In the summer of 2009, I received an email asking me “was there anything left of the Germans in Missouri?” Peter Roloff, of the Traveling Summer Republic wondered what remained to be seen that was German in Missouri and of the Germans who had been part of the
Geissen Emigration Society. Here in Missouri, that is considered a funny question. I almost wondered at first if it was spam, and then thought, that is a strangest question even for spam. I was living in Washington, Missouri, on the south side of the Missouri River, and a very “German” town at that. I had been the Administrative Assistant at the Washington Historical Society, and had been writing for nearly 20 years, authoring several books on German emigration and on Warren County history. Yes, there is definitely a lot left of the Germans in Missouri.
How it began
Peter Roloff’s friend Henry Schneider had been working on a college dissertation 40 years ago when he had come across the Giessen
Emigration Society. In 2004, Schneider asked Roloff if he had heard of this huge group of emigrants that had left Bremen in 1834. Peter Roloff became interested and began research, and gathered his friends, which became the Traveling Summer Republic, gathering on the Harriersand Island every summer. Then in 2009, the group decided they needed to know what became of the Giessen Emigration Society. “Had they been successful? What had become of them, and of their leaders Friedrich Muench and Paul Follenius?”
I had been in contact with one descendant of the Muench family at that time, Carol Muench, regarding her ancestor Friedrich Muench.
My interest in Muench had come about because of my own family history research, and that of the Bock family which had established the little village of Dutzow near where Muench lived. I had published several books by 2009, with the first in 1990 A Window Through Time and later Arcadia’s Warren County in 2010. Carol has always been so generous in sharing her family history with me, something for which I will always be indebted. In 2009, I introduced Peter Roloff to Carol Muench, and she has been the Muench family connection for the Utopia exhibit ever since. She joined us for the opening of the Utopia exhibit in Giessen, and was interviewed by the TV stations in Nieder Gemünden.
Utopia continues to grow
I first met more members of the Muench family in the autumn of 2010, when I shared a short documentary, A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia in Dutzow, after it premiered for its audience in Bremen, Germany. That documentary was made by Peter Roloff for the Traveling Summer Republic members in Germany, of their visit to Missouri in 2009. The film was made to share the exploits of their research trip about the Giessen Emigration Society with other team members in Germany. It featured
Muench family descendant Carol Muench, and 105 year old historian Ralph Gregory, who is also related through marriage to the Muench family. In the autumn of 2011, We planned a bus trip called Revisiting a Forgotten Utopia and met more descendants, of more of the families, many for the first time! And the hunt for more was on!
Utopia Exhibit, Book and Documentary
Out of that grew, the exhibit, the book and the documentary UTOPIA – Revisiting a German State in America. The exhibit was created in Germany by writers, historians, and archivists, and funded by the German Ministry of Culture and the City of Giessen Germany. We hope that the families that are descendants of the members of the Giessen Emigration Society have an opportunity to visit the exhibit before it closes on April 19. It is exactly the same exhibit that opened in November 2013, in Giessen Germany, after a year and a half in the making. The book and documentary that accompany the exhibit are
also called Utopia, and share the story, photos and texts with a lot more material, and is designed for those of you from Hawaii to Miami, Washington State to Maine, who are unable to
visit the exhibit. (Both available on Amazon.com too!) The exhibit has been seen by over 42,500 visitors at the beautiful Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. Why is it so fascinating? It is not the story of one person, or one family, but of the entire Giessen Emigration Society, explaining why and how they came (by German historians), and their legacy after they settled in the U.S.. As people often say after visiting the exhibit, it is the story of ALL emigrants! And in America, we are ALL emigrants. I have had the experience of witnessing it touch people from all over the world as they visited the Gallery.
Utopia exhibit closes on April 19
With the closing of the exhibit there are several members of the Traveling Summer Republic, that will be visiting from Germany. Peter Roloff, who is the Director of the Utopia project, and an award winning film maker from Berlin will share his documentary Utopia, also available on Amazon.com. Joining him will be Ludwig Brake, who is the archivist
and historian for the City of Giessen, where the exhibit originated, and a well respected German historian. Rolf Schmidt, a German author from Bremen, who has authored a series of three historical fiction books, about the Giessen Emigration Society. These stories are based on writings of its members, all taken from diaries, journals, and other historical documents. For more information about the events that weekend, see our upcoming events page.