I had the names of six of the eight children of David and Friederike Maass. [For a complete summary of my research results in Greifswald, click here]. I was elated as I left the archive at closing time and felt as if the whole trip was already a success, but much more was to follow.

It was a beautiful day and it was only mid-afternoon so we decided to drive up to Lubmin to see the Ostsee (East Sea or Baltic Sea). At the coast we were really facing the Greifswalder Bodden, a bay which opens out to the East Sea. On the way back we stopped at the marina at Wieck on the mouth of the Ryck River. It was a picturesque scene with the setting sun behind us reflecting off the sailboats and other boats in the harbor.

Wednesday and Thursday, June 2 and 3

The following days in the archive were more routine. Since none of the records so far revealed where Julius and his siblings were born, we still could not connect them to any of the 500 plus Maasses that I have in my database. I really wasn’t too hopeful since Julius’ naturalization papers said he was born in Regenwalde and these registers are not in Greifswald. Nevertheless, I thought I should examine all the registers I could from surrounding villages that were unavailable to me in the US. Norma was a big help on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning as we pored through church registers from 13 different villages. We recorded 77 births, 25 marriages, and 22 deaths, some of whom I am reasonably sure are relatives but I have no proof yet. One, August Johann David Maass, I suspect is a brother of Julius but there was no information to confirm this. August and his wife, Louise nee Christian, had eight, possibly more, children and their sponsors included Julius, Johanne, and members of the Rix family.

The church registers for Langkafel and Zampelhagen listed the births of Heinrich and Johanne Lüdke’s children and showed that Julius was a sponsor for Anna (Lüdke) Timm.

The staff at the archive seemed to consist of three women. One, Ulrike Reinfeldt, a young woman, spoke English very well and she often helped decipher the difficult German script and words. The older woman, who was perhaps more knowledgeable, was also very helpful but communication was more difficult. When Ulrike was there, I could get her to translate for us. I had no interaction with the third woman and I do not know what her position was.

After the archive closed on Wednesday, we decided to drive to Bergen which is located on Rügen Island north of Greifswald. It was a nice drive up through Stralsund. We hoped to find a restaurant there, but we were short of Deutschmarks and the restaurants wouldn’t accept credit cards. We settled for a McDonald’s which seems to have invaded every German city.

On Thursday afternoon I decided to visit the Vorpommersches Landes Archive, a state archive which had church registers for Vehlingsdorf and Steinhofel. I had already seen these registers for the years up to 1874 in Riverside but I was hopeful that their registers would continue beyond 1874. Alas, they did not, and so I was unable to learn if any Maass or Koehler records were listed there. I was hoping to identify the Franz Koehler who wrote to his cousin, August Maas, at Easter 1949 describing the nearly unbearable conditions they endured after WWII, but without later records, it was not possible.

Friday, June 4

On Friday, I returned to the Landeskirchliches Archive to use the remaining time to finish checking the 13 registers. There were still more that I could have checked but my time had run out.

I returned to the hotel satisfied with my success so far but was very anxious about finding a way to see the villages in Poland where the Maass’ had lived. The rental car company made clear that we couldn’t take the car into Poland. The night before I had tried to phone Lech Auriga, the interpreter in Stettin who was to accompany us in Poland, but the call wouldn’t go through. At noon on Friday I decided to call the other contact in Stettin who had been recommended to us by someone in Riverside. The man who answered said I had been trying the wrong number the day before. So I tried calling again and this time I got a woman who spoke very little English. Somehow I learned that the interpreter was out of town and wouldn’t be back until Sunday evening. Another problem – not only couldn’t we drive into Poland, now we had no interpreter either.

We didn’t have time to sit around and fret, it was time to check out of the hotel and we wanted to get to Pinnow by early afternoon. We left Greifswald at 12:30 p.m. and took highway 109 driving southeast to Pasewalk, highway 104 east to Locknitz and then south on roads that took us thru Krackow, Tantow and Hohen-Reinkendorf. As we were driving I was pondering various strategies for getting into Poland while having a safe place to leave our car and luggage. It seemed to me that the best strategy would be to find a hotel in a town near the border that had a train to Stettin. Once there, I figured we could rent another car and do the tour on our own. But the whole idea, considering the language problem, was a little daunting.

We arrived in Gross Pinnow about 2:30 p.m. Gross Pinnow is a small village southwest of Stettin (Szczecin) where Grandmother, Hermine (Rieck) Maas was born. She came to America when she was only six months old and never returned to see her birthplace or the homes of her relatives. Although she regularly corresponded in German with several cousins, aunts and uncles, she never saw any of them again. When Hermine was born, maps listed the village as Pinnow in the county (Kreis) of Randow. Now it is called Gross Pinnow and as a result of a consolidation of counties, the village is in the county of Uckermark. Gross Pinnow is just south of Hohen Selchow, a small village where the Rieck family lived.

I had prepared for this visit by bringing pictures of the house she was born in and an old postcard which had pictures of the village, all of which were sent to Grandma in 1947-48 by her relatives. I also had a family tree printed out for the August Schulz descendants. August Schulz (born 8/6/1833) was Grandma’s maternal grandfather. After driving through the town, and not recognizing anything on the pictures, we came back and drove down a side street. Just as we could see a small pond (there was a pond in the postcard picture), we approached a teen-age boy who was walking along the street. We stopped to ask him if he spoke English. He said, "A little bit." After we showed him the picture and explained to him what we were looking for, he said, "See those people sitting on the bench under the tree? They will know the picture better than me." Two men, an old man and one about middle-aged, were sitting there with the old man’s wife. All of them seemed fascinated and interested in the pictures and all were talking at once. Of course we didn’t know what they were saying but it was clear they were recognizing the buildings. The older man spoke more English than the others, but we could only understand a word or two. One of the buildings on the postcard was a two-story building identified as "Kolonialw. v. Joh’s Mundt". They quickly pointed out the building that was still standing just a half block down the street at Woltersdorfer Strasse 19. Then we showed them a picture of the house and told them that my Gross Mutter was born in that house and asked if they knew where the house was. We also showed them the printout of the family tree for people who had lived in that house. They recognized some of the names. Then another lady came by asking questions about us. After that the younger man went to get another older lady and brought her into the group and explained the situation to her.

Soon a couple of teen-age girls came by and the boy told one of them we needed someone to speak English. He said it was his sister, Steffi, and she knew English better than he did. So, she came right over and got interested, too. Her friend just kept going and Steffi never got to wherever it was she was going. After a lot of talking, Steffi asked if we could walk to the house in the picture; she now knew where it was. So, we set off with Steffi and her brother, Onny, to find the house where Grandma Maas was born. Just before we got to the house, Gene had stopped and was looking at it and just about that time, Steffi said, "This is the house in the picture."

Then she said there was man in a house across the street who might know who lived there and asked if we would speak to him. They recognized the buildings in the picture and said the house was the Jahnke house. One of grandma’s aunts, Pauline, married a Jahnke and in letters written to Grandma in the 1940’s, it was stated that they lived in the house at the time. Unfortunately, I had left the descendant printout in the car so we couldn’t show it to them. We continued on walking seeing that the pond pictured on the postcard had been mostly filled in and turned into a park. It was impossible to obtain a picture from the same perspective as that on the postcard because of all the trees that had grown. At the end of the park was the memorial monument that was also on the postcard identified as "Kriegerdenkmal". The plaque on the monument had been changed from that in the picture but I photographed it anyway.

It was an exciting afternoon. We started out by asking a boy on the street for help and wound up getting nine other people involved before we were through. However, it was getting late and we needed to find a hotel. Otherwise, we might have stayed there until it got dark. Steffi said there was a woman up the street we could ask about a place to stay but she didn’t understand that we needed a train station too. She and Onny wanted to take us to her but I decided I needed to go back and get the car first. While Onny and Norma waited, Steffi and I walked back to the car. On the way we passed by the Mundt house and I stopped to take a picture. As we were standing there a young man came driving up and asked if we were looking for someone who could speak English. (Apparently, someone from the original group had gotten word to this man that we needed someone to translate for us). I said yes we did and explained to him our predicament. We couldn’t drive our rental car into Poland and we wanted to find a hotel in a nearby town that had a train to Stettin. Neither Pinnow nor Hohen Selchow had train service. I introduced myself and found out his name was Thomas Ludcke, an interesting variation on the name, Lüdke, Johanna Maass’ married name. He said he knew a nice guesthouse (pension) in Gartz (a small German town on the border along the Oder River) and from there you could take a boat into Stettin. It was about an hour and a half trip and I decided that would take too much time. The closest town with a train was Tantow but he didn’t know the schedule or how often it ran. During the course of talking and explaining that we hoped to rent another car in Stettin or find someone who could drive us around Poland, Thomas volunteered to drive us into Poland the next day. While he knew little Polish, he said many Poles could speak some German and he could translate from German into English. He said he had to work until noon but then he could spend the rest of Saturday with us. I asked what he would charge and he said he didn’t expect anything and when I insisted, he said, "Well, we will see what we spend for petrol -- it’s cheaper in Poland." I asked if he could travel until dark and he said, even longer if necessary. (The sun sets about 10 p.m. there.) I couldn’t believe our good fortune. This seemed like an incredibly fortuitous opportunity and I took him up on it.

Meanwhile Steffi walked back to get Onny and Norma who were wondering what was taking us so long. Steffi told Norma, "Your mann is talking to a man who speaks English and wants to practice more because he is going to be going to England soon. We go back, Onny. Come."

Thomas also said he would take us to the Pension (guesthouse) in Gartz and that he would drive there and we could follow behind. He said he had done the electrical work at this Pension and could get a good price for us. The price was very reasonable, 160 DM (about $86 for two nites including breakfast). After checking in, we followed him into town (Gartz) and he showed us where the grocery store is (to get bottled water) and a restaurant and then took us to the Oder river to show us where to catch a boat to Stettin on Sunday if we wanted to. However they didn’t operate on Sundays. We decided we needed to head to southern Germany on Sunday anyway.

We were overwhelmed by the generosity of this stranger whom we had just met. Thomas asked me which places in Poland we would like to go to and said he would check for the best routing on his computer. He said he would pick us up at the guesthouse at 1:00 pm Saturday and then left to return to his home in Pinnow. He wanted to get back so he would have time to clean up his car. We walked down to the river to look into Poland and to take a picture of the cruise boat just departing for Stettin.

Altogether a very satisfying and exhilarating day!!

- Gene Maas
rev. 15 June 2005

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