Auf wiedersehen Prussia 1871

 

Book Description

August 10, 2014
The short story Auf wiedersehen Prussia 1871 is excerpted from the first three chapters of the novel Finding the Way; From Prussia to a Prairie Homestead. Only small changes were made to the novel text to make it a standalone short story.
Karl Mueller served in the Prussian army during the French Prussian War. While serving Karl experienced the trauma of war but also became aware of opportunities available to someone like him in America. However upon returning home he found his family in turmoil and any plans he had were put in doubt. Auf wiedersehen Prussia 1871 follows Karl and his family as they work through the family crises and decide Karl’s future.

Product Details

  • File Size: 852 KB
  • Print Length: 22 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Alfred Wellnitz; 1 edition (August 10, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00MMR93PM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled

 cover Prussia 2

Auf wiedersehen Prussia, 1871
By
Alfred Wellnitz

Auf wiedersehen Prussia 1871 is a short story excerpted from the novel;

“Finding the Way; From Prussia to a Prairie Homestead”

 

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The cover photo is a view of Flatow, Prussia with one of a number of nearby lakes in the foreground. Photo taken from the book Heimatbuch für den Kreis Flatow 1971.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&

 

 

 

 

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Auf wiedersehen Prussia 1871

 

Karl stepped off the train at the Prussian town of Flatow into a cloudy, cool March day, wearing a blue Prussian uniform, carrying a rucksack that contained all of his personal belongings. Strands of reddish- brown hair protruded from under the edges of his cockade cap.  A fledgling beard did not hide a youthful face with penetrating blue eyes, a face which appeared younger than his twenty-one years —certainly not the face of a veteran soldier. He was not a large man, but strength was indicated in the firm way he moved, in his erect posture.

There was no one to meet him at the train station when he arrived. This had been as he expected. He had not communicated with his family in over two months.

Another person got off the train at Flatow, a young man Karl’s age.

The man hailed him. “Herr Karl Mueller, remember me? Reverend Meyer’s son, Martin.”

“It’s been awhile.”

“So, back from the big war. For good?”

“For good. And you, back from somewhere?”

“Wittenberg, the university. My father would like me to follow his footsteps. I think the army might suit me better. How is your family?”

“Haven’t heard for a while; been moving around.”

“Walk with me as far as the church. You can tell me about the war.”

Karl shouldered his pack and the two walked towards the middle of the town exchanging news of their travels. For the most part, Karl deflected Martin’s questions about the Franco- Prussian War. The experience of war, combat, the battle of Sedan, these were things Karl didn’t care to talk about and he steered the discussion towards Martin and his current situation.

Martin expanded on the reason he left his studies at Wittenberg. “I loved studying philosophy, things like that,” he said, “But their application to religion is where I ran into a problem. The ministry and I don’t seem to be compatible. So my future is a puzzle. How about you’? Going to work for the Hohenzollern estate like your father?”

They were approaching a large church built with cut white stone. It had a square bell tower that stood five levels high and was topped off with an oversized crucifix; the tallest structures in Flatow. The Lutheran church had been built forty years previously to overshadow any Catholic church in the area—and it succeeded.

Karl didn’t answer the question directly. “Will talk to you about that when we have more time,” he replied.

Martin turned off at a house beside the church that served as a parsonage. He waved to Karl, smiled and said, “See you in church.”

Flatow Church

The Evangelical church in Flatow. Photo from the Schlochauer Heimat
Stube in Northeim, Germany.

 

Karl proceeded to walk to his family home located on the edge of the town. The home, a small cottage set off by itself near an open field soon appeared. Karl noted the smoke coming from the chimney and imagined the fireplace and the room that it warmed in the only home he had known before being called into the army. His pace quickened as he anticipated being embraced by family and familiar surroundings.

As he drew nearer he noticed some other people approach the cottage and enter it, and when he got to the door he could hear the sound of voices within. As was his habit, he opened the door without knocking and found himself confronted by a room filled with neighbors, friends and relatives. The large room, the only one on the lower level of the cottage except for a small bedroom in one corner, functioned as a kitchen, dining and living room. His mother and sister were sitting in chairs against the wall opposite from the door he entered and between them, set on two chairs, sat a long wooden box; a coffin.

The people gathered soon noticed the presence of the young soldier standing in the open doorway with his rucksack at his feet. His oldest brother Walter and Johann, the next oldest, reached him first, grabbed and hugged him. They were followed by his mother Frieda and young sister Katrina.

“Karl, you have a beard!” Katrina exclaimed as she gave him a hug.

His mother put her arms around him and clung tightly. There were tears in her eyes, “Karl, Karl!”

“What’s happening?”

She didn’t answer.

Walter answered for her. “Our father, it happened suddenly. Sorry you didn’t know.”

Karl felt stunned. The image he had held of his family moments ago suddenly changed. Rather than a homecoming welcome, he had walked into his father’s funeral.

For Karl, sorrow had not been his first reaction. Confusion is what he felt. Karl would have liked to turn around and walked out the door, to be by himself, to sort things out; but that wouldn’t be possible.

Frederick, Karl’s father, had dominated the family; he had been der Fuhrer. It might not have always been in a positive way but Frederick was the leader. That structure was now gone, but the demands of the moment did not allow Karl to ponder how that would affect him or the family.

His mother continued to cling to him. It was not clear if she was expressing sorrow or joy, considering the circumstances. Other relatives and neighbors pressed to greet him warmly and it seemed he was more of an attraction than the subject of the wake itself.  The funerals attendees were aware that the Prussian Army had just achieved a stunning victory in France and that Karl had been one of the combatants.

Walter asked, “Will you be one of the pallbearers?  Herr Shultz was going to carry a corner, but you should be the one.”

“Ya, of course.”

The cottage where Karl’s folks lived had served the family for over thirty years. It and all the land around it, and for that matter, most of the land around Flatow belonged to the Hohenzollern dynasty. Karl’s father and family worked as peasants for one of the Hohenzollern estates and use of the cottage was part of the compensation for the work they did. The Mueller family worked directly under  a man named Adolph Schaefer, one of the Hohenzollern geschaftsfuhrers.  Adolph had been the estate manager as long as Karl could remember.

A neighbor asked Walter if Adolph would be attending the funeral.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, he knows your Pa died, at least he should. I told him I was going to take the afternoon off to go to the funeral. Maybe he will come later.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Ya, sure, Herr Schaefer has been a geschaftsfuhrer for so long he thinks he is a Hohenzollern. Not that we are short of people. A lot of people knew your Pa and besides that he made some of the best beer around. Tolerable wine. Can’t blame them for wanting to test some of it. Not to mention all the food the Fraus brought.”

Two farmers, helping themselves to the neighbor-furnished food and the deceased Frederick’s beer, were discussing the departure of their neighbor.

“Died suddenly, working in the barn.”

“Good way to go, don’t you think?”

“Heart stopped; they say. Have you viewed him?  Looks just like him.”

“I need to do that.”

“Ya, don’t forget what we are here for.”

The noise level increased as more attendees joined in conversations and as the sampling of Frederick’s beer and wine continued.

Some of the young unattached women were eyeing Karl, who, standing erect in his uniform seemed taller and huskier than his measurements would indicate.

A neighbor approached. “Karl, is your service time over?”

“Ya.”

“What will you be doing, taking care of the Baron’s fields again?”

“No, not that.”

“What then?”

“I have plans.”

Reverend Meyer had arrived. An average-sized man with no outstanding features; he used the office of pastor to set himself apart from the ordinary. He ran the church and congregation in strict accordance with the Evangelical Lutheran doctrine. He would say a few words to those gathered and then lead the procession out to the cemetery. He greeted the family and then helped himself to some of the food and a generous portion of wine. He then used a spoon to rap on the side of a glass to get the people’s attention. The room quieted: Reverend Meyer waited a moment for all of the attendees to focus on him. He then said a prayer for the family, one for the departed, and another for those gathered. After the prayers he launched into a discourse regarding the departed, citing the Gospel according to Saint Luke chapter 6 verses 2.

 And he lifted his eyes on his disciples, and said, blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Yes, blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Friends, we have lost a father, a husband, a neighbor; a good man who lived a full life and who had accomplished much. Frederick Mueller had no estate, was not a poet, a musician, nor a man of letters, or a holy man, but he accomplished much.”

The pastor paused, looked about and then continued: “What did Frederick accomplish? You only have to look about and you will see three strong handsome sons and a lovely daughter, all of whom display outstanding characteristics. They are self-sufficient, hardworking individuals who have been brought up in the ways of the Lord. This is an outstanding attainment, shared with his grieving wife Frieda. This is what has been achieved. It is the greatest achievement that a man and woman can aspire to, and Frederick and his widow Frieda have succeeded gloriously in this effort. In this way of measuring, much has been accomplished. Families of great means and wealth, men or women with unusual abilities and talents may fail in this endeavor, a most important task for Christians on this earth. God is not impressed by the amount of gold or possessions one has accumulated or by a person’s personal accomplishments. God is impressed by contributions to the Lord’s family, the family of man, and to the future generations of the church.”

Frieda and Katrina were weeping softly by this point while the sons maintained the expected stoic demeanor. Reverend Meyer had more to say, much more. Karl could not help but wonder what had provoked the pastor down the path he’d taken. Whatever the reason, he was in fine form, and extended his remarks beyond what might seem reasonable for the occasion. A number of the mourners, most of who were standing, were becoming restless. The minister had interrupted the visiting, eating and drinking.

Finally Reverend Meyers completed his remarks. He paused long enough to drink another goblet of wine and then organized the procession to the cemetery. He would lead, followed by the pallbearers, then Frieda with her daughter, followed by the most immediate relatives, then the less immediate relatives, and last the friends and neighbors.

The mourners were wearing their Sunday best, as was Karl’s mother, though she had added a black shawl, the only piece of mourning cloth that she could afford. The pall bearers had added black arm bands to their normal Sunday dress except for Karl, who wore the Prussian blue army uniform.

Karl, his two brothers, Walter and Johann, and a neighbor carried the wooden coffin with the remains of Frederick Mueller. The coffin did not seem heavy. The dead father had been a strong, stout man in his prime, but had shrunken considerably with age.

Clouds hid the sun and a cold wind blowing from the direction of the Baltic Sea drove a mixture of light rain and snow across the flat landscape. The small procession moved slowly down the muddy path toward the open grave that had been dug the day before by Karl’s brothers. When they reached the grave the pall bearers set the casket on two timbers laid across the top of the open pit. The procession broke apart and gathered about the grave site where the pastor once again held forth, but to the relief of the mourners chilled by the cold damp wind, he limited his remarks to only the essentials. He concluded by having the group recite the Lord’s Prayer. He then commanded that the timbers be removed and Karl and the three other pallbearers, each holding onto one end of a rope, lowered the coffin into the shallow accumulation of water at the bottom of the pit. The pastor threw a handful of the wet, loose dirt on top of the coffin, pronouncing, “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” The mourners dispersed while the three sons stayed to fill in the grave with the dirt recently dug from the earth.

While filling the grave Karl’s thoughts were on the pastor’s words at the cottage, a dissertation which had caused a mixed reaction in his mind. First there was the matter of his father’s accomplishments, which were somewhat diminished in Karl’s mind due to his greater knowledge of the details.

It was true that the children of Frederick were for the most part doing well. Walter, the oldest, had become a tradesman and ran a successful butcher business. He had married and had recently become a father to a baby boy. Johann had only a year left to complete his blacksmith apprenticeship. Katrina had become a fine looking young woman, just turned seventeen, who should have no trouble finding a good husband. He himself might be a bit of a puzzle, but Karl felt confident that his future would be successful. No drinkers or serious problems in the lot, but Karl wondered who should get the credit for that outcome.

Walter took a break from his shoveling to ask, “What did you think of the pastor’s little sermon?”

Johann responded, “It was a bit long.”

“But about what he said?”

Karl answered this time. “I hope at my funeral they don’t say that all I accomplished was to raise a bunch of kinder.”

“He was a peasant. What more could you hope for?” Johann asked.

Walter agreed. “That’s true, hard work is all that you can be sure of if you are a peasant and you will always have a little less than what you need. Sometimes we only had potatoes to eat, sometimes we didn’t have decent clothes to wear, but I don’t fault Pa for that. Every peasant family has those kinds of problems.”

Johann mused, “Pa was strict, even mean. We all felt the whip and belt. I suppose this is a bad time to say it, but Pa was not a kind man.”

Bringing up the father’s faults as the three sons were filling his grave did seem like bad timing, but Walter had opened a wound and the three sons went on to purge it.

“Ya,” Walter remembered. “He treated us pretty rough until we were big enough to challenge him. Poor Ma never got that big.”

Karl had taken his share of abuse, but that was not all that troubled him. “Pastor Meyer had it wrong on a number of counts, as far as I’m concerned. That the family turned out pretty good was due to Ma, that’s what I think. Ma is the one that made sure we all knew how to read and write, do numbers. Pa didn’t have time for that, but thought he knew everything there was to know. But you are right about the things we didn’t have. Pa worked hard, that is for sure, didn’t waste things. But for me, I don’t want to die owing much and owning nothing. If I work hard all my life, like Pa did, I would hope to do better than that.”

Walter acted surprised. “That is big talk for a little brother. Sure you would like to do better, we all would, but sometimes it’s easier to say than do.”

Karl agreed. “In Flatow, it would be hard. But I talked to men in the army that plan to go to America. Work hard and smart and you have as good a chance as anyone. You don’t have to be born right, like here. Because I’m Frederick’s son, I have limits. I and everyone else know that. I’m going to America. In America everyone has a chance to be what he can be.”

“Going to America!” Walter exclaimed. “Are you sure?  That place is a wilderness. They are fighting with the Indians all the time.”

Karl was warming to his subject. “Many German people are going to America. In America you can become the owner of land, just by claiming it and living and working on it. There are no peasants, no counts or barons, no Adolphs. You should all come with me. There is room for everyone.”

Walter demurred. “I have a business, a family. Why give that up for something I don’t know, thousands of miles away, completely cut off from what I do know? Maybe for you Karl, that is all right, but for me, no, that is not a good idea. I can tell you that.”

To Johann, the idea seemed more interesting. “Karl, do you think they could use a blacksmith in America?”

“They can use everything,” answered Karl, not knowing for sure, but the possibility of his brother joining him was reason enough for a positive answer. Johann dug his shovel into the dirt and continued, “That is something to think about, but first I have to finish my apprenticeship.”

The conversation about their father had left Karl feeling guilty. The man being criticized lay in the coffin they were covering with dirt. Whatever his faults, this didn’t seem like a good time to discuss them. Yes, Walter had led them into this conversation, but Karl had jumped in willingly, helping take it into the direction it had gone. Despite their father’s faults, or maybe because of them, Karl did feel grief for this imperfect man who had left them. There is loss in death, there is no other way to figure it, and Karl felt the loss. The misty rain hid tears that welled up in his eyes, and he felt a need to wipe his nose.

The three brothers finished filling the grave, picked up their tools, and headed back to the cottage where their mother, sister, and Walter’s wife would be waiting and where they would eat supper.

 

***

 

At the burial site, Karl had described to his brothers his plan to immigrate to America for the first time. It was a plan that had developed and taken form while he served in the army.

Being required to serve in the army had been traumatic. That period in Karl’s life had changed him in ways that even he did not understand. The world that he knew had been enlarged. He had seen places and people that he had not been aware of and trained to do things which he had never imagined himself capable of doing. The army experience also opened his mind to possibilities that he had not considered before. He had been part of a unit of twenty men who, through training and finally combat, had become like a family. They were like brothers. They shared many things including their plans for the future. A number of the men talked about immigrating to America where they said there were unheard of opportunities for ordinary men. Karl’s best friend Hans had planned to immigrate to a place called Omaha, where his sister and brother-in-law lived. Hans had planned to start from there and then homestead land in America. Hans wanted Karl to join him, and Karl had agreed to do that. At Sedan, half the men in his unit were killed, including Hans. After recovering from the distress of battle, Karl decided that he would still go to Omaha, and eventually homestead land in America.

There had been concerns about his plan to go to America, concerns about the funds he would need to get to America, the approvals and concerns about leaving his family and the community where he had spent his young life.

He reached into the pockets of his army coat and felt the solution to his money problem. Sewn into the lining inside the pockets were seventy-two thalers. It was money collected when discharged from the army, money that had accumulated in an account kept by the army in his name. Karl had only drawn a small portion of his pay while in the army, knowing that whatever he drew out would be spent in one way or another. He hadn’t been saving for any purpose but now it would pay for his ticket to America. He had heard that passage on a ship cost fifty thalers and it seemed reasonable to assume that he could get to Omaha with twenty-two more.

Now other concerns had been added. What would happen to his mother if he left? If Karl didn’t stay and work for the Hohenzollern estates, as he had before he went into the army, she would likely be turned out of the cottage she now lived in. His family would be replaced by a younger family that would be more useful.

Frederick had died leaving no estate, only debts in the form of advances by the Hohenzollern estate—debts to be paid by services to be provided by his family. If Karl left, and did not work for the estate, how would that debt be repaid? Karl’s mother worked in the Hohenzollern mansion, two kilometers across the field from the cottage, but she earned so little that it would take forever to pay the debt. The seventy-two thalers sewn into his coat could help settle the debt, but that would be the end of his dream to immigrate to America.

Karl loved his mother. She would do anything she could to help her children. Now she needed help and Karl could provide that help. How could he even consider not doing whatever he could when she had this need?

 

***

 

Walter’s family would be joining the rest of the family at the cottage for dinner the Sunday after the funeral. Karl walked his mother to and from church that morning. On the way back he asked what her plans were.

“What is there to plan? I will work, still clean at the mansion, work in the fields during busy times like always.” There had been no indication of doubt in her words about Karl’s acceptance of his role in the plan.

Frieda’s appearance, a strong stocky figure and a face and hands that showed the effects of many days spent in the fields, was typical of older peasant women. As the wife of a peasant, her life had not been easy. She had known hardship and hard work and abuse on a first-hand basis. However, as a mother, she had not been typical. For most peasant women, having babies, lots of them, and feeding and clothing them described motherhood. For Frieda, motherhood extended beyond that. Karl recalled from as early as he could remember that there were regular lessons in reading, writing and numbers that Frieda would oversee. Lessons which lasted until he was able to read the Bible without assistance, write a letter, and do his number tables.

His mother continued to talk as they made their way back to the cottage. “Herr Shaffer will be glad to see you back. He likes you, he told me that. He knows you work hard and do a good job. Warm weather is coming and it is good to have you back. I missed you, we all missed you. When the war started I was afraid, but now you are back and we are going to have a good spring.”

When they arrived at the house, Walter’s wife and Katrina were preparing dinner. Frieda joined them. Food smells, pungent sauerkraut and spicy wurst spitting in the pan, filled the cottage. The men tapped one of Frederick’s kegs.

“Pa made the best beer around,” Walter acknowledged as he filled his mug with the golden fluid.

Johann raised his mug in salute. “I’ll drink to that.” Then, turning to Karl he added, “And to your America plans.”

“How soon would you be going?” Walter asked.

“If I go, it will be as soon as possible, in a month or two.”

“That soon?”

“Ya.”

“What do you mean by “if”?”

“There is a lot to think about, Pa passing away. . .”

Dinner was ready and they all seated themselves around the large dinner table. The simple Lutheran meal prayer was spoken in unison.

Come Lord Jesus

Be our guest

Let thy gifts

To us be blest

Amen

The family helped themselves from serving dishes. In addition to the sizzling hot wurst cut into bite-size portions and steaming sauerkraut, there were boiled kartoffel, heavy black brot, and a special treat, apple strudel made from what was the last of the previous fall’s apples. Little had been said while the serving dishes were passed. Johann started the dinner conversation by mentioning that Martin, the minister’s son, had quit the university and would be coming back home.

Karl remembered, “Ya, I met him at the station when I got off the train. What is he going to do now?”

Johann laughed. “Drink.”

They all laughed. It was general knowledge that Martin liked his nips.

After a while they got to a subject that was starting to raise questions in the minds of most of the family.

Walter brought up the subject. “Ma, I suppose you haven’t had much time to think about it, but do you know if you are going to make any changes?”

“Life goes on. I will do what I always have.”

“What if Herr Schaefer won’t let you live in the cottage?” asked Johann.

“Of course I will live here. Where else would I live?  Karl is back; Herr Schaefer likes him and will want him to work on the estate.”

Katrina agreed, “That’s right, Adolph likes Karl.”

“But Karl, do you want to work for Adolph?” Johann asked.

Karl looked uncomfortable and did not answer.

Walter regretted having brought up the subject but it couldn’t be put back in the box. Johann pushed ahead, “Karl, you told us on the day of the funeral, that you were planning to immigrate to America and claim some land.”

Frieda gave a little gasp. “Is that so?”

Karl could no longer avoid what had been revealed. “That is what I had planned to do,” Karl conceded. “A person I met in the army, Hans, was planning to do that, and he convinced me that I should join him. There were others in the army who said they were going to America. There is work for everyone, land for anyone who wants it. It sounds too good to be true, but they were all saying the same thing. I don’t have that kind of opportunity here. I made up my mind that I would go. Now I’m not so sure. Pa dying has changed things.”

Frieda voiced her concerns. “If you leave, Karl, you will be gone; you will disappear across that ocean. I know that’s what happens. If you leave, I couldn’t live here. Herr Schaefer would want someone living here who is working the estate’s fields. . .” Her voice trailed off.

Karl had to agree with what his mother had said. If he left his mother would have to leave the home where she had lived for thirty years, the place where all her children had been born and raised. If he stayed and worked the estate’s fields, there was little doubt in his mind that his mother could stay in the cottage. Was it too much to expect, for him to help her when she had this need? Everything would be so simple if he stayed in Prussia.

Uncomfortable silence followed the conversation. Everyone at the table knew that Karl held the key to Frieda’s immediate future and that her plans depended on him. Karl would have to make a choice and there would be conflict involved in whatever choice he made.

Walter had been listening to the conversation and observing the reactions around the table. Finally he spoke. “Ma, things have changed, things are going to change, we can’t keep things like they were, and if we could, we wouldn’t want to. If Karl stays, he would be a peasant the rest of his life working for the Hohenzollern estate. If you think about it, you wouldn’t want that. If the choice is to be a peasant in Prussia working for the estate, or go to America and claim some land, the answer is easy. Karl should go to America if that is what he wants to do. We will work out what is best for you, as best we can, you can be sure of that.”

Walter, the oldest son, the new head of the family, had spoken. What he proposed would be difficult for his mother, but sometimes there are no painless choices. Karl was free to pursue his dream while the family would deal with the consequences.

 

***

 

Flatow County Offices

The Landratsamt or county commissioner’s office. From the book, Heimatbuch für den Kreis Flatow 1971.

 

The decision had been made, and now Karl needed to work on the details. First he needed to go to the Landratsamt or county commissioner’s office where many of the affairs between local citizens and the government authorities were conducted.

Karl entered the Landratsamt for the first time since he had registered for the military service. He found the registrar’s office where the government kept records of births, death, and marriages and processed people being inducted into the army, or who wanted to emigrate.

Herr Schmidt greeted Karl, the same bureaucrat that had handled his induction papers. Herr Schmidt had been around for as long as Karl could remember and knew everybody in the town.

“Sorry to hear about your father. You finished with your service time?”

Karl nodded affirmatively.

“What can I do for you today?”

Karl told him he wanted to emigrate.

“You want to emigrate! Leave our province, its beautiful lakes and forests, leave your family? Well, you aren’t alone, have been getting a lot of requests from people who want to immigrate to America. Where are they putting all of them?”

“It’s a big country.”

“Must be. There are forms you have to fill out. You read and write, don’t you?”

“Ya.”

“You should be able to figure these out yourself. When do you want to leave?”

“As soon as possible.”

“Well, get those forms back. There are ships sailing every week, almost every day in the summer. Fare is about fifty thalers. There is a question on the forms about why you want to leave.  Don’t say you want to get out from under the Hohenzollerns, or to get away from fighting Bismarck’s wars. Those are wrong answers. Say something like, going to join relatives, you have work waiting for you somewhere, something like that.”

“I plan to homestead some land.”

“That should work; I have seen that used before. What does that mean anyway, ‘homestead?”

“You put your claim on some land, don’t cost you anything, live on it, work it for five years, and it’s yours, sixty-five hectares.”

“Good land?”

“You pick it out.”

“For sure, that’s tempting.”

Karl filled out the forms, turned them into the registrar’s office, waited for permission to emigrate. Field work had started. No one had told Adolph that Karl planned to leave, so Karl went to work in the fields as though nothing would change.

Karl found himself caught up in the optimism that seemed to affect all men of the soil in the early spring. They were anxious to work the land and plant the seeds in the perpetual hope that this growing season would result in a perfect harvest. Although every season brought its own set of disappointments, hopes at the beginnings were always high. Rains would be timely, there would be adequate sunshine and the plant pests and diseases would not spoil the harvest.

Distracted as Karl had been by his plans for the future, they did not suppress the urge he felt to work the fields and plant the new crop. He spent his days in the company of a pair of fine chestnut Belgians, stirring the ground and preparing the fields for planting oats and barley. Adolph fancied fine horses and managed to keep an attractive stock of draft animals on the estate he managed. The Belgians, a new breed line, had recently been imported from France to enhance the estate’s horse herd. Adolph showed a measure of trust in Karl when he let him use these prized animals.

Karl would miss working these fields, miss watching the passage of the seasons and the familiar scenery. If this land and these horses were his own, there would be no need to look elsewhere. He would be satisfied to settle down in this place he knew so well. But that was not to be, and so he prepared to cross an ocean and half a continent in an attempt to find something similar that would be his own. He would certainly miss his mother and the rest of the family but the promise of free land, unlimited opportunity, and adventure overwhelmed the ties that bound him.

On the first day of June Karl received word that all of his papers were in order and approved. Most ships left from Hamburg or Bremen. Herr Schmidt recommended going to Bremen.

“Ships leave there almost every day in the summertime. They will put you on the first one that has room. Should not have to wait more than a week in any case.”

“That’s long enough. I can’t afford to sit in Bremen very long.”

“You shouldn’t have to.”

Karl made his final plans and packed the small steamer trunk that would carry all of the worldly goods that he would take with him. This included two changes of clothes, two towels, two bars of soap, a razor, a scissors, a pair of gloves, a cap, an extra pair of shoes, a light jacket, his army coat, and a light blanket. He also packed his confirmation Bible and Lutheran Small Catechism into the trunk.

The family gathered the night before he would be leaving by train for Bremen, not to celebrate his departure, but to say good-bye. Karl and the family knew that once he left Flatow they would likely never see or hear from him again. This would be auf wiedersehen, good-bye, not until we meet again but good-bye most likely forever.

They drank some of the remaining beer that Frederick had brewed. Walter suggested that it could be a long time before he tasted better beer.

Karl agreed. “It isn’t easy to leave, especially after working in the fields the past few weeks. I will miss that, but what is pulling me is stronger than what is holding me. I’m anxious to get on my way.”

Walter laughed. “Young men are always itching to find out what is on the other side of the hill.”

His mother had reluctantly accepted the fact that Karl was leaving. She had dried her tears, but she still had one concern.

“Karl, how will you find a good German Lutheran woman in that faraway place?”

“I hadn’t thought about that.”

“Well, it is something you should think about.”

“Maybe I will find an Indian squaw and convert her.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“Ma, if that’s the biggest problem I have, you shouldn’t be worried.”

They drank the last of the beer, Walter and his family said their good-byes, and they all turned in for the night.

The next morning his mother fixed his breakfast and found she still had a few more tears when she and Katrina hugged Karl for the last time.

Karl walked to the train station with the sea trunk on his shoulder, got on the train that went to Bremen. Almost every seat in the train car Karl had been assigned had been taken, but finally found a place to push his trunk under a bench and prepared to sit down when someone put their hand on his shoulder. Karl turned and found Martin Meyer, the pastor’s son, standing before him.

“What are you doing on this train?” Martin exclaimed!

“I’m immigrating to America, going to homestead some land,”

What? Martin replied. “Why don’t I know that?

“I’ve been busy getting ready to go, hardly talked to anyone about it.”

“Well guess what? So am I. Not to homestead; I’m not a farmer, but for every other reason. Every Prussian looking for something to do is going to America. Half the people on this train are going to America. Maybe we can get on the same boat.”

Martin’s enthusiasm lifted Karl’s spirits and took his mind off what he would be leaving behind for the moment. Yet after sitting down and after the train began moving, he looked back through a train’s window until he couldn’t see Flatow any longer. After Flatow disappeared from his sight he finally turned and looked towards the direction the train traveled and his future.

 

 

****

 

 

Copyright © 2014 by Alfred Wellnitz

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.
Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links contained in this work may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid

 

Also by Alfred Wellnitz
Novels:

Finding the Way;
From Prussia to a Prairie Homestead

PushBack;
Deficit Triggers Hyperinflation, Terrorism

For the Cause;
The Cold War Turns Hot in Korea
And Why Young Men Went To War

****

Short Stories:

For the Cause; Risk and Rewards 

U.S. Navel  Air Routine Patrol

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&

 

About the Author

 Alfred Wellnitz grew up in rural South Dakota, served in the United States Navy, and worked in technology as an electrical engineer. After retiring from engineering, he worked as a real estate agent before deciding to become an author at age seventy-three. He has since published three novels and numerous short stories. Alfred’s first novel, Finding the Way, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 13th Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards, and PushBack was a finalist in the ForeWord Review’s Book of the Year Awards. Alfred now lives with his wife Joan in Bloomington, Minnesota.

 

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