Tag Archives: Giessen Emigration Society

Utopia – and the Power of Partnership

During the summer of 2009, I received an unusual email from Peter Roloff asking “if there was anything left of the Germans in Missouri?”  Not knowing Herr Roloff, I thought the question strange, wondering where on earth was this person that they would ask such a question.  Roloff was in Berlin, Germany and was head of the Traveling Sommer-Republik, a group of Germans interested specifically in the Giessen Emigration Society. I answered his email immediately with “of course! Missouri is very German!”.

The TSR had come together, after a question from Roloff’s close friend and script writer, Henry Schneider, asking him if he was aware of a group of over five-hundred Germans called the Giessen Emigration Society who had fled Germany in 1834. There had been summer

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meetings in Bremen of Germans focused on the GES since 2004. Back in 1833, an emigration society had been formed by two young Germans, Paul Follenius (brother of Karl Follen) and Friedrich Muench, best friends, brother-in-laws, and former students at the University of Giessen. After reading Gottfried Duden’s Report on Missouri in 1829, and several years of youthful energy and involvement in the failed Revolution of 1832 Follenius had agreed to join his friend Muench if their project could be “done on a grand scale” so that many could benefit.

When founders Muench and Follenius published A Call for an Emigration at Large hoping to convince a few of their youthful friends to join them in September of 1833, they were amazed when thousands from all walks of life, and religions, wanted to join them. Plans began in earnest, the rules and Statutes were established and the lives, and the lives of their descendants, would be changed forever. Murphy’s Law establishes that everything does not always go as planned, and this group was certainly no exception. Their story as emigrants is dramatic and inspirational, as an example of what emigrants from Germany to the U.S. experienced in the 19th Century. It is the power of over 500 Germans who came together with one dream. The Germans that would remain behind, as their descendants today will explain, described the group as going to “their Utopia.” A fact that many Americans today have forgotten, is that America would ever even be considered such a place.

The TSR’s own adventure began that summer with their own visit to Missouri that they called “A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia” that was filmed for their fellow researchers A Trip to A Forgotten Utopia(writers, artists, screen writers, photographers) back home. When the film was released at the next gathering of the TSR in 2010 I was invited to join them in Bremen. I was amazed to find myself in a film of my own back yard, explaining history of Missouri, to hundreds of Germans who were extremely interested, knowledgeable and aware of the story!  In the days that followed our conversations led to a discussion to doing more collaborations. In 2011, the TSR would return to Missouri and with the Missouri Germans Consortium, would share the story and generate even more interest in the collaborative project..

The discussions, and back and forth and subsequent visits, led to a decision to produce a collaborative book, in both English and German, that was about the GES, by writers and scholars who had studied the group and the subject. Then, Roloff secured funding for the

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Utopia: November 1, 2013 – April 19, 2015

project from Germany!  This led to the exhibit Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America being produced and touring across Germany. Friends in the U.S. at the German-American Heritage Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis Missouri wanted to bring the film, book, and exhibit to America, and the collaborative cooperation between Germany and the U.S. continued. The entire project was successful, as it toured, bringing the subject of German emigration to the U.S. and using the Giessen Emigration Society as an example, to nearly 100,000 people across both countries.

This story reminds us that we were all most likely, once an emigrant. To flee one’s country, the only home one has known, and to leave one’s family, friends and treasures behind, is not a decision made lightly. To place faith and hope in a dream that they will find refuge in a safe haven for one’s family is all one dares to wish for. My favorite quote, by Winston Churchill is “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” speaks to this issue. As I look back today on the close of Utopia, just one year ago in America, I see a Germany experiencing a similar situation to what Missouri and the U.S. did in the 19th Century, as millions of refugees seek a safe haven.

The pride that we Americans feel in being considered a Utopia when we hear the story of the Giessen Emigraton Society, is the same pride that the thousands of Germans welcoming refugees today feel, and one day thousands of their children will feel. They will be descendants of those today in Germany that are “stepping up to the plate” as we Americans call it, to “do the right thing”. The entire world watches, and hopes and dreams for peace. A lasting peace that will allow those who have fled to return to their homeland safely.

America no longer has the open door that allowed the Giessen Emigration Society and millions of more emigrants to come in the 19th Century. But I believe that the American spirit that makes us want to help our fellow man is still alive. Hopefully, while some choose to help those here at home, some will recall their ancestors and their struggle. German is still the largest ethnic group in America, and if they can look back, then the vision going forward could really be a brighter one for millions of refugees. While an emigrant chooses a destination and is hoping to make a new home, a refugee flees for many of the same reasons, only with hopes to return home someday. I believe that the human spirit  and desire to help, no matter what one’s race or religion, remains alive in people of all countries. The Utopia exhibition is an example of what can happen when a few people work together in a collaboration, just imagine what the world would be like today if entire countries could work together in a partnership like this.

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Missouri Germans Consortium

We are a free online International association of everything German in Missouri, for those interested in the German heritage of Missouri. Our mission is to partner with other organizations such as ours, preserve the culture, educate on the history, promote with programs and projects, while providing an open forum for everyone to come together. Are you a Missouri German?  Anyone can be!

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We support the Missouri Humanities Council initiative called the German Heritage Corridor of Missouri and other such projects every year who work to keep our German heritage alive!  We applaud the Missouri Humanities Council’s huge endeavor because Missouri is definitely one of the most “German” States in America! Like us on Facebook for up to the minute information https://www.facebook.com/mo.germans/

We also partner with several other like minded organizations, universities, museums, and individuals around the world, and across the U.S. and Germany to bring our story alive. Online we share everything from history to current events, provide programming, resources, focus groups, tours and more. With friends in 24 countries, we can provide assistance and partnership in Missouri’s German heritage everywhere.

Anyone can be a Missouri German! For free you can follow our blog and receive our newsletter. Or get involved and join us at any event or program listed in the Consortium’s Events calendar! Like us on Facebook and follow our up to the minute posts https://www.facebook.com/mo.germans/ For those who want more they can subscribe to our quarterly e-journal Der Anzeiger which is filled with photos and

April 1, 2015 Vol. 1 Issue 2
April 1, 2015 Vol. 1 Issue 2

stories of Missouri’s historic German past. Der Anzeiger also includes everything from German recipes, travel and tourism, to helpful information for those researching their ancestors and tracking them back to Germany.

Follow us on Facebook and if you are a descendant of a member of the Giessen Emigration Society we invite you to  join us on our Focus Group page.  Missouri Germans Consortium has online focus groups, such as the descendants of the Giessen Emigration Society which shares in an online digital research library. By locating descendants of the original 500+ members of the 1834 emigration society, we provided materials and partnership with the Traveling Summer Republic in Germany for their exhibition: Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America, from Giessen, Germany.

We are open 24/7, where the parking is always free and there are no rules or lockers necessary for researchers. Executive Director Dorris Keeven-Franke, can be reached by email at missourigermans@gmail.com

Pauline’s Diary

Pauline Muench was born in the small village of Nieder Gemünden, in Hesse (Germany)  in the same house that her FormerMuenchhomeancestors had been born for several generations before her. Her father Friedrich Muench remarried after her mother died when she was  just three. As co-founder of the Giessen Emigration Society he led over 500 Germans to Missouri in 1834, and Pauline would spend her seventh birthday aboard the ship the Medora. Her family settled in a small log house in southern Warren County (Missouri) where she would live until her 21st Birthday and her marriage to Gordion Busch, from Bielefeld, Germany whose family had settled in Franklin County.

Pauline’s diary begins shortly after her wedding day on her 21st birthday,  June 30, 1848. merritt1 copy-1Through its pages we learn the story and the lives of one German emigrant family until Pauline’s death in 1891. Her journal entries share the births, the marriages, the Civil War, the good times and the sad. How the loss of her son left her with an inability to write for three years. She bore 13 children, adopted 2 others, and raised 3 children of her husband’s sister after their mother’s death. Pauline’s diary gives us a rare  glimpse into  the life of a German emigrant woman during the 19th Century in Missouri.

Pauline Muench BuschFor more about Pauline and her diary, see the next issue of Der Anzeiger.

Photos: Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America; City of Giessen (Germany) Edition Falkenberg, Bremen, Germany 2013 ©