Following Rivers Back in Time
(Thursday - June 22, 2018)
This morning I headed out for the last bicycle segment of my journey - to bike to Ermschwerd, a tiny farming village, where my great grandfather was born and grew up before moving to Southern Brazil in his early 20's. This is my dad's father's father - so per custom, the side of the family whose last name I inherited. A side note - I would love to trace my mother's side, Swingle or Haushalter, back to their origin - but both sides of my mother's ancestors lived in the United States far longer than my father's. A lot of the connections are lost (but now that I think about it, I might have a contact from college...).
The photo above is of Friedrich Rappe (also known as "Alte Fritz") in either Southern Brazil, or more likely Argentina, possibly about 1920. My grandfather Fred Rappe was born in Santa Catarina Province in Brazil in 1904 and he and his brother Alvin emigrated to the United States in 1925. That story is well documented by Alvin Rappe. But before leaving Ermschwerd, we know little about Alte Fritz (my dad said they were farmers and possibly asparagus farmers...).
Anyhow, the day itself was beautiful, sunny, but not too hot. As on days prior it threatened to rain, but never did. The Fulda River leaves Kassel and winds its way east into the Wera River at the city of Hann-Munden. The Wera runs from south to north and my route is to follow the Fulda to Hann-Munden, then head south along the Wera to Ermschwerd.
Again, the bicycle paths in Germany are wonderful - asphalt for the most part, clearly signed, and only a few short segments on low-trafficked roads. The Fulda is pretty majestic, cutting its way through high hills (hugelen).
As I biked I wondered about why Friederich Heinrich Rappe moved to Brazil. One of his sons says it was because he was concerned about the militarism in Germany in 1890 and he didn\'t want to serve in the Kaiser (Emperor\'s) Army. But maybe it was wanderlust? The high hills, forests, and meadows around the Fulda and Wera seem like a great place to explore... what is over that next hill, or in those woods over there?
I finally made it to Hann-Munden, a very well preserved and beautiful town at the junction of the Fulda and Wera. It seems to be humming along fine - a lot of tourists, restaurants, and cafes. I took a detour over a covered bridge that crossed the Fulda (and back again) just because it looked cool. After winding through a few cobblestoned streets in Hann-Munden, the route dumped me out on the Wera promenade and the asphalt bike trail.
It soon became pea gravel and wound through some woods along the river - not hard with my tires, but a little slower than asphalt. After the woods, the land rises a bit along the river and you can get a great view of the agricultural land to the west and east of the Wera. Several wind turbines dot the hillsides just west of the river, and west of Ermchwerd.
I descended down from the hilltop, paralleling the Wera, where the trail rejoined the river once again. At that point, I could see some of the new houses on the heights (Bergburg Strasse) above the old town. Ermchwerd is tiny - for my Wisconsin friends thing Whitelaw or something, for Seattle friends think Sultan or Gold Bar.
Ermchwerd, Witzenhausen, and A Special Horse
The family run Gasthaus and grocer was not hard to find... Family Kremulat. Honestly, the middle-aged, mustachioed guy greeted me like a \"Kremulat.\" Gruff, uninterested, and spoke pretty fast German. He was patient enough for me, but I was just some out-of-town goofball on a bike. I found that a lot of the people that I met in the town (and also Witzenhausen which is a notch more worldly) to be rather quiet and private (dare I say provincial?).
I had my room and decided to bike the 2 km to Witzenhausen for dinner. Without my gear it was fast. I stopped by the Evangelical Church to check it out. I would go there in the morning to talk with the parish pastor or secretary about the church records (I had a copy of a taufenbuch record from Ermchwerd that my father showed me and copies of the family tree as he knows it). We are trying to find out the name and birthdates of Friedrich Heinrich Rappe\'s dad. We have some information, but it doesn\'t seem accurate.
On my way to Witzenhausen I passed a horse on the bicycle trail - my first time seeing one on any bike trail in Germany (but I\'ve seen their \"evidence\" quite a few times). One of them (on the right) was nearly midnight black. The name \"Rappe\" in German means black horse and probably derives from the German word \"Rabe\" (Raven) signifying blackness (probably black hair, my dad thinks). It was kind of a cool experience - though the rider and horse were trotting fairly fast or I would have flagged her down and chatted.
After dinner, I returned to my guest room in Ermchwerd, did some reading and family history prep for the morning.