It has been three days since we visited Klein Engelau and surrounding areas. Since then we have flown to Germany and spent one night in a really quaint village called Hammoor. Yesterday we drove to Rönne where mom and Omi were sheltered as refugees with Hans and Klaus. Hans lived there for 8 years with Omi while mom, dad and Klaus started a new life in Allerdorf. We stopped in Hamburg to visit the world's largest memorial cemetery where Omi is buried. Her grave is no longer tended so we could only find the general area where she is buried. Now we are in a small town called Verden and in about an hour we will be meeting our cousin Alice and her daughter Bettina for the first time. For those of you who have cousins this may not seem "eventful", but when your entire extended family is in a country an ocean away and you have spent a year researching your roots, this is indeed an important moment for all of us.
Now back to Klein Engelau. Under the watchful eye of several soviet soldiers we wandered up what we thought was the old long driveway towards where the family farm would have stood. Two long dilapidated barracks are on either side of the large yard. There is an old chestnut tree up ahead and Klaus and I muster up the courage to wander over to it to gather some leaves from low hanging branches. We all head back to the van, but before getting in Klaus asks Alex if he thinks it's OK to fill his water bottle with good clean Klein Engelau water from the well. After waiting several minutes for the soilders to finish splashing themselves, Klaus pumps some water from the well. We all have a sip and it is delicious.
As we pull onto the dusty road Alex says " Quick, take some pictures". And as he slowly passes the fields that once belonged to the Fischer family, we snap some pictures and then we are off. We are heading to some of the villages mom would have stopped in for the night but because of road conditions we cannot exactly follow the same route. Some roads are miles and miles of cobblestones. It is hard to imagine how long it may have taken to lay the road.
The day takes us through Friedland, Domnau, Zinten and finally to Heiligenbeil. We make several stops to wander around small towns speculating on where mom may have sheltered for the night, whether it was in the wagon, in a shed or stable or sometimes a deserted house. Sometimes they were welcomed into someone's home and offered a hot meal.
There are ruins of churches in almost every town. One church has tall spires on every corner with storks nesting on each spire. We went inside one orthodox Russian church where a funeral was just finishing. Alex led us up several stories inside the steeple, brick steps turned into narrow wooden steps which turned into ladders. Once at the top we emerged onto a platform surrounding the top of the steeple and were treated to an amazing view.