Lost and Found

A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia

My youngest daughter loves to tell me when I am looking for something “its always the last place you look”  I laugh, and say “but that’s because you found it, so you’ve quit looking!” But for some of us – historians, photographers, genealogists, filmmakers  – the search is the best part.  Even when others would say we’ve found it, we know that’s when the real fun begins, we love to follow the trail. The search is just the beginning of the journey, and in that quest we sometimes find what we thought were perhaps long lost and forgotten.

In 2009, I received an email from Germany, from someone on such a quest, on a journey through time, in search of what was thought to be forgotten, wondering what remained today. . .

Subject: Giessen Emigration Society – research journey October. 6 – 11

Date: Monday, August 3, 2009

From: Peter Roloff

To: Dorris Keeven-Franke

Conversation: Giessen Emigration Society – research journey October. 6 – 11

Dear Mrs. Dorris Keeven-Franke,

Let me introduce to you. We are a group of joint artists and persons engaged in the cultural sector (filmmakers, performers, photographers, writers, designers, city planners, etc.) named Reisende Sommer-Republik (Travelling Summer Republic) primariliy based in the city of Bremen, Germany. The activities of the Travelling Summer-Republic are inspired by the Giessen Emigration Society, lead by Friedrich Münch and Paul Follen. The 2nd division – lead by Friedrich Münch – had to stay for about 5 weeks on the small river island Harriersand located in the Weser river between Bremen and Bremerhaven. Finally, the Society chartered the ship Medora and sailed to America.

I was very familiar with the story of Friedrich Münch and the Giessen Emigration Society, but had never really considered that their story may have inspired those in Germany as much as it had us who lived here in Missouri.

We are fascinated by the utopian aim of the Giessen Emigration Society: the Emigration Society planned the foundation of a democratic German state in America, an ideal German republic. But before the Giessen Migration Society could fulfill their dreams in America, 250 members of the Society had to cope with their everyday life problems on the small, boring and uninhabited island in Germany. They had to “rehearse” the foundation of a state on the island on a small scale. If they fail on the small island how could they build a new state?

Suddenly I was fascinated, caught up by their quest! I knew that Muench’s group had been delayed, but was not familiar with this story of life on an uninhabited island. There were nearly 250 men, women and children in that group, on their way to be United States immigrants, on their way to America in 1834. My thoughts swirled to consider what they must have endured to follow their dream.

Based on this true story we ask for utopian thoughts today. What are our dreams and visions for a better and peaceful society today? Since 2005 the Travelling Summer-Republic stages conferences, film screenings, theatre plays, readings, debates, etc. on the Harriersand island, in the Weser region and in Berlin. Further informations: http://www.sommer-republik.de <http://www.sommer-republik.de&gt; (sorry, in German only).

They were in search of our thoughts of today, our dreams and visions. How things may have changed? My thoughts raced back to life here in 1834, vs life here today. How much could still be found? I wondered myself.

Why do we would like to get in touch with you? Since 2004 we did a lot of research on the Giessen Emigration Society. Now it is time to go to the original places in Missouri! We would like to get a broader and more detailed picture about the Giessen Emigration Society and their leaders Friedrich Münch and Paul Follen. We want to visit the original places, the museums, historical societies, and archives. We ask: are there any descendants of families of the Giessen Emigration Society living in Missouri, in Augusta, Dutzow, etc. today? Simply everything is inspiring for us: landscapes, buildings, objects, maps, drawings, photographies… and of course meeting the people of the region.

What remained of an immigrant’s journey begun 175 years ago, I wondered. Before the Civil War, before factories and cell phones?

We have just started preparation and research for this “Missouri expedition“ which will take place October 6 – 11. We are a group of 4: writer and novelist Rolf Schmidt, filmmaker Peter Roloff, photographer Folker Winkelmann, and travel/research assistant Monika Kiesewetter. We will keep record of our journey with video and photo cameras. Just to give an example what could be the result: In 2008 Rolf Schmidt has written and published a novel about the Giessen Emigration Society on the Harriersand island: „Warten auf die Flut“ (Waiting for the Flood). Maybe the research journey will inspire Rolf Schmidt to continue his writings on the Giessen Emigration Society. We would like to meet you in Washington, Missouri…

And so began a quest, a journey, and a friendship through time that has grown and grown. Each of us discovering that there still remains much to be found in the culture, the traditions, the places and stories from that early group of immigrants, in each other and ourselves!

The Reisende Sommer-Republik’s visit  A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia, revealed that there is a lot to still be found of those early German emigrants to Missouri, even things we who live here had forgotten. The journey continues…..


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3 thoughts on “Lost and Found”

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