Friday, 19 August 2016

The Second German Pork Butcher Descendants' Reunion part 1

Theodor Fiedler, from Carol Hunt's family collection
Theodor Fiedler, from Carol Hunt's family collection
Theodor Gotthilf Fiedler was a German pork butcher in Shadforth prior to the First World War. He had married Annie Lowes of Newcastle, and they had four children. Theo still had German citizenship, so that when the war began his property was confiscated and he was interned on the Isle of Man. Annie took the children back to Newcastle to get away from the harassment they were receiving. 

Theo’s great-granddaughter, Carol, submitted the story to Durham at War ( and told us that she and her sister, Andrea, were going to attend the Second German Pork Butcher Descendants' Reunion in Germany, 3-7 August 2016, and they agreed to write a blog for us about the trip. The reunion combined the historical background of the Hohenlohe region, where many of the emigres came from, with a culinary, cultural and sightseeing programme.

Over to Carol and Andrea…

After travelling from London to Stuttgart we were ready for some food and a sleep. Sadly, late night food at the Hotel Unger was sparse, but happily the breakfast was sumptuous, with every type of breakfast imaginable plus yummy cinnamon pastry whirls.

Leaving Stuttgart we had an opportunity to admire the Hauptbahnhof [main railway station], a building designed by an ancestor of a relative-by-marriage of ours. The Hauptbahnhof is currently undergoing expansion and makeover. Hopefully the exterior will be restored, not replaced, as there are other buildings in the region built in the same style and designed by the same architect, August Bayer, whose brother Friedrich commissioned him to design and build a house for him in Kunzelsau. Friedrich made his squillions of deutschmarks as a pork butcher in Bradford. People here think of it as a little bit of Bradford in Baden-Wurttemberg.  [Our writers have been informed that it will have been the previous station building that was designed by August Bayer]
Hauptbahnhof (main railway station), Stuttgart, photo by Carol and Andrea
Hauptbahnhof (main railway station), Stuttgart, photo by Carol and Andrea
We were fortunate enough to be driven by our friend Gertrude from Kunzelsau, where we spent a night at the excellent Anna Sophie Hotel, to the Hotel Flair Park in Ilshofen where the German Pork Butchers' Descendants’ Reunion is being held. It is on the outskirts of Ilshofen, a pleasant, modern building combining a nod to the local architecture with an efficient but relaxed attitude towards guests. 

We were met by Karl-Heinz W├╝stner, the architect of the Reunion, greeting us like long lost cousins, which of course some of us are. Once everyone had ‘sampled’ the welcoming (and welcome!) sparkling wine, we ate and exchanged information about our Pork Butcher relatives. Some, like Carol, had already managed to trace family trees and had a lot of knowledge about their forebears. Others were at the very beginning of the journey and merely knew they had German relatives, probably from the Hohenlohe region. The meal was an excellent demonstration of some of the area’s local produce: red pepper foam soup, local pork steaks with vegetables, jus and Schwabian-style dumplngs and excellent apple fritters with chocolate ice-cream, all accompanied by Reisling wine. 

We got used to being asked if we were ‘relatives’, not as in sisters, but direct descendants of the emigrant Pork Butchers. Everyone’s story was different: some had great or great-great grandparents who left Germany never to return; some had left as married couples; others had met up and married German partners in the UK. Our great-grandfather Theo left when he was 15 and made a home in north east England, only to be interned on the Isle of Man during the First World War. He was then repatriated by means of being exchanged with a British prisoner of war, and was away from his British wife and children for about 13 years in all.

After raising many glasses to each other, to our German roots and as the night wore on, to passing waiters, local dignitaries and local newspaper and radio reporters, we needed to go straight to bed as the first day of our trip began at 8:45 the next day.

We slept as well as two sisters sleep when they have had a good German meal washed down with a glass or two of sekt [sparkling wine] and a flagon or two of Reisling, and awoke ready to experience the ‘official’ walking tour of Kunzelsau as opposed to the unofficial one we had done ourselves. We quickly established that Germans are as adept at speaking Deutsche/English (‘Dinglish’ for short) as we are, and very silly it is, too.

Starting the day with a healthy breakfast seemed an excellent idea, but starting it with bread, scrambled eggs, and smoked fish was clearly The Way Forward. 

We travelled by coach back to Kunzelsau and enjoyed seeing the Hohenlohe countryside in all its glory: Hansel and Gretel houses, locals tending their gardens and smallholdings, and flat vistas punctuated by rocky hills and mountains. The Hohenlohe plain is rich in sandstone, and its use in housebuilding as can be seen everywhere in the typical gingerbread-style houses. On arrival, we were formally welcomed at Kunzelsau Town Hall. 

Crests of the six historic ruling families of the Hohenlohe area, photo by Carol and Andrea
Crests of the six historic ruling families of the Hohenlohe area, photo by Carol and Andrea
We visited the town boarding school, which has a half-timbered interior to die for, and the original Rathaus which is decorated with a plaque showing the symbols of the six ruling families in the area and the head of St John the Baptist. The town centre church, St Johannes, was perhaps one of the more thought provoking parts of our visits to Kunzelsau. Partly because it was the church our great-grandfather Theo was baptised in and went to each Sunday; and partly because among the statues there is a plaque commemorating the death of triplets in 1644, an event at that time so rare that they were never expected to live but that required to be marked in some way. The inscription reads, ‘born too young, taken too soon’.

Leaving Kunzelsau once more, we stopped briefly for a lunch of schnitzel by way of food before the delights of an afternoon wine tasting.
Wine tasting, photo by Carol and Andrea
Wine tasting, photo by Carol and Andrea
Full of schnitzel, we arrived at the wine tasting to be handed a glass of excellent sparking rose wine which was light, and rather inevitably given the hot weather (but surprisingly given the substantial lunch), went straight to our heads. After a pleasant greeting we were asked to get back on the coach for a drive around the local area to view the owner’s vines. 

It was lovely to have the opportunity of effortless travel throughout our stay in Ilshofen, as the coach driver took us from place to place. However, there were frequent reminders of the floods which only last May caused so much distress and disturbance to the region. They have had a devastating impact on some roads as the fragile sandstone was all too easily swept away by sudden and unremitting deluges. Often the coach driver had to make diversions to avoid closed roads or missing bridges, all of which he negotiated with skill and good humour.

The scale of the vine groves seemed vast compared with the workforce who produced the many types of wine they sell. The coach took us halfway up tiny winding paths surrounded by many different varieties of grape, until it wasn’t possible to make any more progress other than on foot. A walk to a stone marker at the top of the groves was rewarded with an alfresco wine tasting, complete with Reisling, an excellent summer’s day light red wine and a fantastic view of the vineyard’s valley and beyond. By the time we had all walked back down to the coach, we were ready for a short drive back to the Winery kitchen for the staple three different kinds of sweinfleisch [pork] served with dumplings, potatoes and brod.

By the time we travelled back to the Hotel Flair Park, Dinglish was being spracken very fluently, und we alles agreed ein Frohelich time had been had by alles.

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