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.

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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”.

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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?

 

107 thoughts on “My Village”

  1. The Bush of Alaskaand the native peoples. What do i say I learned? The Resiliency of the people. How culture is all. The destructiveness of our media. A lot more.

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  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Visiting a place always changes my understanding of it–to me this is often the point of travel. Experiencing something changes my experience, in the smallest and biggest of ways.

    When I have time to just be in a place, I feel the energy, the history, the ambience of the place. This is true of visiting my garden to week or a great city. I stood on the cobbles of Old City Rome, and I could feel the ancient history, the human history there.

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  3. I am fascinated by your story today, Renee. I’ll return later to comment on it. First, I have a question. The name of your village is long and hardly easy to speak, although someone born there would surely find it easier to say than I. Does the name translate to anything (like “Nedden near Bergen”)?

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  4. Thanks, Renee, another fine piece. When you click on the individual photos you can really see some of the finer details. The brickwork in that old house is beautiful, and what a great garden! I can only imagine how it felt seeing it for the first time.

    As I’m sure is true for most of us, visiting my childhood home as an adult, I was struck by how much smaller it seemed. However, since I had seen it intermittently in the meantime, it wasn’t a complete shock.

    That was not the case with the boarding school where I went to grade school. I visited the school after not seeing it for thirty-five years. When I rang the bell, I was ushered in by a nun in street clothes, and since it was no longer a boarding school, it was serenely quiet and clean. I was struck by how small the classrooms were. Memories flooded back as I made my way through the various rooms where I had spent the happiest hours of my childhood. The playroom; the room that had once been the sleeping quarters for twelve little girls; the dining hall where I would be sitting – alone – on winter mornings after all the other kids had gone off to class. (I was detained for not wanting to swallow that awful spoon of cod liver oil.) The kitchen where Sr. Janine, the sweet and plump Polish nun, assisted by her Latvian side-kick, Miss Valeria, cooked all our meals. The small, third-floor chapel, scented with familiar incense where we’d start and end our day in prayer. The fourth floor loft where my sister and I spent a week in isolation when we both contracted chicken pox at the same time.

    Looking back on that time, it strikes me how much things have changed. Or, perhaps more accurately, how much I have changed. The building and the grounds haven’t changed much, but my perception of them has. I also realized that most of the nuns were not Danish, and that I grew up surrounded by people, my mother included, who spoke Danish with heavy accents.

    I have relished this walk down memory lane. Thanks, Renee.

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    1. I had an enormous surprise when I took a photo of the old photo to send to Dale. Once it was on my phone, I could enlarge it, and I noticed for the first time that there were 13 children, an adult woman, and a cow or pony near the house. My German relatives had identical but later shots of this scene, probably from the 1930’s, and now i can send this to them and ask if they know who sny of the people are.

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      1. I see 14 kids, but I’m not sure I see the woman. Is that her in front of the cow/pony? I wonder, given that all the children seem to be about the same age and with the one adult woman if this could somehow be a school group?

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        1. Very possible. The person I take to be an adult is very hard to see. She is behind the 4th girl from the left, and isn’t wearing a white smock. Now that you mention it, the children’s clothes seem sort of like uniforms.

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    2. You say you have “changed” since you were a student, PJ. When I revisited my old elementary school I was shocked at how tiny it was, like a doll house. Then I remembered I was a very small person when I was a student there.

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  5. It is amazing that a house built in 1673 still stands. I once drove my dad to the little village in southeastern Iowa where he lived as a child. He was eager to see the home he’d lived in, but it no longer exists. It was probably built 200 years later than the home in your photo, and yet it was torn down and replaced after just a few decades. I’m not sure what significance we can find in that fact, but it suggests two highly different cultural attitudes about preserving older buildings.

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    1. I am sure there have been some cosmetic fixes to that brick work and roof. I saw another, equally old home of another relative in Nedden that had gouges in the brick from mortar rounds during the Second World War.

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      1. You are surely right, PJ. I’m responding in part to a recent “This Old House” program that contrasted homes in Germany with homes in this nation. Apparently many German homes are being upgraded with high-tech climate systems that use almost no energy. The natural question was whether such systems would be popular in the US. And the answer was that this wasn’t likely because people in the US move so often that they are reluctant to make a big investment in efficiency when they were likely to move before realizing the payback. But, again, your observation about how the homes were built is surely right.

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    1. Not likely. Assuming the photo was taken before WWI, clothing tended to hew to a regional style, varying in details even village by village and not subject to much change over time. Children’s clothing especially would not have reflected fashion. If the photo were a formal portrait and if there were adults dressed in their best clothes, it might be easier to deduce a date.

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      1. This, for example, was taken in 1904 but it could have been 1874. Students of traditional costume could tell you these are Marken girls by their daily costume and even the shape of their shoes, but they would not be able to pinpoint the date.
        Marken Girls, Marken, Netherlands

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        1. great photos bill. the others across the bottom are equally interesting. do a blog on it why dont you very easy to get lost in the photos

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    2. I see in Wikipedia that the old town center and numerous old houses in Neddenaverbergen burned to the ground in 1859. Is it possible that house you’re seeing today was rebuilt at that time?

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      1. I don’t think so, since the old photo shows a very old house with lots of old buildings around it, and a newer building wouldn ‘t have looked that old on that photo.

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        1. Apparently the church burned, but the bell tower to the church remains, or was reconstructed.

          About the clothes the kids are wearing, my dad was born in 1920. Photos from his childhood show him in similar clothes. Of course, he was in Denmark, and this photo is from Germany. I don’t think the traditional costumes shown in Bill’s photo – which is from Holland – were commonly worn – except for special occasions – into the twentieth century. Wish the photo was clearer, perhaps if I try viewing it on a screen that’s bigger than my laptop’s I could see it better.

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  6. A question for Renee. A friend lives in a home in Virginia that was built about 1840. It was used as a hospital in the Civil War. The doors are so low that men are forever knocking their heads on the frames. People used to be much shorter than they are now. Your family’s home was built in the 17th century. Are the ceilings and doorways low?

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    1. No, they seemed pretty average to me. We are very tall people, though, so perhaps the ancestor who built tbe house built it with tall people in mind.

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  7. I also notice for the first time two poles or bare tree trunks on the left side of the photo with balls or decoratve things on the top.

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      1. If the insulators were for telegraph lines and not electricity for homes, then I suppose it could be earlier than WWI.

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        1. That’s true. But if you assume one insulator for each wire, that would be a lot of telegraph wires, especially since telegraph lines didn’t go into individual homes. I don’t think telegraph or telephone wires would require such substantial insulators, either, but maybe those were the only insulators available.

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        2. I did a little research and apparently those large glass or ceramic insulators were also used for telegraph and telephone, even though the low voltage wouldn’t have required it. Keeping in mind that the village was fairly isolated by nineteenth century standards and that there wasn’t any sort of large electrical grid until after WWI, what utility would be most likely?

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        3. I did a little research and I guess that by 1910, all cities and towns in Germany were connected to electricity, but only 10 % of households were electrified. I don’t know if this has any bearing on dating this photo, though.

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        4. Only if we knew specifically when Neddenaverbergen was electrified. Then we would know the earliest the photo was taken. I have a lot of photos of Germany in my 1904 set and nowhere are utility poles in evidence.

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  8. May poles are pretty common around May 1 in Germany to celebrate Whitsun or Pentecost. It is a big holiday with lots of celebration and drinking and very little relgious significance now.

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  9. This is fascinating, Renee – I love old buildings, and it’s fun to see the before and after aspect to this.. Visiting France last year changed the way I think of Europe in general, and of course each particular spot we landed. There were no huge surprises, but each place had its own identity, and knowing how old some of the buildings were fed my curiosity about the past. I want to go back.

    We’re not SO different now – but instead of an attached barn, it’s sometimes an attached garage.

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    1. American homes of the last 30 years have their front views dominated by garage doors, seemingly the more doors the better, which seems to me to say something about us. To quote myself, “the lawn is th highest expression of modern culture” to which I might add garage doors.

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      1. Clyde, it might interest you to hear that the typical suburban home is banned in the city of Portland. The typical home that has a prominent two-door garage in front is called here a “snout house.” And you cannot build one here, thanks to a city ordinance. The thinking was that such houses discourage a sense of neighborliness. As the guy who led the movement to ban snout houses said, “You can still build a damned ugly house in Portland, but you have to work a lot harder to do it.” He went on to explain, “Basically we have created the Trick or Treat test. So when kids come around for Trick or Treat the house will look like people live in it and have a front door where a kid can go.”

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        1. My cousin lives in Columbus, OH, and says that folks from Appalachia who move there are sometimes called “Porchers” since they like to sit out front of their houses and visit. It is not a complimentary description, he told me.

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      2. the architect i worked with on my littel housing development was hugely opposed to garage doors showing i had never thought about it and when i did i found it just odd that people want to have that be the curb presentation of the property. just odd

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  10. The BBC has a series called The Secret Life of Books, 30 mi ute shows about the development of great British works of lit. Year 2 just came out on -Acorn. The last two episodes are on books that capture lost village/communities in nostalgia, two books I like very much. Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie and John Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. What a delight these shows we’re for me, mostly filmed in the settings of the books ,Cotswolds an Lake District. Simple and graceful tales over which the two authors labored.

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  11. The oldest house I have the privilege of visiting had a Roman foundation and the second story added in the 13th century, people still living in it in a village sw of Paris. I took a photo of the entrance and a friend created a stained glass window of it which then another friend built a door around. One of my prized possessions….and memories.

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      1. There’s a movie from 1943 called ‘Forever And a Day’ about a house.

        Wikipedia says: “Forever and a Day is a 1943 drama film, a collaborative effort employing seven directors/producers and 22 writers, including an uncredited Alfred Hitchcock, with an enormous cast of well-known stars.”
        And it’s true; anyone who was anyone back there had a role in this film.

        The plot according to Wikipedia: “In World War II, American Gates Trimble Pomfret (Kent Smith) is in London during the Blitz to sell the ancestral family house. The current tenant, Leslie Trimble (Ruth Warrick), tries to dissuade him from selling by telling him the 140-year history of the place and the connections between the Trimble and Pomfret families”

        It is a very fun movie. Look it up.
        Here’s the trailer:

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  12. I emailed one of the Nedden relatives and attached the photo. Perhaps she will know some information about it. She and her husband are coming to Luverne in August. We will go to meet them there.

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    1. Thanks for thinking of me…I am on high ground, so I didn’t flood, but have to go to town today, so will see if my little river managed to cover the road. It was an amazing day of rain, donner and blitzen!

      as to a blog about the house & stained glass…I ‘ll think about that, might just do it…thanks for suggesting.

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  13. Morning all. Several of the homes I have lived in have been knocked down to make way for more modern houses, but for the couple that I’ve been able to visit as an adult, like PJ, I am amazed at how small they seem. In particular when I was in 3rd and 4th grade, we lived in a Dutch Colonial on a corner lot and this house lives LARGE in my memory, big porches, huge yard, large 2-story garage. I’ve driven by it a couple of times I’ve been back in Missouri and it seems impossibly small to me now!

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  14. The house I grew up in was put on wheels and rolled away one night. As far as I know, it still exists, but I have no idea where. I wish I did.

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  15. I heard back from my relatves. The photo is from 1930-1932. They don’t know any of the children. It was taken by the schoolmaster, who was an amateur photographer.

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  16. when I was a child in the 50’s, it was common for neighbors to help neighbors in many ways, for one thing to help build houses or garages and a barn or two. Most of the houses were in the valley. Most of those valley house are gone, replaced by modern homes with three door garages facing the front, which seems more egregious when you have at least five acres by zoning law around your house. I should write about the old schoolhouse on that road, 100 plus years old and still extant. Does not lead to a good prompt.

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    1. I am the Welcome Wagon in my neighborhood. When somebody new moves in (like this past weekend), I take cookies (and jam if I have it) along w/ a card and my address/number, etc. THEN I have a welcome neighbor gathering (last one was 6 weeks back) where old neighbors and new neighbors get to meet each other and trade info. Like baboon gatherings, we do lots of potlucking. I’m not sure exactly why I took this on years ago, but I really like living in a connected neighborhood.

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  17. It s clear from my reading and some documentaries I have watched that the british Isles villages are still villages. The same seems true in France. Maybe they are in Germany. In Great Britain the pubs are the center of life. In France, it seems, it is the local restaurant. I used to joke that in the Dakotas a grain elevator is the excuse for a village. In southern Minnesota it is a church. In northern Minnesotans northern Wisconsin it is a beer joint.

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    1. It’s by no means universal and major highways have made commuting from villages to the city more practical, but from what I’ve seen, there is a great deal less suburban infill between villages and between villages and cities in Europe. I think traditionally villages were largely arranged like Neddenaverbergen, with the farmers and barns clustered in a village and the farm fields surrounding. It’s cozy and social, especially when none of the farms are very big.
      Compare that with the way the midwest and west were settled, with each settler claiming his 160 acres and with the obligation to build a home somewhere on that acreage. The core population was diffuse. The villages sprang up to provide services to the farmers but were not, for the most part, where the farmers lived. The townspeople were transient in a way the farmers were not. Villages in those circumstances were more dependent on access to transportation for moving people and goods in and out. Consider the fate of those towns the railroads bypassed. But that connection with the outside world also had a homogenizing effect and diminished the insularity and individuality of american villages.

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      1. By my own life and stories my parents told, communities still formed in the rural areas. I lived in a community called Knife River Valley, formed around an old schoolhouse I mentioned earlier. The schoolhouse was abandoned as a school, but the school district left it and the land lying in use, until this year. It held wedding dances, 4-H meetings, a regular one Saturday a month dance, and meetings of the grange, a rural farming cooperative. Our grange owned a threshing machine in common. It is odd, or maybe not, that this community hung on, and still does to some extent, in a very poor farming area with nobody being only a farmer. My mother grew up in a rural community like that north of Wadena. My father in a community a bit farther north. Again, the schoolhouses, then in use, were the meeting places for the grange and school events. Both of my parents were rather anti-social, except for these community events and the sharing of larger tasks. There was always a divide between the rural people and the town people until into the 50’s in my area.

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        1. I checked. Actually, thew land and building were bought from the district when I was a child. A group of people owned it. This summer the remains of the school, called Felix Hall, were purchased by a man nearby and moved onto his land with the intention of restoring it and allowing continued use.
          I should add a small note to this: there was in fact a swimming hole used by the valley kids on the east branch of the Knife River. It went out of use when the HS added on a pool.

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        2. Of course there were villages and in many of them viable community but I wonder what the rural midwest might have looked like had the platting of homestead parcels been different.

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      2. I think the Hidatsa villages here on the Missouri River were set up so that the earth lodges were clustered together and the farm land was outside the village.

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    2. I’ve heard, Clyde, that the key to understanding what is important in a society is to note which buildings are the tallest. The thought seems to me more impish than useful. I spent much of my life in places where the grain elevators looked down on everything else. But I’d agree that the local beer watering hole is the leading institution in Wisconsin, and they are usually just one story in height.

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      1. Many rural beer halls exist up in the MN north woods, now being more places for tourists, losing some of their seedy and community atmosphere.

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      2. A Catholic priest friend of mine told me that the rule was always that back in that era the Catholic church steeple had to be higher than any protestant steeple. There are exceptions to that in small towns in MN, but not many. Among the last vestiges of that rural past are the closing of churches, rural and small town.

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        1. And then there is the story of how the Archbishop John Ireland (an ambitious man) decided to build the lofty Cathedral of St Paul a few years after the MN State Capitol was finished. Ireland specified to architects that his cathedral had to be higher than the tallest capitol building “permitting the House of God to look down, literally and symbolically, on moneychangers (as represented by downtown St. Paul) and Caesar (as represented by the state capitol).”

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  18. Incidentally, if you haven’t already, take a look at the incredible brick work on the wall surrounding the entrance with the inscription. Almost no two panels are the same.

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    1. That section of the house is the former barn. I believe that brickwork is modern, but just inside the double doors are the large and very old posts and beams from the barn. The skeletonskeleton of the house is very very old but the brickwork is newer.

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  19. The girls on the left side as we view it are wearing pinafores; it looks as if the shoulder part of the pinafores have high ruffles on them. My mother has pictures of her fifth grade or so school class in Lamberton from about 1926 with all of the girls wearing those, all the girls being six of them.

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  20. Today my Nedden relatives sent me a link to a site with hundreds of photos from the village from 1880-1960. Several are photos of my family, photos I have never seen before.

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        1. Incredible photos, Renee. Thanks for sharing. The photos from the Russian front are, indeed, tragic.

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  21. I will be interested to hear Baboon observations about the impact of world events on village life as recoded in these photos.

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    1. A lot of photos. I looked over the initial group of 64 from 1900-1961 and then scanned through some of those grouped by date. One thing that struck me was the persistence of horse-drawn transportation and the lack of motor vehicles. The initial set of 64 showed no cars or trucks or tractors. Some of that may be attributable to the isolation of the village and some may be a reflection of the post-WWI economy in Germany. It’s striking to see horses and buggies even into the forties.

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  22. i looked over the pre 47 photos and found nothing disturbing or tragic. it is interesting how a community will follow like sheep the community decision to go to war. all wars are like that but i dont see anything other than evidence that it was part of the community there.
    i think the u.s. wars are that way and i tend to think of soldiers as people who follow the rah rah of the moment and g to get the job done.
    is the disturbing / tragic aire colored by the uniforms?

    i felt much more connected with ireland after having it unexpectedly become the holiday spot of a month long long trip. i had no interest in my heritage going in an a huge appreciation of it going out. kerry claire and cork in the south and ballymena in the north all places of my people. the northern side fit like a glove and i began to understand the challenges i had with that side. the joy was in discovering the southern sides premise of joy and the culture that pushes you that way.

    i tend to suck up cultures as i travel like a sponge. i observe and file away the impressions, california so different from montana atlanta kentucky new york england germany italy turkey china japan indonesia alask hawaii and north dakota, all so different and so distinct. i feel so connected after i have been to a place it bears no resemblance to the relationship i had with it before the visit. new england, canadian rockies carolina brussels like flash cards with a punchline written on it that give you a joke or a story in a nutshell

    sit down dick

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  23. OT Liam story (he’s six now). We had an exchange at a restaurant yesterday.

    Steve: “I like your shirt, Liam. All those insects on it. Now, this one is a praying mantis, one of my favorite bugs. Praying mantises are cool. They are interested in people. Whereas other bugs are afraid of people, the mantis likes to observe people. If you pick up a praying mantis instead of panicking it will just study you calmly.”

    Liam (with narrow eyes): “Grampy, is that a hypothesis?

    Now, I really liked that question. One of my theories that a higher education (like a college degree) is just a sort of dialect or special vocabulary. All people have basically the same thoughts, but educated people express those thoughts using words that mark them as educated. Liam is well along the way to sounding like an educated person. What he was asking, in the words of someone less educated, was something like, ”Grampy, are you shittin’ me?”

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