(Friday - June 22, 2018)
For the first time on my bicycle tour, I woke up to rain. Steady rain. Sure, it thunderstormed late in the afternoon in Bonn, but I was in a museum. I’ve been very lucky with nary a drop of rain. Until now.
After breakfast I packed up my things, paid for my room - Mrs. Kremulat was a bit more friendly than her husband - and donned my gear: yellow rain protectors for the panniers on my bike and for me leg and arm warmers, a bright yellow helmet cover, bright yellow jacket, and gloves. Needless to say, all the locals at the nearby bus stop looked at me like I was some kind of alien. Oh well, I’ve gotten worse looks before...at least I’m dry.
My challenge today was to find some information on Friedrich Heinrich Rappe’s father. According to my dad’s family tree work, there is a Heinrich Rappe born in 1827, lived in Ermchwerd as a farmer and married Dora Klaproth. But my dad’s research only turned up a tauftbuch (baptism) book entry for a Johann Heinrich Rappe, baptized 1803 (and presumably born about that time). But my great grandfather, Friedrich Heinrich Rappe, was born in 1872. 70 years old is a bit old for Johann’s wife to be having kids in the 19th century (or any century). So maybe Johann is just an uncle… Maybe I can dig up more at the church.
I rode the two blocks to the Evangelical Church and pulled on the door… locked. Seems that the local church is too small to have someone there full-time. Damn.
But I remembered that the Evangeliche Kirche Von Kurhessen-Waldeck is the regional church and there are bigger Evangelical churches in Witzenhausen. The city administrative offices for the towns are there as well, so I thought I’d try.
I found the Liebfraukirche (Church of Our Lady). I headed there and it was open! But not a soul inside (no pun intended). I pulled on a few doors to areas that looked like there may be offices and nothing… locked.
So I went outside and thought… maybe I’ll just have to work with the City. The good news is that unlike 20 years ago when my dad was here, the internet has become an increidble tool for contacting people (via email) and direct research. I found out the the State of Hesse and many regional archives have a lot of their information online. Plus if I get the names of some church people to contact, I can email or even call them.
I noticed the church announcement board next to me and found the address for the church Gemeindeburo at Brauhaus Strasse 5. When I arrived at Brauhaus Strasse 5 I found a door buzzer and speaker there, so I rung it - three times in about 5 minutes of waiting. Nothing.
At this point I gave up, but I took a picture of the name on the Gemeindeburo buzzer. I also decided I’d go back to the Tourist Information and ask about why the church offices might be closed.
My last attempt was the City Archives. Maybe I’ll find some nice photos of Ermschwerd in the 19th century. The geneological research will have to rely on the internet…
Well, again - closed. I went to the local tourist office and asked the lady there and she said that many offices are closed on Fridays as well as Sundays. At this point, with the rain havin let up, then started again, I decided it was time to get going. It was about 11am and I had 30 miles to ride, likely in the rain.
After downing a cherry bakery item and kaffee mit milch, I left Witzenhausen and was soon back in Ermchwerd. I decided to bum around the town and take a few photos. A street on the southwest side of town, terraced above the town center, is called Burgberg Street (castle mountain). Apparently there was a small castle or fortification built on this hill, overlooking Ermchwerd, by Charlemange or the Carolingians (800-888 AD). If there is anything remaining it isn’t much, and hidden in the hilltop forest.
A New Connection
I descended back to the town center and saw, again, the banners that have a local heraldry and say “Ermchwerd.” Maybe I can get one? I saw a young-ish man working on a house and talking to a lady on the sidewalk. So I asked them. The man, Thomas his name I would soon find out, said that the home across the street is where and Andre is, the town’s “Ortsvorsteher.” An elected, but non-office-holding, representative for the town. Thomas said that Andre loves the town history and knows a lot - try there. I did and guess what… no answer.
But Thomas asked how it went when I returned to my bike and I told him how I had not met anyone today. We started talking and found we have some similar interests - he told me he is working on the house to sell so he can move to Brazil. He liked Germany, but he’s lived in the rural areas too long and he thinks it can be challenging living in small towns. He wants to start and independent community - not a commune - but a place that is more self-sufficient. We talked about city planning and community, people’s lives today, and other things.
When I told him why I was in Ermchwerd and that I couldn’t find anyone, but it’s not that big of a deal, he said: “No, I think that is a big deal. You came all this way not for nothing.” He said he knows Andre, the Ortsvorsteher well, and will talk to him. I gave Thomas my business card and wrote down the ancestor names. He gave me his email and said he’d be happy to help and get me in contact with Andre.
So maybe it wasn’t all for nothing! Of course I did get to see Ermchwerd, as tiny and odd as it was.
Could Be Worse
Thomas had also called his ex-wife and said I could stay at her place overnight. She has a spare room that would work. I jumped at the chance for a free room. All I had to do was call when I got into Kassel.
The ride back to Kassel was filled with on and off rain, culminating in a steady downpour. None of my clothes or luggage got wet. I was fairly dry, but by 25 miles in I was soaked to the bone. Not cold, but wet. My phone also conked out which meant I had to use streetsigns to get around - at least there was only really one bike rout to follow along the Fulda.
In Kassel, I thought my phone was working, so I called Thomas’ ex. No answer. No ring in fact (turns out I ran out of moneh on my phone card...). By this time it was 5:30pm - I had gotten coffee in Witzenhausen, biked around Ermchwerd, talked with Thomas, and dodged raindrops on my way back to Kassel. Luckily I found a hotel.
The last misfortune was that my nice new Goretext rainjacket zipper got stuck up near my neck. You know how zippers, with flaps to keep out snow and rain, sometimes suck up the flap? That’s what happened, and pulling it one way or ther other didn’t help. I couldn’t take it off over my head either - the zipper was near my throat. So in frustration I just ripped open the zipper. Darn it. I\'ll see if I can exchange it when I get home.
Well, that was my day - kind of a disappointment all around. But I made it to Kassel safe and had a place to dry off.