Tag Archives: Traveling Summer Republic

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


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

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.



We have so much great news that we just couldn’t wait to share! Share with your friends!

Missouri Germans Consortium is going on a Summer Road Trip!  Join us as we discover Missouri’s German Heritage and help Missouri Humanities Council with their new initiative – the German Heritage Corridor – across Missouri! Follow our blog as we share the German people, places and history of Missouri and bring it to you!  For more on this new initiative read our latest post... Don’t forget to follow as we share our new discoveries.

ZeitungOur Missouri Germans Consortium newsletter is free and shares all of the latest news of everything German in Missouri!

ExhibittitleOn Sunday, June 28, at 2pm the Missouri Germans Consortium has been invited to share the story of THE GERMAN HERITAGE OF ST. CHARLES COUNTY in conjunction with Frenchtown Heritage Museum’s (1121 North Second Street, St. Charles, MO 63301) newest exhibit from the St. Charles County German Heritage Club.

bustourOn Sunday, July 12Missouri Germans Consortium members the St. Louis Stuttgart Sister Cities Intl., and the German American Heritage Society of St. Louis are sponsoring a great summer Bus Tour! Be a German emigrant for a day, and visit the German Heritage along the Missouri River from Hamburg to Hermann. Which would be the destination you would have chosen! Take in a winery, enjoy the Missouri River scenery, there is something for everyone. Lunch is included, $40 per person call Dorris at 636-221-1524 today!  For more information…


The best tour of Germany!!!! German Heritage Travel is inviting everyone to reconnect with their German heritage and the Dawn of Utopia. Missouri Germans Consortium will share the Germany that members of the Giessen Emigration Society left and the Germany

The parish church of Pastor Friedrich Muench in Nieder Gemünden by photographer ©Folker Winkelmann
The parish church of Pastor Friedrich Muench in Nieder Gemünden by photographer ©Folker Winkelmann

of today. This trip is special designed for youUTOPIAlogo as it will visit the sites and locations associated with both groups! To book your tour go to  German Heritage Travel  on the web  at http://germanheritage.travel/index.php/en/tours/dawn-of-utopia  or call  571-358-8089 or email info@germanheritage.travel OR call 636-221-1524 or email missourigermans@gmail.com if you need help.Contact us today as the tour is limited! Use contact box below or here for more information…

BlogAnzeigerAre you missing Der Anzeiger?  Missouri Germans Consortium’s  quarterly online publication carries interesting and in depth articles on Missouri’s German emigrants – the history, the lives and stories- with photos. Der Anzeiger brings us full narrative, and help us to understand our ancestors and their world.  Subscription is only $25 per year.  Read our Premiere issue DerAnzeiger or subscribe….

Are you a descendant of a Giessen Emigration Society member? The Giessen Emigration Society has the list of the members and the

Friedrich Muench 1799-1881
Friedrich Muench 1799-1881

original manuscript ship lists. We have begun adding bios of the members and co-founder Friedrich Muench is the first. If you would like to share the bio of your emigrant ancestor that would be great! Only together can we share the entire story.

Photograph of the descendants of Giessen Emigration Society members taken in the Utopia Exhibit on April 19, 2015 by Folker Winklemann.
Photograph of the descendants of Giessen Emigration Society members taken in the Utopia Exhibit on April 19, 2015 by Folker Winklemann.

Want to share your thoughts? We want to hear from you!

In the summertime

Missouri Germans Monthly Newsletter
Missouri Germans Monthly Newsletter – June 2015

Looking Back….

In this months newsletter you will find opportunities for a Missouri Summer Bus Tour through Dutzow and Hermann on July 12, a tour back to Germany to visit Giessen and Bremen from September 23-October 1, or for those of you who missed it, a tour filmed of the Utopia exhibit at the Missouri History Museum on April 19, 2015. 

Six years ago, in the summer of 2009, I received an email that asked a simple but surprising question: “Is there anything left of the German [Heritage] in Missouri, that emigrated there in the 1830s?”  [ See our previous post German Heritage Corridor ] So surprising in fact, I briefly wondered if it was spam. Then thought it too strange even for spam!

I had been working on a biography of Friedrich Muench for many years. Stopping to raise a family, life had got in the way a few times, but I was growing more determined. In Berlin Germany, Henry Schneider had come across the Giessen Emigration Society, and had asked his friend Peter Roloff if he was familiar with their story. A focus group in Bremen Germany was begun, as each summer, Germans from all over Germany – like the Society – converged on the Bremerhaven – like the Society – to talk about the United States. They – The Traveling Summer Republic wondered “what had become of the Germans that had emigrated to the U.S.?

Their first trip in the October of 2009 was spent exploring and

Photograph of Hermann, Missouri by Folker Winkelmann @2009 in the exhibit
Photograph of Hermann, Missouri by Folker Winkelmann @2009 in the exhibit

visiting all the sites associated with the lives of  the members of the Giessen Society. We crammed in sites from the St. Louis Mississippi riverfront all the way to Hermann. Plus the newspapers and radio stations wanted interviews – with the Germans that had come to Missouri. Roloff is a film maker and producer with maxim Films from Berlin, and was filming the entire trip for the Germans back home. Plus it rained!  Nearly 11 inches of rain fell in that short four day first visit. Do you know how hard it is to film in the rain?cropped-a-trip-to-a-forgotten-utopia1.jpg

In September of 2010 my youngest daughter and I were invited to Germany to meet the Traveling Summer Republic and see the premiere of A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia. I was amazed at the number of Germans that found the subject of 19th Century emigrants to Missouri fascinating, And that is when the friendship became International, as we invited them back to Missouri.

In the fall of 2011, we did a Bus Tour – replicating the trip of the

Rolf Schmidt and Peter Roloff discuss Follenius at Utopia Revisited Bus Tour
Rolf Schmidt and Peter Roloff discuss Follenius at Utopia Revisited Bus Tour

Giessen Society with two busses. The interest was growing. And so were the discussions. We had plans to take all of our research, on both sides of the pond, and turn it into a book.  When we went looking for funding, Germany thought this a worthy project and it grew into a traveling exhibition.

Soon we were not only writing a book, [see Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America available at Amazon.com the book. ] but creating text and designing an exhibit. An exhibit that is filled with videos of the several visits we each made both in the U.S. and in Germany. Ultimately, with editing, the hours and hours of film would be used in the documentary that would accompany the exhibit [see Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America available at Amazon.com  – the film.] that would have its premiere with record attendance at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

The exhibit opened in Giessen Germany on November 1, 2013 by the city’s Mayor. Several thousand enjoyed the exhibit there before  the end of the year. In the spring of 2014, it traveled to Bremen, just as the Society did. I wondered if the exhibit was larger than the Society, with its container, filled with 30 crates, videos, books, its own archives, maps, photographs, and murals. After its’ visit to Bremen, Utopia became an international project. When it arrived in Washington, DC even the Washington Post carried the story of its visit to the German American Heritage Museum.

But its’ visit to Missouri was very underestimated. Missouri is a German state. Not in the manner or the “form” that the Society first intended, but in its “function”.  The German-American experience in Missouri is a melding, a blending of the best of both cultures. Beautiful architecture, wonderful wine, and a strong determined Missouri - Trip to a Forgotten Utopiaspirit. Friedrich Muench referred to Missouri as “where the sun of Freedom shines”.  Over 60,000 visitors shared in the experience of Utopia at the beautiful Missouri History Museum in St. Louis before it left. During that time, a Curator’s Tour was given every Tuesday morning at 10;30 and by special request for schools and groups. Here is a link to that tour for those that missed it. A Utopia Tour with Dorris Keeven-Franke is a brief 40 minute visit of the exhibit. 

This summer Utopia is being welcomed home in both Giessen and Bremen Germany, and the items sent by Americans as a satellite of friendship, at the Muss i denn desk, to Germany are being adopted there. And it will visit Berlin! For all of our followers outside of Missouri, in Germany and elsewhere – click here.

If you are in Missouri, you can still enjoy a bit of Utopia – with a Summer Bus Tour though Utopia on July 12, 2015 thanks to St. Louis – Stuttgart Sister City International and the German American Heritage Society of St. Louis.  Or you can join us as we once again visit Germany and take a trip back to the Dawn of Utopia from September 23 through October 1.

Missouri is a state rich with German Heritage! From the Maifests to the Oktoberfests, from St. Louis to Concordia, and the wineries that fill the Missouri River valley, we still enjoy many customs and traditions and proudly state “my ancestors came from Germany!” Follow our blog or subscribe to our e-Journal Der Anzeiger and continue to enjoy your German heritage too.

Comments are always welcome below…. Follow us on Facebook for more up to date announcements…. https://www.facebook.com/mo.germans