Archive for Family History Tours

How Do You End the Trip of a Lifetime in Germany?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

August 23

Dolores Petit takes in the panorama of the Rhein River Valley from above Bacharach

Dolores Petit takes in the panorama of the Rhein River Valley from above Bacharach

BacharachBroadView copy

Dolores Petit always wanted to visit her ancestral country of Germany but her husband would not allow it. A member of the French Resistance as a young teen, he harbored hard feelings against not just some Germans but the entire country. When they traveled, they went to see his relatives in France.

So, when her husband John Petit died a year and a half ago, Dolores started planning a trip that she had been waiting basically her entire life to take. She was going to make it with her cousin, Bette. The highlight would be a visit to see cousins in northern Germany near Bremen.

Bette fell ill just a few days before departure and could not make the trip. Dolores came alone, and had the time of her life. How do you wrap up a wonderful week in a country where you love just everything? We thought an afternoon on the beautiful Rhein River between Mainz and Marksburg would be the perfect way to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to Deutschland.

After having a freshly-made sandwich at a bakery near the departure point in Rüdesheim, Dolores boarded the ‘Vater Rhein’ for a two-hour cruise downstream to St. Goarshausen. She passed many castles, hamlets and miles of vineyards along the way. The weather cooperated and she was able to sit at the stern of the vessel, a perfect spot to catch the entire panorama unfolding before her. Her guide, James Derheim (the founder and owner of European Focus Private Tours) was waiting in St. Goarshausen when she arrived just before 4 p.m. We continued the tour along the road up to Marksburg, an impressive medieval castle which is one of only two fortresses on the Rhein to have never been captured, sacked or destroyed in more than 800 years. We turned around and backtracked, taking the ferry at Pfalzgrafenstein to the other side, and then a short drive to Bacharach for dinner. But wait, James had something else to show Dolores. To put a cherry on the top of the trip, he drove her up, up and up some more to a ‘secret’ overlook point higher than even Burg Stahleck, the medieval sentinel which has kept watch over Bacharach for seven centuries. The view is breathtaking and made the perfect ‘period’ at the end of what she said. ‘This was the trip of my life.’

The ship 'Vater Rhein' cruises past a 12th century castle near Assmannshausen

The ship ‘Vater Rhein’ cruises past a 12th century castle near Assmannshausen

Pfalzgrafenstein has stood since the 1300s. It was never sacked or destroyed.

Pfalzgrafenstein has stood since the 1300s. It was never sacked or destroyed.

Marksburg has never been destroyed or captured in its more than 800 year history. It stands near Braubach on the northern end of the drive Dolores enjoyed after her cruise.

Marksburg has never been destroyed or captured in its more than 800 year history. It stands near Braubach on the northern end of the drive Dolores enjoyed after her cruise.

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.

KirchtimkeChurchBaptismalFontFace copy

KirchtimkeChurchBaptFontDetail2 copy

KirchtimkeChurchAndreAndDolores copy

KirchtimkeBaptismalFont1,000YearsOld copy

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.

DoloresGerlindaHoldHands copy

DoloresGerlindaLookAtPhotos2 copy

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.

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.

MartinMüllerAndBarbaraTiedtWineAtVeldenz copy

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.

Carl wrote on his arrival back home on August 25:

Hi James,

I want to thank you again for the great time we had, your work was excellent. I will never be able to thank you enough for putting me with Roland.

I have heard from my Cousin Edgar and from Ernst in Stadthagen.

I’ll let you know when I receive my wine and we can share a bottle in Springfield of Sarasota.

Blessings, Carl

August 6

For tours in Germany or in Europe in 2015 –

New and return clients are making their reservations now for tours in Europe in 2015 and yes, even as far ahead as 2016. Remember, all of the tours arranged and led by European Focus are custom-designed and built one at a time for each client or set of clients. No mix and match, no big bus, no incompatible strangers and best of all, no ‘take it or leave it’ itinerary! We work with you to create the perfect trip for you, and just you. (Even if your ‘group’ is just two people, this is our normal tour size!) Contact us today to start planning your trip of a lifetime.

Our 2012 Volkswagen 'Multivan' Highline edition has all of the bells and whistles for your ultimate comfort on the highways and byways of Europe.

Our 2012 Volkswagen ‘Multivan’ Highline edition has all of the bells and whistles for your ultimate comfort on the highways and byways of Europe.

Welcome to Germany, Carl and Barbara

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

August 5

Carl and his wife Barbara started planning their trip to Germany with European Focus back in late August of 2013. Now, just shy of a year later, they have landed and are ready to begin their eight-day adventure to see some of Carl’s ancestral towns and villages in Germany. Here they are, fresh from the airport, enjoying a cold beer at one of our favorite villages on the Rhein River, Bacharach. More to come, so stay tuned!

CarlBarbaraBacharachBeer

BacharachCenter copy

BacharachCenterWithHotel copy

Guiding tours in European for over 20 years