Sunday, June 6, 2010


At the Zichydorf Mass, a woman came in late and sat behind me. She sang with great enthusiasm, but not quite as much talent. Later, we learned her interesting story. I only heard parts of it third hand, but here is my best shot at it. I would judge her to be about 70 years old. Twice a week she rides her bike 60 + km to Vrsac and return to sell eggs and then rides home again. On this day, she had already ridden 12 km from Jermenovci to Plandiste (Zichydorf), heard about the Mass, rode all the way back to change into her best dress, and rode back again. We passed her on our way to the priest’s house in Jermenovci and soon she had joined us there! Quite a lady.

When we got off the bus at the cemetery in Triebswetter, a young boy about 7 years old was standing there in wonderment at this huge bus, almost as if we had arrived on a spaceship from another planet. He was so cute that I pulled out my last Canada lapel pin for him. I was not sure he would know what to do with it, so I pulled the clasp off the back, put the pin through his sleeve, and reattached the clasp. He was just beaming! As we were walking in the cemetery, his friend came running up to me with the original boy in trail. I motioned that I was all out of pins, but I knew that Frank still had a few, so I sent them to him. Later I saw Frank being followed by a gang of six or eight kids that had gathered one every few minutes as the word got around.

Finally, I can’t say enough about the kindness, friendship, and generosity of all the people we met on our trip. They were all genuinely pleased to see us and were constantly offering us food and drink. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Of all the adventures on our trip, these personal moments will remain the most memorable.

Kelsterbach, Friday, June 4

Our first stop today was the Technik Museum Speyer. It has a huge collection of cars, airplanes, motorcycles, railway locomotives, etc. featuring a Russian space shuttle (I don’t think they ever flew an actual mission), a submarine, a Boeing 747 mounted on stilts, and so on.

From Speyer we drove to Helmut Kaiser’s in Otterberg. As usual Helmut and Hannelore were fabulous hosts. First, he poured us all some sherry, then they fed us some vegetarian chilli and beer, followed by sandwiches and cheese and fruit plates with wine, all topped off with a round of Schapps and desserts. Their kindness and generosity is unmatched. We were joined by Helmut’s brother Erhard and his wife Leta, and friends Giesbert and Renate. Despite some language difficulties, we had a great visit. We stayed longer than planned and could have stayed longer still.

Helmut once again told us stories of his time as a young boy in Rudolfsgnad camp. He says that people tell him to forget about it. But how do you forget being a seven year old boy thrown into a prison camp for three years? How do you forget being shot at and thrown in jail overnight for trying to get a cup of water from the river? How do you forget sleeping on the floor with twenty other people in one room with no heat in winter? How do you forget that some mornings not all the people woke up and you had to help carry them outside where they lay for two or three days until the wagon came to cart them off to the mass grave? How do you forget stretching your arm through the fence to its maximum reach to grasp at grass because all the grass in the camp and that within easy reach had already been eaten? No, I don’t think you forget those things.

We next went on to Burstadt, about half way to Frankfurt. Miles has traced his family back to here. He did not expect to find anything in the cemetery, and he was right, but we took a few pictures there and at the church. This church was built in 1732. I think that is the oldest one we have seen in a village on our three trips. Of course, some of the big churches in the cities are much older.

Finally, we drove on to Kelsterbach. We gathered in one of the rooms to say our good-byes. Trevor had a bottle of wine and some scotch. Frank had a bottle of wine given to him in Zichydorf and most of a bottle of scotch. We had a great time recalling our adventures together. Frank and Nora Ann are staying on for an extra day, but the rest of us depart tomorrow at scattered times. And that will be the end of this Banat tour.

Great weather today, about 30 degrees C and sunny.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Speyer, Thursday, June 3

We started an hour later than usual today at 9 and toured the pedestrian area of Salzburg for an hour in drizzle and light rain. It was the feast of Corpus Christie and most businesses were closed, but the tourist vendors were opening while we were there. There was a high Mass in the cathedral. The water in the river was even higher than last night.

We drove to Munich in steady rain. There we met Helmut and Heidi Birg for lunch in their favourite Chinese restaurant. This seemed a little incongruous in Germany, but the buffet was excellent and we all ate too much again. Helmut was most generous in donating some books for our library. He had tried to get a copy of the European edition of the English translation of Genocide of the ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia in 1944-1948, but wwas unable to do so, so he gave us his personal copy. This edition has additional chapters to the German edition and the American English edition and also has some fine tuning of the original translation by the original translator. Another volume he gave us was a collection of essays by the Munich Donauschwaben working group in German, English, and Serbian. There was also a small booklet about the Donauschwaben. Finally, he presented each member of the group with a book about the political history of the Banat from Turkish times to the expulsion donated by the author, Hans Sonnleitner. If you are a researcher, you may recognize him as the author of several books about Banat genealogy and history. When Helmut told him of our visit, he was so enthusiastic that he donated the books. Sorry I didn’t get any pictures, but others did and I will try to post one later.

As we left Munich around 2 pm it was till raining, but it began to let up about one hour later. By 5 the sun was breaking through occasionally. We reached our hotel/pension about 6:30 and endured the most confusing check in I have ever seen. We went for supper about 7:30 and tried to eat light because of the large lunch. But the sneaky buugers tricked us by putting an ice cream store next door! By the time we left about 9:30 the sky was clear.

The pension is quaint and quirky in two buildings. Some of the rooms are tiny and others are fairly spacious. Some have toilet and/or shower in the room and others do not. Some on the top floor have sloped ceilings.

Salzburg, Wednesday, June 2

We had planned to spend a little time here in Budapest, but we discussed it last night and the group decided they would rather go on to tour Vienna than tour Budapest in the rain. Lee was disappointed, but got out exploring last night and again this morning. We left our hotel shortly after 7:30 under overcast skies. We made good time and by 8:00 we were out of the city centre and onto the main highway out of town. It also started raining, which continued all the way to Vienna.

In Vienna, the rain decreased to “light” as we split up and toured the pedestrian area in small groups. It was quite cool and windy in addition to being wet. The four guys traveling alone went together to St. Stephan’s Cathedral. There we saw some people wearing Donauschwaben crests with a kind of stylized flag below it. I thought they might be the colours of the Brazilian flag, so I went up to one and said “Brazil?” He said “Ja.” I said “I am Donauschwaben too from Canada,” and showed him my red Canada hat. Then I said “Sindelfingen?” And the lights came on for him. I think I wrote half a lifetime ago about the Brazilian group that was at the Haus der Donauschwaben when we were. He now recognized me and was telling his friend. Then a woman came up and started talking to me in very good English. She was one of their guides and lives in Vienna. She is a member of the DS community here, so we exchanged business cards and agreed to get in touch. Unfortunately, her business card got wet in my pocket on our evening escapade and it is not clearly readable, but I think I can figure it out.

We had a little adventure on our pickup. We were all at the agreed pickup point at the agreed time, but there was no bus. We assumed Johannes was stuck in traffic and would arrive at any moment, but, as the delay reached almost half an hour, I decided that there must be some confusion on the time and place or something was seriously wrong. I decided to try to telephone him. Most of the businesses were stores and restaurants, but there was a travel agency. There was only one young lady there serving a customer. I politely intruded, explained our situation, and asked if I could use her phone. She said that no, she could not do that. But her customer immediately volunteered to use his cell phone. He called Johannes and they had a nice chat as Johannes came around the corner. I thanked the man profusely, but I was all out of the Canada pins that we have been handing out to people we meet. It turned out that there was an accident on a one way street and Johannes was boxed in for an hour. We were pretty relieved to see him!

We arrived about a half our late for our lunch with Barbara Hebenstreit. She is the daughter of the author of the Georgshausen book and worked with Ray on its translation. She is a charming lady that is a delight to visit with. She presented us with a book for our library. She worked on it with a friend of her father’s. It is a book of the friend’s poetry in the old Donauschwaben dialect with a translation to modern German and a CD of how it sounds in the dialect. Frank is salivating over it. It won’t appeal to a large audience of our members, but it is an important time capsule of our ancestors’ culture to hold onto for future generations.

When we left Vienna, it was again raining steadily. This persisted all the way to Salzburg and throughout the evening. Any level fields by the road throughout Hungary and Austria are saturated and there is lots of standing water.

Having had a large lunch we weren’t looking for much of a supper. About half of the group went next door to a restaurant, a few decided to skip entirely, and a few ventured out into the rain with Mary Ann to walk to her special place for her Salzburger Nockerl. We were pretty wet when we got there and each had a dessert. Mary Ann had taken another route because she wanted to investigate something and her dish took twenty minutes to prepare, so we ordered for her when we arrived. The waiter tried to talk us out of it. He said that it is for at least two people, as it said on the menu. We assured him that Mary Ann could handle it. As we waited, we noticed two tables of four that each split one. But Mary Ann was up to the challenge. It helped that she did not eat a meal first.

It was still raining on the way back. On the way there, we had passed under a bridge on a pedestrian walkway with the water flowing fast less than a foot below the wall. On our return, the ramp was closed and the water was almost to the top of the railing, a rise of close to three feet in less than two hours!

The hotel is pretty good although, as usual, the rooms are not overly large. Could not get the internet to work again.

I had planned to keep things simple and politically correct on this blog to avoid any controversy, but I have been challenged on my use of the term “internment camps” in Yugoslavia after World War II. A gentleman who spent three years in Rudolfsgnad prefers “death camps.” I guess when tens of thousands of people die in them, that description is pretty hard to dispute. So, let there be no doubt, many thousands of people died in these camps from hunger, cold, disease, and, sometimes, outright murder. Although the facts are unpleasant, they are indisputable and, I guess, no purpose is served by avoiding them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Budapest, Tuesday, June 1

Today was our worst weather day yet. It was cool (about 15 degrees C; 60 F) and rained off and on all day, sometimes fairly heavily. The fields and cemeteries were sodden.

We started our day with a stop at the Stefan Jaeger Museum in Hatzfeld. Jaeger was the foremost Banat painter ever. He is most renowned for his paintings depicting Banat village life from the colonization to the expulsion.

Next stop was the Nikolaus Lenau Museum in Lenauheim. Lenau is regarded as the foremost Banat poet. The museum displays a number of pictures, artefacts, and documents, including the one Frank found on our last trip with one of his ancestors’ names. We started to survey the cemetery, but a rain shower struck just as we were getting started and we abandoned our plan.

We moved on to Gross St. Peter. We got a few pictures of the church and finally found the cemetery. The rain had let up a bit, so we waded through the tall, wet grass and actually found quite a few Heinz gravestones of interest to Pat and Kathy.

We went on to Triebswetter for a tour of its large cemetery, but enthusiasm was wearing thin due to the rain and weariness from the trip. From there we went back to the main road, spent most of our remaining Romanian money, and said good-bye to Sorin. I can’t say enough good things about our two guides, Sorin and Stasa. Sorin is absolutely the authority on Banat history, especially in Romania. Stasa is a superb organizer and facilitator. I would heartily recommend them both for research or guiding.

We found our hotel in Budapest and met Beth Long and her relative, Tomas, for a pleasant dinner and evening of conversation.

The hotel is pretty nice and spacious with an ELEVATOR and wired INTERNET. What I said the other day about elevators applies similarly to internet. No matter what it says in the hotel advertising, you just can't be sure. Last night we were supposed to have wired internet. How can you go wrong? Well, apparently you can, as I could not connect. We have had many cases where there was supposed to be wireless internet, but frequently it only works in a few locations or not at all.

Timisoara, Monday, May 31

This morning we drove to Josefsdorf, about 40 km east of the city. Bob’s family immigrated to North Dakota from this town. We searched the cemetery, but didn’t fins anything of real significance. The cemetery was in pretty good shape, but it was soaking wet and full of puddles. Where the grass was cut, you had a chance to avoid them, but in the long grass you were walking blind and almost guaranteed to step in one. From the cemetery we went to the church. It was only built in 1937, so it was still in pretty good shape, although it may no longer be in use. From church records and maps, Bob was able to determine with pretty good accuracy where his grandfather was born and managed to get pictures of the original house. That was a pretty good victory.

A steady moderate rain began on the way back to the city. We decided to adjust our schedule away from the walking tour of the inner city to a visit to a small Romanian craft store on the northern edge of the city. We returned to the city centre and it was still raining, so about half of us decided to bite the bullet and do our walking tour after all while the rest waited on the bus. An hour or so later we returned and went back to the hotel. There was no point trying to do anything else in the rain. Of course, soon after the rain let up, but I think most of us were glad of the rest anyway.

Sorin had recommended a nearby restaurant, so three of us set out to find the place to see how convenient it truly was. It was pretty close, so several of us gathered at 5:30 for the short walk. The appetizer was a Romanian specialty: toasted bread, purple onion and two spreads, lard with paprika or plain lard. It’s not what we are used to, but I bet our ancestors loved it. Four of the group ordered the platter for two and barely finished it.

The weather was overcast and about 20 degrees C (70 F). It rained steadily from around noon until 3 pm.

Timisoara, Sunday, May 30

We started the day with a mini birthday party for Nora Ann. The hotel had spotted her birthday in her passport and arranged for a big slab of cake and some strawberries that she passed around to the rest of the gang.

The original plan was to travel to Weisskirchen this morning for Ray. But, after discussing it, we agreed that it would be more valuable to spend our time taking in what Vrsac (Werschetz) has to offer than spending our morning on the road. We first went to St. Gerhard’s Cathedral. By chance, the organist who had played for us in Zichydorf and again in Vrsac in 2008 was there. He remembered our visit and was happy to see us. He said the organ wasn’t in very good shape and needed reconditioning, so he couldn’t play for us, but soon changed his mind and played a short piece. Sounded pretty good to our untrained ears! When he put the pedal to the metal, the whole building shook!

From there we drove up the Vrsac Mountain to a 500 year old Serbian lookout tower. We drove almost to the top, but had to hike the last 100-200 metres up a steep path. The tower was undergoing major renovations, so we could not actually climb it, but the view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. It would have been even better if the high humidity had not caused a haze over the area.

On the way back down, we stopped at another small church with a view of the city below.

Our next destination was Kudritz, but we made a short stop on the way. Lee’s uncle had died a couple of days ago. His mother was born in Gross Srediste and, in his later years, he had developed a longing to visit her birthplace. Lee bought some flowers and tied them to the village sign in his honour.

In Kudritz we were able to tour the church, which has deteriorated to such a point that it is no longer in use. Instead they have furnished a small chapel in the parish house next door. The paintings for the Stations of the Cross were taken from Deutsch Zerne, the crumbling church we visited a couple of days ago. There was a new lady looking after the church, but we met the lady who was looking after it on our last trip. Her husband has the same surname as my grandmother, but I have not yet established our connection. The lady was quite surprised and pleased to see us again and thanked me for sending her pictures. We went on to the cemetery, but did not spend much time, as we have been here twice before.

From Kudritz, we returned to Vrsac, where we dropped off Stasa before proceeding on to the Romanian border. The crossing was uneventful, but time consuming as our passports all had to be checked back in to the European Union. We drove on to Morawitza where we met Sorin, our guide for the next few days. From there we drove to Deutsch Stamora for a cemetery search. We have visited here before and I don’t think anyone made any earth-shattering discoveries. Here we ate the first of the two sandwiches each that we had ordered from the hotel.

Next stop was Dolatz, which we have not previously visited. Pat and Kathy’s grandmother came from here and they had a family picture of the church. They were quite thrilled to be there in person, even if the church was all covered in scaffolding. We were told that a local man had a book about the village, but, when we tracked him down, he had loaned it out to someone. They will have to find another way to get it. At the cemetery, they were not able to find the people they were really looking for, but they found several names of interest that they will have to try to tie in later.

We then went on to Ofsentiza. Although virtually all the roads we have been on, no matter how bad, have been hard surfaced, this town is connected to the main highway by a potholed gravel road. The church there is the worst we have seen on our three trips. The roof has caved in in several places and there are bushes growing on the floor. The cemetery sits just outside the town, surrounded by a ring of bush, but surprisingly open inside the ring. There was even still a small plot inside that was still being tended by someone. The rest was tall grass and a few bushes.

From Ofsenitza we drove on to Timisoara for the night. When I booked the hotels, I tried to look for elevators or as few stairs as possible. But often a five or six story hotel will not list an elevator among its features, so you assume they have one. This is not a safe assumption! Our hotel tonight has four floors of rooms on top of the ground floor – total five – and no elevator! They put Trevor and Betty and Frank and Nora Ann on the first floor of rooms (second overall) and the rest of us all ended up on the top floor. Getting some of those suitcases up there was a challenge!

After settling in, most of us gathered on the hotel patio to eat our leftover sandwiches and relax a bit. We found that the schnapps that we could hardly drink on its own was actually quite pleasant when mixed half and half with the carbonated water that the Europeans love so much.

Today was another warm, pleasant day.