2007-09-04 11:10:58 More Awards

Bruce writes:

Christine Usdin - Best Travel Blog Comments! :-)

2007-09-02 14:35:18 Home again

We're back in Los Angeles today after an eleven-hour flight from Amsterdam. Everything went well and we're amazed at the number of cities and ancestral towns we were able to visit...and particularly grateful to those of you who read the blog and left comments.

We have scads of photos to catalogue and identify, all of which will occur over the next few days as our lives return to normal.

We thought you might enjoy reading our "Best of" nominations for the places we visited and stayed. Perhaps these recommendations may help you if you decide to travel and stay in some of the same places.

Best alternative transport: The Smart Car, a vehicle that looks as though it's been chopped in half. Not very practical for hauling lots of luggage in the trunk but for fitting into tight parking places in Berlin, Hamburg, and Copenhagen, this might be the one for you. We saw them everywhere. We didn't rent one, however.

Best fast train: ICE (Intercity Express) between Hamburg and Berlin.

Best train station: Hamburg Hauptbahnhof.

Best city to leave the car behind and take city transit: Berlin.

Best city for outdoor cafes: Hamburg.

Best tour guide: Peter Schraeder in Dransfeld and Hann. Muenden.

Most convivial hotel bar: The Gredstedbro outside of Ribe, Denmark, where Hanne the owner will teach you how to pronounce the name (it's not as easy as it looks).

Best town sign: the tiny village of Tinningstedt, near Leck in Schleswig Holstein. We estimated that about fifty people at most live here, and probably a lot more cows than people.

Longest beds: Hotel zur alten Stadmauer in Luebeck, where the mattresses are about six and a half feet long---they must be expecting Vikings!

Most beautiful view from the window: Gasthaus Reinhardswald near Oberwesser.

Best hotel tea service: Hotel Laine, Riga, where two perfectly prepared pots of black tea were served elegantly on the outdoor patio.

Best cat: Pushik, who lives near the village of Viski and speaks perfect Cat (Russian dialect variant). Out of all the cats we saw on the trip, only Pushik had a moment to spare to welcome tourists to the region.

Most Western-style hotel: Hotel Mara in Riga, which is actually a Best Western...we had no idea there were any of these in the former Eastern Europe.

Best bargain: Hotel Dinaburg in Daugavpils. You can get a gourmet meal for the equivalent of $8 US, a beer for under a dollar, and a bottle of mineral water for thirty cents!

Best city for bicycling: A tie between Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Bicyclists have the right of way here. Pedestrians and cars had better watch out!

Best museum: A tie between the Bremerhaven Emigration Museum, Altes Museum in Berlin, and the Berlin Deutsches Historiches Museum just down the street.

Best breakfast: A tie between the Hotel zur alten Stadmauer in Luebeck and the Gasthaus Reinhardswald near Oberwesser. The variety of food in Luebeck was superb, while the freshness and care of preparation at the Reinhardswald was delightful. The Reinhardswald also has great schnitzel---make sure to ask for some if you visit.

Most ancestrally helpful hotel: Freddie and Anita Owen at the Owen Pension NF in Leck. The Owens were kind enough to research a local genealogist who gave us some insights into northern Schleswig family history.

Best cemetery: Without a doubt, it's the Jewish cemetery at Viski, which still holds hundreds of records worth reviewing.

Best beer and bread: Probably anywhere in Germany. Ask for a local beer "vom Fass" (from the tap), while bread and baked goods are universally terrific everywhere.

More "best of" awards as they occur to us!

See comments

2007-09-03 04:24:26 usdin

As a result of calculation I deduced that Latvia won the Award of excellence!

2007-09-01 08:10:59 Travel day Berlin -> Hamburg -> Amsterdam

Bruce writes:

Today is a travel day. We are up and showering (doesn't everyone have a Mac in the shower? -- ok, D is showering, I am typing) and getting ready to leave Berlin. We have a 10AM train to Hamburg and then from Hamburg an hour flight to Amsterdam.

These fast trains are REALLY fast (1 hour 40 minutes) between Hamburg and Berlin and very nice. You can even get a very decent cup of tea on the train. Why can't you get a decent cup of good British-style tea in the US when you can get it anywhere in Europe? Tea Drinkers Unite!

So we're not sure what our net connections will be over the next day or two. I know we don't have it at our hotel tonight. Well, they do have it, but the cost is absurd. So don't worry if our posts aren't very regular until we arrive home.

We leave tomorrow morning from Amsterdam at 8AM and arrive in LA at 10AM. Fast flight, eh? Modern science at work, along with many time zones changing.

Thanks again for following us on our adventure. We will be going through our pictures and sending out more detailed reports after we get back.

Bruce adds more, 6 hours later:

We have made our connections and we are now sitting in the Hamburg airport. It require a lot of logisitics! We left our hotel at 7:45AM, caught the "U" (Underground) train at approximately 8AM, had to change for an "S" (above ground) train and get to the Berlin train station to catch the 9:18AM train to Hamburg. Once in Hamburg, we had to catch the airport shuttle. Amazingly, this all worked like clockwork! At each junction, the wait was only minutes.

The wait at the airport lines was a bit longer, but not bad, and being the planners that we are, we had extra time built-in, so we had enough time to have a nice lunch and a beer (this is Germany, after all) before our flight.

I have to say, Hamburg has some amazing "quick food" (I hate to use the term "fast food" because of the American connotations) at the airport. You can get these really good sandwhiches with tasty meats and cheese on very good fresh rollls.

We had a long wait in the security line, but had an entertaining time talking to a couple of German young fellows (who had already been to the bar themselves and had perhaps indulged slight too much) who were on their way to Spain. They were telling us how Americans think Germans are either Nazis or wearing Liederhosen. I'm not sure how many Americans really think that -- I think it's an image insecurity issue and they are projecting, but they were too drunk to really worry too much about it. :-)

See comments

2007-09-01 05:11:04 usdin

Hi Bruce and D.Believe it or not...I'll be missing your travel blog very very much.Just to prolong the discussion about the high speed trains,now in France the TGV(high speed train)'s speed between Paris and Strasbourg is of 199 miles per hour and it's only 2.20 hours instead of 4 since last july. Your trip will continue when you'll be home with all the photos and videos work you'll have to do.For me generally it takes at least one month before I recover mentally from a trip. Have a nice trip back home.Anna will be happy! Christine

2007-08-31 08:13:56 Berlin Day Two

Bruce writes:

Today we took in some incredible museums in Berlin, and for me, that really opened the town up. I have to say, I was very underwhelmed by the Jewish Museum yesterday. Rather than take the traditional museum approach, they chose to represent the Holocaust with structures designed to make you uncomfortable, and while interesting and well meant, it just didn't work for me.

But today, all was great. First we went to the Altes Museum for the Egyptian exhibit which was really wonderful. I didn't bother with the headset since I'm traveling with an expert. :-) I'm sure D. will go into some of the details of what we saw, but I had fun taking pictures and hearing her explain things even if I probably won't remember exactly what she said or how to spell "Hatshepsut".

D. says:

The lady with the tall blue crown is Nefertiti, widely regarded (well above Angelina Jolie) as the most beautiful woman in the world. She was the wife of King Akhenaten and mother-in-law of his successor, the boy-king Tutankhamun. During Akhenaten's reign there was a relaxed but more realistic revolution in Egyptian painting and sculpture. Some of it surpasses the expressiveness of Greek sculpture, in my opninion.

The Altes Museum has a great collection of Amarna-period (mid-14th century BCE) Egyptian art, perhaps one of the best in the world. They were fortunate to acquire their pieces in the early twentieth century, well before strict accounting of antiquities was set up by the Egyptian government. Egypt makes noises about wanting Nefertiti back but I don't think it will happen.

Bruce says:

After that we had a great (and very inexpensive -- my two favorite things!) lunch across the street where some booths were set up selling wursts and things and some very nice local beer.

By the way, I have to echo was D. said about the public transport system in Berlin. It is amazing! There would never be a good reason to drive here. Why is it that Los Angeles can't do this?

We then ventured over to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which had a fascinating collection of stuff amazingly displayed. As D said, it was kind of like we walked out of one page of history almost into the next when we walked from the end of the Egyptian New Kingdom to the Roman beginnings of Germany and up through the early twentieth century.

There were quite a few very interesting artifacts and documents describing the history of Jews in Germany, like this stone. This is the stone for Benjamin, son of Mordecai, from the Jewish Community Cemetery Spandau near Berlin. Benjamin died in 1284.

They also had a silver dreidel, a circumcision knife and holder, and an etrog-shaped serving dish for Sukkot, all from the seventeenth century.

Hard to believe it's been a week since we landed in Riga, but now it is once again time for Shabbat here. We have our portable Shabbat kit, and we think about all of you as we celebrate.

Thanks especially to you all leaving notes, it means a lot.

Tomorrow morning we take an express train back to Hamburg and then fly to Amsterdam where we have a lay-over. We intend to make good use of the layover, revisiting part of the downtown area of Amsterdam and meeting up with two longtime friends, Lizz and Michael Holmans, who we haven't seen since their wedding in 1997.

Then it's back to LA on Sunday morning via KLM...which is, by the way, a superb airline. If you haven't flown internationally in awhile, try KLM. They feed you royally, especially when you order kosher meals!

The hands, by the way, are all that's left of a statue of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. It was unthinkable at this period in Egyptian art to have the king and his queen showing affection, but Akhenaten turned artistic conventions upside-down and expressed freely what he felt for his wife and family. You can feel the love they had for each other. It reminds Bruce and me of us. :-)

See comments

2007-08-31 16:08:59 Lizz Holmans

Isn't Berlin nice? I liked it there much more than I expected to. We will see you tomorrow, Saturday, sevenish or whenever. The Dam is on the street leading from the station to the Dam Square. The hotel has an Italian restaurant on the ground floor--we'll meet you there. Big sign for hotel, itty bitty door.

2007-08-30 12:22:48 Exploring Berlin

D. says:

It feels a little odd to have no family to research in Berlin! But neither Bruce nor I have any that we know about.

The ride in the InterCity Express (ICE) from Hamburg to Berlin was interesting. It's a high-speed train that at times reached speeds of 228 kilometers per hour (about 142 mph) and it got us to Berlin in 1.5 hours.

I'd forgotten how big the city is---3.5 million inhabitants! The central train station is about seven stories high with platforms on almost every level.

The U-bahn and S-bahn are underground and regional trains that serve the entire city. A nice lady at the tourism office pointed out that we could get a two-day pass for all city transit for 16 Euro (about $22), a real bargain. We can also take any city bus anywhere...and they're so civilized that they have interactive signs announcing bus arrivals at street stops.

We walked along the main shopping street, the Kurfuerstendamm (Ku'damm for short), where upscale shops like Cartier and Gucci are located...out of our price range, but it's a very pretty street for strolling, very much like Paris.

This old building on the Ku'damm is a bank.

After tea we decided to check out the Jewish Museum of Berlin. It has a very traditional permanent collection devoted to two thousand years of Jewish history in Germany, but we decided to look at a couple of more contemporary installations.

The museum incorporates modern abstract architectural elements to suggest the starkness of the Holocaust, and in one area uses a series of slanted ramps to keep you feeling literally off balance as you explore stark "gardens" of concrete and cobblestones.

The piece at left is called "Fallen Leaves" and consists of a concrete room with stylized metal plates resembling faces scattered in layers over the floor. You're encouraged to walk over the "leaves" and think about the millions of lives lost under your feet.

It's a somber place, no doubt about it.

Tomorrow will include more exploring by bus and subway and a trip to the Altes Museum, where the ancient history collection is housed.

See comments

2007-08-30 14:09:54 usidn

Hi Bruce and D, What an amazing and rich trip in its diversity you are doing.Berlin concerning contemporary art is probably at the top now in the world... You will carry back home so beautiful memories.Your travel blog is excellent. Tschüß! Christine

2007-08-30 04:26:02 Travel day to Berlin

Bruce writes:

Up early this morning (4AM) to prepare for a flight to leave Riga. We fly to Hamburg and then catch a train to Berlin.

This will be the first part of the trip where we are being just tourists, in that there aren't any family history connections. Berlin has some great museums, I'm told, so I think we'll be seeing a whole lot of old stuff from Egypt over the next couple of days. With any luck, we'll find a record store as well.

Not sure what we'll have for internet. Obviously there will be internet cafes in Berlin, so we'll be able to update here and there.

D. writes:

Thanks to my cousins Jean and Myra for their comments on yesterday's post! It's an interesting question, isn't it: did our ancestors look back fondly or not at all to the old country? I don't think the poor or difficult times were a source of nostalgia for them at all.

But it's interesting to me how reminiscent some of these ancestral lands are to the places they eventually settled. The building styles are different in Goettingen from Charleston but both were important merchant centers for the Jathos. The farmland around Leck looks so much like the Nebraska landscape where the Petersens ended up at first.

And Bruce mentioned several times how some areas of southern Indiana look a lot like the farms in the Viski area.

It's ironic that genealogy---an American pastime second only to gardening as a national hobby---has persuaded us to look back at what our ancestors left behind...and in doing so we seem to find out so much more about the rich heritage of our modern-day families.

More from Berlin later today!

2007-08-29 07:58:24 Back in Riga and ready to fly to Hamburg

D. says:

We drove today from Daugavpils to Riga. We'll miss our nice hotel, the Dinaburg, but tomorrow we fly to Hamburg on an early flight and need to be close to the Riga Airport to be on time for the flight.

The local countryside continued along in its peaceable way as we drove past, with local folks walking home from an early morning at the market. Almost everyone carries a bundle of flowers to take home.

As soon as we were out of Daugavpils we could see storms on the horizon, headed straight for us. To me this is a plus (growing up in Los Angeles we never get our fill of rain) but for Bruce, driving in it wasn't all that much fun.

Nevertheless we were through the rain and had occasional moments of bright sky and benign clouds marching across the sky.

We stopped at a tiny roadside bistro about an hour and a half outside of Riga for lunch. The ladies there didn't speak any English but we managed all right with our Russian.

The main road from Daugavpils to Riga is two lanes, one for each direction of traffic. Occasionally we'd end up behind a truck and it would be miles before we could pass. Latvian drivers take all sorts of chances passing on blind curves and hills that we'd never attempt. But eventually we got around this fellow.

When we arrived in Riga there seemed to be a major traffic event of some sort on every single road leading into the city. Perhaps this is just normal for mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. But Bruce handed me a street map and we managed to navigate on surface streets through the worst of it.

This photo shows an interesting contrast of architechtural styles, modern on the left, antique on the right. Some of these old buildings in the businesss section of town date from the early 1800s.

We're now at our airport hotel, having enjoyed a hail storm and a nice dinner. A perfect end to the day!

Bruce adds:

One other thing I wanted to say about Viski before moving on. My impression of Viski before seeing it was that it was just this side of a ghost town. While it is hardly the Las Vegas of the Baltic, it is a living, breathing town. When we were there yesterday, we saw at least a couple of dozen people: old people tending their gardens, kids walking around and riding bikes, people walking home from a bus stop bringing home the groceries for the evening. You look closer, and you'll see clean curtains in the windows, fresh flowers on the sills, but not necessarily fresh paint on the outside of the house. We suppose (D and I) that what happens on the outside of the house is less important to Viski-ites than what happens on the inside.

It's not LA. It's not even Vincennes (for those who know it). But it's a real town with real people, and these people seem very respectful of the heritage of the Jewish culture that once predominated the town.

See comments

2007-08-29 12:39:09 Myra

Although I read your travel blog from back to front, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience...like I was there. Especially the practical tidbits. The photos are lovely and very descriptive. I also enjoyed the Dransfeld/Jatho areas. So amazing to actually imagine the areas they lived, very different from Charleston. However, I don't think any of them ever looked back. Thanks for sharing your trip. Myra

2007-08-29 13:39:21 Jean Lisk

Great to see where you have been. How exciting!!

2007-08-29 18:44:04 Myra

Although I read your travel blog from back to front, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience...like I was there. Especially the practical tidbits. The photos are lovely and very descriptive. I also enjoyed the Dransfeld/Jatho areas. So amazing to actually imagine the areas they lived, very different from Charleston. However, I don't think any of them ever looked back. Thanks for sharing your trip. Myra

2007-08-28 05:47:04 More from Viski

Bruce writes:

I spoke with Janis Kudins, mayor of Spogi, on the phone. I can handle simple Russian with someone face to face, but it's harder on the phone. But we finally got it set up that I would find his office in Spogi, about 2 km from Viski. Kudins is the unofficial mayor of Viski as well. He has a guest-house that he has been building for the last 3 years, and he is renting it out for 9 lats per night (about $18!). It is in a very picturesque setting, quite beautiful.

Kudins is, as Christine Usdin said, a very nice man. I told him that I'd already looked around Viski with the help of Lolita, and he took us to see some other local sites. He enlisted the help of a young fellow also named Janis, who grew up in Viski and attended University in Riga where he learned excellent English. Janis was a great help, though D & I find our Russian improves with each opportunity to use it.

For me the highlight of his tour was to see the old train station. The station is certainly older than 100 years, so it was without question the building that our ancestors went through. This line went from Saint Petersburg, Russia to Dvinsk (Daugavpils) and from Dvinsk you could go to Riga, Libau (the major port of the Russian Empire before 1917), Vilnius, Lithuania, etc. And this train station was about 4 km from Viski. If you are map-loving type, this is a German map of Eastern Europe from 1891, and you can see the rail lines for yourself. (note: because it's German, Daugavpils is shown as Dunaberg and Viski as Wyschki)

This picture has nothing to do with family history except that this fellow is a resident of Viski, according to Janis. But D seemed very charmed to see a horse-drawn wagon. Apparently a life-long Angelino is unused to this sort of thing. :-)

Kudins confirmed that he is helping to maintain the cemetery in Viski and that we could work something out to help support that effort. It is amazing and wonderful that even this much is now being done. I told him that I would email him so that we could work out details. Christine might be able to help even more since her Russian is much better than mine. (Christine, I did send your regards to Janis.)

All in all, it was a lovely day and a nice way to say До свидания ("Do Svidanya" or goodbye) to Viski.

Tomorrow we head back to Riga, just for an overnight stay.

See comments

2007-08-28 08:08:15 usdin

It's so amazing to see Janis on your blog and I am glad you met him.Sure I'll help for the cemetery. Have a nice to morrow to Riga. Christine

2007-08-28 01:48:21 Tuesday in Daugavpils and Viski

D. says:

We've been doing so well with our various projects that we're ahead of our schedule. Time for some more photos!

The road we drove from Riga to Daugavpils follows the Daugava River all the way south. I took a picture out the window as we drove (so apologies for the quality) but this gives you a rough idea of the views.

Here in Daugavpils in southern Latvia we're about 40 to 50 kilometers (about 25 to 30 miles) from the border with Lithuania and Belarus. We're a little further from the Russian border, maybe only an hour. However, though we could drive through northern Lithuania without problems, both Belorus and Russia require visas for entry, which we don't have. No problem, there's enough to keep us busy here.

One of the two roads to Viski is unpaved but otherwise in good shape. The view over the landscape is really spectacular. There's one tiny house we passed on one of the unpaved roads which looks like a miniature, elaborately painted barn with windows. It has a colorful garden all around it, and it's no bigger than the bedroom of an American-style house...amazing!

While photographing the cemetery we discovered that it appeared better cared for than it had in the past. Numerous saplings have been cleared and the area around the headstones has had its tall grasses trimmed so inscriptions (where readable) are clearly visible.

Bruce mentioned that the mayor of a nearby town of Spogi, Janis Kudins, has been taking care of Viski too as a kind of unofficial mayor. Christine, you will be interested in this: there appears to be a small fund which he oversees. This fund allows for periodic clean-up and caretaking of the cemetery.

Bruce adds:

We got this information from Lolita, the lady from Viski who showed us around. I am going to contact Mr. Kudins to find out if we can contribute to this fund to ensure that it keeps being maintained. I suspect that it would not take a great deal of money to ensure its perpetuity.

See comments

2007-08-28 05:02:29 usdin

All is so interesting.Janis Kudins is a very nice man.Tell him "привет"from me and of course I'll contribute to the fund too.If you have time ask him to show you the ancient flour mill close to Vishki that you saw on my video...

2007-08-27 06:29:17 Viski Day 2

Bruce writes:

We started the Viski cemetery project today. It's hard to get a grasp of just how huge this cemetery is until you are standing in it. The graves were never, as far as one can tell now, placed in orderly rows. And over time as stones have fallen or been pushed, the stones have been re-placed in the ground, sometimes half-buried themselves, because they have lost of the bottom of the stone.

So most of the work was cleaning off the stones, as much as possible. Ironically, in many cases the stones which had been covered by dirt have survived better because the dirt protected the stone. I hadn't thought that I'd be doing this much clean-up, or I would've brought some tools: a shovel, a broom, compressed air perhaps. And in so many cases, it's just too late, there is nothing left to read on the stone. Even those, however, are very moving and beautiful in a way -- they have become a tribute to all those who lived and died in Viski.

But I am happy to report that I found great-grandpa Chaim. The grave is barely legible now, sadly. I had the photograph with me, and I had to trace the letters with my finger to confirm that it was indeed the correct grave, but it matched exactly. It is one of the very tallest stones -- over five feet tall, and probably more if it was standing straight. It has developed a severe lean, but in fact it was leaning to the right like this in the old photo we have of it.

I tried to pose similarly to the old picture of the grave.

The grave is in a very beautiful part of the cemetery, just at the top corner which overlooks a beautiful lake. We are going to try to create a rough map for all the graves that we can identify, so if anyone else wants to locate the same graves, it may be of some help. We are looking at various ideas to see about being able to get a better image of it -- possibly using chalk to enhance the letters.

At any rate, I've taken photos of every grave that has the slightest possibility of being read, and also some that don't. After I'm back home, I'll be sorting through them and asking the folks over at JewishGen for help on translating the names.

The countryside of Viski is quite beautiful; huge hay fields, heavily wooded areas, lakes -- quite charming. The village itself is mostly made up of old wooden homes, many of which don't look to be in a condition that we would consider habitable, but people are definitely living there. There are flowers in the windows (Latvians love flowers and gardens) and people are tending to their gardens.

There are several old Soviet era looking apartment blocks that are in such dreadful condition, but apparently are being used because (believe it or not) there are satellite dishes hanging out of some windows. I don't know how these people eat everyday, but they are getting satellite TV!

I saw a couple of dozen people around the town, gardening, walking, riding bikes. Like many small depressed towns, it appears that as soon as someone is of an independent age, they leave Viski to find better opportunities. So Viski is largely a city of older folks with a few young ones.

I spoke with a gentleman who was tending his garden. He lived across the street from where the old Synagogue stood. Amazingly, he could understand my Russian when I spoke to him! I told him that my grandfather was born in Viski, and he asked my name. He remembered Dumesh families and pointed to the house on the corner (a picture of which D included in the prior post) and said he remembered a Tanya Dumesh that lived there. Veronka Galvane, the elderly lady that we spoke with, talked about a Tanya Dumesh that was her friend. She said they used to have a shop where they would spin wool, and she loved to watch them do it.

I don't know about a Tanya Dumesh. She wasn't in any of the census records or vital records that we've been able to track down. But these two people have a clear memory of her. It's amazing to see these houses where the Dumesh families lived! We don't know exactly which Dumesh had which house yet, but if it's knowable, we'll figure it out eventually. As my Dad used to say, "Nothing is impossible, the impossible just takes a little longer".

We did a bit more looking around. I'm working on a map of Viski. There are only a few main streets, but there is more to it than I thought there would be.

After that, we decided we'd done enough work for the morning and we required some lunch. We found a Ukrainian Restaurant in Daugavpils. It was interesting ordering in Russian -- well, more interesting trying to figure out exactly what it is that you are about to order. The waitresses were wearing these cute flowered head-dresses. I must say, the most enjoyable part about visiting Daugavpils is that it is the most affordable place I've ever been, and after visiting Copenhagen, this is a welcome change. Granted, Copenhagen is just a tad bit more fun.

Daugavpils has a reputation, even in the travel guide books, as a dark, grey post-Soviet city with little to recommend it for tourists, and I have to say that this opinion is not without merit. However, if you find yourself in Daugavpils and you need a place to say, I can highly recommend the hotel we found, the Hotel Dinaburg. It is very reasonably priced, the staff are friendly and helpful, there is a nice restaurant and bar, free and safe parking, the room is small but very nice and extremely clean.

See comments

2007-08-27 07:43:30 Cyril-Ann

Absolutely amazing that you were able to find our great grandfather's stone. Two thumbs up for you!!!

2007-08-27 17:55:32 Lizz Holmans

This is one super-dooper blog, saki. The pictures are excellent. I recognized Bruce right away, but have you got all blonde and thin? Oh, by the way, nice hats.

2007-08-28 05:42:42 harold

wow! this is so much fun.

2007-08-26 11:29:02 Viski

Well! Today has been a very full day.

This morning things seemed in a spot of bother. I had arranged for a rental car in Riga at Lacplesa Str 92 (don't even think about asking how Lacplesa is pronounced). This seemed reasonable since Lacplesa Str (or Iela in Latvian) was the next block up. However, I couldn't check out the number since Google maps is not very good about Latvia. It turned out to be quite a ways from the hotel, about a 30 or 40 minute walk. But then again, there don't appear to be many locations in Riga to rent a car -- the airport being the primary location.

So I decided that I would walk to the car rental place and then drive back to the hotel to pick up D. Not a bad plan, really. Some of the neighborhoods were quite lovely and some were "interesting". But I finally reached the Avis rental car office to find that they were closed Saturday and Sunday. This came as quite a shock considering that the Avis internet site (http://www.avis.lv) said they were open 8am to 6pm on the weekends. So, as Arlo Guthrie said, "with tears in our eyes" I walked back the 30 or 40 minutes to the hotel and tried to call the Avis outlet at the Riga airport.

Except that nobody answered there, even though the website said they were open.

So D & I decided to take a cab to the airport and see what happens. There are, after all, other car agencies.

So that's what we did, together with our 24 8x10 glossy photographs with cirlcles and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each one (sorry, just continuing the Arlo Guthrie reference -- those who get it may redeem their points at the nearest 60's booth) and around 11 AM we were back at the Riga Airport.

When we walked to the Avis booth at the Riga airport, I told the young lady what my morning had been like and she told me that she had actually gone to the place where I was supposed to pick up the car at 9AM, and she waited about 30 minutes for me and since she was the only person working at AVIS today, had to go back to the airport where she was supposed to work. Which meant there was no AVIS car for me! It was sitting in downtown Riga.

So, we went next door to the National rent-a-car and got a very decent non-desirable (i.e. not likely to get stolen) VW that we then drove to Daugavpils.

Now -- I'm like 4 hours later than I intended to be, and the "super highway" that is called "A6" is a two-lane road going 200+ kilometers. Just to be clear, a two-lane road is one where you have really only one lane, and if you get behind a tractor or a slow truck you are stuck until you can get around them.

So...the drive was very long.

But (now I'm getting to the good part) we finally got to Viski at about 4pm. I called Lolita, the lady from Viski who offered to show me around. She says "Wait 10 minutes!" and shows up with her husband and son, and starts to show me around.

We saw the cemetery (and we have a project involving photographing all the headstones over the next few days, so be patient, please, more to come!).

This is an old wooden house...a big house. Someone called Dumes lived here before the war, but we don't know which Dumes, yet.

This is amazing. Lolita says, "This street was where your Dumesh family lived in these houses. Here was the synagogue. etc." So much to take in.

The stone foundation of the synagoue is all that's left.

We then picked up Lolita's daughter who can speak English with a bit more alacrity and then went to visit the lady Veronka Galvane who was a girl in Viski - born in 1923. She was 18 when the Nazis arrived in Viski.

D. writes (because Bruce is getting tired):

Veronika described with such deep emotion about how she and her friends played with Jewish children in Viski, and how the Jews in Viski took up a collection when she was a girl to send her to a doctor in Riga when she got very sick. She even learned a bit of Hebrew!

She recalled one Dumes fellow who was a merchant in town. Another had a loom and would let Veronika spin it to weave wool; she thought that was great fun.

She cried when she told us how they rounded up her friends and took them away---the men first, sending them to Daugavpils to a work camp, then the women and their children and babies. She mimed the babies in their mothers' arms; no one was spared. One child got away, escaping from the Germans. This girl came to Veronika's mother's house and her mother rounded up bread, cheese, any food so that the girl would have something to eat. But the girl was caught by the Germans as she fled along the road eastward from Viski.

Veronika's parents died during the war. She never had children of her own and lives today with only her memories of her friends in Viski who died.

She told us that it pains her greatly to think about those days but she loved her Jewish friends and misses them. She only hopes that nothing like those times ever happens again.

We told her that because of her memories, the people who perished may live again, and she seemed very touched by this.

See comments

2007-08-26 12:57:15 usdin

Dear Bruce and D, All this is very sad and moving and I have no words. I am glad you arrived in Vishki safe. Concerning the car problem,it does not astonish me and the road seems not to have changed since 1996,though it's Europe. The cemetery is so clean.You know Bruce how I found it 11 years ago... I wonder how Daugavpils is now.When I was there,they just got out of years and years of communism. Have a nice evening,night and to morrow. Christine

2007-08-26 14:08:43 Mom

I'm so sorry you had so much trouble with the rental car situation! I hope the rest of your trip will be ok.

2007-08-26 15:16:54 harold

great entry. photos and story telling have been great. thanks so much. I'm thinking a little walk probably did you some good after that big meal in Riga.

2007-08-26 18:41:16 Cyril-Ann

Well, you are finally in Vishki, safe and sound, thank G-d. Sorry about the rental car issue; it's probably very typical. What were you feeling when you entered that historical village that has so many stories to tell you? Thank you for all you are doing!!!

2007-08-25 08:28:13 Riga

Bruce writes:

Riga is indeed a beautiful city, much more than I anticipated. In addition to the old City, for which it is justifiably well known, Riga has wonderful parks and gardens, planted with such taste and care. We first ventured out about 10AM and it had just stopped raining and things were very quiet, but after a couple of hours, everything burst into life and color.

The Old City has so much to offer visually at every turn. And I'm very pleased to see that food and drink are extremely reasonable in Latvia. Lodgings tend to be more expensive in Riga, catering to the business traveler with a big expense account. But then again, compared to other major cities like LA, NYC, SF, Boston, etc, the price of our hotel room is extremely reasonable. And we get our choice of Russian, English and Latvian programming on our TV! :-)

We walked to the synagogue, which is in Old Town. It survived WW2 only because the Nazis worried that burning it might cause a fire through all of Old Town, the buildings being so close together. It's beautiful inside. There was a gentleman who allowed me to borrow his kipa so that I could step inside and see it. It is in the orthodox tradition, with men and women separated, so we didn't go in for the service, but I did sneak a picture from the entry way.

D & I had dinner with Vadim Dumesh's dad Genrikh and grandfather Leiser and had a fabulous time. They treated us to a very traditional Latvian dinner and were extremely gracious and kind. Leiser drew from memory a map of Viski. (Christine -- you will be interested, because he specifically mentioned Boris Usdin's house which he remembered as having two stories). I will be uploading a copy of the map after I get back home and can scan it with some edits.

Leiser was so complimentary regarding Dumes.Net and the Viski site! I feel that our ancestors would be so delighted to know that we have made this contact. It really felt like a family reunion to me.

The restaurant was an excellent choice (I understand that Vadim recommended it to his Dad) and one of the highlights is that if you order trout, you can watch as they catch the trout from the pool in the basement. No kidding! http://www.piekristapa.lv/

Here are more pictures of Riga.

Tomorrow, we drive to Viski!

See comments

2007-08-25 13:31:33 usdin

It's so wonderful to hear from you from our "father's land".I am full of emotion and it's a little as if I was there.I didn't see Boris's house when I was in Vishki but nobody shown it to me and may be it has been destroyed.Boris had been sent by the Soviets to the gulag just because(certainly)he was too rich...When he came back to Vishki, her wife and four children had been killed in 1941.Boris's grave is in the Jewish cemetery of Riga.I can't wait to see the map that your relative drew.Ruvin Usdin's Great Grand son was in Vishki this summer and her mother wrote to me that the village is incredibly desert and seems abandonned.That's what I felt when I was there....but may be you will have another feeling. Счастливого пути в ВИШКИ! С приветом Christine

2007-08-25 17:40:57 Cyril-Ann

This is so exciting to read and enjoy the pictures; I can only imagine how you 2 must feel. Enjoy!! Love, Cyril-Ann

2007-08-24 12:40:13 Arrival in Latvia

Bruce writes:

We have arrived -- late, but safe and sound. The poor driver at the airport, sent by the hotel, had to wait for us the entire time, so I gave him a pretty decent tip, and he was certain I'd made a mistake and tried to hand back one of the bills to me. He smelled funny, but brought us to our hotel and made sure we were in the gates safely.

So we are testing our wi-fi connection, which seems to be working pretty well. It's now 1AM local time (10 hours ahead of Pacific time, 7 hours ahead of Eastern time).

The hotel we are in is not opulent by anyone's definition, but D likes the bathroom, so I guess we'll be ok here. The air conditioning I read about on their web page which was a big feature added a couple of years ago turns out to be a nice white fan on the desk. Still, we aren't here for the luxury accomodations. Good thing too. ;-)

So tomorow we discover Riga!

See comments

2007-08-24 14:49:24 уздин

Брюс,я представляю себе какое счастье быть на земле Наших предков-отцов...Их родная земля... Удачи вам! Christine

2007-08-24 06:38:28 Heading to Latvia! And my cat Anna has hairballs...

Bruce writes:

Today we leave Germany and trek to Latvia. We'll be doing some more touring around Leck this morning. Our host in Leck has been trying to call someone here to find out if we can get into the Archives here. So with a large amount of luck, that might happen. We've got a few other little towns around here to photograph and see if anything still exists, and then we drive to Hamburg Airport.

At the airport we'll need to say goodbye to our little rental car that has served us very faithfully in Germany and Denmark.

I must say that driving around these countries has been a really wonderful experience. If you are a driving oriented person, I would recommend it highly. I really feel that we have been able to get a deeper feeling for these countries by taking the little roads and passing through the small towns, the way we used to travel in the US before the interstates.

Having said that, the Autobahn (pictured on a grey day at left) *is* kind of neat, I have to confess, if you just need to make some time on the road.

I was asking someone here about speed limits on the Autobahn, because I'd always heard that there were none. They said, "When you see a marked speed, that is the speed limit. If you do not see a marked speed, there is no speed limit". I said, "But I notice that people don't seem to worry about observing the speed limit when it is marked anyway" and they said, "That is also true!".

So it is quite common to have someone buzzing by you at 200 KPH (~ 125 Miles per hour) or more. And if you try to take a picture outside the window, this is what you get. But the roads are in amazing condition, and going 150 KPH doesn't feel overly fast at all, so I personally don't find the very speedy drivers at all unnerving, because they are still driving light-years better than most LA drivers.

But back to traveling -- so after we drop off the rental car, we'll be getting ready to take a short 1 hour 40 minute flight from Hamburg to Riga, Latvia getting us there at 10:15pm local time (12:15pm for you on the West Coast, 3:15pm for you East Coasters), and of course we have to get to the hotel and still get some Shabbat celebration in. We did bring a "portable Shabbat kit" (little tea candles and matches) with us. And I'm sure there's a glass of wine to be had that time of night in Latvia. Challah may be more of a problem, but we'll make do somehow. :-)

We are supposed to have wi-fi access in our hotel tonight, so we'll try to post at least a quick note after we arrive, though probably a shorter one since it'll be late, and there really won't be much news yet except that we've arrived.

PS -- to Samantha -- yes, please go ahead and give Anna whatever you think might help the hairball situation. Thanks so much for handling this!

See comments

2007-08-24 06:52:01 usdin

Do have a Happy trip. and Shabbat Shalom in your Latvian hotel. I am so jealous!!! Love Christine

2007-08-24 09:03:45 Barry Shay

Good to hear about your adventures and welcome to Latvia. I didn't realize you'd be in Copenhagen, which was the first European city I'd ever been to. I worked there during the summer of 1962 as an exchange student in an electronics company. I had a bicycle and later a Vespa motor scooter. Great fun. Bruce, you may not know that the SIG moderator, Elsbeth Paikin, (check out the Paikin website) lives in Copenhagen and also researches her husband's family from Latvia. I go to Copenhagen quite often, since my wife is Swedish and her family lives in Lund - just across Oresund in Sweden. Both my children and all my grandchildren are bi-lingual in English and Swedish. Give my, or at least the SIG's, regards to the Daugavpils crowd and enjoy our homeland. Barry

2007-08-24 09:03:45 Barry Shay

Good to hear about your adventures and welcome to Latvia. I didn't realize you'd be in Copenhagen, which was the first European city I'd ever been to. I worked there during the summer of 1962 as an exchange student in an electronics company. I had a bicycle and later a Vespa motor scooter. Great fun. Bruce, you may not know that the SIG moderator, Elsbeth Paikin, (check out the Paikin website) lives in Copenhagen and also researches her husband's family from Latvia. I go to Copenhagen quite often, since my wife is Swedish and her family lives in Lund - just across Oresund in Sweden. Both my children and all my grandchildren are bi-lingual in English and Swedish. Give my, or at least the SIG's, regards to the Daugavpils crowd and enjoy our homeland. Barry

2007-08-24 12:39:39 Mom

Shabbat Shalom! Both of you are such amazing writers...I look forward to your interesting stories every day!

2007-08-23 14:18:20 Copenhagen, Denmark to Leck, Schleswig-Holstein

D. says:

The sun had set a long time ago but there's still a warm, ultra-red glow at the horizon---twilight is late here. Leck is a small village at the northwestern edge of northern Germany. We're staying here the night because this was the birthplace of my great-grandmother Catherina Petersen. Her husband Hans Petersen (also her first cousin) was born in Klixbuell, the next village to the west.

About a quarter of the houses here are still outfitted with a thatched roof---great for insulation, summer or winter. Many of the homes are 150 - 250 years old, and have been meticulously restored with white paint, colorful window frames, brickwork to outline the doorways, and charming front gardens.

Some of these houses were standing when my great-grandmother was a girl here, and some were 100 years older than she was. Here's one with the date 1752 painted on an iron decoration mounted on the front wall. You can see the detail here.

My Petersen ancestors were not well off but they had a decent living as cottage farmers, folks who were allotted a small plot of land for their own use in exchange for labor on the larger estate. They had a nice church to attend, St. Willehad, a church that has antecedents in the 12th century.

Most of these old engravings have been worn away by time and weather but the seraphim are still visible.

The most predominant landscape here involves pasture fields and herds of cows, horses, or sheep. It's still a quiet place, far removed from the busy-ness of major cities like Flensburg, Hamburg, or Copenhagen. Still it's a wonderful opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the folks who left this land behind in 1878...and who may have thought of it fondly all the years they were in Nebraska and Illinois.

If you've been waiting for Bruce's updates, Latvia looms on the horizon tomorrow! It'll be a late update (we arrive 10pm Friday local time in Latvia) but are determined, at the very least, to light Shabbat candles.

2007-08-22 06:13:59 Copenhagen Day 2: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum

D. writes:

This morning was devoted to viewing the collection at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which is located just south of the famous Tivoli Gardens in the city center.

Originally this was a collection of sculpture and paintings owned by the son of the founder of Carlsberg beer (one of the two main beers in Denmark...and a good one too). It's a very nice mix of ancient and modern sculpture, plus paintings of various eras.

Naturally the Egyptian antiquities held a fascination for me. There were some very nice pieces, including this couple to the left, from the 18th Dynasty (1700BCE - 1300BCE).

This is stone carving but the linen pleats and braided wigs are beautifully detailed. It's a very typical pose for the period, with the wife embracing her husband and both looking serenely forward.

A piece like this was intended to remain in their tomb, not just to represent the deceased couple, but to stand in for their mummies if either were destroyed.

For a small collection the museum has a nice variety of material, from the Old Kingdom as well as the New Kingdom and even the late Greek Ptolemaic period.

Here's another one I liked from the 18th Dynasty Amarna period, a bas-relief of the princess Merytaten, daughter of King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, and sister-in-law of King Tutankhamun himself.

The wigs were very elaborate during this period, and the jewelry grand. You may note that the eye appears to be damaged. It's entirely possible that someone deliberately "blinded" her image so that she could no longer see. Akhenaten had powerful enemies after his death and they were not kind to his memory or that of his family.

We also liked the Danish landscape painting. The museum has a number of Danish painters from the eighteenth and nineteenth century whose work isn't much known outside of Denmark, so this was a real treat!

Bruce adds:

There comes a time in all travelers' lives when the laundry must be done. Today is a good day to do laundry. Ka Plah! (for all you Star Trek buffs)

I will take the opportunity to address another piece of travel wisdom that I heard a hundred times before the trip when I told people that D was learning German and Danish and I was learning Russian. Everyone said, "Don't waste your time! EVERYONE speaks English."

To me, there are several reasons to learn a language when you are traveling.

OK, if you stay at 4 or 5 star hotels and just go to tourist places, you probably can use English everywhere. People in Europe are amazingly lingual.

But...if you venture anywhere off the beaten path, you're going to find yourself feeling a little lost if you decide that English is all you ever need and it's everyone else's responsibility to understand you!

Case in point (and back to my original subject), the machine that controls everything in the laundromat in Denmark did not speak or understand English, and it is unlike anything I have ever seen. The picture that you see here is the control panel. You put money in the slots and push the right buttons. What could be easier? Well, knowing how much money (if you can read this money -- it takes me five minutes to figure out the number on the coin!) and which buttons to push is a challenge!

I do have to say that the Danish fellow that we finally asked for help wasn't precisely sure how it worked either, and he was using it! Looks like something from "The Avengers", doesn't it? Unfortunately, Diana Rigg was nowhere to be found.

As D said, we went to a Museum today, and it was very jolly indeed. It's not the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) , but very nicely presented. It was supposed to be free today, according to all the pamphlets, but it turns out that it's now only free on Sunday, and the pamphlets are out of date.

As most of you probably know, D's PhD work was in Egyptology, so she was able to correct most of the Museum notes that accompany the artwork when they were in error. :-)

See comments

2007-08-22 16:15:53 Bev Mahone

As usual, you guys are amazingly interesting. What a wonderful trip and adventure. I know you are loving it over there. It is really another world. I wish our country would teach kids languages in grade school. We are really falling behind on that. Have a safe trip. love, Bev

2007-08-23 06:39:09 usdin

Hello Bruce and D, I am sending these videos to give you a fore taste of where you will be in two days. http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=wMg3Ilm9Vac and http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=71KGYVrjWTY Love.Christine

2007-08-23 12:37:59 Samantha

Wow. I'd ask how you're doing, but it's clear you're having an AMAZING time. I'm sooo jealous! This doesn't relate to the trip but my e-mail decided to die on me, so I have to ask it here: Anna is doing wonderfully, except that she's been having hairballs, even though I've brushed her thoroughly every day. I was wondering if I could give her some hairball medication (it's like a goo that she would lick off my finger--Charlie loves it) to help her out. Since my e-mail isn't working, if you guys could maybe write your reply into your next entry, I'd be SO grateful. Thanks, and keep taking pictures--this stuff is incredible. -Sam

2007-08-21 11:22:01 Copenhagen

Bruce writes:

I must mention first of all, thanks so much for the comments you have left. It means a lot to see them, and to know that you have been reading this. If you haven't left a comment yet, please do! It is very inspiring!

Most of my exposure to Copenhagen (pronounced "Copenhawn", sort of -- Danish pronunciation is challenging to say the least...) was from the Danny Kaye movie about Hans Christian Anderson. Don't get me wrong, they love Hans here. But there is so much more to this city.

The city has a vibe like London in many ways, and I don't think that is an accident. But it also is a city of bicycles, like Amsterdam. People don't ride bikes for speed and they don't ride them for enjoyment (per se). They ride them to get where they want to go.

Denmark isn't the cheapest place in Europe to visit, given the worth of the dollar in the world market. But you can, if you care to, visit relatively cheaply by eating lunch of Falafel and having a take-away dinner from the local market, bringing a nice bottle of wine and some local treats back to your room. We are having just such a night, taking advantage of a good internet connection and a chance to have a "night off" mid-way on our trip. It's hard to believe that the trip is almost half over!

There are some wonderful markets here in Copenhagen; wonderful fruits, veggies, and flower carts abound. There is also a huge "old town", which is filled with trendy shops, keeping alive the old streets and buildings.

The light in Copenhagen is interesting. We're pretty far north here, so all afternoon, it feels like the sun is about to set any minute and the lights from the shops feel like lights just before sunset when the orange glow warms you as you pass by.

In fact, the warm glow of a shop caught D today and forced her to buy a new teapot, despite her best resolve. :-) It's actually quite a nice teapot, and will be a wonderful souvenir of Copenhagen.

Here are some pictures of Copenhagen. More to come tomorrow.

After walking about 5 or 6 miles, we found ourselves at the Botanical Gardens, which was really lovely, even to a non-gardener like myself. I will leave it to D to describe it more, but it's quite lovely.

D. says:

It's a great treat to find an urban botanical garden that works as well as this one. It's in the midst of a busy boulevard but once you enter it the sounds of the city vanish. The footpaths are paved with brick or soft pulverized granite, and there are frequent benches for sitting and contemplating the greenery.

You can see more information about it here.

One of the showpieces of the gardens is the palm house, a large greenhouse with palms, ferns, and cacti. In Copenhagen's natural winter climate none of these would survive, but under glass they thrive.

There are also nice collections of roses (including some hybridized by Danish botanists) and water gardens. The red water lilies are stunning!

See comments

2007-08-21 14:57:53 usdin

It's impressive to see so many bikes.In Paris and Lyon a bike rental system is now available every 200 meters.France is far behind the Nothern countries concerning ecology. The food in the shop windows already looks like Russian and Latvian food...Salmon and herrings..."miam miam"as we say here...It gives you a foretaste of the Baltic countries! I was in Copenhagen years ago and I agree,it's an interesting town but I had been disappointed by the little mermaid... I wonder where you will be travelling to morrow and I am looking forward to read your new impressions and see new photos. After you read this you will be"on the road again"...Have a nice day.Christine

2007-08-20 07:27:21 Gredstedbro, Sjelborg, Ribe in Denmark

D. says:

Our home base for the rest of today is the village of Gredstedbro, about seven kilometers north of Ribe. It's a small town of about 1200 people, very quiet and friendly, not a typical tourist town but "real" Denmark, or at least it seems that way to us.

This is the view out of our bed & breakfast window. There's a bit of a drizzle today but the sun seems about to break through the clouds.

The Gredstedbro Hotel is lovely. Built in 1905, it's the hub of activity in town. We sat in the pub talking to Hanne, the manager, and watching the busy chef in the kitchen plate up delectable dishes and package food to go. It's a very popular venue.

[ Bruce adds: It's popular because it is the ONLY restaurant in this small town of 1,100 people! But the owners are working hard to bring nice touches to the hotel, with restored wood and marble window sills, comfortable beds, a nice mahogany desk in the room. The bathroom/shower shows a distinct practicality---no separate shower stall but a showerhead and drain installed at the side of the bathrrom itself. It does have a certain charm...but it works. :-) ]

And the best surprise of all: there appears to be an open wireless Internet connection in our room! Not all areas of Germany and Denmark have connectivity so we appreciate whatever comes our way.

[ Time passes....]

Bruce adds:

We are now sitting in a tea room/internet cafe. We are internet vultures, waiting to see an open network and swooping down upon it.

D. adds:

It's called the Cafe Termansen. They have a billiard table, a group of bistro tables and chairs, a Panasonic small screen TV showing a DVD of a fire in a fireplace (nice touch), and nice tea service. We also found free parking by the Danhostel. If it's free, we'll probably find it.

Bruce says:

This morning we went to see if we could find Sjelborg and the nearby church where D's great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was baptized, somewhere near the dawn of time. Amazingly, we found both. Sjelborg is a very small place, more a group of homes by the sea rather than a town. It looks rather like a resort, actually, and quite a pretty view of the water.

The church is a nice place, the grounds are very pretty. Unfortunately, the Danish, like the Germans, tend to recycle graves after a few generations, so no headstones from D's ancestors to be found.

One interesting thing we realized: D had been saying she'd never be able to get anything prior to 1715 because the church records stopped there. When we saw the church, we saw that it had been built in 1715, which is probably why the records started that same year. But perhaps there were records from another church that proceeded that one, so more stuff to research.

[D. says: I checked with an expert in the field of Danish research and he says the date on the church, 1715, is the year it was rennovated, not built. This parish actually goes back to the 1100s! But the records begin in 1721 and none exist earlier, perhaps due to a fire or some other catastrophe that destroyed them. Oh well, 1721 isn't really so bad....]

D. says:

What amazed me was being able to go from the town of Sjaelborg on country roads straight to Hostrup Church. It's about a four kilometer distance (about 2.8 miles). These were probably the same country roads (albeit unpaved at that time) that the family used to walk or ride a cart to church. It was a bit like walking in their footsteps.

Click the link to see a series of photos of Sjelborg and Hostrup Kirke headstones. There are lots of Hansens, Jorgensens, Pedersens---some entire family groups arranged in a half-circle so you can visit them all at once! So far as we know, these folks aren't related to us...but we may find out differently in the future.

Bruce says:

After that we headed back to Ribe where we had lunch and visited the Ribe Viking Museum, which was extremely interesting.

D. says:

Vikings get a bad reputation. Theirs was not (only) a life of pillaging and destruction but was definitely civilized as well, involving merchants and artisans. Most of the earliest town structures and artifacts in Ribe come from Viking days, whose commerce involved trade with lands as remote as the Frankish kingdom (later France) and Rome.

See comments

2007-08-20 12:55:21 usdin

Hi! All you wrote about the Vikings is right.I visited the Viking museum of Oslo.The Vikings sailed from Denmark and Scandinavia into the Baltic sea(Bruce,may be we are descendants of the Vikings and sure,D is!)to the Ladoga lake and the Black and Caspian seas. In the 9th century Rurik,born in Denmark,became the first czar of "Russ" and founded the Russian Empire with Novgorod as capital.He and his sons "civilized"the slavs... What a rich trip you are doing...filled with culture concerning everything. Continue to tell us!Thanks.Christine

2007-08-20 16:52:36 Mom

Your daily reports are so interesting! It is great being able to know what you are doing!

2007-08-19 08:02:11 Bremerhaven Germany, Luebeck Germany and Ribe, Denmark

Bruce writes:

Two days ago we left Bremerhaven, visiting the Museum of Emigration just before we left town. This museum is a astonishly well done. Everywhere you turn, there are interesting things to see and touch.

They have done so much to try and help you understand what the people went through, especially focusing on the emigrants who would have been in the steerage. The drawers in this photo can be pulled out and you can see emigration applications, ship passenger lists, and photos of the ships used at this time.

You can also walk though rooms built to look just like third-class steerage. It wasn't comfortable but it lasted only a few weeks at most. During passages after 1870 ships had more advanced amenities like shipboard bakeries, so you could get fresh bread on board. They even developed ways to distill water. Nevertheless if must have been a great relief to reach the New World.

We spent yesterday afternoon and this morning in Luebeck Germany, which was a surprisingly amazing place. D had mostly chosen it as a place to stay just to break the journing so that would wouldn't have a long day of driving, but it really turned out to be a wonderful stop. The city is ancient, and has a very interesting and surprisingly (or not, depending on your view of the history of Schleswig-Holstein). The area was once part of Denmark, and it has retained a kind of independent feel.

The city was once a medieval walled city, and some remnants of the original town wall from the 15th century still exist. The entire town is surrounded by canals and rivers so it has the feeling of being proected by a moat. The Holsten Tor (Holstein Gate) marks the western entry into the city.

This afternoon we arrived in Denmark. We are staying near another ancient city called Ribe. Ribe claims to be the oldest city in Denmark. It was a Viking village in the 8th century. It really is very beautiful and striking.

I will let D elaborate on exactly why were are here for family connections, since she has all that memorized. :-)

D. writes:

This is Petersen territory, for those of you who have Catherina and Hans Petersen in your background. On our way to Denmark this afternoon we drove through the town of Leck, where Catherina was born in 1862. Here an old building is being used as a trendy clothing boutique.

There are a number of thatch-roofed homes and at least one red-brick estate labeled 1852. She would have known that building before emigrating to the USA in 1878.

North of Leck a few miles distant is the Danish border. The flat farmlands look very much like Nebraska, where the Petersen family first settled in the USA.

North of our hotel in Gredstedbro are the towns of Hostrup and Sjaelborg. Both are areas where the Petersen ancestors originated, but when they lived here it was before surnames were common in the area. So Hans Petersen's grandfather (also Hans Petersen!) had a father called Peter Hansen.

As a result we jump around from patronymic to patronymic (Sorensdatter, Jensen,etc.) but we know from family records that they were here since at least 1715, when Church records first began in this region...and likely they were here for centuries before that, as well.

Here are some more photos:

See comments

2007-08-19 13:12:10 usdin

Guten tag D, I can imagine how moving your trip is and you must feel connected to your ancestors.It's fascinating and I do enjoy your travel blog very much. Love to both of you and good luck for your future researches.Christine

2007-08-18 07:35:10 Dransfeld to Deindrup

D. says:

We took country roads from the Dransfeld region in Lower Saxony to the region near Oldenburg, where my Bruns ancestors came from. Going through all the villages may slow you down but you see a lot more than you'd experience on the autobahn---where people really do go 200 kilometers per hour.

The rolling hills gradually give way to flat farmlands.

Johann Bernd Bruns and his wife Anna Maria lived on the Wilmes estate and were cottage farmers, working for the landowner in exchange for their own bit of land. Their son Heinrich Joseph left the area in 1844 from Bremen for Cincinnati.

Not much is left of Deindrup today, not even a village or a sign. The road through what was the village is lined with apple orchards and corn fields.

The land is more valuable agriculturally these days, so none of the old buildings survive, having been cleared for crops. Some of the other local towns still exist. It's six kilometers to Visbeck to the east, and four miles south to Langfoerden, where the church is located...easily walkable in H.J. Bruns' day.

As with most areas of Germany, there are no old cemeteries to visit. Our Bruns ancestors are likely buried in the Langfoerden region near the church, but relatives were expected to pay for upkeep on the plots. Every twenty five years or so the rent was due. If it wasn't paid, the headstones were removed and the graves reused.

It sound odd to us today but it was a practical matter back then!

2007-08-17 13:23:31 Pictures

Bruce writes:

Here are some pictures from Germany so far. There's a lot more, but I haven't had a chance to really sort through stuff yet. I will add comments and so forth later on.





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2007-08-17 15:09:29 usdin

Hello Bruce and D, At last Janis Kudins,the mayor of Vishki answered me: "Dorogaja Kristina, nadejusj moja pomoščj eščo nužna. Mi s sradostju pomožem Vam i Vašemu drugu, prošu svezatsa so mnoi po telefonu +371 26432538" Email:padome@viski.lv Call him...he will be a good help.

2007-08-17 16:15:37 usdin

Goettingen reminds me this poetic song of the Jewish poet singer Barbara. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1ae08_barbara-gottingen

2007-08-17 11:09:42 Dransfeld, Hann. Muenden, Wiershausen, and Goettingen

D. says:

For those of you who have Jatho ancestors, this area of Germany (in the former kingdom of Hannover) is the place to be. We stayed a few miles out of town, at a small village called Gewissenruh. About 100 people live here. The church clock still chimes daily at 8am, 12 noon, and 6pm. The river Wesser winds though the valley, and the hills roll gently into the distance.

We stayed at Gasthaus zu Reinhardswald, which has been run by the Jouvenal family since 1722. This puts into perspective our ancestor Georg Heinrich Jatho's experience, which was much less extensive.

It's a beautiful part of the country and viewing the landscape you can imagine how it might have looked almost 400 years ago, when Andreas Jatho the herdsman was establishing his family, and his son and grandson were finding work for themselves as schoolmasters in the local villages.

Dransfeld itself is basically one main street and a few side streets. The town has burned to the ground three times so not much that's original is left, but it has the feel of a village of antiquity because the architecture attempts to replicate old styles.

St. Martini church, where Georg Wilhelm Jatho was baptised in 1824, still stands imposingly.

At the edge of Dransfeld, just outside what was once the town wall, is a site where his father, Georg Heinrich Jatho, had a highly-esteemed inn. Nothing remains of the building structure today, but a nearby (abandoned) cemetery still has a few headstones, their inscriptions worn away by time. Here's a bit of the old town wall (below). Our intrepid researcher, Peter Schraeder, showed us the sights.

A few miles to the west is Hannoversch Muenden, a town established about the same time as Dransfeld but preserved from the ravages of time and war. Dransfeld was said to have resembled Hannoversch Muenden in its height, so if you look at the photo below you can imagine Dransfeld in its former glory.

Goettingen, the university town at the other end of the Dransfeld road, was the marriage place of Georg Heinrich Jatho and Henriette Habicht in 1821. It's lively today, full of students, outdoor shopping plazas, impromptu bands, and street vendors. Some of the buildings have been restored and repainted. The colorful structure below was built in 1540.

Wierhausen is a tiny village off the main road to Dransfeld. A few Jatho weddings and births took place here in the eighteenth century. Only a few original walls and structures exist today.

Where did all the Jathos go? We know where our branch emigrated (Charleston, South Carolina) and when (1848) but what about the ones who stayed behind? They became electrical appliance salesmen!

We stopped and spoke to the folks who run this store in Reinhardshagen Veckerhagen. This Jatho went to Canada a few years sgo and left the store with its name intact.

By the way, one of the surprises of visiting tiny old German villages is that not all places have Internet availability. We've just gone two days without it. There's something to be said for being in touch with the world again!

Tomorrow, a report on Deindrup and the port city of Bremerhaven.

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2007-08-28 19:49:58 judi weber

My entire family with Jatho surnames is tickled by this photo. Thanks Seems as if your doing well with your travels. Cool pics from Dransfeld Happy safe travels!!!!!

2007-08-14 12:45:51 Exploring Hamburg

D. writes:

We spent most of the day taking the underground and buses around Hamburg. For those of you from both the Dumes family (Bruce's side) and the Petersen and Mikkelsen family (D.'s side), Hamburg has a particularly direct connection.

Bruce's grandfather William, William's mother Sadie, sister Anna and brother Arthur, left from the port of Hamburg on a direct passage to Philadelphia in 1912. "Direct" here means that they sailed from Hamburg without stopping at an intermediate port. Hamburg, at the time, had an entry hall where immigrants could be housed and fed while processing was going on.

The dockside is on the river Elbe. Today there are still barges and large boats that leave Hamburg for the Atlantic crossing, and though the area is more modern, it's still possible to feel the excitement and apprehension of the folks who were facing an uncertain voyage of some three weeks in conditions that were not exactly comfortable.

In 1872, 1878, and 1887, when D.'s ancestors were leaving, they chose an indirect route--cheaper but more drawn out, because there was a stop in Liverpool to change ships. Somehow they made it, and in 1878 when the Petersen family was joining its cousins in Nebraska, they somehow kept sixteen year old Catharina Petersen's typical Danish wedding dress and veil immaculate througout the journey. She was married to her cousin Hans Petersen three weeks after crossing to America.

Hamburg still has the spirit of folks setting out on a new journey.

For D.'s Jatho relatives: be of good cheer. The Jathos didn't come across from Hamburg but from Bremen. More on Bremen as the week progresses.

Speaking of new journeys, the Beatles started their career (more or less) here in Hamburg on the Grosse Freiheit, a little street off the Reeperbahn. It was rather notorious in their day, and it remains so now---but we didn't take pictures of the notorious part. The Beatles played at three clubs in the area from 1960 through 1962. The Indra was one of the first. They learned how to play eight hours at a stretch, how to cater to noisy, raucous audiences (mainly Hamburgian sailors), and especially how to have a good time themselves.

What struck us this morning was how much this area of the Grosse Freiheit looked like parts of Liverpool. The boys must have felt somewhat at home!

Here are some pictures from Hamburg.

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2007-08-14 17:44:09 usdin

It's really fantastic to follow you and I am looking forward what will be new to morrow night.I am envious! Stay safe and keep on writing. Your friend Christine

2007-08-15 07:35:35 Cyril-Ann

Bruce and D, This is so interesting checking your travel blog each morning to see what you two have been up to. Thanks for sharing as you travel. Love, Cyril-Ann

2007-08-17 07:35:22 Deanna Kasten

This is soooo cool. I love reading about your journey. Both of you are such computer mavens. I wish I could do all this. Deanna

2007-08-13 11:55:00 The Dumes has landed

Bruce writes:

We are safe and sound, sitting outside having a beer at a lovely pub in Hamburg. We arrived at 8AM this morning in Amsterdam and went directly to the Anne Frank House. It really is so amazing to see it and they have done a wonderful job with it. Some of the things that really blew me away were marks on the walls with the girls (Margo and Anne) names indicating their height, and some pages from Anne's diary open that we could view. The whole thing is unabelievable, seeing the swinging bookcase and everything.

Amsterdam is an amazing city. It is a city of bicycles, among other things.

Here are some pics.

We spent the day in Amsterdam looking around and then flew a "City Jumper" to Hamburg. One of our research projects in Hamburg, I have to admit, directly relates to The Beatles. Hamburg, as many of you know, was very critical for them in their early development.

Anyway, back to my beer. I'll wrote more tomorrow.

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2007-08-14 06:49:36 Mom

Thanks for calling! Glad you arrived ok! Love you!

2007-08-14 10:47:39 Myra & George Mamo

How nice to stay in touch this way. I was not aware of the Beatle connection to Hamburg. We visited there on our trip to Germany a few years ago. As I remember a busy industrial, shipping center. Also, I am sure viewing the Anne Frank house was sobering to say the least. Looking forward to the next adventure. We'll be in Florida from Auug 18-26, don't know if I have time to check email,but will be in touch later. M

2007-08-12 11:40:03 At the airport in LA

Bruce writes:

No hassles getting through airport security, so we have lots of time to kill, and we were lucky enough to find a couple of open electrical outlets and a wi-fi network!

Here are a few pics

from the airport.

The Van service that we hired to take us to the airport decided to arrive 30 minutes early. Fortunately, we were completely ready about 30 minutes before that, but D was just sitting down to enter a blog entry, so she had to cut that off early.

Everyone knows what it's like sitting in an airport killing time, so there is probably very little I can say that you don't already know. :-)

We arrive in Amsterdam at 8AM (Amsterdam time) and leave there at 5PM for a short trip to Hamburg. We'll try, if we can stay awake, to update the blog before we crash on Monday night (again, Hamburg time).

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2007-08-12 13:48:42 Usdin

Welcome to Europe! During the two past weeks we have a bad weather in all Europe but I didn't tell you anything as I didn't want to demoralize you... What a good idea you had to make a travel blog.It's just great and I can't wait to read your impressions and see the pics. Good luck,D, in your researches. Счастливого пути! Gute Reise! Christine

2007-08-12 09:10:14 On our way

D writes:

The airport shuttle arrived early, so not much more to say other than we're on our way!

2007-08-03 16:54:53 Blog designed and uploaded

A Travel Blog is the best place to follow Bruce's and D.'s adventures on the road. We'll spend three weeks visiting ancestral towns and (we hope) getting a peek at archival records, not to mention cemeteries, old synagogues and churches.

We hope to have Internet access along the way. If we can't check our email as often as we'd like, at least we hope to be able to upload photos and brief descriptions of the places we visit so we can share our travels with you.

Click any of the links above to get to the Dumes home page, D.'s family pages, local weather (wherever we are), or send us email.

Departure day is Sunday August 12. Check back with us and follow our route!