Sunday, March 13, 2016

Miracle on Magdeburger Alles (not 34th Street)

What a wonderful week with lots of memories, especially of our German heritage!  The highlight of the week was our trip to Erfurt, Germany, where Sister Rueckert's father was born.  The prize of our trip was finding the house where he lived before his parents and their family moved to the U.S. in 1927.  More about the miracle of finding this home in the blog below.  For now, this is the photo of Elder and Sister Rueckert in front of the door of the building where her father lived.

In front of door where Debbie's father lived

We had decided a few weeks ago that we would spend our 18th wedding anniversary in Erfurt, Germany, trying to rediscover as much as we could from Sister Rueckert's ancestors.  At this point, I want to share the highlights of this experience in Sister Rueckert's words from her journal:

"Ever since we received our mission call to Germany I had a burning desire to go and walk where my ancestors had walked.  One of my greatest hopes was that I could find the house my father lived in when he was a very little boy.  We were unsuccessful in this quest sixteen years ago.  Tom and I did everything we knew how to do in preparation for the trip to Erfurt.  We fasted and prayed fervently that we would be successful in doing what God wanted us to do.  We were hoping our desires and God's desires would match up.

It didn't take us long to realize God's plan for our trip was much better than ours.  We were literally led step by step to places and people we never expected.  In my mind we had two major miracles during our trip to Gispersleben and Erfurt.   The entire day was sprinkled with small miracles.  One of the big miracles was finding the house my father lived in when he was a small boy.  This discovery began with a small miracle.  We were eating breakfast at the hotel.  We followed the prompting of talking to the lady in charge.  She was from Gispersleben!  We asked her about Sickels (the name of an ancestor).  She had a school friend by that last name.  We started talking about Karl Marx Strasse in Erfurt.  She told us the name of that street had been changed to Magdeburger Alles.  

Later that day after deciding that the place we thought Dad's house was located, wasn't it,  we drove using our GPS to Magdeburger Alles.  We were looking for a three story red brick apartment building on a corner.  It was located by some railroad tracks that my grandfather used to cross to go to work at a nearby steel mill.  The tracks we found on the street didn't seem very old.  As we kept driving one of the young missionaries suggested that farther down the road were tracks going east to west instead of north to south.  The east/west tracks went under an overpass which had the north to south tracks that we had been following.

We decided to get closer to the east-west tracks.  As we did so a very clear picture came into view.  Across the tracks on a corner was a three story red brick apartment building!  As we stood on the steps we could see across the tracks a large factory which ninety years ago could have very well been the site of a steel mill.  Tears came to my eyes and a feeling in my heart told me that this is where my father lived.  He probably sat on those steps waiting for his father to come home from work.  I wondered where he played and which direction he went from his house to go to school.  I felt sad because this house was abandoned and covered with all kinds of graffiti.  When Tom and I returned later I tried to block out what I was seeing and imagine my dad as a 5 year old boy playing ball.  The picture I have of him and his dad and Aunt Ruth standing on the steps to their house, has my dad holding a ball in one hand.  My heart was full of thanksgiving and gratitude for the Lord answering my prayers.
Walking across the tracks to the "home"
German three story building (three plus the ground floor).  Debbie on the steps.

View of the tracks and the commercial area from the apartment building.

Better view of the existing commercial location, across the railroad tracks

The other big miracle was being led to a pastor who had some books that were hundreds of years old. In two of the books we found my Grandpa's mothers' birth record, Wilhelmine Auguste Friederike Sickel.  We also found the marriage record of Johann Friedrich Christoph Sickel and Marie Friederike Bauersfelt, her grandparents.  It was unbelievable to actually touch and read these handwritten records of events that took place over 100 years ago.  We never in our wildest imagination thought we would have this amazing experience.

Birth record of Debbie's great grandmother

Marriage record of great grandmother's grandparents

Our plan was to find a live relative and my dad's house.  The Lord's plan was to lead us to several places where records of my ancestors are kept.  We made several contacts with pastors and others that will help us to extend our family lines back and also fill in the gaps.  We were led from one place to another in an amazing way.  Sometimes it was talking to a pastor.  We got one lead  from an older man who was recycling his old bottles into some trash bins on the street.  Every person we talked to led us to something that we can use as we do further research on these family lines.  
We have so many leads to follow up on.  We weren't even thinking of research.  We just wanted to find a living relative.  We didn't find one on this trip but we are confident that we will find someone on our next visit.  We know where to look for lots of Sickels!"

As Debbie mentioned, our preparations included copies of many maps and locations of cities, family group sheets, genealogy fan charts, arrangements with the local family history consultant, identification of the local Bishop Möller in the Erfurt ward, involvement of our family history missionaries in Frankfurt, conversation with "Aunt Ruth", etc.  We wanted to do our part.  But then we went with a prayer in our heart determined to follow the Lord's guidance.

Some of the small miracles included communicating (kind of) with many people that didn't speak English, making contact with young missionaries who were available to help translate on Friday, identifying locations with actual records, making contacts and contact information with pastors and others, finding some names in the cemetery,  finding great people on the streets that helped us, even entering into the home of a Sickel family, who were extra cautious about talking to us.  Not all of our efforts resulted in immediate solutions, but we left our names and contact information with many and have contact information to follow-up with others that are willing to help.

This past few weeks I have been studying Ether 12:27 which states, "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

I have pondered this and other scriptures over and over.  The scriptures are clear that we must recognize our weaknesses and trust that the Lord will do better than we can do with our own power.  One states (D&C 123:16) "do all things that lie in our power: and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." 

This experience has been a confirmation that when we do all that we can, in our weakness, the Lord can and will provide answers in his own way, far superior to our thoughts and plans.  I testify of this principle, not only did we see it in our experiences, but it has been confirmed to us by the Holy Ghost.  I have learned that the Lord's way is so much better than my way!

Other experiences of the week, with photos as available:

We received our official missionary visa this week.  Once again, the government officials noted that our name is German.  In fact the receipt for our payment for the visa includes our name with the German umlaut:

On our trip, we made our hotel reservations at the Müller Hotel in Erfurt (close to the Moeller name).
The hotel turned out to be very German and wonderful.  A few of the photos follow:

Hotel Müller
Great Restaurant and reception for hotel check-in
Nice room with German down feather beds
Beautiful German embroidery

We headed out to Erfurt on Thursday afternoon.  It is about a two and a half hour drive, using Autobahn speeds.  With no speed limit, the Germans really drive fast.  We were often driving from 80 to 90 miles per hour and we would be passed as if we were standing still.  

In general there was a lack of English speakers in the Erfurt Area.  We struggled with the family history consultant, the hotel check-in and many people on the streets.  Since Erfurt was part of East Germany, there was no English taught in the schools for 40 years, only Russian.  So the English abilities on this side of Germany are much more limited.  Thank goodness for young missionaries.

A few other photos from our family history efforts:

Church in Kiliani, Gispersleben, where many of Debbie's relatives were christened and married 

Possible relative in Tiefthal, Cemetary

Possible relative (Sickel)
Missionaries that helped us, Elders Boullion and Bakly
In front of Erfurt, Germany LDS chapel
Saturday, we took time to see other sites in Erfurt, especially the monastery where Martin Luther first became a monk.  This monastery dates back into the 1300's.  We are so inspired by Martin Luther, the life he led and the impact that he had on the reformation and eventually the restoration of the Gospel.  This gave us much more opportunity for further meditation.  The tour was in German, but we had a nice lady who did some translating for us and for a Lutheran pastor from Denmark who also took the tour with us.  We had a nice talk together after the tour.

Nice lady translating, also Lutheran pastor and wife
In the monastery
Inner court of the monastery
Library in the monastery
Room where Martin Luther did most of his studying and meidtation during the day.
Door through which Martin Luther first entered the monastery in 1505

Beautiful stain glass windows in Church by monastery.  Windows were taken down and preserved during World War II and then reinserted into building which had to be rebuilt after damage during war.

We also saw a few other sites on Saturday, including the Merchant's bridge.  This is the longest bridge in Europe that is totally covered with shops and residences.
From below the bridge, seeing the shops and residences on the bridge.

Opening to the bridge through a Church
Walking on the bridge
On the other end of the bridge

Finally we made  a quick visit to the St. Mary's Cathedral, one of the most famous landmarks in Erfurt.

Friday night we drove to Saadfeld where there is an Easter tree with thousands of eggs hanging from it.  Unfortunately it is in a public park that was closed when we got there.  However, we saw several other Easter trees during our visit and Easter bunnies: