Sea Foam: Hilton Head woman relives family history during overseas trip

November 1, 2010 

Thanks to Bonnie Sudduth of Hilton Head Plantation for sharing the story of a special family journey.

Bonnie writes:

The castle ruin sits on a hilltop overlooking the quaint German village of Thierstein. With its cobblestone streets, immaculate flower-adorned houses and lovely church spire, this is truly a picturesque sight.

Beneath the village, tucked among the colorful patchwork of fields and farms, stands the Hafendeckmuhle (the port deck mill). This is the house where my grandfather spent his boyhood.

As an adult, he and his brother immigrated to the United States and married sisters who lived on a farm in Marshallville, Ohio. What a journey that must have been.

In August, my family made the journey to this Bavarian village in the far corner of Germany, almost in Czechoslovakia. This is a trip that had been planned over a period of several years.

As a child, I remember a drawing of a house with the barn attached. This was the home of my grandfather, Henry Fischer. This picture now hangs in our home. Seeing this home was always a dream of mine.

The dream became a reality that was triggered by my finding something very special.

In sorting through my deceased mother's possessions, I found a travel journal that my grandmother had created. It chronicled the 1927 journey of my mother, who was 10 years old at the time, and her parents. In addition to the journal, I found the family passport that was used for the trip. They traveled back to Europe to attend a family wedding on the farm in Thierstein. Thus began my search for the town and my roots.

After contacting the German embassy, I was given the contact information for the mayor, Willi Heinl, of the town of Thierstein. Through e-mails and phone calls to his assistant, Karl-Heinz Zeitler (the mayor does not speak English), it was confirmed that the farmhouse did still exist. I was also given the names of my great grandparents and told that they were the millers for the town. The town is so tiny, that it does not appear on the AAA map.

My husband, Davi d, my son, Christian, and I met my brother-in-law, Johnny, and his wife, Christa, in Frankfurt. We traveled via the Autobahn (my, how fast they go) the four hours to reach Thierstein. Even though it was August, the weather was cool, in the 60s.

We were met in the village by Karl, the assistant to the mayor. How surprised we were to be escorted in to the mayor's office and welcomed with a champagne toast and refreshments. A lovely painting of the town and the town seal was presented to us. They even had a local newspaper reporter. Even though much of the conversation was in German (which only Christa understood because she is a native German), we learned many interesting facts.

The castle in the town was built in 1343. The owner of the castle felt that the townspeople needed a source for bread. In 1391 the mill house, where my grandfather lived as a boy, was built. The winding road that the farmers would travel from the village to the millhouse to deliver their grain still exists. This is the very same path that my mother would walk in 1927 when she traveled from the town to the farm.

After taking some photos in the mayor's office, we traveled to the home of my grandfather. I have several pictures of the house that were taken during the 1927 visit. The small tree that stood by the house is now quite large. The iron fence at the front is gone, but the concrete posts that supported the fence still stand.

We were greeted by the current owners of the home. A young family with two children lives in the house. The mill wheel and mill pond are gone, but the house still stands majestically. Amazing that someone would still live comfortably in a house built in 1391.

The view from the house is magnificent. The rolling countryside is presided over by the castle ruin that sits atop the town.

Our next stop was the castle. Karl is also the keeper of the castle. As we walked up the hill to the castle, he pointed out the stone entrance wall that is still left, even though the drawbridge is long since gone. Using the key to the castle, we learned about the history and uses of the castle.

Climbing the 30-plus steps up in the tower was a challenge. Heights, especially increasingly narrow and steeper steps, are not my forte. As we climbed, we would stop to enjoy the view of the countryside. I salute the brides who climb to the top to be married.

Once we reached the top, I enjoyed the beautiful aerial view of the mill house in the distance. The path my mother walked as a young girl formed a ribbon-twisted path to the home of my heritage.

This journey has heightened my awareness of the bravery and ambition that a young man must have had to travel so far from this tiny Bavarian town to begin a new life in a land so far away from his roots.

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