Am snug under a crisp white feather blanket in an old fashioned room in Zamek Joannitow – a XIV crenellated castle in the Polish town of Lagow (pronounced Lwah-go). The castle was built by the Knights of the order of St. John, a group that rose to power after the Knights Templar fell into disfavor with the church in Rome and all their lands redistributed. The castle has a huge (covered) inner courtyard, and I have just come in from sitting out there listening to the rain while checking my email (the wi-fi is strong there). We are the only guests in the hotel except for the resident ghosts mentioned in the brochure (who I haven’t seen yet.)
My room is lovely, with high ceilings and a fireplace. The thick walls and double sets of windows almost, but not quite, completely deaden the sound of the rain. It is simple, yet very pampering. I am happy to be here.
We got up early to meet Wolfgang at 8:30. We went to his house for breakfast with his wife Doris (who wanted to meet these cray Americans coming to Europe for a four day trip. She found our stays were actually longer!). Delicious breakfast: Passion fruit juice, tea or coffee, eggs in little egg cozies, three types of thin brown rye bread, and such an array of things to go on them, meat, cheese, butter, jam, and various spreads. My favorites were a chopped liver that Doris said was made with apples and was low in fat, and a spicy pimento spread. Yum.
It was 10:30 and starting to rain when we piled into the car and headed east to Poland. No border control as Poland is part of the European Union, but we did stop to change money as Poland’s currency is the Zloty, not the Euro.
First stop was the small village of Torzym, formerly Sternberg. At the time my ancestors lived here Sternberg was the parish seat for Oststernberg, and was where Otillie Menze’s birth was registered, as was her marriage to Adolf Hennig. This is where she came to get document’s attesting to the above to use as their papers for immigrating to the new world, and which have been carefully saved by the family.
What few records that remain from this area have all been moved to the central archives in the town Gorzow Wielpolski (formerly Landsberg), as records and the towns themselves were badly damaged by the victorious Russians as WWII was ending in 1945. Here and there are blocks of houses that look as if they may have existed when Ottillie and Carl immigrated in 1880. The parish church is still the parish church but is now Catholic rather than protestant. The church itself was also badly damaged, but reconstructed by the parish between 1950 and the 1970’s. It is still a small town.
After wandering around the streets, the graveyards and the church, Wolfgang suggested something to drink, and took us to a fantastic hotel/restaurant about 1 ½ blocks from the church. When I say fantastic I mean it in the sense that someone is building their fantasy hotel. There grounds are surrounded by a “town” wall, towers, and gate, and in the middle sits a thatched cottage surrounded by a lake. A “porch” – on which there are couches and tables at which to sit and relax – completely wraps around the cottage. It, like several other projects is not quite finished. The place looks as if it has been in a state of permanent, unhurried construction for several years and will probably continue on. We weren’t quite hungry enough for lunch, but had coffee and tea and shared a not to sweet dessert somewhere between a pudding and a cake.
Then we were off to Babimost (formerly Bomst) where Ottillie’s first two children, Uncle Paul and Aunt Libby were born according to her bible. A wrong turn took us by an amazingly huge statue of a gold-crowned Jesus. Evidently it is taller (not higher) than the one in Rio de Janero. It is sitting in the middle of a huge field that looks to be a venue for tent meetings.
We retraced our steps until we found ourselves on the tiny 303 heading to Babimost. I don’t think Wolfgang was wild about the road – there were some extremely bumpy parts and so many twists and turns that you are forced to go much slower than on a larger road – but I loved it. The road is lined on both sides with a row of trees, beyond which are fields, and the trees are lovely. You could imagine being in a horse and buggy and trotting down the road in the cool of the shade in Summer time.
When we arrived, Babimost was an utterly charming small town. Larger and better tended, richer than Torzym, and it looked like more of the buildings had survived the war. “Most” means bridge in many Slavic languages, and sure enough, a block off the center was a tiny river with a bridge. We again wandered the town and took photos. No idea of where our family was when they were in this area. In town, outside? What were they doing here? Wolfgang said that like our family, his family moved around a lot. Farmer’s could hire themselves out to farm for the big landlords and would often move around searching for better wages. Right up to the time of his mother, girls would go into service as maids after finishing elementary school, (just as Ottillie’s daughters had done in America.)
We decided to stop at a kawiarnia (kawa = coffee) and just as we sat down it began to pour. We sat sipped coffee and chatted until it died down enough that we could return to the car without getting drenched.
It was getting dark as we drove the final leg of the day’s journey to Lagow. Wanting to surprise us, Wolfgang has said nothing about the hotel being in an old castle. It dominates the town on a small hill.We checked in, marveled at the place and the number of stairs we had to climb, then left for a very nice dinner at a restaurant on the lake at the bottom of the hill. Still in soft mode I had a clear borcht with what looked like an egg roll but was a fried mashed potato roll, with a little meat in it. Dick and Bev had perogies. Again tired, we turned in after a satisfying day.