So you want to visit your Heimat?
Lots of people have asked what to expect when visiting Pomerania. What is it like? How should I plan for it? How do I travel around?
This guide has been promised for some time, and I’m happy to finally have the time to share my experience with you. There are numerous considerations that need to be thought about, from planning and preparation to traveling, finding accommodations and places to eat, sightseeing, visiting the archives and doing research, overcoming the language barrier, and more. Time management is also one of the greatest factors, as Europe runs on a different schedule and at a different pace than in America. These basics are important and form the foundational elements that will make your trip a success. They are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making the most of your time in Germany and Poland.
Here are just some of the basics to consider:
- Are you planning to rent a car or use public transportation like trains and busses?
- Do you know what records you want to request from the archives and the protocols for accessing them?
- How do you plan to communicate with the locals?
- Have you mapped out what places you want to visit in advance and in what order?
- Do you need a visa?
- Are you getting the best deals for hotels, and do you know what to expect?
- What are the local laws and customs?
I created these guides because little information could be found when I started planning my trip, and some of the information that I did find was outdated. When I traveled to Poland, I went with the expressed intention to bring back what I learned and make it accessible to a larger audience–and for free.
I need to disclaim that all guides have been created from my own personal experience and yours might differ substantially. Travel with an open mind and recognize that your mileage may vary from what I describe in these pages.
About My Experience
You might wonder (and rightly so!), what makes me qualified to dole out these tidbits of information? While I would consider myself far from a “professional” in the sense of archival research, much of the professional services I’ve found offered are not outside the scope of the average person if one is willing to learn. I’ve traveled to over 20 countries and prefer to immerse myself in culture rather than to bide my time at the gift shops and tourist traps. I’ve been blessed to have an abundance of experiences that give credibility to this travelogue.
I studied abroad during university, primarily based in Berlin, Germany during the autumn and winter of 2014. While living in this rich cultural epicenter, I also had time to travel within Germany and to other countries in Europe during my weekends. I studied at Freie Universität Berlin through their European Studies Program. This included a rigorous German language course, Modern German History in European Context, and Perspectives on 20th Century Art in Central Europe. Local school-sponsored trips took me to Potsdam to learn about Sanssouci and Cecilienhof, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, and the Hohenschönhausen Stasi prison complex in what was East Berlin. I took several tours around the heart of Berlin. I visited the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, Schloss Charlottenburg, and countless art, cultural, and historical museums (and of course, a brewery!). It was also interesting to experience Oktoberfest, Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Germany Unity Day), and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (Mauerfall), as well as join in the love of soccer games and the opera (not to mention the ballet in Prague) and the Weihnachtsmärkte during the Christmas season.
Outside of Berlin, I toured and learned about Gießen and Butzbach and the surrounding area with my wife’s German family. I visited Ulm and the surrounding area with my grandfather’s then 96-year old cousin. We sauntered around Schwäbisch Gmünd with a family friend. I spent several days soaking in the history and culture in Nuremberg, learning about both medieval life and the more recent history of the Nuremberg Trials. I toured through the castle and visited Albrecht Dürer’s house. I made two separate trips to see Wittenberg and Wartburg, both places of interest to the history of Martin Luther. I took the train to Hamburg to see the place my great-grandfather emigrated from by steamship. Towards the end, I explored Münich and finished the night at the Hofbrauhaus.
On this trip, I also spent time in the Czech Republic (Prague), Greece (Athens, Tripoli, Astros, and Patras), Italy (Naples/Pompeii, Rome, Vatican City, and Florence), the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Zaanse Schans), Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Malmo), Switzerland (Zurich), Belgium (Brussels), Luxembourg, and Austria (Salzburg).
I later returned in the summer of 2015 for three weeks to record and preserve the remainder of the family history from my cousin. I proposed to my wife (who had spent the summer teaching English in Greece) at the top of the Ulmer Münster.
I returned again for two months in the summer of 2019 and spent more time traveling around Europe, adding Ireland, Wales, Poland, and Hungary to my list. I also stayed in the Schwarzwald for several days and determined that the south was where I felt most at home in Germany.
This adventure was specifically tailored for my family histories studies. I traveled through close to a hundred cities, towns, and villages in Pommern and Neumark at a breakneck pace, photographing over 60 of them. I predominantly spent my time in the Kreise of Cammin, Wollin, Belgard, Kolberg-Körlin, and Köslin in Pommern, and near Landsberg an der Warthe, Soldin, and Königsberg in Neumark. I visited a few places in Greifenhagen and Greifenberg, and the larger cities of Stargard and Stettin. I spent two weeks researching in the archives in Landsberg (Gorzów Wielkopolski), Köslin (Koszalin), and Stettin (Szczecin) and familiarized myself with the process. This trip fundamentally shaped my perspective on all of the necessities to have an exciting and successful journey to the homeland.
I have been researching my family’s history since the fall of 2014. I am conversationally proficient in the German language and can interpret most documents in Kurrentschrift, Sütterlin, and Fraktur with a little bit of effort. I’m experienced in understanding what exists in the archives and what each type of document holds, from land and property records to guilds, wills and testaments, and emigration records.
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