Travelling seems like it has always been a part of my life. I was handed off as a kid, at almost any occasion possible. My parents both worked; on every school vacation I would have been a “Schlüsselkind”, a kid with a key to the front door of the house. In order not to get into trouble, because I get curious about things, I was always sent away mostly to relatives around Germany. The only ‘good’ relatives we had were in Ahlen, the town where my Mom was born. So I have lots of childhood memories in my head about Ahlen. And I still have some family to visit in Ahlen, but no longer any aunts or uncles; now I only have cousins who are still alive. I was shaped by those early experiences in Ahlen. Let it just be said that I know Ahlen like a 2nd home. Some people here in Canada have a ‘cottage’. They go there all summer long; it becomes their 2nd home away from home, at least for the weekends. My cottage was in Ahlen. I spent a lot of time there in my youth.
|Banken Strasse - My Mom's Home Today|
|Picture From Years Ago When It Was A Work Place|
Ahlen, when I grew up, was a mining town - Coal Mining. Most of my relatives worked in the mine, so do I call them miners? I never thought of them as miners. Each one had a very specialized way of working in or on the mines. Some were below ground, some only above ground. The people who worked below ground, working in the mine shafts were called ‘Kumpel’, kind of like the word Pal or Partner in English. Those workers were a tight knit group. Most came from Poland but were Germans, I guess. They came to Germany right after WWI, and many had very Polish names. My grandparents on my mom’s side all had Polish names but they never talked about why they had to move away from Poland, why they chose to work in the mines, etc. I know my Grandfather was, for a while, in Denmark and his history is covered in secrets so deep that nobody could find his real identity even before WWII. He had a few names that I know of, was known as Schuster, mostly, since he repaired shoes on the side. The people who worked in those mines at the time were basically very poor.
|Old Coal Cart Now A Flowerbed|
I visited the apartment my grandparents rented and, wow was it small. I could hardly imagine a couple with 8 to 10 children living in this space, but they did. My mom told me that when she was little, 3 kids slept in one bed at night. She could not remember ever sleeping alone in a bed. What a life those people had. I know a lot of mining stories; luckily no story that held catastrophes.
During WWII those coal mines were targets of the Allied bombing raids because Ahlen is part of the Ruhrgebiet, the Industrial Section, that was the most bombed part of Germany. Sure we lost family in the bombing raids; sure we lost men on the front lines during the war years. Like I said, those stories could be almost part of a book. Those losses are part of the family lore and yes, even today those nights and those losses come up in conversation. They cannot be avoided, they are part of the heritage I have, part of what Germany lived through.
I was somehow like a split personality when I grew up. There was my mom’s side and her stories, my Dad’s side and his ‘lack of’ stories. Ahlen was part of who I became, so I do visit once in a while to just shoot the breeze.
There was a misunderstanding in meeting my cousin, Sofia. I had sent an email but the email never went through. So the date I had in my head and the hour I showed up at their house was exactly the hour nobody was home. It was a bit of a back and forth via emails to sort it out, but we did finally meet over coffee and cake. Meeting like that is typically German. You meet in the afternoon and have just that, coffee and cake. But because I came in unannounced, the cake had to be quickly bought from a store. Normally that does not happen in our family; Marianne is a great cook and prides herself in being a baker, too. So let me explain some of the family I do have and stay in contact with. I try to make it easy to understand.
There is Sofia (we call her Sofiechen) who is my cousin. She is the oldest child of my aunt Anna.
Sofiechen has one son, Franz-Joseph (Frano) who was named after the Austrian Kaiser (Emperor).
Frano married a farmer’s daughter named Marianne. They have 2 boys who are now married and have children, too.
And on and on it goes, the connections are so long, so complicated, you would need a road-map or a family tree to understand all the connections. Especially of you think about the fact that my grand-parents on my mom’s side had 9 children who had also, sometimes, 8 children. That means a lot of cousins, and 2nd and 3rd cousins. Does anybody you know have so many levels of relatives? Believe me it can get complicated. Especially when there are multiple marriages, too.
I only see a few selected people; it would be too much to see them all. Especially in today’s world when they are spread out across the globe in almost every country on Earth. We are traveling folks, it seems, not only me.
So, Carol and I had a nice visit, some laughs, and shared some memories and got updates on the latest happenings. For sure we have lost some closeness, some personal touch by me being in Canada and they being mostly in Ahlen. The situation lent itself to being pulled apart. Emotionally, though, I still like them a lot, they are family, even though it has been 50 plus years we still treat each other as relatives and not as strangers.
|L to R - Marianne, Sophia, Frano ( and me in the Background )|
It was good to visit; I took some photos for old times sake. I had to just go and be part of my past for a few hours while in Europe. Ahlen was a very personal stop but a much needed and very enjoyable stop for me, too.
We are off now to end our journey, to just drive to Frankfurt and then fly home to Toronto.
Auf Wiedersehen! Ttschüß! This is the last blog for 2015.