My Village

Today’s post is from Renee in North Dakota

I have an old photograph of a German village street from the early 1900’s.  I was given the photograph by my maternal grandmother, who wrote on the back “The only street in Grandpa’s birthplace which is on Dead End under trees”.  The Grandpa she refers to is her husband, my Grandfather Ernst Bartels.  I wonder where she got her information, as she never stepped foot in the place.  I can hear her saying the words about the village with some derision in her voice. She was a city girl from Hamburg who met my grandfather after she immigrated to the US. She found him impossibly rustic and dull. She always felt somewhat superior to him and his family. She spoke formal German; the Bartels all spoke Plattdeutsch.

The photo always puzzled me because it seemed to be a photo of nothing. It shows a wide, muddy street with trees in the background, and behind the trees, barely discernible,  a large, half-timbered house. The photo is of poor quality and is a little blurry. I never really noticed the house behind the trees before our trip to Germany. Now that I have stood on the street in the photo and was lucky enough to go inside the house, the photo is completely understandable.


My grandfather and all his siblings were born in that house. I never heard anyone in the family speak the name of the village.  I had always heard that my grandfather was born in Bremen. My mother said she thought he was born in Bremerhaven. I know now that the name of the village is Neddenaverbergen. It is about 50 miles south of Bremen, and with the help of my mother’s cousin Elmer, I contacted family who still live there, and they invited us to visit them.

20160513_182343Neddenaverbergen is a small farming community of around 700 people. It is quiet and very tidy. There are lots of flower and vegetable gardens. Oma was wrong. There are several streets in the village. All the farmers live in the village. The farmland surrounds the village on all sides.  Almost all the farm buildings are in the village as well, except for the modern buildings that house large machinery or livestock. The houses are old, and are built in the style in which the barn was attached to the house. All the houses and outbuildings are very close together, so that one neighbor’s house/barn is right next to another neighbor’s house/barn. The houses are half-timbered and made of brick. There are far fewer farmers now, and many of the residents commute to jobs in Bremen or Verden.

20160513_184143My grandfather was one of eight children. He was the second oldest. My great-grandfather died when Grandpa was about 17.  In the old German tradition, Grandpa’s oldest brother, Johan, inherited the farm. The rest of the family, including my great-grandmother, got nothing. Several of my grandpa’s siblings were still quite young, so, in 1910, he and his brother, Otto, immigrated to southwest Minnesota where their mother had family. The boys got farms and earned enough money to bring their mother and siblings to the US before the First World War.

Johan and his family survived both World Wars. His grandson, Peter, still owns the family home. He had no interest in farming and rents the land. The house was built in 1673 by an ancestor, also named Johan . Peter converted the part that was the barn into a family room. We got a tour of the house. I loved seeing the place that my grandfather was born and where he undoubtedly milked cows. The beams that were visible in the barn/family room were thick and very solid. The inscription over the door in the blog photo says something to the effect “I Johan, have built this house for my family and I have done my best and I hope that it serves them well”.


I  look at the old photograph now and it all comes into focus. I see the house. I know how the street goes right past the house, and I recognize one of the trees, now much larger. In my mind I can imagine it in color. I think of Neddenaverbergen as my village.  I want to go back.

How has visiting a place changed the way you see it?


It Is a Village, Though

Today’s post comes from Clyde of Mankato

I have been thinking much about community–what it is, what makes it, how we lose it, why it matters that we lose it. Community has invaded my fiction without my permission. This is a vignette from my stories about Northeastern Minnesota.

A place. Only a place. Indistinguishable from much of the boreal forest covering Northeastern Minnesota and adjoining Canada. A place, only a place, unless you looked at this place with the masterly eye of the original people who first roamed in small bands through the forest thousands of years ago. A Place: a low hill rich in game, with a level area above a clean-flowing stream, ample supplies of firewood, and many young cedars for poles, baskets, and other village needs.

It was many times a Lakota village for a season or two.

It was a village only once or twice for the Ojibwe, who, forced west by the European settlement of the eastern Great Lakes, displaced the Lakota out onto the prairie. The native peoples had astounding geography skills, which allowed them to remember favorite locations for their nomadic villages, but they were weak at geology. They were unaware of what lay beneath the hill and how to use it.

It was never a village for the fur trappers, first French and then English. The stream had clogged up, making it of no interest to the beaver.

It was not a village for the five men who came prospecting for iron ore. With their geology skills, they found the hidden wealth. Five men focused only on rocks for one week do not make a village.

It became a village once again when the first two dozen men arrived to open up the mine and by necessity begin a town. Soon followed more dozens of men, some to work the mine and some to attend the men who did. The third wave of men, accompanied by women and children, helped establish the mining office, a store with post office, boarding houses, and a dining hall.

Ten years later it was a large village, complete with several hundred residents, seven stores, two banks, two law offices, one doctor’s office, three churches, and a committee of village leaders to incorporate it as a municipality under the statutes of the young State of Minnesota, allowing them to plat and try to maintain muddy streets, provide a constabulary with jail, build a pine-framed city hall, organize a volunteer fire department, and grant the mining company and railroad all the exemptions and privileges they desired. The committee named the town for an eastern wealthy industrialist of dubious integrity but who had a proper British surname, unlike eighty percent of the residents.

After another ten years it had grown to a village of more than fifteen hundred residents who, despite some strident objections, added a brick city hall with jail, a larger fire hall with better equipment, a hospital, a small pine-framed elementary school, and parks, which at first were no more than rocky, weedy empty lots. It was a village because people gathered for their commonweal by assigning or gathering in the various roles that a village needs. United they were despite being divided into different heritages with different cultural norms, into different brands of Christianity, into opposing political points of view, and into social strata based primarily on occupation and nationality.

As a village it struggled, like all villages do, to serve the greatest good of the greatest number of people despite the interests of a powerful few. The library was a telling point for the village, opposed by those who saw it as a waste of tax dollars or waste of people’s time and by those who feared books as sources of dangerous ideas. A few years after the first small pine-framed library was built in the alley behind the city hall, it was replaced in the town center by a large-windowed brick and stone building, funded, along with its oak shelves and books, by Andrew Carnegie, who had made himself wealthy beyond the village’s imagination by processing their high-grade ore into iron and steel. His wealth was built with his skill, his ill-use of his employees from his mines to his blast furnaces, his intimidation of those who dared oppose him, and his manipulation of Wall Street, which has never cared what makes a village.

It was a village because most residents knew most of the others, because they gossiped about each other, by which is meant, among other things, knowing and tending to each other’s needs. Through gossip they knew what to help celebrate or who to help grieve. As a village they wove the strands of the web that bound them together, the strongest bonds woven in the hard times, of which there were many. Through boom and bust it was a village parenting each other’s children and finding pride in landmark events, such as their first high school graduating class of only two young women and one young man, others of suitable age having gone to work instead of going to high school.

It continued to be a village as it grew to over 4000 residents who survived the disaffections and deeper divisions that come with larger size. It was a village proud of its new brick and granite grade school and imposing high school on the top of the highest point in town, donated by the mining company. More and more students were graduating, more and more were heading south for a better jobs or to add to their education for a fuller life.

It was a village united behind their sports teams which played other mining villages, united in elation when their teams were victorious over the teams from their rival town ten miles to the east or untied in dejection when the teams lost.

It was a village when it proudly and naively marched boys off to wars, stunned but united in grief when the sad telegrams began to arrive, and bound in relief when men came home.

It was a worried village when the ore of their mine began to dwindle. The population started to fall, more young people headed south, and businesses began to close. As a village it stood through it all, taking the loss as too-personal when their high school closed, sending their young to the rival school ten miles to the east. To the village’s relief, the grade school remained, but only for a few years until the population dropped back to a few hundred residents, most of whom were beyond the parenting stage.

It remained a village after the downtown closed and house after house was abandoned, a village whose residents drove elsewhere to bank, to shop, to visit the medical clinic, to treat themselves to a restaurant meal, and to hire lawyers to write their wills.

It is a village still, a village of mostly retired people, more women than men, who gather to mourn the impending death of the village and to pass around photographs of children and grandchildren who live in distant large cities where people have no sense of what makes a village and why villages matter.

© Clyde Birkholz 2016

What has not endured that you thought would endure?

Elite Hotel

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

I think one of the most fun things about traveling is finding interesting hotels and lodging to stay in. We had really good luck with our lodging for our recent Europe trip. All the places were unique and had interesting and unexpected features. I mentioned the Merrion Hotel in Dublin in a previous post about Bruce Springsteen. Here is some information about some other hotels we stayed at.


In Bremen we stayed at the Design Hotel Uberfluss. I love the name. (It was hard to find a place in Bremen the week we were there due to an international conference on the medical management of open wounds. Just what I would want to learn about!) The Uberfluss is situated along the Weser River in central Bremen near the old city. It is ultramodern and decorated in white and black with funky looking light fixtures. The rooms have enormous windows that open like French Doors if you turn the handle one way, and tilt open from the top if you turn the handle the other way. During construction they discovered a section of the original town wall of Bremen, circa 1300, and preserved it in the basement. Artifacts like medieval shoes and jewelry, also excavated by the wall, are on display in the lobby. I found that fascinating.

We were in another, similar hotel called the Varsity, in Cambridge, England. It was located on the River Cam, and we could see people in punts with poles on the river. It was very peaceful.

Glasgow brought us to a lovely restored Georgian town house called the Glasgow 15 Bed and Breakfast.  It was beautiful and more like a hotel than a B and B. The breakfasts were huge. Two doors down was a plaque on a house where Sir Joseph Lister, the father of antiseptic surgery and the namesake of Listerine, lived and did research. Glasgow was full of memorials to scientists. Kelvin, he of the Kelvin Scale of temperature, has many statues and things named for him.


In Scotland’s western highlands we stayed in a very old hotel 6 miles out in the country near Oban. It was called the Knipoch Argyle. In 1592 a Campbell, then the Thane of Cawdor, was brutally murdered in the dining room. We had a great meal there.


The Wiechmann Hotel in Amsterdam was probably the quirkiest place we stayed. It is in a narrow, three-story,  19th century building on the Prinsengracht Canal a couple of blocks from the Anne Frank house. Our room was on the top floor. There were 46 narrow and winding steps to our room, and no elevator. Those stairs were killers, and once I got downstairs I didn’t want to go back upstairs. There was a large German Shepherd who slept near the front desk. On the wall behind the front desk was a gold record, a gift to the owner from Emmylou Harris. It is the gold record she received for her second album, Elite Hotel. I guess she stayed at the Wiechmann and really liked it. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols also stayed there too,  but I can’t think what they would have brought the owner except mayhem.

What is the most memorable hotel you’ve stayed in?  



Hope’s Ride to Winona

Today’s post comes from Barbara in River Town

On a pleasant Wednesday evening in late June, with a “little” help from some nephews, Husband and I filled the front half of a 15-foot U-Haul truck with the remainder of our stuff at the old house in Robbinsdale, and slept one last time on the screen porch of that house (since most of the rest of the house was empty). On Thursday morning, we drove over to my mom’s senior residence and spent the morning loading the remaining U-Haul space with HER stuff. Then we all headed off – Husband in the truck, Mom and me in a full sedan – on an adventure to the Southeast, and we landed in Winona, Minnesota.

My mom, whose name is Hope, is 90 years old. She has put up with my moving her four different times since Dad died in 2006, and is nothing if not intrepid. This is the second time she’s come to a new residence “sight unseen” (either she really trusts me, or she just has no choice). At this point she doesn’t remember all of the places unless she is prompted with a photo. She is, in a word, amazing – and always ready for something new, some fresh adventure.

We were stymied on Highway 100 by construction for a frustrating while, then finally eased out of the city. Once we got past the stoplights along Hwy 55/52, and found the roller coaster hills of Hwy 50 between Hampton and Red Wing, we were sailing. She was enthralled by ALL the scenery – even planes overhead and the refinery at Rosemount. She especially loved seeing the patchwork fields; she noticed every pretty church steeple, the pink and yellow vetches along the sloping ditches, the farm houses, the Round Barn just south of Red Wing.

But once we had reached the Mississippi River, it was the bluffs that captivated her. They are totally blanketed right now with trees of the richest greens – it looks like you could reach out and squeeze them like a sponge. They reminded Mom of her native Sioux City, IA, also long a great river – the Missouri. She couldn’t take her eyes off them, and kept commenting on their beauty.

So imagine Hope’s delight when, a few hours after setting out, we got to her new apartment at St. Anne of Winona, and the view from her windows is… the bluffs of Winona.

What’s the best view you’ve had from a window in a place you’ve lived?

My New Roommate: A Grandson

Today’s post comes from Crystalbay

A few days ago, my 21-year old grandson, Conner, approached me about living here for a while.  My first reaction was, “Oh no!!  What if it doesn’t work and I’ll be in the position to tell him to leave??!!”.  It was a beautiful summer afternoon and, as we sat together on the lake swing, I decided to take the risk.

Conner, a formerly heavy pot smoker and a somewhat aimless kid, had gone to the U of M for two years, then dropped out, saying he hated it there and wanted to be a personal trainer.  The whole family worried that this young man was lost.  He took a pricey personal training course.  Still, we wondered how this slender kid could possibly make a career out of a profession in which so few can succeed.
That was then; this is now.  Conner just won a national natural body building competition one month ago out of 70 men older than himself.  He’d worked out for a year and sculpted his body into near perfection.  When I saw him on that stage, I couldn’t believe the transformation.  His career “stock” shot through the roof, and he now has enough clients to make a solid living.
When he moved in a few days ago, he made the upstairs his own, putting my furniture in the closet, rearranging everything, vacuuming, washing floors, putting his own posters on the walls, etc.  Since then, he’s mowed the lawn, gone on errands, put every single dish in the washer, taken the garbage out, and introduced me to new Netflix series.
Every morning, he makes his bed even though no one goes upstairs but him.  We respect each other’s space and, thank God, he has no interest in watching TV.  Each day, we find time to sit on the lake swing and share everything from our day to childhoods to politics.  I must admit that I’m doing my best to shape him into an ardent progressive. I did worry about feeling invaded after so many years of quiet solitude, but now find myself looking forward to him returning from his day.
I sense that this is a very important summer; more than previous summers.  The new but growing bond is forever.  Without this opportunity, I may never have known my grandson.  I’m even thinking about how much I’ll miss his daily company when he moves on, but I’ll enjoy the moments we have for now.
Yesterday, he asked if I’d teach him how to play the piano.  Today, I asked him to come to a nearby fitness club and create a free weight lifting routine for me. He and my daughter are competing in the same contest in August. He’s now proposing that he, his mom, and I could compete together one day.  Imagine that; three generations! I’d win because I’d be the only one in the over-70 class. Our daily routines blend together seamlessly and our gratitudes for the smallest exchanges, a hug, a peanut butter sandwich, music he’s introducing me to, and, most of all, our appreciation for sharing this most beautiful piece of earth.
Yes, this will be a summer to remember.

Team of Eight

Today’s post comes from Verily Sherrilee

I’m one of those folks who can’t quite get over the fact that Pluto has been demoted from planet to dwarf planet. I’m not a complete fanatic; I haven’t cried over it and I haven’t written any poison pen letters to Neil deGrasse Tyson whose Hayden Planetarium was the first to build an exhibit with the Pluto demotion for all the world to see. Although to be completely honest, I DO own a t-shirt that says “Pluto. Revolve in Peace. 1930-2006.”


I was not thinking about Pluto this morning until I went to the post office to replenish my postage stamp stock. They know me pretty well there and know that I’m always looking for new and fun stamps. When I said I needed stamps today, the clerk said, “Oh I have some new ones to show you.” and pulled out some national park stamps and also a sheet of stamps with the eight planets. They’ve very pretty but I couldn’t resist a “poor Pluto” comment.

EightPlanets2The clerk laughed and said “Wait, you’ll appreciate this” as he disappeared into the back. A minute later he returned with a four-stamp sheet with Pluto and the New Horizons spacecraft (the one that did the close flyby of Pluto recently). At this point I was laughing as well, knowing that I am clearly not the only one out there who is still mourning the loss of Pluto from our team of nine. Of course I had to buy a sheet of those as well. I’m not a stamp collector or saver but I might have to make an exception for the Pluto stamp!

What can’t you just let go of?

Too Good to Last

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

One of the reasons we traveled to Bremen, Germany in May was to visit the towns where my mother’s family came from.

My maternal great grandmother’s family came from a town a few miles south of Bremen. The family last name was Cluver, and they came from Verden, a town with about 25,000 people. It was a very important place in the Middle Ages. Charlemagne slaughtered 4500 Saxons there in 782 for sliding back to pagan worship after they had been baptized. I imagine some of them were my relatives. The town was closely connected to the Old Saxon Law courts nearby. The town was considered a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire. A medium size cathedral,  built  between the 12th and 15th centuries, was home to a Prince Bishop from 1180 on, from whom my Cluver ancestors enjoyed great political patronage. That relationship also caused the eventual downfall of the family.

We have extensive records on the Cluvers. They were very wealthy in the centuries before the Reformation. Northern Germany is flat, low,  and swampy, and the Cluvers possessed the knowledge and ability to drain wetland so that it could be used for growing crops.  The Cluvers often loaned money to the Prince Bishop of Verden as well as the Prince Archbishop of Bremen. The bishops rewarded the Cluvers with land,  allowed them to live on grand estates that they owned, and used their influence to further the Cluver’s business and political aspirations. Things went well until the Reformation and the 30 Years War, when Sweden invaded and occupied the area and the whole region became Protestant. The Prince Bishops were ousted from power.The Cluvers clung tenaciously to the Church and refused to convert, I believe as much out of greed as from religious conviction. They didn’t want to abandon the cash cow that gave them so much prestige and power. I gather that they were pretty annoying and rebellious toward the occupying Swedes, who retaliated by killing as many male Cluvers they could find. Eventually, the family lost most of their wealth and lands, and became small Lutheran farmers like the majority of their neighbors.

It is hard to describe the feelings I had as I walked in the cathedrals of Bremen and Verden and saw the monuments and tombs of my ancestors.  There is a quite large and elaborate tablet from 1457 on the wall near the north Tower in the cathedral in Bremen in memory of Segebad Cluver. I wonder how he would feel knowing how things turned out. Greed can be pretty destructive. I also saw acres and acres of good farmland, though, so I suppose the family contributed something to the area that lasted.

What is a a gift or opportunity you’ve come to regret?




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