Author Archive for jim

A 1,000 year-old baptismal font in the ancestral church

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

August 21

There are baptismal fonts and then there is the font in the little church at Kirchtimke, near Steinfeld, Niedersachsen, Germany. While the church is older than most in America, having been built in 1739, the font is truly spectacular. It is Romanesque and dates back at least 1,000 years. That means it was there before even the predecessor to the current church was built in the 1300s. The font is large, standing about four feet tall and it is about three feet in diameter. It is hugely heavy, one cannot even begin to budge it. There are intricate carvings around the top of the octagon and at the bottom as well. Traces of color can be seen here and there. It must have been a very colorful piece when it was new.

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Heartfelt Thank You For Care Package 67 Years Later

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

August 21

Dolores Petit is on the Trip of a Lifetime back to her roots in northern Germany. On the second day of her visit with relatives in the hamlet of Steinfeld, she suddenly came face to face with a woman whom she has never met. However, she gave that woman something so special, so important and yet so vital more than 67 years ago. She gave her a used dress.

That dress was in a care package sent by Dolores’ grandparents to relatives in Steinfeld in the hard years after the end of World War II. The relatives had no young girls at the time, and so they gave the dress donated by a 9 year-old Dolores to their neighbor’s daughter. That little girl, now all grown up, came to thank Dolores in the home of Fritz and Ursela Schmätjen.

Gerlinda Schwelgin remembers clearly the impact that this dress had on her growing up years in a country that was short on everything. She wore it to school in the warmer months, and a second garment she called a ‘uniform,’ also from Dolores, to school and special events in the cooler months. Tears were shed at the happy reunion. Hands were clasped and they did not want to let each other go.

To insert the writer into this little story for a moment. I have witnessed countless family reunions over the past 25 years, but this was absolutely the most heartwarming meeting. There was not a dry eye in the house and the lump in my throat appears whenever I think of this exceptional meeting.

Dolores Petit, left, meets Gerlinda Schwelgin for the first time. A dress donated by Dolores' family in the hard years after World War II made a huge impact on Gerlinda and she came to thank Dolores.

Dolores Petit, left, meets Gerlinda Schwelgin for the first time. A dress donated by Dolores’ family in the hard years after World War II made a huge impact on Gerlinda and she came to thank Dolores.

The address labels from one of the care packages has been kept all of this time by the Schmältjen family.

The address labels from one of the care packages has been kept all of this time by the Schmältjen family.

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August 16

This morning a long-awaited journey finally started for Dolores (Braun) Petit, who has deep roots in Germany but who never had the chance to come due to hard feelings resulting from World War II. Her husband was a fighter in the French Resistance as a young teenager and his father was kept in a concentration camp. So, Germany was always off the table as a destination, although she has visited relatives in France several times. Now a widow, her journey began with arrival this morning at Frankfurt’s Airport after a ride on ‘the biggest airplane I have ever been on in my life.’ (A stretch 747 from Washington DC)
After a long day of rain the sun came out so that Dolores could enjoy the views as we traveled north to our overnight stop in Hannoverisches Münden, about two hours north of Frankfurt with a stop on the way for ‘Zweite Frühstuck,’ or second breakfast of a fresh plum tart with a tall latte macchiato at a bakery in Kirchheim, Hessen.

Her first cousin should have also been arriving today but illness prevented her from making the trip. (A testimonial to the value of Trip Insurance)

Dolores Petit has waited at least 50 years for this trip and today it started. We will be visiting cousins in the Steinfeld (Zeven) area as well as some tourist highlights on her Bucket List.

Dolores Petit has waited at least 50 years for this trip and today it started. We will be visiting cousins in the Steinfeld (Zeven) area as well as some tourist highlights on her Bucket List.

August 14

Las Vegas at Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg. The lights are shining brightly now, but may dim when one sees the huge press of people who crowd the claustrophobic space.

Las Vegas at Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg. The lights are shining brightly now, but may dim when one sees the huge press of people who crowd the claustrophobic space.

A visit yesterday to Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg turned out to be a learning experience, and not a positive one. After purchasing tickets in June and reserving an entry time of between 1030 and 1130, I brought my excited guests to the front door and dropped them off, leaving them to get started while I went around the block and parked. After winding my way up to the sixth floor of a large parking garage and finally finding a spot, I walked back to Miniatur Wunderland. About ten minutes had passed. My two clients were ready to leave.

‘It is impossible in there!’ one of them exclaimed. ‘Impossible to see anything,’ said my other client. I urged them to give it another try, and suggested we go to the end of the floor and start at ‘the back.’

The problem with the layout of Miniatur Wunderland (rated by TripAdvisor as the #1 out of more than 325 attractions in Hamburg) is that there is no direction, no front, no back, no plan at all for handling thousands and thousands of people of all ages, sizes and physical abilities. It is quickly becoming the place to avoid, and not the place to spend hours marveling at the tiny figures and the incredible imagination behind the duo of creators and now their large team of helpers.

If Miniatur Wunderland does not figure out a better crowd control system, I am afraid that the negative reviews will pile up to the point where it will start to slip down to place 324 out of 325 in Hamburg, just above the last-place rated ‘Dumpster Tour.’

(By the way, there is no such tour but not a bad idea!)

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Already Dreaming of 2016 Adventures

Monday, August 11th, 2014

August 11

Steve and Debbie plan ahead. Their April, 2014 trip came as a result of their meeting us in Chicago at the January, 2013 Travel and Adventure Show. Now they have just locked in their April-May, 2016 trip to Germany and Austria. We will be visiting Berlin, Dresden, Rothenburg, Nürnberg, Berchtesgaden and Salzburg and the Rhein River Valley with Bacharach.

For the Trip of a Lifetime – it is never too early to start planning. Then you have the fun of thinking about the trip as the calendar pages float on by.

Steve and Debbie arrived in style to their Venice, Italy hotel via private water taxi soon after landing from Chicago this past April. Now they have their sights set on Deutschland, brats, great beer and alpine majesty plus the little back roads that we know and love. Their trip for spring, 2016 is already reserved.

Steve and Debbie arrived in style to their Venice, Italy hotel via private water taxi soon after landing from Chicago this past April. Now they have their sights set on Deutschland, brats, great beer and alpine majesty plus the little back roads that we know and love. Their trip for spring, 2016 is already reserved.

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Visiting Cousins in Grafshaft Veldenz, Germany

Monday, August 11th, 2014

August 11

Family history enthusiast Carl Tiedt stands in the doorway of his great-grandmother's house in Burgen, Germany.

Family history enthusiast Carl Tiedt stands in the doorway of his great-grandmother’s house in Burgen, Germany.

Give us 11 months to prepare for a family history trip and you just never know what you are going to experience. How about stepping foot into the house where your great-grandmother lived as a little girl? What about wine tasting with cousins, who by the way, also make that wine? What about seeing a church that dates back to the 10th century? Meeting the last remaining member of your ancestral line in this part of the world?

All of that, and more, were experiences enjoyed by Carl Tiedt and his wife Barbara during a whirlwind day, August 7, when we spent most of the day with his cousins and other family in and around the hamlet of Burgen, tucked away in a quiet valley just off the Mosel River of Germany.

Professional researcher Roland Geiger, far left, shows members of Carl Tiedt's extended family in Veldenz plots of land where their ancestors grew grapes more than 125 years ago.

Professional researcher Roland Geiger, far left, shows members of Carl Tiedt’s extended family in Veldenz plots of land where their ancestors grew grapes more than 125 years ago.

Planning started for Carl and Barbara’s trip in late August, 2013. Soon after, Carl was put in touch with Roland Geiger, a professional genealogist based in St. Wendel, Saarland. Roland has been doing consulting work for European Focus Private Tours for more than a decade, with a super track record of success. Roland did not let anyone down this time, either. Not only did he find two ancestral houses, but he also located exact plots of land owned by Carl’s ancestors before they emigrated to America. A highlight of the day was toasting those ancestors, and current cousins, with wine made by the Müller family on the edge of a vineyard once worked by Carl’s ancestors before their emigration in the 1880s.

Martin Müller pours Barbara Tiedt a glass of wine and Carl drinks to his ancestors with cousin Jörg Müller, Martin's father, at his side.

Martin Müller pours Barbara Tiedt a glass of wine and Carl drinks to his ancestors with cousin Jörg Müller, Martin’s father, at his side.

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The hamlet of Burgen has a population of 600. Many of them are involved in the production of wine.

The hamlet of Burgen has a population of 600. Many of them are involved in the production of wine.

August 7

Thanks to exhaustive research carried out by our partner Roland Geiger (far left) our guests from Missouri were able to toast ancestors in a vineyard above Veldenz that was owned by them before they emigrated to America. Making it extra special was the fact that current-day cousins are also wine makers. Barbara is in the pink, Carl T. is in the blue pants. This photo was taken above Veldenz, Germany.

Planning and coordination of this tour started in late August, 2013.

Ancestors owned vineyards before they left for America. What a special treat to toast them with cousins on a gorgeous day.

Ancestors owned vineyards before they left for America. What a special treat to toast them with cousins on a gorgeous day.

August 6

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