The Hague – Den Haag

June 27, 2009

After a quiet Friday “at home” we were ready Saturday morning to travel again to see some sights, and we chose The Hague.  I always thought The Hague was a building, confusing the city’s name with one of the most talked-about institutions in the city – The International Court of Justice. Now I am no longer confused.

This was our first train trip that went wrong, a bit. We arrived – in Rotterdam! That’s not where we were headed, and yet there we were.  It didn’t take long to find a train headed for Den Haag Centraal, so we got to our destination after all.

As soon as we arrived (a little past noon) we were hungry and stopped to eat our bag lunch in a park not far from the station. Soon we realized that there was a major event taking place around us and overhead.  The helicopter was clearly not going away, and there were grandstands full of people visible through the trees. Then – BOOM!  What was that?  Just one canon explosion?  Why?

We headed toward the town and saw that the roads were blocked off and people were lining the street, clearly waiting for a parade. So we too waited for the parade.  In a few moments we discovered that it is Veterans’ Day in Holland.The people were waiting for the veterans’ parade.

We found the parade to be quite moving – with wave after wave o9f soldiers – young and old – in various styles of uniform, each preceded by a banner stating the war(s) they fought in. We were also treated to a showing of a variety of military vehicles. We heard from those standing near us that the Prince would be attending.  Not knowing the Prince’s name didn’t reduce our fascination much, so we watched the entire parade in hopes of seeing royalty.  We may have seen him, but we couldn’t be sure.

After the parade and a rejuvenating coffee, we spent a pleasant few hours viewing the buildings and shops of The Hague old town, the part of the city which was not destroyed in World War II.  Our waiter at the coffee shop, Michael, advised us of the efficient route through the streets – to see the Parliament building but not to try to get to the International Court of Justice – too far and not open to public tours.

Our walking tour took us past some amazing sidewalk cafes, larger than any such restaurants any of us had ever seen before. Later we returned to have our dinner at one of those restaurants. It turns out that many restaurants that front on the square share the large number of outdoor tables. What looks like one large seating area is actually a collection of restaurants. The menu available to you depends on which restaurant lays claim to the table where you sit down.

Outdoor cafes in The Hague

Outdoor cafes in The Hague

As we wandered through the shops, we were surprised by a “soldier’s show” – a performance of 1940’s music by four singers in uniforms from World War II.

I’d heard nearly all of the songs before, and the performance was great fun. We were smiling broadly to happen upon such a thing in the middle of a mall!

Soldier's entertainment fromt eh 40s'

Soldier's entertainment from the 40s'

Another find in The Hague that had us smiling was the herring.  Marilyn has been wanting some (Laura and I have no interest), and there it was.  They serve it raw!  When we react with some disdain to this, Marilyn asks what we think of sushi.  Well, that’s different, I reply.  There’s rice, little vegetables, not so much fish. Laura’s answer is that it’s different fish, some tuna, some shrimp, not herring.

When we were little, our father would eat pickled herring. This is not pickled. It’s just cleaned, sliced, and served on a bun with diced onion. Yummm!?

There were certainly a lot of people enjoying the fish, though some of them were choosing the cooked items on the menu.

Herring sandwich - yummm!

Herring sandwich - yummm!

We should also mention the sand sculpture – or was it sandstone. It certainly looked like sand but how could it be?

We end our day in The Hague with a fine meal – spaghetti with seafood for Marilyn and a nice spice salad with various meats and hot red peppers for JoAnn and Laura.

After dinner we headed back to the trains. This time we traveled back to Hilversum via Utrecht and had no problems, even with a 6-minute connection from platform 19 to 3.


“Lost” in the Park

June 26, 2009

Imagine how lost I might have been if I’d been on a bicycle, with the additional speed and range!.  As it is, I went out walking and returned after 90 minutes.  It was a good walk, but I was turned around (otherwise known as “lost”).  Everyone I encountered was a visitor, too. Finally found a couple on bicycles who had a map. Then we stopped two young who were locals.  With a local and a map, I was in business.  It turns out I wasn’t far from “home” and it took only a few minutes to find the sheep and the  cows.

After I returned, Marilyn and I spent the next few hours working with family tree information and sharing photographs. I got Marilyn’s laptop hooked up, used a couple of USB memory sticks, and transferred all my and Laura’s photos to her laptop. Now she’s happily viewing our trip in full living color, digitally.

We’re playing together on our little netbook computers.

Bicycle Culture

June 25, 2009

It is a continuing surprise to see the use of bicycles grow as we move from city to city. We noticed it in Germany, where we frequently saw people of all ages out riding all day and into the evening. Couples who appeared to be celebrating their 40th year of marriage out riding their bicycles together.  This is not seen in the US!

Now, as we move into the big cities of Holland, the sights relating to bicycles have become beyond charming. This is heavy duty bike culture. Bike paths here are separate from the road and separate from the pedestrian path and have their own traffic signal.  Bike parking at train stations and other public gathering places is massive, sometimes in double-decker lots. Some of the bicycle parking is covered with low roofs, and we’ve even seen some indoor bike parking garages.  Everywhere you go bicycles are parked along the road, often obstructing sidewalks completely.  Watch out if you walk across a bike path, because the bicycles are coming, seemingly from everywhere.

People on bicycles are dressed for everything, not just exercise. They are doing all kinds of things, too. Some are talking on cell phones; many are eating. It’s not necessary, apparently, to use both hands, so you can carry your purchases in one hand while riding. However, it’s not really necessary, as most people have a basket or “saddle bags” or some other carrying device mounted on the bicycle to make carrying easier.

I hope we get a chance to join in the fun tomorrow. We’re planning to take a day off from traveling, staying closer to “home” in S-Graveland, and maybe we’ll take our host up on his offer to lend us his bike.

Our second day in Amsterdam was much more successful, as we largely recovered from the shock of big city life. It was a day of museums, mostly. First the Van Gogh Museum, then the … the one with the Dutch masters, including Rembrandt.

Across from the museums is a lovely “pleine” or plaza. We used it well, first for a refreshing ice cream and then for a refreshing dip (feet only) in the pool.

Even after the pool, we were really tired.  What to do?  We’d spent so much money already (the museums, lunch, the tram) that we really didn’t want to do anything expensive.  We had a lot of time, but little energy.  We decided to use the Eurail passes and go to Utrecht for dinner.

That was brilliant!

Restaurants along the canal in Utrecht

Restaurants along the canal in Utrecht

Chez Willy turned out to be a fine dining experience and a great place to sit and watch the revelry.

All kinds of boats passed by – from canoes and kayaks to gondolas and powerboats. Some of the parties were quiet and some were raucous.  There were boats with barbecue grills and full dining tables.  It was clearly party night (Thursday?).

Party boats on the Utrecht canal.

Party boats on the Utrecht canal.

Are we in Holland or Italy?

Are we in Holland or Italy?

JoAnn without her camera?!

JoAnn without her camera?!

Uh oh! Big City!

June 24, 2009

Amsterdam was a shock to us after our rural experiences so far. The buses, trams, Metro, bicycles, bicycles, boats, trains, autos!  Everywhere the bicycles!

We did see some things today – the Royal Palace, the Flea Market – but today was largely about getting our bearings.  We took a boat tour of the canals to get off our feet and see the city at the same time. The weather was perfect, and when we got off the boat we sat again for a cappucino right next to the canal. In fact, the cafe was on a boat, too!

Transition Day

June 24, 2009

Yesterday was a moving day. We took the 9″53 train from Osnabruck to a suburb of Amsterdam called Hilversum.  Our host, Donald, picked us up with his friend Jim (so that we and our luggage could be accommodated). After settling our bags into the house, Jim drove us to a lovely restaurant so that we could have a long lunch, while Donald and Jim went about their business.

We are living in an art gallery, seriously.  Everywhere we look is another sculpture or painting or glass art!  When we returned from a trip to the grocery store last night, Donald put some classical music on the CD player and we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the ambiance.

Across from the house in front is a “nature park” with cows and sheep grazing all day. In back, there is a canal, which Donald says was built to bring supplies to the homes of those who had moved to the country to escape the smelly city. The smell at that time came from the hot weather warming the garbage-dump canals.

On the balcony overlooking the canal there are large planters. In one of them, a mama duck has been sitting on her nest of eggs, Donald says, for nearly a month. He’s concerned because 1) she is destroying his plant and 2) the eggs must be infertile because they should have hatched by now.  We hope that she will hatch them by the time we leave. Marilyn has named her – Mary Jane.  Donald mentioned that her choice is interesting, because that is a nickname for marijuana. That didn’t disssuade Marilyn, but it is certainly not the reason for the name. She says the name came to her because the duck is very clean, neat and ready to go.

Mary Jane on her nest

Mary Jane on her nest

The sun  doesn’t set here until 10:30 p.m.  It makes for a long lovely evening!

Farms in Haverbeck

June 22, 2009

Our last day in Germany (we’re heading to the Netherlands tomorrow) was spent searching for the actual family farmhouses.  Marilyn had some information from the internet indicating where there were farms that were owned by Frekings in the 1600s.  I was skeptical, I will admit, because it is hard to believe that a farm might stay in the family for, what, 400 years?  However, if farming is your life, you hand the farm down to your children (or, under old primogeniture rules, to your first-born son), and the next generation continues to farm that land. So, maybe.

First we tried on our own to find the farms, using the printouts. We had an appointment with Stephen Honcomp for 5:00 p.m. He’d promised to find more information for us by then.  We saw some farms, but couldn’t really determine which one(s) might have been in the Freking family. We knew that the records indicate that Haverbeck was likely to be the area where our grandfather, Ferdinand Freking, lived before he left for America at age 19.

We decided to take a side trip to Dummersee, a lake southeast of Haverbeck, because we had some time to kill.  The lake was beautiful and we took the opportunity to enjoy a cappucino.

When we connected with Stephen, we piled into a small coach and he took us back to the streets we’d just visited, but this time he had more information AND he speaks German.

We found an old farmhouse, and the woman who answered introduced herself as Maria Freking nee Fusting. We knew right away that she was family, because we recognized her maiden name. She is very old, maybe as much as 90 (we didn’t ask). Her son, Werner, is still farming – he was out feeding the livestock. The main house is clearly one that does double duty – the first half we could see seems like a barn but then the windows in second half, past the front door, are hung with pretty white lace curtains.

Maria invited us in, but Stephen made our apologies as we needed to keep moving on our tour.

When we returned to the coach, we found Maria in our family tree. She married an eighth generation Raimond Freking, son of Joseph Ahrling Freking. Raimond’s great- grandfather Herman Heinrich was the brother of our great grandfather.

This was really success.  But we still wanted to get closer to our own grandfather’s home.

Two more properties on Stephen’s list yielded no more living relatives, but we may well have found the farmhouse where our grandfather lived before he emigrated to America.  The people living there now are from Poland, so the language barrier prevented us from speaking with them.  Also, Stephen says, they came to work the farm but are not the owners.

We also found a photograph of the farmhouse we think is where our grandfather would have lived. Comparing the two – the photo in the book with the real thing – we think it’s probably right.  The book is in German and the building seems changed.  Is it the same?  It’s hard to say.

What we do now have that we didn’t have before, for sure, is a photograph of our great-grandfather.  He seems stern, but that was also the fashion for photography, I think.

The farm where the Poles live now

The photo in the book, History of Haverbeck, is from another angle. Also, few trees and bushes obscure the older photo.

We are leaving tomorrow. We’d like to think we’ve found what we were seeking. Maybe we have. We’ll talk on the train.  We’ll need to translate the history in the books we bought.  There’s still work to do to be certain.  On the other hand, we now have a first hand look at the place where our ancestors were raised.

Maybe that’s enough.

Heinrich Arnold (Carl) Freking - Our Great Grandfather

Heinrich Arnold (Carl) Freking - Our Great Grandfather

Saturday on the Roads

June 22, 2009

On Saturday we had planned to meet with Peter Freking and his family.  We started out at 3 pm.  JoAnn had become an Autobahn expert during the week so we happily piled into the Peugeot to speed our way to Esterwegen.  It was going to take us a little over an hour to get there.  JoAnn was used to going 110 to 120 km/h comfortably and we traveled along like that for a very short time when suddenly the traffic came to a standstill.  We had not even reached the next exit.  We spent about 75 minutes on the Autobahn at one or two km/h and finally got off when we got to the next exit.  Now it was so late that if we could find our way on country roads, we would arrive at Peter’s right at dinner time.  So Marilyn called Peter and made arrangements to see him on Sunday instead.

Back-up on the Autobahn

Marilyn didn’t want to go back the the house and not accomplish anything so we went to Steinfield on surface roads and had dinner in the same restaurant we had been to on Wednesday.  After dinner it was 9 pm and Marilyn still wanted to find a couple of farms that used to be in the family.  JoAnn refused to drive out any farther – we could stop and see any farms  that were on the road home but she thought we should not head further away from our  home base.  I voted with JoAnn.  As the driver I believed she should have the right of way.  I didn’t want her to have to drive in the dark and it would be dark in about an hour.   Since there weren’t any farms on those roads, Marilyn agreed that we could do the farms another day.

So we started home on counry roads.Taking the Country Roads

And it started to rain. And it got dark.  And we  took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Osnabruck – far east of our destination.  Looking for Directions Home We had been there before but we couldn’t seem to find our way out. We knew we needed to go west but we didn’t have a compass to tell us which way was west and German signage does not show directions.   Marilyn and I left JoAnn in  the car and went to the train station to ask for directions.  No one there spoke English.  The people were so nice trying to help but we just couldn’t understand.   Marilyn called Karl to get help but there was no answer at his cell phone.  After looking at a map we headed out again driving around Osnabruck looking for a familiar sign.  Finally I spotted a sign for Westerkapln!  We knew that was our way home.  By the time we got back to the house it was 11:30 pm. We had spent 8.5 hours driving to dinner and back!  We agreed that on Sunday we would start earlier.


June 22, 2009

We visited Peter Freking and his family in Esterwegen yesterday, and we believe he is a cousin. Marilyn had written to 10 or more Frekings, hoping to get a response. Peter was the only one who replied. He didn’t respond to her second inquiry, and she had wondered about that. But when she called him upon our arrival, he was quite pleased to hear from her.

Laura said at the end of the day that he is a cousin whether the records confirm the relationship or not!  They were so warm and gracious to us, welcoming us into their home and hearts and family, it hardly matters whether the grandfathers were in fact brothers.

The Ancestry Detail

We do believe, however, that Peter’s great-grandfather Heinrich Clemens was our great-grandfather’s, Heinrich Arnold’s (Carl), brother. We knew about Ferdinand Freking, the Ferdinand that was Peter’s grandfather. It was Peter’s grandfather’s plot that we saw at the cemetery in Steinfeld. I showed Peter the photos I took, as he was wondering whether the grave planting was in decent condition. Through the magic of digital photography, I could show him that the grave looks wonderful.

Peter remembered his great aunt Elizabeth, and we had record of our great-great uncle having a sister named Elizabeth.  The Ferdinand we have was actually named Franz Ferdinand and we have the last name of his wife-Klopphaken. That last name was quite familiar to Peter and his family, as it is the name of the farm they all visit.  So, we think we have the right family!

Peter is adopted, as are his twin siblings. Thus it isn’t blood that ties us together, but family ties are strong, we think. We took notes of family dates – birth, marriages, spouses’ names.  Not the kind of detail you would normally share with strangers visiting from a foreign land, but by then our strange quest had become almost reasonable.

Our Visit

Peter’s daughter Carmen was visiting for the weekend, and she speaks fluent English, so she was able to help us with thorough communication. We told them the story of meeting the family on Freking Weg in Damme, and Peter decided that we are very brave.  He compared us to the usual travelers, with 60 or more folks all piled on a bus, going from place to place in safety, not worrying about following directions from Googlemaps into totally unknown territory. He likened us to the pioneers!

Carmen’s 2 1/2 year old daughter Jordan was there, too, and what a cutie! We were charmed, of course, and delighted to be in a real German household. (Not that the house where we are staying isn’t real, but it is so historic and gorgeous that it doesn’t seem exactly normal.)

As we talked, we shared mimosas, to celebrate our visit. (We had driven for many hours – first on Saturday and then again on Sunday – so we felt we had a lot to celebrate!) Then we sat down for coffee and cake. The town had been celebrating that day, so Annette had picked up an array of fancy cake for our visit. The tray of choices was quite amazing.

They invited us to join them for a dinner out, but we were facing a long drive home and didn’t want to try it in the dark, so we regretfully declined. After printing out a new set of driving directions (not wanting to rely on reading the ones we had backwards), we left.  Hugs all around and “Visit us in the wine country” and “Come to Washington D.C.”

And then…

I backed out the driveway and right into the tree in the middle of the road! Actually, I didn’t hit the tree but the sign in front of the tree. And I was going so slowly that there was no damage at all to the car, and the sign was just bent over.  It did more damage to my confidence than anything else.  Who puts a tree in the middle of the road!?  Peter said it is very useful for slowing down the young drivers.  It slowed me down.

We took only 90 minutes to return home, miraculously, after taking 3 hours to drive up to Peter and Annette’s house.  Why?  We don’t know.