This was a VERY SPECIAL most wonderful EVER...
because I was able to provide a guided tour of Europe to my
“little grandson.” I showed him where I was born and grew up.
I pointed to where the Quonset Refugee Camp was...that was
my home for about 2 years. I introduced him to members of
my family that he had never met.
Before I go on, I should probably tell you that my “little
grandson” is 16-years-old, stands 6’ 5”, and wears size 15
shoes. The big feet are one thing he most denitely inherited
from me. I did have fun...introducing him as my “little
The trip was inspired by the fact that my
granddaughter, Hanna, is a Rotary Exchange
Student in Croatia this year. I had a strong belief,
that her cousin Kieran should also have a European
experience, so hence our trip.
Kieran’s family lives west of Indianapolis, so we met
at Detroit Metro Airport and headed out to Paris.
We always stayed with family, or Airbnb, so as
soon as we dropped o the luggage we started
exploring the City of Lights. The Louvre,
with its pyramid, the Mona Lisa, and it seemed like there were “a million” medieval religious
1. Paris
2. Aachen
3. Koeln (Cologne)
4. Hannover
5. Hohnstorf
6. Luneburg
7. Hamburg
8. Cuxhaven
9. Stuttgart
10. Goppingen
11. Rome
I had seen the Eiel Tower before, but this time I was really impressed by the signicance of the
structure, as it was built in the late 1800’s, is still standing, and still functioning for its purpose. Gustav
Eiel was a fabulous engineer and designer!
We took the fabulous Thalys train to Aachen...only 2 1/2 hours! WOOOW! Kieran was impressed by
the fact that we went from country to country so fast. France...Belgium...Germany. The only way one
could tell was by the message on our cell phones.
We visited a very special family in Aachen. Tanja Brettel was a Rotary
Exchange Student in Petoskey, and later spent a summer working with
me at my store to have a business experience. She is just like another
daughter to me.
Now she lives in Aachen with her husband Malte and their son Till (8)
and daughter Sophie (6). It was a true joy to visit with them, and the
good news is that they are coming to Petoskey this summer.
Malte prepared a fabulous meal for
Tanja and Sophie gave us
a wonderful tour of Aachen.
Charlemagne had his favorite
PALACE in Aachen...over 1,000
years ago...and part of that building
still stands...and we had dinner in
the building.
We also visited Drei-Laender-Eck (Three-Country-
Corner) a spot on the highest “mountain,” or rather
hill, in the Netherlands, where one can stand in three
countries all at the same time...Germany, Netherlands,
and Belgium.
From Aachen we took the train to Koeln (Cologne),
right on the Rhine river and visited the fabulous
Dom...the largest Cathedral in Germany. Its claim
to fame is that it has remains of the three Kings who
visited Jesus at the very rst Christmas eve.
This time we took the ICE (Inter City Express) train and
switched trains in Hannover.
I was born in Berlin, just 7 days before Pearl Harbor Day.
Not a good time to be born in Berlin. We lived through the
Berlin bombings and the Russian invasion. In 1945, when
I was 4, I was “in charge” of taking my 3-year-old brother,
Thomas, from Berlin to Cuxhaven, as both of my parents
were already there. I may have had a bit of help from the
good folks of the Red Cross. Just before the train arrived,
Thomas caught the tip of his little nger in the heavy door
of the train’s bathroom. I recall it like it was yesterday...
even though he was the one in pain. But here comes
the good we were led into the bunkers below
the train station, one of those Red Cross workers gave
me a round metal box. And do you know what was in it?
CANDY! Delicious candy from the US. All at once the
nger did not seem quite as bad anymore. To the best of my
knowledge, that was the rst benet that I reaped from the
Marshall Plan...the eort by Americans to help the Germans
reconstruct after the war. Believe me when I tell you that
Germans remember this eort by the Americans to help!
So, as we were traveling through Germany, I told Kieran many stories about my earlier life...some of
which I will pass on to you.
Brother Thomas picked us up in Biennenbuettel, which
means “little bag of bees.” His little farm town is called
Hohnstorf and consists of about 10 farm homes. In
Germany, the farm homes are in little towns, and the
elds, which are smaller in Europe, are around the
outside of the town. Thomas and his wonderful wife,
Manuela, live in the “Alte Schule” (meaning “Old School)
which they have renovated into a wonderful home.
Manuela cooked some delicious plan-based meals for us...wonderful! We also visited with their sons
Roman and Joscha. Roman recently spent several months in India to become a Yoga instructor. He
demonstrated with a very well executed Yoga session.
Hohnstorf is just 15 km from Luneburg.
This city was one of the richest German
cities in medieval times as it produced
salt, which was quite valuable at that
time. Many 500 to 600-year-old buildings
are still in use, including one which has
been an Apotheke (drugstore) for over
600 years.
Thomas was good enough to take us...
in his VW camper bus, with over 300,000
km on our next stop, Hamburg.
This is the home of my OLD brother
Michael (1 1/2 years older than I), his
wife, Barbara, and their sons Toby, Fabian, Sebastian, and Nicky.
Fabian was our tour guide for two days and provided us with a wonderful tour of Hamburg. He also
joined us for our day trip to Cuxhaven. Now that is the town...right on the Elbe River and North Sea...
where Thomas and I arrived in 1945. Our rst home
was 1/2 of a Quonset Hut, with dirt oor, no electricity
and no water. There was a small cannon stove, but
usually there was no coal to heat the place. And,
usually there was no food. But we were lucky that we
had a roof over our heads, which many refugees did
not. Another gift from the Americans via the Marshall
We would walk to a sh restaurant once a day
and have sh soup...sh broth with potatoes and
vegetables in it. As I recall that was our only meal of
the day!
After 2 years we met Pastor Meinhold, who was a friend of my Grandfathers from University times,
and he provided us with an apartment above his parsonage. We moved there when I entered 2nd
grade. His daughter Maria was my rst-grade teacher.
With many of the big cities destroyed up to 70%, and much of the infrastructure not functioning...
and millions of refugees on the move...everything was dicult to say the least. But there were many
families who were wonderful to us. The August Joellenbeck family was such a family. They had a
large house (gigantic to me) right behind the dike. Their house was Pension...sort of a mini-hotel for
vacationers...where they served vegetarian food before the war.
The Joellenbecks opened their house to many families of refugees, regardless of whether they
could pay or not. one had money because the wartime currency was dropped, and
the DM was the new no one had money, and it was a barter society. Since
refugees had to leave most of their belongings behind, and they had no jobs, they had little of
We visited Hedi Joellenbeck Holtman, the daughter and last remaining of the Joellenbeck children. I
remember her as a beautiful, warm young woman, about 12 years older than I. She has raised her 5
children, has many grandchildren and again lives in the family home...behind the dike. Her son and
some other relatives also live in the home. We spent a wonderful 2 hours together, enjoying delicious
cake and tortes over coee and tea, and sharing stories from days long gone by.
Hedi reminded me of a story of when my mom had a job as a nurse and needed to get to the hospital,
but the buses were not, her dad loaded
my mom on the back of
his moped and took her
to work!
The Joellenbecks were
Angels to many, many
Hedi, now, is more
beautiful than ever...
inside and out! Just look at the photo!
I left Cuxhaven when I was about 12...moved to Hamburg...and then
immigrated to the USA when I was 14 years old.
After returning to Hamburg, Fabian took us to visit his brother
Sebastian and his wife Natascha and the little baby boy Lionel. They
live next to the Elbe river about 45 minutes from Hamburg. The
family is VERY proud of Sebastian, as he recently graduated from
the University of Hamburg and is following in his mother’s footsteps...
working as a school teacher.
Back on the ICE train...on the way to Berlin. By the way, Kieran really liked the rst-class dining car
on the trains!
The new Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Berlin
is FABULOUS. The most beautiful train station, and
the best laid out, period. Trains run on 3 levels!
Berlin is simply fabulous. When I left in 1945 it was
60+ percent destroyed! Believe me, it was worth
a visit. People from 190 countries currently live in
Berlin, harmoniously.
It’s interesting that the land that was no-mans land...
on the Russian side of the wall...became quite
valuable. The planners built very fast underground
roads under that land, and then big buildings on top
of those tunnels.
Most of East Berlin still looked like right after
the war...when the wall came down. So, lots of
construction has taken place since that time.
There is a very positive spirit in Berlin!
Another ICE...this time to Stuttgart. Tanja’s parents live just south in a wonderful city called
Goppingen. Anne and Peter Gauge picked us up at the train station. First order of feed
that gigantic body that Kieran carries around with him.
It was good to see the Gaugges again, as they are wonderful people, and good friends.
The next day we were treated to a tour of the castle where
Tanja and Malte were married. The castle was built in the
1300’s. Look at that beautiful view. This area of Germany
is called Schwaebish Alp, which is in the Neckar Valley and
near the Black Forest. It is home to some of the nest quality
manufacturing in the world, including Mercedes, Porsche, and
many other products you would recognize.
Then on to the fabulous MERCEDES Museum. You take
the elevator to the top of 5 oors, and walk down a ramp,
with cars on the right and about 140 years of the history of
the world on the left. The top oor shows reproductions of the following...FIRST-EVER gasoline
powered vehicles, all invented by Daimler-Bend: Car, motorcycle, boat, train, truck, and bus! I highly
recommend a visit to this place.
After we hugged Anne goodbye, we boarded the train to Munchen (Munich), where we transferred to
the night train to Rome!
Kieran told me that he enjoyed Germany most for the
interaction with family and friends, but that he LOVED
Rome for its spectacular history places.
Altar della Patrici is one of the most beautiful places I have
ever seen. Dedicated to the soldiers of Italy.
The Colosseum
was most
The technology
to design the
elevators and tunnel systems was far ahead of its time.
It was said that they think more than 1 MILLION people
were killed in the several stadiums throughout the Roman
I LOVE the Italian language. Unfortunately, the only word I really know is BONJORNO, but I said that
with GUSTO...and often.
When one looks at the 200 some gigantic columns that frame St. Peters Cathedral Plaza, it is dicult
how those columns were mined, transported and then erected...some 500 years ago. Impossible...
but they did it anyway.
Just outside of the Sistine Chapel there is one of the largest paitings in the Vatican...of one of my very
distant relatives...King Josef Sobieski, of Poland.
Seven generations before my father, my forefather was a Sobieski blue-blood who wanted to marry
his sweetheart who was not they escaped to the German State of Schlesingen, which is
now part of Poland, and changed their name to Blachnitzky. My father, who was an actor and lm
director, reduced the name by the”nitzk”, shortening it to Blachy. To make a long story short, when
you look at the nose of King Sobieski...he appears to sport
the Blachy nose.
The Museum Nationale Roma is located across the square
from the main railroad station in Rome. It is said to be
designed as a monastery by Michelangelo, in the 1500’s.
The old brick was covered by stucco and it is now a
museum of Roman Artifacts.
A big YES MOMENT came when we visited this museum.
Here is a bit of background. I am almost famous for having
horrible handwriting. When I was in 3rd grade in Germany,
I remember a math test that generated a 100% in content...but the handwriting was so bad that the
teacher made me re-write it. BIG mistake...I hated her ever since! I have justied my lousy writing in
many ways...among them, that my brain works so fast that my hand just could not keep up. None of
the teachers ever bought it! In 1951 or so, I even “invented” a device in which you could speak...and
it would magically type out the words. As you see...I was ahead of my time.
But, when I was at the Museum, I found something that made
me SMILE from ear to ear...just look at the photo to the right,
and you will see...that far from the normal perfect Roman tab-
lets, this one was “written” by another one of my forefathers...
this time from the southern part of Europe!
Kieran was interested in
PICASSO, so in Rome we found
a special exhibition of hundreds
of his works...from many of his
dierent periods. AWESOME!
While I was in Europe, I took an informal survey of several people,
asking them, “What is your impression of Americans?” In brief, here was
their almost unanimous response...”We do not like US politics, we do not
like the horrible food they are exporting to us (McDonalds), we do not like
many of the movies, but we LOVE Americans!”
Virtually everyone we talked to was courteous, friendly, and helpful!
These are comments Kieran wrote after the trip: “I met many awesome
family and friends. I loved exploring the food, culture, heritage and
architeture. I learned so much. I learned how fantastically God designed the world. Pappa Joe
was the best tour guide. He did a wonderful job showing me everything I wanted to see and more.
Wonderful restaurants...even on the Eiel Tower. He
made the trip interesting and luxurious. I miss everything
If you are a grandparent, you are fully aware of the
fact that most of us are not able to interact with our
grandchildren as much as we like...nor as much as they
need...because most of our families live so far apart.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to share these two
weeks with my very favorite oldest grandson. Kieran is
a wonderful young man...whose creative talents, and
commitment to excellence, will take him to a successful
and happy life.
The best part...he even allowed me to introduce him as
my “little grandson!”
Jobst Walter Franz Blachnitzky-Blachy