Bier Trip to the Homeland Part VII:

As we boarded the bus for our trip to Koclířov,  I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check, but it was hard.  This town, formerly Ketzelsdorf, holds so much enchantment for my Bier family.  Thanks to the diaries of the emigrant Valentine Bier family, the town seemed almost palpably real in our collective imaginations.  There’d be the ancestral home at number 78, St. Philomena’s Church where Valentine and Catherine had been married and the first seven children baptized, and a magical quality of recognition.

 

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A new day dawns on the Bohemian countryside

 

I harbored some additional secret hopes.  I hoped for some clues of relatives, pre- or post-Valentine, maybe a few friendly townspeople, a good beer.  I know that my Uncle Jim hoped to stride up to the door of 78 and, after flashing his I.D., be invited in for a game of mariáš.  But I didn’t dare mention these hopes–better to keep the group’s expectations low.

Our guide, Jana, had a contact in Koclířov, a lady who would let us in the church.  In fact, she said that of all the towns that she contacted, Koclířov was the only one that yielded a positive response.  However, we were running an hour late, and I anticipated a crabby old church lady when we finally rolled into town.

 

 

 

 

Imagine my slack-jawed surprised, then, when we were met instead by two people who, quite simply, none of us will ever forget.  Hana spoke English and, therefore, did most of the greeting.  She is a member of St. Philomena’s parish, a devout Catholic, and works for the other Catholic enterprise in town, the Fatima Center.  She welcomed us with unbridled enthusiasm, warmth, and awe.  She was amazed that we had traveled so far and repeated in numerous ways how blessed and lucky she felt.  It killed me when I had to do something so pedestrian as ask for a toilet!

She also introduced us to Josef, who goes by Pepi.  (“Why Pepi?” we wondered.  “Because Josef is such a common name.”  Something lost in translation there…).  Pepi spoke German and was mildly disappointed to discover that none of us did.  His mother was one of three Germans allowed to remain in the village following WWII, by virtue of the fact that she married a Czech man.  She secretly taught Pepi to speak German, and passed on to him her sorrow over the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans.  Indeed, he made her a deathbed promise to mend that rift.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think we helped him fulfill that promise to his mother.

 

 

 

Hana pointed out some of the sites in the town, including the community hall where Pepi had celebrated his 70th birthday the night before.  She reiterated the remarkable fact that a town of 700 supports not one but two Catholic institutions–St. James the Elder & Philomena Church and the Fatima Center.  This is all the more remarkable in a country in which 80% of the population is atheist.  St. James & Philomena is the traditional town church.  The Fatima Center is both a parish church and a pilgrimage site / education center / conference center / gathering place that sells amazing pastries for 40 cents.  It was built at the site of a former convent.

 

 

 

Hana and Pepi took us into the church and related it’s history, of near total destruction and decay during Communist rule and eventual restoration.  This was due to what Hana called a miracle and what I called a little bit of shoddy bookkeeping at the government offices.  I don’t want to get anyone in trouble–you’ll have to ask one of us in person!

 

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St. James the Greater & St. Philomena from the cemetery.  In the distance you can see the Fatima Center.  You can also appreciate the valley in which Koclířov lies

 

The cemetery’s German section was protected by destruction by the Communists by Pepi and his people.  You could barely hold me back as we entered through the gates.

 

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View from the church into the cemetery

 

Holy cow, the place was awash with Biers!  And I knew absolutely NONE of them!  It was simultaneously exciting and overwhelming.  So much work left to do!.  Pepi led us from grave to family grave, pausing to shed a few silent tears at the grave of his dear mother.  Fear not–the less legible had rubbings taken by the Laning boys.  Can you believe all of this unexplored history?  My only disappointment was that I didn’t see a single Jiru grave.  Fingers crossed that the archives at Zamrsk will prove more fruitful.

 

 

 

Flanking the church and cemetery on either side were a series of niches.  These contained a set of restored stations of the cross and additional memorials.   The money to restore these came from Koclířov’s former Sudeten Germans.  Pepi has organized a series of reunions with 80+ of the Koclířov Germans who were deported.  Hana relates that many were very hesitant to return, feeling the place would be “tainted” or “cursed” to them.  However, most wept tears of joy on their return, recalling and recognizing the home of their childhood.  The expat Koclířov-ians and current population now make yearly alternating visits between the Czech Republic and Germany.  Talk about making good on his promise!

 

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Niches flanking the church that contain old stations of the cross. The restoration was undertaken as a joint effort with the exiled German former residents of Koclířov, under Pepi’s guidance.

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Niches flanking the church that contain old stations of the cross and memorials. The restoration was undertaken as a joint effort with the exiled German former residents of Koclířov, under Pepi’s guidance.

 

Finally we stepped inside the church.  Hana gave a touching impromptu speech, led us all in prayer, and then proceeded to sing a song of St. Philomena as requested by Pepi, who softly hummed along to my right.  I know that I simply wept in astonishment.

 

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed with it all, we were then led across the street to the Fatima Center for more.  We had a brief tour of the beautiful grounds.  And note to self:  rooms are available to the public for 290 Kč per night (about $12!!!).

 

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Grounds of the Fatima Center

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Grounds of the Fatima Center

 

Then Pepi brought out the homemade plum brandy.  It was his birthday, after all.  I didn’t detect any plum, and I’m pretty sure that the 57% alcohol was a low estimate.  Oh well, twist our arms, cheers to Pepi!

 

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Pepi and Jana pouring out . . .

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serving to Eug . . .

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to Pepi!

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A second for some.

 

We had two things left that we hoped for:  to see the home at 78 and to see a statue that Pepi mentioned that was commissioned by a Bier.  Pepi was sad to inform us that the Bier home was one of 145 razed after the removal of the Germans after WWII.  He was able to point out its approximate location, however, which is now the site of a small yellow apartment building.  It’s nestled on the banks of the valley, just adjacent to a creek and a 3 minute walk from the church.  He also provided me with a hand-drawn map of the town’s layout prior to the destruction of the 145 homes, as drawn from the collective memory of the town.

 

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Apartment at the site of the former Bier home

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The site lies adjacent to the small creek that runs through town

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On the other side of the creek is a bus station and parking lot; you can just see the yellow apartment building in the background to the left.

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View from the bus station facing away from the house; you can see St. James & Philomena’s steeple in the distance and appreciate just how close to the church the Bier home was.

 

We didn’t want to the leave the town, but we had to eat.  No problem.  Hana called in some additional staff for the small restaurant owned by the Fatima Center.  They stayed open just for us and the beer and dumplings were sublime.  Of course, Pepi, Jana and our intrepid bus driver, Alex, joined us as well (Hana had to get back to work).

 

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Still trying to master mariáš after lunch

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The group outside the restaurant

 

Finally, Pepi led us to the statue at the edge of town.  It depicts St. Jan Nepomucký, an icon with whom we’d become familiar.  A Czech king had thrown him into the Vltava river after he (the saint) refused to rat out the queen’s confession.  The site where he went in was said to be identified by five stars.  As a result, he’s traditionally depicted with five starts around his head.  Ironically, he’s the patron saint of swimmers.  The back of the statue did, in fact, include a name “Joseph Bier”–another relative that I didn’t know we had.  Seriously, so much work to do . . .

 

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Statue of St. Jan Nepomucký

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Inscription on the back, with the name Joseph Bier and the year 1834

 

As I write all of this, I still can’t really believe it all happened.  The day was simply magical, and I know that we all felt it.  And it’s all due to the intervention of three amazing people whom I can never thank enough . . .

 

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Pepi

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Hana…the Czech “Sister Jan”

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Jana

 

Until we meet again, ahoy  Koclířov

 

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Bier Trip to the Homeland Part VI: Wishin’ and Hopin’

We had two days blocked out for our trip into the Bohemian and Moravian countryside.  I had been referring to this portion of the trip as the “black box:”  I had no idea what it held, could be good or bad, and I made no promises.  That being said, I still felt a great deal of responsibility for the group’s enjoying itself.

Day one, while visually stunning,

was a little bit discouraging.  

Our lovely guide, Jana, started off by having a sidebar with me about how most of the stops that the tour company had booked for the first day weren’t going to be worth it.  See, she had received copies of my research.  She got it.  She understood that I didn’t want to spend hours at archives that didn’t have what I needed.  I quickly agreed to adjust our plans, reassured her of our easygoing nature, and began to develop nervous diarrhea.

Once we were outside the Prague metropolitan area, we were again struck by the visual similarity of the Bohemian countryside to southern Wisconsin.  I imagine that the original Bohemian immigrants to Wisconsin just stayed on the train until things looked familiar, then disembarked and got to work.

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Save for the occasional castle, the Bohemian countryside is reminiscent of southern Wisconsin

 

The more agriculturally inclined in the group entertained themselves playing “name that crop” and “how many combines can you spot?”  The bus had to circle back many times as we encountered narrow lanes and bridges unable to bear the weight of a tour bus.  Additional time to kill was spent attempting to learn the complex rules of the traditional Czech card game, Mariáš.  My uncles kept hoping that they’d stumble upon a group of avid players with whom they could bond.  Instead, most people said that they knew of the game, but that it was too hard to learn!  Also, that their grandpa played.

 

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Name that crop!

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Counting combines

 

Eventually we stopped at the town of Zamrsk, where the district records are kept.  Jana assured me that over 90% of the records are digitized, and that a long stop would probably be a waste of time.  This was a good thing, as the building was closed and the records in indecipherable Gothic German.  Speaking of which, anyone know a good Gothic German translator?  So, we snapped a few pictures of the closed archives, Eugene and I had a beer with some kind people with whom we were unable to converse, Jana and the bus driver tried to fix the air conditioning, and we were off.

 

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The Zamrsk regional archives are housed in an old, charming prison.  The records therein are digitized, and I have a lot of work to do.

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We visited on a Sunday.  Oh well.

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My spirits were buoyed by this lovely Czech woman who shared a cold beer with me and cousin Eugene.  She was lovely, and nobody understand a bit of what the other was saying.

 

We drove a bit more.  The tour company booked us for a lunch stop in the town of Litomyšl.  I understand why–the main street is picturesque and there’s a castle.  (My God, I’ve become jaded on castles.  So. Many. Castles.)  But, again, I was left concerned that our journey to our roots was going to be a pastiche of the Czech countryside.

 

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Charming Litomyšl castle

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Charming Litomyšl main street

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Charming Litomyšl side street

 

Finally, after lunch, we set off for Dolní Třešňovec, the home of the Langer family for several generations.  Sure, none of my direct ancestors had lived there since about 1810.  Sure, we didn’t have any contacts in town.  Sure, the Sudenten Germans had all been expelled after World War Two and there were likely no actual relatives still there.  We were confident that armed with a house number (95), the knowledge that a chapel with a Pieta existed, and some basic luck, we were bound to find something.

And we did!  I truly don’t know if the abandoned overgrown house that we found was the house, but I hope it was.  I don’t know if the chapel-shaped firestation was the chapel, but it seems likely.  I am pretty sure that the Pieta next to the chapel / firestation was, in fact, a Pieta.

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Abandoned number 95.  Could this be the long-ago home of my Langer ancestors?

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Stucco chipping away on the side of the house reveals an old brick exterior that, to my amateur eyes, could be the required several hundred years old.

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If this is a refurbished chapel, the use of steeple as hose-drying tower was a clever conversion.  “Way to go boys,” says firefighter Tom.

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Descriptions of Dolní Třešňovec mention a Pieta next to the chapel.  This certainly fits the bill.

 

So….it was a start!  The cluster of houses hugging the roadside in  Dolní Třešňovec wasn’t all that inspiring, but with a few deep breaths and imagination, there was a flicker of magic to the place.  But the day had been long and the a.c. never really improved.  My frayed nerves were getting the better of me, and as we pulled away in the bus, I was truly focused on hoping for a better tomorrow.

I had been worried that the Czech people would be irritated with us German Americans nosing around the place.  Instead, no one seemed particularly interested at all, which was somehow worse.  Sure the scenery was beautiful and evocative, but I needed something more to make it seem just right.  After all, this was the capstone.  This was the part of the trip that was supposed to somehow bring us full circle.  I needed a little magic.

Fear not, fair reader.  On Day Two, we got our magic in spades.

Bier Trip to the Homeland Part IV: A Brief Separation in Time and Space

The journey to “the homeland” has begun in earnest!  After soaking up the culture of the Bavaria for the past few days,  today we boarded a bus and drove to Prague in the Czech Republic.  The purpose of the Munich part of the trip was to get a taste of what our ancestors’ German cultural homeland is like;  this second part will investigate their lands from which they physically sprung.

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The areas of the Czech Republic on which we will be focusing:  Prague for the sheer pleasure of it all, and the Pardubice Region for the familyhistory.

165 years ago, the Bier and Langer strands of my family tree were living what I imagine to have been an uneventful life in Bohemia.  In fact, their families lived less than 20 km apart from each other in, essentially, the same county (Pardubice) of the now Czech Republic.  For a brief review, here’s a copy of my father, Thomas Bier’s, ancestor tree:

Thomas Bier Ancestor Chart

Ancestors of Thomas Bier.  Those who are Germans from Bohemia are circled.

Did the Bier / Jiru and Langer / Janisch families know each other in the old country?  Who’s to say.  The Langer / Janisch clan emigrated about 30 years prior to the Bier / Jiru family–in 1853.  Further, the Langer family settled in a large enclave of German Bohemians in the Watertown area.  While Watertown is also in southern Wisconsin, it lies over 30 miles away from the greater Janesville area that attracted the Biers.

Wouldn’t be an amazing story, though, if my Grandpa Vincent Bier and Grandma Mary Alice (Langer) Bier’s families were friends 3-4 generations in advance of their wedding?  Some exciting sleuthing into the historical record provides some tantalizing clues that this was, in fact, the case.

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Wedding of  my Grandma Mary Alice (Langer) Bier & Grandpa Vincent Bier.  21 November, 1946.  Did their grandparents–Emil Langer and Valentine Bier–ever meet?

 

Franz Langer was Mary Alice’s Great-Grandfather;  he was the one to make the move to the United States with his wife, Barbara Janisch.  Valentine Bier was Vincent’s Grandfather and was the emigree.   And, according to a brief clipping in the Rock County  Recorder Times, Valentine actually served as a pallbearer for Franz Langer at his death in 1894.  While the name is actually spelled “Valentine Beers,” it seems reasonable to assume that this was, in fact, Valentine Bier.  Both men attended the same church, St. Mary’s in Janesville.  The timing also lines up:

 

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Obituary of Franz Langer from the Rock County Recorer Times 11 October, 1894

 

 

Another source that I frequently reference is the Bier Family Journal.  This ledger-like document chronicles the daily life of the Valentine Bier family from 1899-1903;  most of the Valentine Bier children contributed at some time or another, although Father Charles Bier was the most prolific diarist.

 

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The Bier Family Diary:  a ridiculously rich source of primary information.

The diary generally concludes each day by enumerating the visitors that stopped by.  Take a look at who visited the house in the summer of 1899:

Wed. Aug 16, 1899:  Weather is quite agreeable, but rather warm in the afternoon.  Father, Louis and Fr. begin to haul manure.  Chas sees the great base ball game taking place between Janesville and Milwaukee league teams.  The score is Mil 2.  Janesville 0.  Visitors of the eve at home are Mr. Emil Langer Senior and Junior, Uncle Anton, and cousin Chas. Bier.  Fr. Baar, and Fr. Schneider, Jno. and Bertha.  Jno. begins tobacco harvesting.

 

Emil Langer Junior would be Mary Alice’s father.  Edward, the youngest of the Valentine Bier clan, was Vincent’s father.  At the date of that visit at which they surely met, Emil Langer, Jr., was 14.  Edward Bier 10 years old.  Their children would marry in just over 47 years.

Wow!  Genealogy is FUN!

In a few short days, we will retrace beginning of these families brief separation in time and space…

Bier Trip to the Homeland Part III: Old is a relative term

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I took this to capture the onion-domed village church in the distance.  The Bavarian landscape is familiar to any southern Wisconsinite.

Over the past couple of days the group has experienced some sights that have messed with my notions of time and space.  In terms of space, the drive from Munich’s airport to our hotel let me to wonder why on earth we’d traveled all this way to come back to southern Wisconsin.  The landscape is eerily similar and, save for the street signs, one could easily think that we’d barely moved at all, let alone journeyed over thousands and thousands of miles.  I’m not sure who the first German Bohemian was to settle in southern Wisconsin.  However, I now believe that they did so by simply getting off a westward-bound train when things looked familiar.

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Typical Bavarian Farmhouse, geraniums adorning the window boxes and barn attached to the stuccoed front in the rear.

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The size of our hoard qualifies earns us a full bus. Luckily is has tables in the back . . .

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As numerous rounds of cards are required daily.

The compression of time is a far more nuanced and complex discussion.  I was struck by how some structures made to look old were actually quite new, and vice versa.  Equally striking was the interwoven nature of my family’s “dates” and histories with those events of the past.

 

1754:  Wies Church completed

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Wieskirch exterior, Steingaden, Bavaria, Germany

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The interior is concerned a masterpiece of the Bavarian Rococo style.

This church was built as a pilgrimage site, and located smack in the middle of the countryside.  It is dripping in the pastel gilt that is textbook Bavarian Rococo.  It commemorates the miracle of a wooden statue of Jesus that was reported to be seen weeping on several occasions.  This miracle, one that I would have thought to be thoroughly shrouded in the mists of time reportedly occurred in 1738, less than 100 years before…

1822:  Franz Langer born

1845:  Valentine Bier born

1853:  Franz Langer family emigrates to U.S.

1855:  Hohenschwangau Castle completed

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Hohenschwangau Castle was built in relative modernity on the ruins of 11-12th century fortresses.

 

I knew nothing about the Bavarian monarchy prior to this trip.  While the Wittelsbach family consolidated power as Dukes for many years, Bavaria was only a Kingdom from 1806-1918.  Thus, while this castle was made to look old, it is really quite new.  It was built as a summer hunting residence for King Maximiliian the II and is where his son, King Ludwig II, grew up.

1876:  Telephone invented

1881:  First public electric utility established in the U.K.

1882:  Valentine Bier family emigrates to U.S.

1886:  Neuschwanstein Castle completed

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Perched high on a hill, Neuschwanstein Castle truly seems like the stuff of fairy tales.

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Hohenschwangau with Neuschwanstein in the distant

This castle, commemorated on calendars and puzzles worldwide, is built just a stone’s throw from Hohenschwangau.  Ludwig II built a fantasy castle decorated on the inside with fairy tale scenes from Richard Wagner’s operas.  The interior is amazing but photographs are not allowed;  a peek at interior shots is worthwhile.  Ludwig II gazed out from a window in Hohenschwangau as his dream, the exterior conceived by a set designer rather than an architect, went up across the gorge over years.  He only slept there for 172 nights before his strange tale ended mysteriously.  The castle is only a pastiche of the medieval:  inside was running water and a telephone (that only connected to the post office and Ludwig’s mother).  All of this opulence existed while my ancestors, and countless others, toiled in poverty and obscurity in Wisconsin.

1894:  Franz Langer dies

1918 / 1919:  Vincent Bier & Mary Alice Langer, my grandparents, born

1918:  End of WWI, Bavarian Monarchy dissolved

1922:  Valentine Bier dies

1933-1945:  Dachau Concentration Camp in operation

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A sobering view from one of the reconstructed barracks over the expanse representing the rows of former barracks, surrounded by guard towers and razor wire.

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Gates of the camp with the taunting phrase, “Arbeit macht frei”  or “work makes you free.

We  spent several sobering hours at Dachau.  The horrors committed and endured here rendered the experience solemn and horrifying.  The experience is etched forever in our collective memories.

1945-1946:  Ethnic Germans “transferred” out of Czechoslovakia

1951:  Thomas Bier, my father, born

Overall, an interesting couple of days taking in sights, surviving the rain, and thinking about the compression of time.

 

Here’s a few parting shots that don’t fit in with the theme but need to be seen:

 

Patrick dressed in a natty fashion for our castle tour, feeling that royalty is truly in his blood.  His management of this schnapps glass suggests otherwise.

We had rainy days for our tours of the Bavarian castles, but managed thanks for the preparedness of the numerous former Girl Scouts in our group.

The Reason Why: A Brief Detour

I promise to get back to blogging our trip during a bus ride tomorrow.  Today I was excited to receive word that I am the adult winner of the “Little House, Big Story” essay contest, sponsored by Old World Wisconsin in recognition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday.  Here is my submission.

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The Reason Why

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Once upon a time, a little more than forty years ago, a little girl lived on the wide open prairies of southern Wisconsin, in a ramshackle farmhouse with a cellar made of fieldstones and big old hewn logs.  Upstairs looked more or less like a regular 1970’s house.  The kitchen had an avocado green-themed suite of appliances, there was a TV with three channels, and she brushed her teeth at night with water from a running tap.  However, she never forgot that, underneath the floors covered with wall-to-wall carpet, there was a cellar with 150-year old logs holding things up, so weathered with time that her dad could sink his thumbnail into them.  The little girl’s name was Angie.

 

Angie’s dad wanted to be a farmer, but there wasn’t enough family farm left for him to inherit.  His parents, Angie’s grandma and grandpa, said “Farming is no life for your family;  we just can’t cosign that loan.”  So instead he became a firefighter and a coach, and he played at being a farmer with Angie, and eventually her two younger sisters and two younger brothers, in the old white barn next to the ramshackle farmhouse.  He filled the barn with chickens and lambs and, occasionally, a pig.  Every winter Angie’s mom would stock a freezer with a hundred chickens, enough to last them through the winter, because firefighters didn’t make much money and five kids were a lot to feed.  Maybe that was it.  Maybe the thought of an attic stuffed with pumpkins and braided ropes of onions matched up with her own basement full of frozen chickens and gallons of milk.  Maybe that’s why her heart and brain were just waiting to be filled up with stories of another little girl, named Laura.

 

When Angie was five or six, her Auntie Carol gave her a very special book for her birthday.  The book had a buttery yellow cover and a picture on the front of a little girl hugging her baby doll.  The girl had brown hair, just like Angie, and in the background was a dad and a beautiful sister with golden hair, just like all four of Angie’s brothers and sisters.  Angie already knew that being the only one without golden hair could be hard, especially when the old ladies at church would come up and stroke her sisters’ gleaming locks.  Maybe that was it.  Maybe that was why she read that book so many times that both covers fell off.

 

When Angie started school, she found that the work came easily.  Pleasing her teachers gave her a warm feeling in her heart.  It made her feel special in a good way.  However, she quickly learned that some of the other children at school felt otherwise.   She would flush pink with shame when classmates pointed out how quickly she completed her tasks and mockingly called her “teacher’s pet.”  For a while, she hid her talents to avoid any attention at all, good or bad.  One time Angie erased and re-wrote all of the answers during a test, in order to avoid being the first to walk her work up to the front of the class.  Her teacher, Mrs. Buggs, commented in green felt tip:  “Why so much erasing?”  Angie wondered what to do, whether to please her teachers and herself or her schoolmates.  But Angie’s book friend, Laura, won her spelling bees and made her Ma and Pa proud by being tops in her one-room schoolhouse and she turned out alright.  That felt good to know, and the shame started to melt away a little bit.  Maybe that was why.  Maybe that’s why she collected all the rest of the buttery yellow books about a girl named Laura and read the covers off of them, too.

 

When she grew older, Angie and her friends would laugh about how she was secretly an old lady, because she liked to do things like put up preserves and sew her own curtains. She preferred to watch movies checked out from the library or on PBS instead of the latest blockbuster.  She took the long way to Sioux Falls along Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Memorial Highway, even though it made her late.  But her friends always came to her when they needed a recipe, a button sewn on, or when they needed to round out their Trivia teams.  Angie was their own personal anachronism, and they cherished her for it. What those gently teasing friends didn’t know, though, was that Angie was pretty sure that she had already been an old lady for many many years, that her story really fit best in those buttery yellow books, that she’d already lived a life in the past and that modern times were just a jarring inconvenience. Maybe that was it.  Maybe that was why she re-read those coverless books every few years even into her 20’s and 30’s and 40’s.

 

Angie grew older and realized that her preference for Laura and her literary sisters, Anne and Caddie, wasn’t something to be ashamed of but to be celebrated.  Angie spent hours talking to her elderly relatives and tracing her own family’s history through the long-since-felled Big Woods of Wisconsin.  She found their pictures and preserved them, she wrote their stories and shared them, she collected their belongings in danger of being discarded and cherished them.   To Angie, the past had never been a static thing, but a living breathing reality.  Laura and the buttery yellow books started that.  Maybe that was reason enough.

 

Bier Trip to the Homeland: Munich Themes and Variations

Everyone seemed to survive the night, although a fair contingent did not make it to the delightful breakfast at the Eden Wolff Hotel.  Interesting quote from breakfast:  “I have trouble finding good liverwurst in Chicago” –Amy Bier, age 25.  The hotel is located just across from the city’s main train station, and I enjoyed watching the early Sunday morning traffic slowly increase in the early morning sun, as backpackers and travelers arrived to the city.  My roommate, Joan Shadel, is an excellent travelling companion.  In all, I recommend both her and the hotel.

Our formalized tours starting tomorrow, today our group split up.  A contingent went to the Museum district.  They took in the Documentation Center, a new museum at the site of the now-razed Brown House.  This is where Hitler launched his party from, and the museum details the personalities and situations that led to the rise of National Socialism.

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A light repast of pretzel, emmentaler, weisswurst, bier & cribbage at the Viktualienmarket Biergarten 

All who went learned something and came away with questions and answers.  Another intrepid trio also continued on to a hike around the city and the English Garden that yielded a total daily step count of 34,196 (11 miles).  They were the only ones to truly earn their dinner.  Louise and I became knowledgeable with the old area of Munich with the help of Rick Steves, and probably can now carry an umbrella as official tour guides.

 

 

The group reconvened for a lovely evening at the famous Hofbrauhaus, where we joined by my cousin Emily Laning who arrived from a work trip to Bulgaria.

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Prost!

 

Let me organize my observations into a few themes and variations:

 

 

 

MUNICH THEMES AND VARIATIONS

Leiderhosen  are a thing that people wear for real.  True, they are de riguer for the employees of tourist-heavy areas.  However, I spotted a fair number of common citizens attired thusly:  middle aged men shooting the breeze, a homeless man sifting through the trash, a guy next to us at the biergarten looking especially natty in an embroidered denim ensemble.

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Leiderhosen and Dirndls:  on trend and coming to a neighborhood near you.

Catholicism is a big thing in Munich.  A lot of the historical sites have something to do with stomping out the “Protestant Threat.”   We were touring churches this morning, a Sunday, during mass time.  The incense hung chokingly heavy in every church we entered, and I was surprised to see the pews mostly full.  We learned that St. Michael’s Church was built by the Jesuits as their northern outpost in the fight against Protestantism during the 1500’s.

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St. Michael slaying the so-called and much feared “Protestant Threat.”

St. Peter’s Church contains a weirdly fascinating side altar containing the bones of St. Munditia, a 4th century martyr.  These were a gift from Rome for a job well done–defending against the Protestant threat.

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Relics  of St. Munditia at St. Peter’s Church

The heart of the city is the Marienplatz (“Mary Place.”)  It contains a 16th century column surmounted by a gold statue of Mary.  The base has cherubs at each corner defeating symbols of the four greatest threats to the city at that time:  the dragon of war, the lion of hunger, the rooster-headed monster of plague and the serpent of–wait for it–Protestant heresy.

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Marienplatz.  Look at that cherub kicking some Protestant serpent butt!  (Note:  I do not endorse kicking anyone’s butt, Protestant or otherwise.)

You can’t escape the memory of WWII.  From the museum I mentioned above, to the fact that anything old only looks that way after being rebuilt, the shadow looms long.

The name Bier can get you anywhere.  The entire desk staff at the hotel knows us and our name.  In fact, the concierge was palpably confused when I told her that people back home are often reluctant to pronounce our last name correctly when reading it aloud for the first time for fear of offending us.  (We tend to get a lot of “Buyer” type pronounciation.)  The hotel bartender gladly received instruction on how to make a proper Wisconsin brandy old fashioned.  (The German version is basically brandy over ice with a slice of orange and a hint of bitters).

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Hofbrauhaus conviviality built on Bier–literally & figuratively.

Uncle Jim has pulled out his driver’s license so many times to flash his name that I’m thinking of getting a lanyard type situation for him to just wear it around his neck. This was done to greatest effect at the Hofbrauhaus, where Gene managed to score us a table for 10 in an impossibly crowded courtyard and a new friendship culminated in shared beers, gingerbread hearts, and hearty handshakes.

There’s always room for dessert.

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Apple strudel. The polite and of the table and . . .

 

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our end of the table.  How’d that hole get in the table?

 

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Bier Trip to the Homeland

After years of muttering about how we “really oughta,” we’re doing it.  We’re taking all of the rich first-hand narrative information about our family history and doing a mission of discovery.  I along with an assortment of my Bier relatives are spending our first night in Munich.

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Our guide, Christiane Haack. She was quite popular holding this sign in the arrivals hall.

This trip was about two years in the making, and we set up an itinerary to accomplish several things:

  • Go back to Ketzelsdorf (Koclirov) and see the village that our ancestors left behind.  
  • See a little of the other villages that other relatives came from (more on this later)
  • Stop by the nearest big city, Prague
  • Take in a smattering of German and Bavarian culture in Munich.

The trip ranges from my parents at the older end of the spectrum to my cousin, Nick Laning, who is 17.   Here’s a fun little tree to see how we’re all related and who’s along for the ride.   The tree is set up in relation to my great grandfather, Edward Bier.  He’s the youngest of Valentine’s kids, and the most recent common relative of us all.  Trip participants are circled:

Edward A Bier Hourglass Chart

We spent this first day getting here, wandering around the city in bleary-eyed fascination and taking in a delicious dinner of sauerbraten, bread dumplings and bier at the Augustiner Keller Biergarten, proudly serving Augustiner bier which has been brewed since 1328!

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Louise Bier and dessert and some scrap metal on the wall that we sat next to.

Now I’m in bed writing and the younger and heartier of the group are out pub hopping.   Also Uncle Jim. For my family, discovering our “German roots” is not proving to be that much of a stretch!

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Mom and Dad walking home from Augustiner Keller

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Discovering our German roots in the hotel bar–Bier and Riesling