Day 4 – Lubeck and Mecklenburg
I could feel it in my bones. I know I have Schreiber roots in Lubeck. What I saw of this place, I loved. Situated on the river Trave near the Baltic Sea, it was once “Queen of the Hanse,” when the Hanseatic League dominated trade and defense in the Middle Ages. You can distinguish the old city on the island, by the red brick coloration.
By the time my possible great-great-great grandfather was born here in 1783, social and political changes brought on by religious reformation, and economic competition from the Dutch and English, had eroded the League’s influence and power.
Today, Lubeck is a fascinating combination of medieval and modern. Its distinctive Brick Gothic architecture has earned it a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The town is also known for marzipan, a sweet almond paste used in baking and candy making. This is a possible link to my family because my great-grandfather Adolph Schreiber, who was born in nearby Mecklenburg in 1835, was a confectioner. There is a marzipan museum and store, which we didn’t visit. I had read that the museum was disappointing, and I thought that if I went to the store I would be tempted to buy some marzipan. I don’t really like marzipan, and if I bought it, I might have to eat it. Going there just to take photos didn’t seem like a good idea, because when I start taking pictures in a store or even at an outdoor market, I am often asked by the shopkeeper to stop, and I respect that. This photo is from Wikipedia.
It was early on a chilly, gloomy Saturday morning. We walked into the heart of town, the Rathaus and Marktplatz.
Then we heard a clamoring of voices and came upon a group of people, who looked to be college students, in various states of undress but putting their clothes back on. Then another group, all dressed like gnomes, came around the corner. In the Marktplatz were several more groups. One group wore hats made of aluminum foil, another were dressed like bees, and so on. There were groups all over town.
The center of activity seemed to be at the Holstentor Gate, built in 1487. There were originally four gates to the medieval city; today two remain, Holstentor the more famous.
We watched a group of half-naked guys and girls run laps around the gate. The activities were obviously being fueled by beer. Was this some kind of initiation? A festival? I was wishing I could understand German, until a woman nearby turned to us and said, “Was ist das?’' She couldn’t figure it out, either.
I would have liked to explore Lubeck more thoroughly, but I knew there wasn’t time. I think that, like someone who will one day become a really good friend, it takes a while to get established with Lubeck. Perhaps we shall meet again.
With the weather so discouraging, we were itching to get back on the road. We had been playing with the idea of going to Berlin. It was only three hours or so away, Mark pointed out. Mecklenburg was on the way. It was Saturday so traffic wouldn’t be so bad. What the hell? Let’s go see the Wall.
On the way back to the hotel, we walked past a drugstore and I said, “They have umbrellas there for two euros.” Mark discouraged me, saying, “It’s bad luck.” A block later, it began to rain earnestly. Fortunately, we were just across the street from the Hotel Excellent, so we made a beeline for it. An hour or so later, we were on the road again.
What’s in a name? For me, a lot. I have loved to write since I was a child and my name, Schreiber, is German for “writer.” I felt great anticipation as we approached Mecklenburg, knowing this was where my great-grandfather was born.
While Lubeck is a city, Mecklenburg is tiny, tiny, but pretty and peaceful. However, this wasn’t always so. I am learning bits and pieces from websites such as this article in Understanding Your Ancestors. Whenever I asked my parents why our ancestors left Germany, they never really wanted to talk about it and just said, “For a better life.”
And for great-grandpa Schreiber’s parents, that was the reason to take their family to America:
Mecklenburg had the highest percentage of emigrants of any of the German states. While conditions in other areas improved, Mecklenburg peasants had little reason to hope for a better future. After living in grinding poverty with limited freedom and few opportunities, many saw immigration as a new chance at life. In addition, industrialization, which arrived late in Mecklenburg, forced many already marginal peasants out of their jobs. In 1857 alone, 1.2 percent of the population of Mecklenburg left.
The great majority went to the U.S. Nearly ninety percent came from agricultural lands, with landless people, particularly those closely supervised by a noble, being the most likely to leave. By 1900, almost one third of people born in Mecklenburg lived outside of the state.
As always, I was drawn to the church, thinking there may be clues. I loved this one in Meckelnburg, with the miniature flying buttresses.
Often, there is someone there, watching over and preparing for the next service. This time, there was a woman. She didn’t speak much English, but I told her that my grosspapa was born in this town. But this was a Protestant church, and my family is Catholic. As we left I said, "Wielen dank!" Which means, "Thank you very much!" She smiled broadly and nodded. "Bitte!"
We saw a windmill on the other side of the village, and I wanted to investigate. What a happy discovery, to find farmstead converted into a hotel, and a restaurant in the windmill. It was lunch time. Not long after we were seated, the place was filled with German families and travelers, enjoying a wild season lunch in the country.
I made the mistake of ordering schnitzel because I forgot what it was – breaded and fried meat – but no matter. The food was great and the beer, even better. Here’s to Grosspapa Adolph Schreiber!
It’s time for a reality check. We really don’t know if these places I am going to are the exact towns where my people were born. Names and political boundaries have changed. Many places were heavily damaged in the world wars. But it does not matter. It doesn’t matter if I am in the exact place, because I can see the landscape, and I it resonates with me. That is all that matters.