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MapMy Bavarian great-grandparents’ hometown was Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, just north of Munich. Only my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister, was born in the town and her family had lived there for centuries. My great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, was born nearby and went there to work for his uncle. Pfaffenhofen was the site of the couple’s wedding in 1897 and the birth of their first child a year later, a daughter. He left home in 1900 to immigrate to America, and mother and daughter joined him there in 1902. Did they ever miss their hometown? What was Pfaffenhofen like?

Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is located in the Hallertau region of Bavaria, which is the largest hop producing area in the world. The region is in Oberbayern, or Upper Bavaria, and it has a long history. The area was likely first settled by monks from the Benedictine monastery in Ilmmünster in the 8th Century. Their estate was called Pfaffenhöfe or Priests’ station and was located north of the current town. Four centuries later, Duke Ludwig I, called Ludwig the Kelheimer, founded the market town of Pfaffenhofen where the Ilm and Gerolsbach rivers meet. The town was mentioned by name as early as 1140, and by 1197 it was called a “market town”. By 1318, Pfaffenhofen was referred to as a fortified settlement.

Pfaffenhofen ad Ilm Coat of ArmsFrom 1387-1389, the Städtekrieg, a war between Swabian towns and Bavarian dukes, was fought throughout Southern Germany. Pfaffenhofen became one of the war’s victims when it was nearly completely destroyed by fire in 1388. When the town was reconstructed, it was surrounded by a circular wall with four gates and 17 towers. The Pfänderturm is one of the original 17 towers and the only one still standing today. By 1438, Pfaffenhofen officially received recognition as a “town”.

Engraving of Pfaffenhofen, 1687

[This is an engraving of Pfaffenhofen by Anton W. Ertl in 1687. The town’s wall, two of the gates, and many of the towers are clearly visible.]

Another war left a significant mark on the town. In 1632, soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War were billeted to houses in town. One of the soldiers had the plague and the disease quickly spread. Of the 1,800 inhabitants, only 700 survived the outbreak. It would take Pfaffenhofen another 200 years to reach the same population.

Population growth was never a problem after that time. The town continued to attract residents. While the population was about 4,000 at the beginning of the 20th Century, it is now closer to 23,000.

The town square, or hauptplatz, has existed on roughly the same site since the town was founded centuries ago. The square has many unique and beautiful buildings. Standing majestically at one end of the square is the town’s church, St. Johannes Baptist. The church was built in 1393 in the Gothic style to replace the Romanesque style church destroyed by the 1388 fire. After The Thirty Years’ War, the interior was renovated in the Baroque style. The steeple, about 253 feet high, was first built in 1531. Destroyed by a lightening strike in June, 1768, it was immediately rebuilt. Most important for descendents of Pfaffenhofen’s Catholic residents is the existence of parish baptismal, marriage, and death records dating back to 1597.

Hauptplatz, St. John's

[Two views of St. John’s Church in the Hauptplatz. The left photo is from 1875, the right from 1998.]

Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is in front of the church in the square. Erecting a white and blue painted maypole became a tradition in Bavaria in the 16th Century. In the 18th century, symbols and shields of different worker’s guilds were added to the pole, and this is how Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is decorated today.

Interior of St. John\'s church, Altar

You will also see evidence of the former worker’s guilds inside the parish church. Each guild had some church obligations as a part of the guild’s rules. Once a year each guilds celebrated their own special Mass, with special times for each guild. For example, the brewers’ Mass was celebrated on Monday after New Year’s while the tailors’ was on the Monday after Easter week.

Because of the guilds close association with the church, when the church was remodeled in 1671, the artist Johann Bellandt of Wessobrunn carved a number of apostle statues honoring the guilds: Mathew for the butchers, Phillip for the bakers, John for the brewers, Bartholomew for the leather artisans, Jacob for the weavers, and Simon for the tailors.

Because I do not read German very well, information about famous residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is difficult to find. Two individuals seem to have made a difference in the town and are worth a mention here. When I first visited Pfaffenhofen, I was surprised to see a street named after Joseph Bergmeister. They named a street after my great-grandfather? No, but they named a street after someone with the same name – his first cousin. Cousin Joseph was born on 11 August 1874, a year and a half after my great-grandfather. Unlike his older cousin, Joseph never left Pfaffenhofen. He became instrumental in introducing electricity to the town in the early 1900s. In recognition for his work, he received a medal from the town in 1934 and an honorary doctorate from the Technical College of Aachen. He died on 31 October 1950. I’m not sure when a street was named in his honor, but you can drive down Dr-Bergmeister-Strasse today! (The first name Joseph is still valued in the Bergmeister family today – you will find Joseph Bergmeisters on both sides of the ocean who are related, whether they know it or not, as 3rd and 4th cousins. In my own family there are five generations of Joseph Bergmeister’s so far.)

Another more famous Joseph from Pfaffenhofen is the poet Joseph Maria Lutz (1893-1972). He was born in Pfaffenhofen, gained recognition as a poet, and today there is a museum in his honor in town. He is also known for adding a verse to the Bavarian anthem in 1946. As there is no longer a king of Bavaria, Lutz wrote a new verse to replace the stanza about the king.

One of Joseph Maria Lutz’s poems is entitled “Hometown.” Written in 1965, the poem shares his feelings about Pfaffenhofen. The following translation was provided by Mr. Robert Wilkinson:

Hometown

The houses line themselves cuddle cozily after a fashion,

Intermittently broad and proud, intermittently narrow and aged,

The church spire points to heaven on high,

And the people are loudly singing to the chiming tower bells.

And country lanes stream in from adjacent forest and field

To become streets of prominence in both name and importance,

And in Time’s own passage finally come to stillness.

The bemused places of childhood are rekindled yet again with laughter,

And even the old fountains cascade in a trance of stillness,

as the swirling eddies made rush, silently

like life’s Insignificant Other, just as only Love can know.

And somehow even the Wind takes on a life,

Blowing in gust after gust, through the years,

And through the days, back to childhood’s Home,

As in fairy tale nights and imagined lands.

From the squares and tedious narrow alleys echo the familiar sounds,

the rolling wagon wheels, the clip-clop of stout mares,

the staccato of the blacksmith’s hammer,

or as in years of yore, the rolling barrels and the rooster’s crow.

And all that appears Close once again, is yet so Far,

And Life itself avoiding yet the grave;

strives for heavy-hearted Contentment much like a halting

song of Greeting or Return.

You, my little Town,

even if I have forgotten much,

I behold you precious still,

I, forever at Home in you.

I had the opportunity to visit my ancestors’ hometown in 1998 and 2006. I’m sure my great-grandparents would be amazed at some of the changes that have taken place. But, in many ways, they would find a lot of things the same. The apartment they lived in before coming to the US is still there, and it probably looks much the same. They might be surprised by all of the cars though!

Last Tower Standing

[This is the last tower still standing. The “Pfänderturm” or debt-tower, was built between 1388 to 1438.]

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[This post was written for the 47th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Place Called Home.]

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An oft-repeated phrase when one enters an old house is “if these walls could speak, the stories they’d tell.” In Germany, it is possible for the walls to speak about the families that lived there for centuries in the form of a book called a häuserchronik.

What would you say if I told you there might be a book that is like a City Directory, only it is listed by street addresses and also records deed transactions of the houses? And, the book also contains some personal information about the residents, including occupations, marriage information, and more? Well, if your ancestors came from Germany, there really may be such a book!

When I first visited the town my Bavarian ancestors came from, I was given a “häuserchronik” as a gift. The full title of the book, published in 1982, is Häuserchronik der Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidel. It provided tons of genealogical information that was later verified by researching decades of church records. I couldn’t believe that such things existed…and that you don’t hear more about them!

Here is an example of one entry found in the book. The house is currently known in the town as Löwenstraße 14, formerly Judengasse 11. Before that, the house had a number assigned to it. Beginning in 1676, it was 67 II District. From 1810-1861, it was house #55. And from 1862-1927, it was house #79. In old towns such as Pfaffenhofen, houses were numbered as they were built. So, house #10 was not necessarily in between houses #9 and #11 – it could be on the other side of town! Occasionally, the houses were renumbered, probably because by then it became too difficult to find an address! At this particular house, the record begins back in 1614! My ancestors appear in the house’s record in 1746 as follows [translated to English, with my comments in brackets]:

1746, 4 Jan
Eger, Bernhard, shoemaker – purchased (Kaufsumme or “sum”) for “280 fl”
[According to the book’s preface, in 1982 the “fl” or gulden was equal to about 1.71 Marks. Today, that’s roughly 236 Euros! He was about 25 years old at the time.]

1746, 21 Jun
The above marries Arnold, Maria Anna, from Jägern/Edlmünster
[She’s not my ancestor…she dies in April, 1761 at age 35 during childbirth.]

1761, 30 Oct
Eggerer (Eger), Bernhard, widower, shoemaker, marries Stainer, Maria Margarete, from Freising
[Note the changing spelling of the surname, which will change one more time in a later entry before “stabilizing” – it was common for names to change over time as spelling became more formal and/or more people became literate. Unfortunately, he dies 17 years later in June, 1778 after they’ve had many children, including my ancestor Ignaz.]

1778, 18 Jul   Eggerer, Maria Margarete, shoemaker’s widow
[This entry shows that changes were made to the records for events such as the husband’s death.]

1797, 10 Jan
Echerer (Eggerer), Ignaz, son, and Maria Anna, born Kaillinger, glassmaker’s daughter
[He was 32 years old; they married on 22 Jan 1797]

1844, 13 Feb
Echerer, Ignaz, son, marries Nigg, Magdalena
[He was 41 years old; they married on 19 Feb 1844]

1847, 12 Jun
He sells to a new family for 1400 fl, or 1200 Euros in 1982 money. Interestingly enough, the new owner sells it three years later for 2400 fl, proving that “house flipping” isn’t such a modern concept.

So, where did the family go? The house had been in the family for 100 years. The answer was also in the book. They moved to a different house, the current address of which is Schulstrasse 5. This house is even older than the previous one, as the records begin back in 1511! What is interesting is the immediate history prior to the purchase by Ignaz. Before I had done research with the church records, I would have only looked for his surname and ignored the rest. But, after complete research, I know the full story of the family relationships, so I will back up a bit in the house’s history.

1784, bought for 420 fl by Höck, Johann, master carpenter

1794, 12 Apr, daughter Therese marries

1794, 26 Apr, Nick, Karl, Town Master Carpenter

1844, 02 May, Nick, Rosalie, daughter, marries Aicher, Christian, master carpenter

It is from this couple that Ignaz and Magdalena buy the house for 3,980 fl. We saw from the previous entry that Nigg is Magdalena’s maiden name. Rosalie is her sister, Karl is her father (so she was born in this house), and the owner back in 1784 was her grandfather! After the couple purchases the house, it remains in the family until 1899. My great-grandmother, Maria Echerer, was born there in 1875 to Karl Echerer, son of Ignaz and Magdalena, and Margarethe Fischer. It appears that the house was owned by my great-grandmother’s brother, Karl, from 1896 to 1899 when he sold it for 10,800 Marks.

As you can see from the above example, there is an extraordinary amount of genealogical data to be found in such books. Other entries were less detailed, but nearly every house’s history had some information on marriages, including where the spouse may have come from if the town was not the same, and occupations. It appears based on the above that a new entry was made after the death of a spouse, a marriage, or the passing of the house to a son or daughter, which is why this sort of history has more in common with deed records than what Americans would call “city directories”.

But, where do you find such a treasure if it exists for your town? Well, it’s not easy. What makes the search even more complicated are the different names that Germans use. For my town of Pfaffenhofen, the book is called a häuserchronik. But similar information might be found in a heimatbuch, or town history. Some towns even have something called a ortssippenbuch or ortsfamilienbücher, which are books containing the genealogical data of an entire town or village. None of these useful resources are maintained in one place, so they are difficult to find.

First, I would try a search at www.familysearch.org for your family’s town – there are some of the above resources that would be listed if they are microfilmed.

Next, simply search on www.google.com for your town name, plus one of the above words.

You can also find success at German bookstores. One useful site that seems to have many “historical” books – and also has an English search page – is www.zvab.de. Put the town name in the subject search and see what you find!

Did you know that there are foreign versions of E-bay? You’re more likely to find a German book on Germany’s E-bay at www.ebay.de. Search for the town name, or even a surname. I found many heimatbucher waiting to be found by genealogists. It does help if you speak the language, though. While ordering via E-bay isn’t that difficult in any language, once you get the book it helps to be able to decipher the contents! I have several German books, but I don’t read German. If I did, or if I tried a little harder with a dictionary, I might know a lot more about my ancestors’ towns by now.

Finally, there is a database available at www.ortsfamilienbuecher.de that has listings of some “town heritage books”. I have not found an online resource that lists “häuserchronik” books specifically, but a local heritage book may also have genealogical information. You may have better luck contacting town or local archives to determine if any exist for your town.

Good luck, and I hope you all find similar genealogical treasures from your ancestors’ towns.

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