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2003 Trip To Germany And Poland

Greifswald and East Germany

Our trip to Germany and Poland began in Copenhagen after we completed a marvelous Holland America cruise on and around the Baltic Sea -- but that's another story. The closest port in Germany was Rostock and so we simply boarded a bus in Copenhagen which rolled right unto the ferry in Gedser, Denmark and back off again in Warnemunde with a short ride into Rostock. Surprisingly, there was no bus station in Copenhagen, not even a shelter -- the bus just picks you up along the street near the train station. Before leaving the States, I had considered renting a car in Copenhagen but quickly gave that up when I learned it was much more expensive and I wouldn't be allowed to drive it into Poland. While in Denmark I learned why rental cars are so expensive -- we were told by tour guides that there is a 200% tax (that's right, two hundred) on buying a new car. Can you imagine paying $60,000 for a $20,000 car?

My brother, Duane, joined us in Copenhagen after our cruise and we traveled together after that. In Rostock we rented a Skoda Octavia station wagon from Auto Europe. I had made prior arrangements with their office in Portland, Maine for the car to be brought in from Hamburg and made sure that the rental agency would allow us to take the car into Poland. It turned out to be a very good vehicle that nicely met our needs and with fuel approaching $5.00 per gallon, we were glad we got a diesel.

It was a great feeling again traveling the open roads of Germany, taking in the beauty of the countryside and heading to the land of our ancestors. Our first stop was Greifswald where I had made prior arrangements with Ulrike Reinfeldt to visit the Landeskirchliches Archiv on Friday, September 12. I didn't plan to spend much time there but wanted to photograph some church entries that I had found four years ago. The archive had moved from where it had been in 1999 and the new quarters were a definite improvement. The former location on the third floor above a wooden staircase looked like a fire trap to me. But it still worries me that no other copies of these original church books exist, not even on microfilms. The new location is quite close to the Best Western hotel which has very nice accommodations.

Our next stop was Altwriezen, a small village about 30 miles northeast of Berlin. Two years ago we learned that we had a 3rd cousin living there and we were looking forward to meeting Andreas and Sibylle. What wonderful hospitable folks -- they insisted that we spend the night with them and we had a most enjoyable time getting acquainted. His father, Hans, who we had met in 2001, drove out from Berlin to see us too. Hans doesn’t speak English but he is the one who is most knowledgeable about family history. Fortunately, his son and daughter-in-law both spoke flawless English and were able to interpret for us. Their property in Altwriezen gave us an opportunity to see first hand the challenges faced by East Germans. When they acquired their property after the reunification, the house and barns were in shambles - uninhabitable and unusable. With a lot of determination and hard work they have rebuilt the house from bare wooden beams into a comfortable home. One of the barns was also completely renovated and converted into a rustic and appealing bed and breakfast that keeps Sibylle busy. We marveled at their spirit and resolve. Several other barns still remain in a dilapidated and deteriorating condition awaiting resources and the time to renovate them. It was fascinating too to walk through the old barns where several farm implements from a bygone era were resting in the dust and cobwebs. We would have loved to have stayed longer but sadly it was time to head for Naugard (Nowogard) and we had to say goodbye.

Hinter Pommern -- Homeland of the David Maass family

The road from Alt Wriezen to the border crossing into Poland took us along the eastern border of Germany through the towns of Angermunde, Schwedt and Gartz. I had driven through the small border station just north of Gartz several times in 1999 and 2001 and was well acquainted with the procedure.There are two guard houses, one on the German side of the border and another, perhaps 50 yards further, manned by the Poles.This time the German guard house appeared dark and I couldn’t see anyone inside. There were no cars ahead of us and so I just continued on to the next one. I probably hadn’t gotten three car lengths away before we heard someone yelling in German and when I looked behind us the German guard was running after us motioning us to stop. He wasn’t too happy with us and told us to remain where we were while he went back to the guardhouse to check our American passports. When he returned his demeanor had changed and he politely sent us on. He probably figured we were just some dumb American tourists who were oblivious to the rules.

A couple of miles east of the border station one crosses the Oder River which historically was the dividing line between Vorpommern and Hinterpommern. In 1945 Hinterpommern was given to Poland and the Oder River roughly became the new border between Germany and Poland. Stettin (now called Szczecin) lies on the west bank of the Oder about 12-15 miles farther north. However we are able to bypass the city on E28, a freeway that connects Stettin with Danzig (Gdansk). We arrived in Nowogard Saturday evening and checked into the Oskar Hotel. We called Anetta to let her know we had arrived and made arrangements for her to meet us at the hotel at 9:00 on Sunday morning. Anetta is an English teacher in Nowogard who I had contacted by email to serve as our translator in Pomerania. It was a pleasure to meet her and a joy to visit with her as we traveled from village to village. She wasn’t bashful approaching villagers to obtain information or to find someone who could unlock the church doors. She is not a genealogy researcher but she was most helpful in making appointments and reservations for us.

The Oskar Hotel was reasonably priced, comfortable and had a secure parking lot. Our only complaint was that we had no maid service during the three days we were there. The restaurant on the first floor served lunch and dinner as well as breakfast. After Anetta arrived we began our tour of our ancestor’s villages in Kreis (county) Naugard. I had been to all of them before but I was eager to show them to Duane who shares my excitement in seeing where our grandfather and his family and relatives lived in the 1800’s. And I wanted to shoot as many pictures as I could on my new digital camera, a luxury I didn’t have in 1999 and 2001.

Our first stop was Hohen Schönau (Jenikowo), where our great great grandparents, David and Friedrike Maass, lived after about 1857. David had been a tailor in Ornshagen and according to church records he and his family must have moved to Hohen Schönau in about 1857. The two villages are about 25 km (15 mi) apart. After David died, his oldest son, Carl Friedrich Erdmann, continued in his father’s trade until 1892 when he and his family of 10 children immigrated to southern Minnesota.

The church in Hohen Schönau is a moderate-sized red brick sanctuary that was built in the 1890’s, probably after Carl left. A weather-beaten, unpainted wood bell tower remains standing at the front of the church. A church bell, which probably hung in an earlier church, now hangs in a metal frame on the front lawn. The church grounds are surrounded by a rock wall. The old man living across the street, who I encountered in 1999 when I entered the open church, was still keeping an eye on the property. We weren’t there very long before he came out to see who was trespassing. In 1999 I was unable to communicate with him but I knew he was telling us we had no permission to enter the church. This time Anetta was able to explain who we were and why we were visiting and we had no problem going inside.

Behind and across the road from the church is another large brick building with a cross recessed in the brick façade and crosses in the windows. It had the appearance of a church school, and it may have been, but we were told it now serves as the church parsonage. Across the road from the parsonage is the Catholic cemetery. There is no evidence of the former Evangelische (Lutheran) cemetery where David, Friedrike, and three of Carl’s children were buried. In many villages, although not all, the cemetery was adjacent to the church. The spacious grounds surrounding this church lead me to believe the graves lie somewhere under the church lawn but I haven’t been able to confirm that. The village itself doesn’t appear to have changed much in the last hundred years. In 1939 it was a medium-sized village with 334 inhabitants.

Click here for more photos of Hohen Schönau.

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