Canada is a fairly new country, it just turned 150 last weekend! That means when you ask a Canadian where their family is from, most of us remember. A lot of our relatives are only second or third generation immigrants. On my Mom’s side of the family, I’m not entirely sure where the immigration lines are but as far as I can tell they are a ways back meaning we’re pretty much Canadian on that side. But on my Dad’s side of the family, I always knew my heritage. My Grandpa immigrated to Canada when he was 4 years old and my Grandma was a second-generation immigrant from Germany.
I’ve always been very proud of my German heritage and have wanted to learn more. Well, timing is a funny thing. My entire life my Dad has wanted to go to Germany. He wanted to see where his Dad was born and the generations before him. He wanted to experience the German culture first hand that he saw growing up in his household in Canada. Somehow, the stars aligned that he planned to finally make that journey the same year that Tom and I were travelling the world and not only that, the exact time we were planning to head to Europe. I’m certain my siblings were envious that I got to take on this journey with our Dad as we have all been wanting him to go for a very long time. So I looked at myself as the ambassador for the family.
On our first day, we headed to Sonnefeld, where my Great grandparents lived. When my great grandparents left Germany it was between the first and second world war. They saw a second war would likely occur and wanted to leave to Canada for a better life. Because they ended up leaving in a hurry, they left their farmhouse behind and it became property of the state. As soon as we pulled into the town my Dad recognized the area from pictures he had seen. The barn area is now converted into a beautifully restored hall and municipal service station and the house is now a store. We meandered around the old town and walked into the church where my great grandparents attended service.
Next, we headed to Coburg, just 20 minutes away where my Grandpa was born. We didn’t have any particular places to see in the town, just wanted to explore it. I was not complaining, particularly since it had the best bratwurst I had in Germany! (The secret was cooking it over pinecones, who would have thought?) And the buns just kill me. Every bratwurst I had was served in a bun like that, I guess hot dog buns haven’t caught on there.
Next on the agenda was Schweinfurt, where my great great great great Grandpa was born and a statue of him stands in the main town square. His name was Friedrich Rückert and was one of the most famous German poets. He wrote over 20,000 poems, many of which were turned into songs. Additionally, he was a master of linguistics. He could read and write over 40 languages and worked tirelessly at translations. He later became Professor of Oriental languages at the University of Berlin.
As a funny aside, we learned that the German word schwein means pig, so Schweinfurt is literally pig-city. A local told us that my forefather, Friedrich Rückert, pressured the city to rename Weinfurt (wein meaning wine). I may not get any linguistic talents from my great grandfather but maybe that’s where my love of wine came from. 😉 Unfortunately, he didn’t get his wish and instead the town now has painted pigs dotted all over the city.
While visiting Schweinfurt, we stopped in at the information centre to ask if they had more information or if there were any museums in the area we could visit with his poetry (There is an entire museum dedicated to him in Oberlauringen). Once we told them who we were, they became very excited. They contacted a man who worked for the Friedrich Rückert society and made arrangements for us to meet him the next day for a private tour. He took us around the town showing us the house he was born, the graves of his mother and sister, and then finally to see an original manuscript of is last written poem and first editions of many of his poem collections including “Springtime of Love” an entire volume of love poems he wrote for my great great great great Grandmother published 1844.
Through all of this touring I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical, I mean was he really my ancestor, where’s the proof? But then our guide pulled out a book that traced the lineage and right there was my Dad’s name in black and white (Leroy Gerhard). The book was printed in 1972, so I’m not in it yet but maybe the next edition!
Overall, the trip was a dream come true. Not many people get the opportunity to walk the streets where their grandparents did or visit the houses of their ancestors. And to be able to experience it alongside my Dad made for a truly amazing experience.