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Monday, September 5, 2011

In Search of Franconia: Wherein I Begin Looking at my German Roots



I have spent a large amount of time researching, thinking about and writing at length about Jewish origins, from the Hill Country of Israel, to the Nile Delta to my own Ashkenazi roots in what is now Latvia near the shores of Lake Lubanas, where one of my ancestors took the name "Luban" when Jews in the Russian Empire took last names.

But more recently I have turned to my German, non-Jewish roots, a subject just as fascinating, though to me somewhat less approachable. Since I was raised by my mother and her mother (whose maiden name was Luban), not my father, Peter Kunkel, it has always been the shores of lake Lubanas, and the very circuitous connection through it to Israel, that has fascinated me.

But in reality I am able to trace my father's German roots back further than I can my Jewish roots. In fact, I have grown amazed at the care with which Lutherans keep their church records, keeping track of every Johann Georg and Johann Phillip back to whenever the village became Lutheran. It has just taken longer for me to feel a connection to the Balthazars, Maries, Marys and Adams of Darmstadt-Hesse than it took for me to feel a connection to the Dwieras, Jankels, Sawels and Enochs of Latvia. Of course it helped that in 2003 I was able to visit Dvinsk and Rezekne in Latvia and see the towns where my family came from.

Now I have the chance to see the small villages in Germany where all those Johanns come from.

Let's face one fact: It remains even today, difficult to view German history without one's view being distorted by what happened in the 1930's and 1940's. Ironically I have found (with some exceptions like Chinese-Americans and Korean-Americans and WW II Veterans) when Americans hear "Japan" they don't automatically think Pearl Harbor, Rape of Nanjing, Bataan Death March...they think sushi, sake, Karaoke...and if they are in more of an historical mood, the samurai. However, when Americans hear "Germany" they don't think Bach, Beethoven, the diesel engine or sulfonamides, they think Hitler, Nazis and WW II. They don't even think of Teutonic Knights, perhaps the German equivalent of the Japanese samurai and the origins of the Hohenzollern dynasty that brought us the Kaisers so unfairly singled out for blame for the First World War.

This barrier that WW II throws across German history is both fair and unfair. As someone who has frequently written about Nazis, Nazi treatment of Jews and Jewish resistance to Nazis, I, too, fall too often into the same trap.

And yet Germany was not alone in its march to fascism in the 1930's. The impact of the First World War, influenza epidemic, nationalist movements, and the Great Depression brought about a sense of chaos and despair that drove many nations to look either to communism or fascism. In fact most of Europe had BOTH movements fighting it out for their soul. Even in the United States both movements had some power and it was really, contrary to right wing propaganda, FDR's New Deal that convinced many Americans to stick it out with democracy rather than the right or left extreme. In fact people like Herbert Hoover, Charles Lindbergh and General MacArthur were sympathetic to Nazi Germany and (prior to Pearl Harbor) favored America siding with the Axis powers.

The situation in the lead up to WW II is summed up in Steven Ozment's A Mighty Fortress:

That fourteen of the twenty-five European democracies existing in 1919 had fallen by 1938 makes it clear that Germany was not the only nation to falter along the road to demcoracy.


Spain, Greece, France, Belgium, Hungary, Italy and Romania all had their fascists and toyed with or even accepted fascist rule. (Of these the existence of only the French fascists is controversial, but I think a strong argument can be made that France did toy with fascism, though did not completely succumb.) And Soviets were set up in many parts of Europe...even in Munich in the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

Throughout the world in the 1920's and 1930's democracy was seen as failing and the alternatives of fascism and communism were viewed my many as worth considering. I think the only reason why it became so much more the fate of Germany to be stuck with the blame for fascism (even though Mussolini came first by quite a bit) is because of the success they had with it, becoming the most powerful nation on earth through fascism, and because of Hitler's personality, a much more striking and powerful figure than almost any other leader of the time.

I had the chance to travel to Germany to go to a conference in Heidelberg. Nearby there are two seemingly unremarkable, beautiful-looking regions where few tourists ever go where my distant relatives still live. To the east, just in Bavaria, are the towns of Neuhutten and Rothenbuch where there are still many Kunkels living and from where my great-grandfather, Martin Kunkel (after whom my brother is named) left to find his way in America. To the west, in the Rhineland but also once in Darmstadt-Hesse, are the small villages called Dorrebach and Seibersbach (which includes a farm known as Autishof) from where my great great-grandfather Adam Wasem (sometimes mis-spelled Wassem) left to find his way in America. Both Martin Kunkel and Adam Wasem settled in Iowa and it was there that Martin met Adam's daughter, Mary Wasem. Martin and Mary were two of my great-grandparents. (It was one of Adam's granddaughters through Mary's sister Caroline, who married August Hilton...but that way lies madness).

From what I can tell, if you go far enough back, the ancestors of the Kunkels and Wasems both lived in what was called Franconia in the 11th and 12th centuries, long before I can actually trace my ancestors.



There can be few stronger arguments for the damage that can be done by paying too much attention to history than how Germany has understood and taught its ancient past, however aesthetically pleasurable it can be in operas
--Simon Winder in the excellent Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History


Jews have a hard time defining their recent history, strangers in strange lands sometimes accepted, often not, moving from nation to nation always hopefully ahead of the worst of the latest anti-Semitism. Nationalities, last names and first names change, sometimes more than once per generation. But despite, or perhaps because of, this problem with recent history, Jews have a deep sense of their origins, which are mentioned in ancient writings in Egyptian, Edomite, Assyrian and Babylonian even before being enshrined the bible and in Flavius Josephus' Judean War. Jews are overwhelmed by their ancient history. They consciously define themselves in relation to that ancient history.

Germans in some ways have the opposite problem. They are overwhelmed by an ancient history that is virtually unknown except in myth or in mythical histories written by their enemies, the Romans. Whether you rely on Wagner or Tacitus, the result is the same: myth packaged as a national identity. In many ways German history begins when Jewish history becomes subsumed into a subset of the history of their places of exile. The Romans ended the independent history of the Jews, but they began the very concept of German history, the very notion of a "German" identity...and they did so at roughly the same time.

Whatever you might read in either early German myths or Roman histories (the two share much in common, and that is to the detriment of the history), we know almost nothing about the origins of the Germans. According to one line of thinking, the Gauls (Celts), Germans and Slavs were one shifting mass of tribal affiliations that were divided by Roman ideas of geography rather than any real differences. Gauls were barbarians on one side of the Rhine, Germans were barbarians on the other side of the Rhine and Slavs were barbarians even further east. In reality a person, family or clan might shift from one tribal identity to another with relative ease. Even languages were mixed and shifted. Groups like the Huns and Goths were in reality multi-ethnic, multi-lingual entities with relatively short histories, but which, in comparison to the Romans, had their histories projected back into myth.

From A Mighty Fortress by Steven Ozment:

Germanic Tribes established themselves in the eastern Rhine valley by the mid-first century B.C., by which time the term "German" (Germani, Germania) was used by the Romans. At this time the tribes were neither racially uniform nor transregionally united...Quickly settling, they lived within, or along the borders of, the Roman Empire by agreement with the Romans, swapping their services as soldiers, farmers, and tax collectors for land and security. Of these tribes, the Fanks, Goths and Lombards developed historical identities by allying themselves with leading, or royal, families and embracing their genealogical myths.


Real tribal groups are very fluid. This is the case when looking at Native American tribes, African tribes before colonialism, steppe nomads like the Huns or Scythians or Mongols, or the Gauls, Germans and Slavs. Most of the Germanic tribes the Romans fought were actually tribal groupings around one warlord or, in many cases, a particular noble clan and the strength of that tribal grouping was determined by the interaction it had with Rome. Roman trade routes, Roman money, Roman military and diplomatic training, Roman weapons and Roman politics did more to shape the Goths (whether Tervingi or Greuthungi, whether Balthi or Amali led, whether Ostrogoth or Visigoth), the Franks, the Burgandians, the Belgicae, etc. than did any native German forces. Almost everything we know about early German history is really just part of Roman history. Almost all the Germanic "tribes" we know of were formed in one way or another around Roman influences, usually based on trade, war, or both. The history of colonial Africa has many parallels where the fluidity between !Xosha and Zulu, Bantu and Kikuyu, Tutsi and Hutu far outweighed any rivalry until colonial policies ossified these tribal distinctions, creating the sometimes genocidal rivalries we recognize today. Now we project the colonial-imposed situation back in time to pre-colonial days...but that is not accurate. The tribal distinctions among Germans and Celts was much the same in ancient times. They were vague and fluid, largely overshadowed by family and clan affiliations, until interaction with Rome ossified those tribal distinctions. Rome, and through them modern Germans themselves, tend to project the post-Roman situation back into pre-Roman days.

The Germans, whatever anyone might think based on reading Tacitus, have no real independent ancient history. This is not a bad thing. What it really means is that most of them stayed at home raising fat cattle and nice crops, drinking beer at night and singing bawdy songs rather than rampage over Europe as the Romans pictured them doing. Trouble really only came when the Romans came around. Okay, sometimes a push from the other way came from steppe tribes on their horses, but those steppe tribes were really only an extension of ancient Chinese history until a man named Temujin turned the world upside down...but that is the story of ANOTHER people on the fringes of so-called "civilization."

Bottom line is that most "primitive" agricultural societies don't do much in the way of killing, conquering or otherwise making history until trade and military intervention from neighboring "civilizations" comes by. Personally I like the complexity and fast-paced action of that civilization better than the quiet pastoral or agricultural life of the more "primitive" societies, but archaeology tends to support the notion that fewer people get violently killed when there is no nearby civilization to impress or luxury trade goods to buy. Of course there are exceptions, but not that many of them if you look at archaeology rather than listen to the histories which were mostly written from the civilized point of view.

Even such quintessential "German" tribes as the Goths, Vandals and Lombards spent very little time in what is now modern Germany. They originated to the East, spent a great deal of time in the Ukraine, moved into the Balkans, and then swept across Europe in an odd collaboration/competition with the faltering Roman Empire, to occupy places in Spain, France, North Africa and Italy. But they had very little impact on Germany itself. The Germanic tribes who did have an impact on Germany can be seen in some of the state names within Germany through history (Swabia for the Seubi, Franconia for the Franks, Burgundy for the Burgandians...) and in the names for Germany (Allemagne in French from the Allemanni, Deutch from the regional dialect Theodisk...).

The Germans started coming into their own, history and culture wise, when the Romans lost their edge. But the road even from there, was an extremely difficult one. Germany has seldom been unified during its entire history. Until very modern times it has always been a shifting jigsaw puzzle of transient alliances (whether tribal or among rival barons) over which an occasional warlord, noble family or dictator has been able to impose an ill-fitting unity. Look to the Thirty Years War, which absolutely devastated the German states. Look at what Napoleon Bonaparte did to the German states. Germany was a major force from the collapse of Rome on, but it was seldom a superpower until almost the 20th century. More often it was where other nations fought each other, similar to the later history of Poland, ironically enough. And yet Germany's influence on European thought and culture has, since the collapse of Rome, been enormous.

Jews are overwhelmed by their ancient history. Germans have often been overwhelmed by their need for an ancient history to match their modern accomplishments. Interestingly this would have been a familiar obsession to Romans who lived under Ostrogothic rule right after the Western Roman Empire whimpered itself out of existence with the abdication of poor little Romulus Augustulus. So, from Roman times on, Jews have looked back to and tried to recreate an ancient past. And from Roman times on, Germans have tried to create out of myth an ancient past that appears more glorious than simply raising fat cattle and good crops, drinking beer and singing songs at night and trying not to run afoul of Roman "civilization."

German history after the fall of the Roman Empire parallels that of Poland in many ways that probably would make both Germans and Poles uncomfortable. Both had few natural boundaries defining a clear territory, both were regions fought over by all their neighbors at one time or another, and both faced disunity and the threat of extinction from time to time. I think the key differences are simple luck (Germany tended to fare better than Poland) and the fact that Germany started with more structure since it was, contrary to common perception, a fairly Romanized region that had long ago lost most of its "barbarian" characteristics while Poland was more outside the Roman influence.

The rise of Western Europe in the Middle Ages is the story of Germanic tribes absorbing Greco-Roman "civilization" and creating a new society that became modern Europe. From A Mighty Fortress:

Between the rule of the Merovingian Frank Clovis in the late fifth and early sixth centuries and that of the Saxon Conrad in the early tenth, Germanic cultures melded with Greco-Roman, Roman Christian and Byzantine to create the Western Europe we know today.


Sometimes this is overstated, like the often repeated claim that the map of modern Europe dates to the three-fold division of the Frankish lands among the grandsons of Charlemagne. The lands of Charles the Bald are seen as the precursor of France, the lands of Lothar are seen as the precursor of the frequently fought over Netherlands, Belgium, Burgundy, Alsace and Lorraine, and the lands of Louis the German are seen as the precursor of Germany. I'd say, however, that this is oversimplification since between the division of Frankish land and the modern map are centuries of of dynastic conflicts that redrew the map over and over, attached much of France to Britain, parts of Germany to Austria and Scandinavia, and otherwise redrew the maps in ways unrecognizable to us today. However, there is a grain of truth to the fact that the division between Chrales the Bald and Louis the German (who was more of a conqueror and abuser of Germany than a partisan of Germany) did create two centers of power that roughly presage France and Germany, with an in-between land that spans modern Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Alsace and Lorraine and which switched sides over and over.

But really after the division of the Frankish realm, much of the structure of that division was disrupted by the Viking, Magyar and Muslim invasions. From this collapse five duchies formed that are reflected in modern German states: Franconia, Saxony, Thuringia, Swabia and Bavaria (all named for much, much older Germanic tribes loosely affiliated with those regions). It is from these duchies that "Germany" began to be unified under a succession of royal dynasties. The entities "King of Germany" and "Holy Roman Emperor" were sometimes combined, sometimes separate entities but both theoretically had authority.

The Thirty Years War (1618–1648) cuts across German history with such trauma that it took something like WW II to dim its significance. The Thirty Years War involved almost every nation and power structure in Europe...and was mostly fought on German soil. It was a confusing mixture of religious war (Protestant and Catholic Talibans fighting over which version of the Christian faith would dominate Germany and get to oppress the other) and intricate political conflict, largely involving a rivalry between the Bourbon and Hapsburg royal families.

Lutheranism and Catholicism were fighting it out in Germany even before 1618. The absolutely insane level of disunity in Germany (with over 200 individual states) made conflict inevitable. Religious leaders, local barons, regional powers (including the regional state of Hesse, where my humble origins are rooted), foreign nations and trans-national royal families like the Hapsburgs and Bourbons, constantly fought over control over the various German states. Even the Ottomans got involved from time to time. It was, in many ways, the first world war because it was fought by European powers as far afield as Brazil, Africa and Asia.

The political consequences of the Thirty Years War were far reaching. The independence of the Dutch was assured and the decline of Spain accelerated. This allowed the rise of France and England as the next superpowers. Protestantism was unquestionably here to stay after the war, particularly in Germany. But somehow, Germany wound up even MORE divided after the war even than it was before the war.

The Kunkels were already living in Neuhutten before the Thirty Years War. And through thick and thin they remained Catholic to this day. For decades the earliest Kunkels all seemed to be born, married and died in "The Glasshouse" in Neuhutten. I assume they were ones not to throw many stones, living where they did, but the earliest Kunkel I know of, Hans Kunkel, born around 1530, had the nickname "Schwarzkoph" according to local records. He was my greatx10-grandfather. Neuhutten and neighboring Rothenbuch are in the Spessart Mountain region, which was very thinly settled until the 13th century. The wider region was once part of Roman Germany, and then was fought over by the Alemanni and Frankish tribal alliances. Rothenbuch was first mentioned in records back in 1318 in an agreement made between the Archbishop of Mainz, Peter of Aspelt, and the Bishop of W├╝rzburg, Gottfried III of Hohenlohe. In 1342 a castle was built in Rothenbuch at the source of the Hafenlohr river.

Neuhutten was known for its glassmaking as far back as 1349. The name Neuhutten, which in itself refers to glass making, is only first recorded in 1513. Shortly before Hans Kunkel was born, in 1525, the Peasant's War damaged Rothenbuch castle, suggesting that this region felt some of that unrest. These mountains were best known for hunting (and the associated "poaching") and glass making and otherwise was fairly under inhabited.

While the forces of Europe were getting together to fight it out in Germany during the Thirty Years War, Hans Kunkel was almost certainly a glass maker in a family of glassmakers from a region famous for its glass making and not that much else. The kind of glass making done was not large-scale, factory operations, but small scale, setting up small dome-shaped glass works where sand and wood could be found and moving on when resources ran thin.

Hans Kunkel and Anna Catharina Wolfgang (also born in "the Glasshouse"...which probably just refers to the general area since the glasshouses were not really structures people lived in) were married and they begat Johannes Jurg Kunkel. Then came the begetting of a whole series of Johanns who are my ancestors--Johann Michael, Johannes, Johann Balthasar, Johann Christian, another Johannes, and Johann Kunkel, all born in Neuhutten. It should be noted that the exact records may not be as clear as this suggests. This is the genealogy that has been reconstructed mainly by Americans searching for their roots, but it has not always been confirmed by the records in Germany. But most Kunkels stayed put from before Hans Kunkel even until today where Kunkel is still one of the three most common last names in Neuhutten and Rothenbuch.

Okay, look, my Kunkel ancestors were a quiet lot! They stayed at home and made glass and whatever else the had to do to get by in what really was a long German tradition of quietly living their lives in small villages far from the more disruptive and noisy thing called civilization. I kind of get the feeling that my Kunkel ancestors may have lived there quietly for many generations before Hans Kunkel, possibly being nearby when the Romans passed on the skills of glass making. "Kunkel" is actually a word related to wool making. So perhaps we quietly raised sheep and made wool in the area near the Spessart Hills before and we decided glass making was the thing to do once civilization came near.

That last Johann Kunkel broke the long tradition of naming all their sons "Johann." Their son, my great-great grandfather, was named Bernard Kunkel and, according to one distant relative, is the fist Kunkel I know of in my lineage to be born outside of Neuhutten. However, another distant relative who actually has access to the Neuhutten church records says Bernard was indeed born in Neuhutten (he has shown me the entry in the church record and this seems confirmed).

Bernard Kunkel has a story as well. Bernard seems to be the first Kunkel in my family lineage to leave Neuhutten since at least Hans Kunkel. He also married a woman who had earlier been widowed. Elizabeth Englert married a Schulzler before marrying into the Kunkel family. Bernard and Elizabeth's first son, Killian Kunkel, was born before they were married...Hmmmm, this has made some people wonder about Killian's true parentage. From what I have heard this is a touchy subject among some Kunkels even today. I think Bernard and/or Elizabeth were somewhat wild folks, at least for the area, and clearly were breaking out of the stay-at-home Kunkel mold. I should note that Englert (Elizabeth's maiden name) is also one of the three most common names in the area.

Bernard and Elizabeth's second son was my great-grandfather, Martin Kunkel. Born in Rothenbuch, he went further than his father, Bernard. Bernard moved about 5 km over a hill to Rothenbuch. Martin moved across the Atlantic to America, settling in Davenport, Iowa. It was there that he met a woman from a very different German background named Mary Wasem.

My mother remembers some of Mary's relatives. There were two eccentric and very modern sisters, Ella and Lena Wasem, and their brother, who was a bit more stodgy. In one generation, Mary Wasem's generation, dozens of Wasems up and moved from Ober-Ingelheim in Darmstadt-Hesse, to Iowa, where they got married and had children, struck it rich selling their farm to the American Gypsum company after they found gypsum there, and retired to Long Beach California. Quite a life it seems!

The solid Wasem records I have don't go back before the Thirty Years War, though I have seen the house where a distant ancestor, Jakob Wasem, was supposed to have lived as assessor for the local lord. Unlike the Spessart Hills where the Kunkels had been for a long time already, the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt where the Wasems first show up was very much at the center of conflicts in the Holy Roman Empire. The Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt was formed in 1567, as the inheritance of the youngest son of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse. Before that, the area was part of the Landgraviate of Hesse and before that the Landgraviate of Thuringia. A Landgrave was basically the Holy Roman Empire's equivalent of a Medieval Count. Various succession disputes and a rivalry between Calvinism and Lutheranism led to a conflict that was part of the wider Thirty Years War. I should note, though, that when I visited the Wasem ancestral farm of Autishof, I noticed a stone with the symbol of the Archbishop of Mainz, suggesting that, just like Neuhutten where I first saw such stones, the area was under the control of the Archbishop more than the Landgrave. Yes...German history really is that confusing, and finding such stones, still on farms centuries later, can tell you a lot about what happened there.

Frankfurt and Mainz, both near the area the Wasems later emerge into the records, were at the center of the Thirty Years War...and of a huge path of devastation. Mainz, Worms, and Speyer each were major Catholic centers with famous cathedrals. At one point in the war, Mainz lost, according to some records, 40% of its population. Many villages and towns simple vanished, its inhabitants either killed or forced to move or both. I suspect the Wasems may well have experienced some of that devastation given the absence of clear records (from what I have been able to find) even though legend has that Jakob Wasem had been there earlier (around 1508).

Johann Heinrich Wasem, my greatx5-grandfather, was born 1682 in Autishof, Hessen Darmstadt, Germany. Having roots that only go back to after the Thirty Years War implies that Johann Heinrich's parents had had a tough life. Where they settled, though, is now some of the best wine making area in Germany. The Wasem family today has largely moved away from the small villages and moved to Brazil, America or to the nearby town of Ingelheim where they make what I can attest is great wine (unusually for Germany, they are known for great red wine!). But there is at least still one Wasem family that lives on the old homestead of Autishof. The Wasems may not have been from the Autishof area originally, though I can't know that for sure, but they seem to have had considerable continuity after that. However, there seems to be considerable local mobility between Autishof and nearby Dorrebach (where Jakob Wasem had his home in 1508). Today both are considered "Dorrebach" though Autishof seems across some woods from the main part of Dorrebach. Johann Heinrich was born in Autishof, but he moved to nearby Dorrebach where he married Maria Margaretha. Their son was also named Johann Heinrich Wasem. He moved back to Autishof. His son, Johann Georg Wasem, then broke the tradition of naming all their sons Johann and named one of his sons, my great-great grandfather, Adam Wasem. It was he, after marrying his second wife, Anne Maria Hirschman, who moved his whole family, including Mary Wasem, to Iowa. He died in Iowa, but most of his kids died in California. All in all, the Wasems seem less sedentary and tied to the region than the Kunkels, though by all evidence they were farmers. My mother remembers that even in California many of the Germans who had moved from Germany to Iowa to Long Beach grew grain in their California gardens to remember their distant farms.

Why did the Kunkels and Wasems move all about the same time?

There were many reasons. Other branches of the Wasem family started moving from Germany as early as the 1820's. The first migration seems to be to Brazil where there are still many Wasems today. As pointed out by another Wasem descendant, in 1822 Brazil declared independence and started offering Europeans free land, seed and livestock. It was soon after that that Wasems started moving to Brazil. Wasems started moving to Iowa soon after Iowa passed its Homestead Law in 1862. So the incentive to move was partly good offers from New World governments. However, people don't move if they are comfortable where they are.

The Napoleonic Wars came soon before the 1820's. This destroyed the Holy Roman Empire as an entity and much of Germany was devastated. However, one of the German states that fared well during and after the Napoleonic wars was Hesse-Darmstadt. So economic devastation was not a reason for the Wasem migration to Brazil. This was later considered a rather complacent, quiet period by comparison to what was coming. Perhaps the Wasems that left for Brazil left for their own reasons, maybe being on the wrong side of someone during the Napoleonic era and its aftermath.

But the wave of Wasem migration and the Kunkel move to America came at a very different time when the complacent German society was breaking down. In 1830 came the July Revolution in Paris which sparked similar uprisings in Germany. Liberal protest, often led by the younger generation, met reactionary repression. There was not massive disruptions as there were during the Thirty Years War, Napoleonic Wars and, later, in the Revolution of 1848, but there were rising tensions. At the same time the first railroads were being laid and the first steamships crossing the Atlantic. Agrarian and economic crises began hitting in 1846 (when the first Wasems I know of started moving to America) and highly optimistic guidebooks began to come back from America to Germany promising a more open society that many younger Germans were agitating for in Germany. This seemed the combination of events that started the Wasem move to America (when Iowa started offering free land). But my branch of the Wasems, and my branch of the Kunkels seemed to wait until things really broke down in the Revolution of 1848.

From Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder:

The vast scope of the Revolutions of 1848 encompassed in one form or another everywhere from Ireland to Sweden...Beyond a revulsion at the cold grind of repression instituted by regimes such as Metternich's in the Austrian Empire after 1815, there was no real agreement as to what should come next. This was allied to a middle-class timorousness that wanted political representation but was acutely anxious, on the whole, to exclude the working class.

All sides in 1848 felt an often crippling self-consciousness. Few events have occurred with more of a sense of acting out a historical script, of making gestures all waiting to be immortalized in the period's innumerable cheap prints.


In 1848, in Frankfurt, within 50 miles of both Rothenbuch and Dorrebach, the March Revolution began. In Frankfurt, a new constitution was written. The revolution pushed for a united Germany and a more democratic system, essentially rejecting the disunited, outdated system Germany was ruled under. This revolution was unsuccessful and was of course ruthlessly crushed by the autocratic rulers. Otto van Bismark's political career took off the next year in 1849 in the aftermath of the revolution.

The revolution and its failure led to many Germans fleeing to America.
From Steven Ozment's A Mighty Fortress:

...Between 1850 and 1870, after half a century of reactionary politics and the failure of a native democracy movement, 1,700,000 Germans emigrated to the United States amid growing fears of social discrimination and religious persecution by their government...


This was also a period where Austria and Prussia became rivals for who would dominate German society. The Wasems and Kunkels were in the Austrian sphere of influence and were not directly affected by the rivalry (which was focused more on what is now Poland), it is hard to imagine that there wasn't a sense of Austria fading and Prussia becoming an oppressive force.

Clearly the Kunkels, who had by then broken out of their Neuhutten shell but still seemed mostly homebodies), and the Wasems, were affected by all of this. The Kunkels seem to have merely been affected by the economic results, having too many kids to support in the devastated Germany that followed. But the Wasems, who had always had more of a connection to the nobility, had taken a direct role in the revolution. My great-great grandfather, Adam Wasem, was police commissioner and burgomeister in Bingen (located right where the Rhine turns North not too far from Autishof, where he was born). While he was at his peak of influence, two of his sons, John and Jacob (yep...another Jacob) joined in the revolution of 1848, centered at Frankfurt. Well, in the end they moved to America. I suspect it got too politically difficult for the family as Otto von Bismark crushed the revolution. So it may well be we wound up in America thanks to Bismark! Jacob Wasem, the rebel of 1848, wandered from New York to Ohio to Missouri, becoming a hatter. Not sure if that means what it sounds like or more of a furrier. I'd like to envision him as a mountain man getting furs to make into hats. Either way, he disappeared in Missouri, never to be heard from again.

Ultimately, the result was that the Wasems and Kunkels who are my direct ancestors moved to America. Martin Kunkel briefly joined the Union Army in the Civil War before marrying Mary Wasem. Mary's siblings and cousins struck it rich with gypsum. Martin and Mary's son, Edward Kunkel, founded a sporting goods store in Davenport that survived until near the end of the Bush years, when the Bush recession drove it under. Edward's son, Peter Kunkel, was, as far as I know, the first Kunkel or Wasem to become an intellectual: he got his Ph.D. in Anthropology and met my mother on a dig in Mexico...which led to my brother and me. It was in Mexico where my Latvian Jewish and Lutheran/Catholic German lines came together. (For those who might be confused by last names here, Michaelson was my step-father's last name...Kunkel my original last name).

Back in Germany, the Wasems have successful wineries and hotels in Ingelheim. If you are going to Germany, I strongly suggest staying at the Wasem Wine Hotel. They speak good English and are very hospitable and their wine is really excellent. The Kunkels remain quietly in Neuhutten and Rothenbach and surrounding areas. The Spessart mountains are harder to visit because places to stay are hard to find and English is not as widely spoken, but it is a beautiful and friendly area, so if you are more adventurous, make an effort to visit. Despite its rural and out of the way location, I noticed more solar panels in Neuhutten than I see even in California towns! And BMW's are a common car to see. Many of the buildings are the same construction as when my ancestors lived there, as carefully documented by my distance relative and Neuhutten's unofficial historian, Linus Kunkel.

A couple of final little quirks. My Jewish side may also have German roots. My maternal grandfather was German Jewish, but I have been unable to trace that lineage at all...try tracing Jacobsons in New York! So from somewhere in the same disunited mess that was Germany between the Thirty Years War and the March Revolution, I had some Jewish ancestors. Even my Latvian Jewish roots may originally come from Germany. One family that married into the Luban family were the Latvian Galbraichs. One generation before they were Halbraichs, a German name. A generation or two later they were Goldbergs in America. German Jews were moving to Latvia at that time. The Lubans seem to have been fairly settled in Latvia (the name Luban comes from Lake Lubanas in Latvia), but my great-grandmother's family, the Misrochs and/or Diamondsteins, seemed more cosmopolitan, educated and may well have had the same German origin as the Galbraichs. Though Misroch is a name that looks to the East, and I have imagined it was a link to the Caucasus kingdom of the Khazars, in reality it could just as easily be a family that came from Germany. I will probably never know.

Finally, my wife's mother's maiden name was Rothenberg. This was not their original last name but was taken by an earlier ancestor from the family who helped them escape from the Russian pogroms. It is possible, though unlikely, that that Rothenberg family came from Rothenbach, where the Kunkels still live. Probably not a real link, merely one of the many coincidences that history is full of. But sometimes those little coincidences turn out to be meaningful.

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