(Ein Bericht von den 2003 Neusiedlertreffen)
A report on the 2003 Uihei reunion in Germany
(see below report for photographs)
When I was first sent an invitation to the 13th Neusiedler Heimattreffen (Uihei village reunion) in Frankenthal in Germany, although I am passionately interested in all things to do with the village and my own ancestors from there, I held back from accepting the invitation, partly through reasons of travelling abroad more than usual this year and partly because I didn’t really relish the idea of being amongst German people in Germany for any length of time. I had never felt entirely comfortable amongst the Swiss Germans whilst living in Switzerland during the 1960s and I naively assumed that I would feel the same way amongst the ‘Schwobs’. However, through a stroke of luck, or most probably fate, I received an e-mail out of the blue just a few weeks before the reunion from the daughter of old family friends whom I hadn’t seen for well over thirty years. Anni (born Ott) and her husband had just bought a new computer and the first thing Anni did was to type in the name ‘Uihei’ and so she came across my name on the DVHH (Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands) website. She immediately e-mailed me and mentioned that she was going to the reunion, even though it was nearly four hours’ drive away from where she lives near Munich. That decided me to go, too, after all! We wrote back and forth and I made arrangements to fly out to Munich the day before the reunion as I would be staying with Anni. Her Romanian husband, Constantin Dima, and their five-year old daughter, Marie Christine, met me at the airport and we immediately fell into relaxed conversation in German, English and Romanian (which father and daughter spoke together). Constantin had been a tourist bus driver for 20 years in Romania and had seen a lot of Europe. He met Anni on a trip and they eventually married and settled in Germany and now live close to Anni’s parents, Toni and Käthi Ott. Anni’s younger sister, Ida (who is also married to a Romanian but who took on the Ott family name), lives in a village on the other side of Munich, together with their eight-year old daughter, Carolin, who attends an English school.
We drove into town and collected Anni from work and then she and I wandered around the lovely city center, catching up on the past thirty years. Then we headed home to their beautifully renovated apartment, decorated with all kinds of crafts, and here I was able to see some of the most amazing samples of Constantin’s wood sculptures. Pieces of tree trunks three to four feet long had been carved into intricate village scenes, historical scenes, and even a carving of the old family home in Uihei with people passing by in horse-drawn carts - a truly talented man!
We then all walked to Anni’s parents’ place where Toni had prepared a wonderful meal, and I immediately recognized both parents. Käthi (born Rothschink in Gertianosch) had lodged with my grandparents in Uihei for two years when she was 18 years old and working as a Kindergarten teacher in the village around 1959 - 1961. She had been sent to my grandma, ‘Bessl Sus’, to live and was later joined by two other girls and a young man who had trained as a vet (she told me some wonderful stories about those days!). Käthi later taught in Alexanderhausen and she married Toni Ott from Uihei, who also had relatives in Alexanderhausen. I realized that a picture I had used on the Alexanderhausen website is one of his uncle (Taugner) with a steer!
We spent the afternoon looking at old photographs and I recorded a lot of the conversation onto a small Dictaphone I had brought with me, as I knew I would forget half of what I was being told! We all decided to get an early night as we had to be up at the crack of dawn next day for the long drive to Frankenthal.
Early next morning we were met by Ida and her family and I traveled with them in their vehicle so I could get to know them, too. Ida works as a dental hygienist to the rich and famous!
We reached the Donauschwaben hall in Frankenthal at 10 a.m. and there were already dozens of people there. I was glad I had brought three hours’ worth of cassettes with me as there were so many people to speak to. Apart from myself coming from England, there was also someone from Austria and a couple from the USA even! Hedi, born Nothum, had left Uihei as child and now lived in the States, although I don’t know where... I’m hoping it will be easier to remember who is who and where they came from at the next reunion in 2005! I immediately felt at home amongst all these people and was reminded on more than one occasion of how an old friend, Jenny, and I had hitch-hiked to Romania from England in 1970, marching into Uihei on a hot and dusty afternoon in July with our rucksacks on our backs and our mini-skirts causing apopleptic fits amongst the villagers! I hadn’t told my grandparents, nor my parents who were visiting at the same time, that we were coming - such is the folly of youth! I had spent my 18th birthday in Uihei in 1967 and now in 1970 I was to celebrate my 21st, too!
After an hour of meeting and talking to all these Uihelers (from the ages of five to 83), there was an hour-long religious service which began with a recording of church bells ringing. The small choir of eight Uihelers then sang their first hymn before the priest, originally from the Batschka, began the service. The choir sang another hymn (unfortunately I don’t have a list of the hymns sung) and then Ida Ott read the lesson. Another hymn, ‘Auferstanden’, by the choir and then the sermon. Between more readings and prayers the choir sang two more hymns and a collection was taken before the service ended with Holy Communion.
After more chatting amongst friends, we were urged to collect our meals from the kitchen counter (chicken and chips) and provide ourselves with drinks from the bar - but be sure to leave enough room for dessert as all the women had provided a wonderful array of cakes and gateaux - I am ashamed to say I tried four different desserts! However, I can’t have been the only one as there was very little left over at the end of the day!
After lunch we were entertained by the Frankenthaler choir, who began by singing the Banater hymn (which is sung to the same tune as the English national anthem, ‘God save the Queen’). I wish I had been able to record all their songs, but I sadly ran out of tape after the first hymn. The songs were interspersed with a speech given by the Uihei HOG chairman, Manfred Haupt, a very genial and hard-working fellow who, together with his wife, Ingrid, had arranged the whole day. He greeted all the guests, especially those from afar, plus the newly-elected Alexanderhausen HOG chairman, Herwig Stefan, who had turned up during the day, too. There was an election for two or three newly-vacated posts on the committee and a promise that the long-awaited book on Uihei would be published soon, whether or not they managed to procure the missing documents. His wife Ingrid later promised to send me a short video recording of a film made in 1931 of the consecration of the church in Uihei. This will be a most welcome addition to my ‘collection’ of videos of Uihei which to date comprise of Walter Fissl’s recording made in 1993 and a half-hour long film, transferred to video, made in 1970 and 1972 in Uihei by a Swiss uncle of mine who also visited the village whilst we were there. I had never seen this film before so it was quite something to be given it last weekend and to see my grandparents and other villagers taking part in everyday activities such as drawing water from the well, chopping wood, working in the fields etc.
After the chairman’s speech and the choir’s performance and more entertainment, some people started drifting off later in the afternoon, but many stayed on for an evening meal of sausages and sauerkraut (if I remember rightly!) as there was still much to talk about.
I was so glad to meet up again with two girls I had spent time with in Uihei in 1967, Anna and Lissi Hartmayer, and once they started chatting, the memories came flooding back. They took me upstairs to the museum on the first floor and that really was an eye opener! All kinds of old tools, kitchen equipment, wash tubs, beds and bedding etc. - everything a household could ever need - were on display. I just wish I could have photographed it all, but as luck would have it, my camera jammed!
We finally left around 8 p.m., but weren’t the last to leave by any means. I thoroughly enjoyed the reunion and flew back to England on Monday, having spent Sunday with the Ott family once again (lunch at Ida and Hansi’s place, followed by a stroll to the lake nearby). I’m already looking forward to the next reunion in 2005 and certainly won’t have any doubts about going next time!
P.S. The Uihei HOG was established in 1978, when the chairman was Michael Schlupp and the vice-chairman was Johann Schmidt. In 1983, the new chairman was Hans Huber and the vice-chairman once again was Johann Schmidt. In 1995, Werner Kronberger was elected chairman and the vice-chairman was Manfred Haupt. In 1999, Manfred Haupt became the chairman and Werner Bednar was elected vice-chairman.
The next reunion will be held in the Donauschwaben hall in Frankenthal on June 4th 2005, and then on May 12th 2007 and then on May 9th 2009.
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