The Genealogical Society of South Africa

The German Interest Group

Translated from Afrikaans to English by Carol Beneke

On 18 June 2009 a small group, seven to be precise, decided to form the German Interest Group. Since then we meet once a month at the house of one or other of the members of the group. On average we are 14 members per evening, but in the past we have been between 20 and 25 friends that have visited together. Our meetings are friendly and informal. We do not have a committee, do not ask membership fees and do not make long speeches. A guest speaker is normally invited for the evening. After the talk we adjourn and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and some eats which are donated by the hostess. The discussions thereafter sometimes become so interesting and the members become so enthusiastic about the topic, and the speaker is peppered with so many questions that it becomes difficult to go home. They are wonderful friendly constructive and instructive evenings. Sometimes we have a members evening which is particularly popular. Anyone who has anything to show which he inherited, or has something to tell of his German ancestors gets an opportunity to do so. In this manner we have heard and seen many interesting things. We all have an interest in our “Heimatland”, as each of us has one or more German ancestors. Our ancestors originate mainly from the groups of Germans who founded themselves during 1857 to 1859 in the Eastern Cape. Sadly there are few members that still speak German. Our language choice is English or Afrikaans, according to personal preference. Once a year we attend a service at the Lutheran Church. Rev. Felix Meylahn leads the services. The services are held in English, with two additional German services a month.
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The Lutheran Church community holds their Christmas fair during November, where authentic German food, cake and handiwork are offered for sale. If I may highlight particular high points, at least for me personally, I would mention when I took the group for a weekend trip to the King Williams Town area. In order not to be repetitive, I will combine highlights from a number of tours. We left Port Elizabeth early on Saturday morning for Kidds Beach, where we overnighted.

From here Jennifer transported us in her 16-seat bus.We first stopped at the Amathole Museum in King Williams Town. Stephanie Victor, the historical curatrix of the Museum, accompanied us through the German Settler Exhibition of the Museum. Clive and Dot Goetsch were utterly surprised when they saw a mural and realised it was painted from the exact photo of which they have one in their possession, namely Clive’s German grandfather’s and grandmother’s little house in East London. I could take a photo where they and the house in the background melded perfectly together. Dot is one of the few in the country who has mastered the traditional manner of hand-making lace. She was quite excited to see that a dress of one of the exhibited dolls contained a similar insert. On our list of visit-worthy places was, inter alia, the Lutheran Churches at King Williams Town and East London. Last mentioned boasts 17 of the prettiest stained glass windows in the country. They were gifts from Germany. The leader of the settler groups was responsible for the naming of the newly established towns in which the settlers settled. Was it to still the longing, make the to make the homesickness easier to bear, or to retain some contact with the Fatherland, that places such as, e.g. Berlin, Braunschweig, Breaidbach, Frankfurt, Hannover en Ohlsen were created? Stutterheim was named after Baron von Stutterheim, the leader of the British German Legion Soldiers that came to South Africa in 1857. We also visited two German Settler Monuments which were erected in King Williams Town and East London in memory of the German Settlers. Naturally, and because it is still reasonably accessible, we visited little churches, cemeteries or ruins which have remained standing since that time. It is with sadness and disbelief that one can stand before a chapel or in a cemetery, knowing that your ancestors, with so much hardship, gave from their minimal possessions and incomes to establish these chapels and cemeteries, and you see the deterioration and vandalism with your own eyes. On our second visit we could even see the drastic deterioration in some of the little towns. The cemetery in Frankfurt has become pasture for cattle. The iron gate that we closed the previous time, lay broken off to one side. By this time it is possible that it has found a resting place in a junkyard. There have been a variety of attempts at conservation, but, alas, these have been unsuccessful. If there is anyone who wants to visit, particularly the small, above named places, I would suggest you do it as soon as possible. One doesn’t know for how long it will still be possible to visit. While we were driving in the area, we could not help but wonder what emotions the Settlers experienced when they saw their newly found fatherland. Surely there must have been many questions, homesickness and sadness, but also excitement. I stared at the landscape with which Sir George Grey enticed the Settlers... “Rolling green Valleys...” (For Men Must Work. Dr E.L.G. Schnell). These ancestors were not put off by droughts, failed government promises and hard work. With their own hands they had to hew stone for the erection of their homes. Their suffering they ended with their own hands. The thoroughness with which they approached their work is still to be seen in a number of stone houses which still stand. Their good genes are an inheritance of which we can be proud. With our second visit, one of Breidbach’s residents accompanied us to the musical rock. It is two rocks on top of each other and stretches high above the group’s heads. If some strikes the rock with an object such as a hammer, it sounds like the ringing of church bells. The tone and intensity of the sound differs around the rock - definitely something unique. No wonder that the church community has accepted the name of Bell Congregation. There is still so much is this area which I have not touched on. It is difficult to convert the experiences and memories into words. Perhaps I should abide by one word – UNFORGETTABLE. Organiser of the Group, Trudie Marais This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.