New Friends, New Family

Saturday was our last full day in Germany and was supposed to have been pretty laid back and uneventful.  It turned out to be far from true.

During our trip, we had been communicating via Facebook with Anja Rathkamp from Delmenhorst.  Anja found me on Facebook about a year ago, and while we have yet to make a “genetic connection”, if your last name is Rathkamp, we’re bound to be related.  We were trying to figure out when and if we could meet on Saturday.  Korey and I decided to visit with Anja for a while Saturday afternoon after leaving Sulingen and then take our time getting back to Hamburg where our flight would be leaving the next day.

Anja had other plans.

We met Anja at her apartment and spent some time visiting with her.  She explained to us that her father knew we were in town and that he would love to meet us.  After indulging in a Beck’s at Anja’s we got into her VW and drove to her father’s.  Anja explained that her father had been a blacksmith but recently had a stroke.  I guess I was expecting her father to be frail, but Werner is a hulk of a man and greeted us with a big bear hug when we met.  Neither Korey or I was prepared for how emotional Werner was at seeing his “lost family” from America.  Anja later referred to this as the “winkle in his eyes”.

Meanwhile, Tom Martens, the husband of my cousin Lorna, was monitoring our trip via Facebook and said, “Delmenhorst?  That’s where MY family is from!!”  It turns out, Tom’s German relatives run a very prosperous bakery just out of Delmenhorst, and so Anja decided a visit to the bakery was in order.

We arrived at the bakery mid-afternoon, and met Tom’s uncle Heinz Timmerman, Heinz’s daughter Kirstin, and Kirstin’s husband Hendrick.  When I was a kid I worked for a short time at a bagel shop in Milwaukee, so this wasn’t my first exposure to a bakery.  This however wasn’t just any bakery.  Heinz had recently made the decision to relinquish management of the business to his right hand man.  Under new management, several changes have been made including the addition of an adjacent cafe.  In the U.S., change brought on by new ideas often causes some resentment between parties, but in this case the Timmermans have offered up their support and are very proud to still have their name on the bakery.

Following a tour where we were shown what I thought was a huge amount of very high quality bakery being produced, we sat in the outdoor cafe and enjoyed coffee and some very incredible butter kuchen.

After we said goodbye to the Timmermans, we learned that Anja had made arrangements for us to travel to meet Werner’s brother Jurgen Rathkamp and his family.  As soon as we got out of Anja’s car, Jurgen came out of the door and began playing a song for us on his concertina.  Jurgen’s wife Frieda had made Schnitzel, Wurst and potato salad for us.  Also there was Jurgen’s son Tammo, Tammo’s wife Martina, and their two sons.

After dinner, Frieda brought out some old family pictures.  One of them in particular caught my attention.  Keep in mind, I haven’t yet been able to “connect” my Oeftinghausen Rathkamps with Anja’s Rathkamps.  This picture seems to make the connection.

After dinner and pictures, Anja had one more stop for us.  We drove to the old family farm previously owned by Jurgen, now owned by Jurgen’s older son Heinrich.  It seems the agriculture business in Germany has changed much as it’s changed in the U.S.  with small farms being squeezed by corporate agriculture.  Heinrich decided that rather than fighting to barely make a living, he’d reinvent the several hundred year old family business and is now running what would have to be called an excavation/ recycling business.

An example of Heinrich’s innovative thinking was demonstrated when he showed us a huge pile of fluffy material.  In its prior life, this material had been non-toxic insulation, removed from old buildings, shredded, and mixed with sand and Crisco.  We had no idea what this could be used for, but Heinrich explained that he sells it to horse tracks where it replaces dirt and sand as a very comfortable surface for horse racing.

The sun had just gone down and sensing we needed to get going, Anja drove us back to her apartment where after a very excellent day, we said our goodbyes to our “new family” in Germany.  Thanks Anja!

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