In the summer of 2009, Director Peter Roloff asked author Don Heinrich Tolzmann for his suggestion of someone to assist in some research in Missouri. Roloff, then contacted writer and historian Dorris Keeven-Franke by email asking “was there any trace of the German heritage still to be found in Missouri?” This was the beginning of the collaboration that ultimately led to Utopia: Revisiting a German State in America.
Roloff, and members of the Traveling Summer Republic, a group of artists, writers, scriptwriters, film makers, musicians, and historians, were interested in what had become of the members of the Giessen Emigration Society, and other Germans that had emigrated to Missouri. Studying the Society, gave insight into a segment of their history, and the time period. They wondered if anything still existed of the Germans that had gone to Missouri in the 1830s.
That visit was preserved by Roloff, documentary film maker and owner of
maxim Films in Berlin, Germany, so that it could shared with members of the Traveling Summer Republic, and the public. The October 2010 screening, and events coordinated with the documentary A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia release in Bremen, and the island of Harriersand, were so well attended that it became obvious that there were many others also interested.
Other events, such as Utopia Revisited, in October 2012 were held. A bus tour of the sites associated with sites in southern Warren County, Missouri, allowed the Traveling Summer Republic and Missouri Germans to share the story with a wider audience, as participants took the role of members of the Society.
Two school busses became the Medora and the Olbers, allowing the participants to better understand the journey of the early settlers. The day concluded with a tour of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame’s showing of Folker Winklemann’s photos that had documented the original 2009 visit by Roloff, Winklemann, author Rolf Schmidt, and Monika Kiesewetter.
From that, plans grew, and planning began on the Utopia Exhibition. It was apparent that audiences on both sides of the Atlantic were very interested in what became of those early Germans that had settled in Missouri, looking for freedoms that no one had in Germany at that time. The team of artists, writers, archivists, film makers and historians has gathered relevant materials from Germany to Missouri and created a thought provoking exhibit that does more than tell the story of the Giessen Emigration Society. The visitor is made to reflect about themes of emigration, patriotism, and nativism as well.
The entire exhibit, and accompanying book, is in both German and English. The visitor begins with a first hand look at the struggles encountered, how the Giessen Emigration Society came about, and the struggle with the decision to proceed. The exhibits wrap and lead to a center archives which includes thousands of pages of documents that tell the story and provide a resource for further research.
The exhibition opened November 1, 2013, in Giessen, Germany and enjoyed a tremendous reception by the press and media. Following the route of the original 500 members of the Society, it next opens April 5, 2014 in Bremen, Germany at the St. Stephanis Cultural Center. Utopia will then moves to the U.S. in September 2014 in the German-American Heritage Foundation’s Museum in Washington, D.C.. Just as the original Society did, in concludes its journey in Missouri, where it opens November 22, 2014 at the Missouri History Museum. The goal of a German State in America failed. But the dream of a State in America that is truly German can be found in Missouri, where the traces of those early Germans can definitely still be found.
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