This story is about a three-day sojourn my husband and I had in January last year at Welzow, the home of one of our “snow angels” (Silvia). It’s the second part of a two-part series. The first part, Snow angels in Cottbus: The reunion (Part 1), recounts the meeting between Tony and me and our “snow angels” at a bakery in Cottbus in 2016 and our reunion at the bakery six years later.
Although we spent only a short time together during our chance meeting in 2016, over the years that followed Silvia and I kept in touch. So, when I notified Silvia that Tony and I would be visiting our family in Germany from late December 2021 through to mid-February 2022, she invited us to stay with her and her husband at Welzow.
It turned out to be a stay full of surprises.
Germans and Sorbs
Silvia and her husband Hartmut are ethnic Germans. They are not Sorbs like my forebears who came from this part of Germany. The Sorbs, or Wends, are a West Slavic ethnic group who, since the 7th century AD, have lived in Lusatia, a name still commonly used to describe this part of Germany. Lusatia is an historic region divided between Germany (the states of Brandenburg and Saxony) and Poland (the provinces of Lower Silesia and Lubusz).
The names “Sorbs” and “Wends” are often used interchangeably. German-speaking people generally use “Sorb” to describe the people group. Actually, there are two (not just one) distinct Sorbian groups living in Germany today. The Upper Sorbs live in the south, in and around Bautzen, and the Lower Sorbs (“Wends”) live in the north, in and around Cottbus.
Cottbus (Chóśebuz in the Lower Sorbian language) is located 130 kilometres or about 1½ hours by car or train south of Berlin and about 20 kilometres from the border with Poland. With a population of about 100,000, it is the second largest city in the German State of Brandenburg.
The name “Cottbus” derives from the Lower Sorbian (Wendish) language. The city’s official website has this to say about its Sorbian (Wendish) heritage:
A large number of Sorbs left Germany in the mid-1800s. There are several likely reasons. First, in the 1840s, there were crop failures and famine, especially in 1845 and 1846. This was a major setback, given that agriculture and stock breeding were the economic basis of Sorbian society. Second, many Sorbs were seeking a better life after years of political oppression and suppression of their language and culture in schools, churches and the public sector. They wanted freedom to maintain their language and culture and practice their religion. Third, many sought a peaceful existence, far from the warfare that plagued much of Europe at the time.
The majority of Lower Sorbs (Wends) who left Germany emigrated to Texas (USA). A small number came to Australia, where they settled alongside German immigrants, mostly in South Australia. My Proposch forebears, Wendish people who lived in and around Cottbus, came to Australia in 1854.
For more about the Sorbs and Wends, and my Wendish background, read Easter in Germany: Sorbs, Wends and Easter eggs (April 12, 2017).
When I met Silvia in 2016, I told her that I had come to Cottbus to see where my Wendish predecessors lived and to learn more about my Wendish roots. Silvia offered to help me in my research. Because Silvia has lived most of her life in and around Cottbus, she knows a number of Sorbian (Wendish) people and is aware of their history, culture and traditions.
So when Silvia invited Tony and me to stay with her and her husband at Welzow in January 2022, she wanted to share with us her own (German) history, culture and traditions, along with those of the Wendish people whose influence is felt everywhere in this part of Germany.
After the reunion: Welzow
Tony and I arrived by train at Cottbus late in the afternoon of Friday 14 January 2022. Silvia and her husband Hartmut were at the train station to meet us. After the four of us exchanged greetings, Silvia and Hartmut drove us the short distance to the bakery, where Tony and I were reunited with Silvia’s mother Waldtraut and sister Diana. It was a very happy reunion.
After Tony and I spent about an hour at the bakery, reminiscing and making the acquaintance of other family members, Silvia and Hartmut drove us to Welzow, where we were to stay for the next three nights.
The town of Welzow is located 25 kilometres southwest of Cottbus, in the district of Spree-Neiße (Wokrejs Sprjewja-Nysa). As we drove into the town, Silvia pointed to the sign: “Stadt Welzow – Mĕsto Wjelcej”. Throughout this part of Germany, most public signage is in two languages – German and Lower Sorbian (Wendish).
The name Welzow (Wjelcej) is first mentioned in December 1547, in the Spremberg City Book. Its meaning, in the Lower Sorbian language, is “a settlement in an area where there are a lot of wolves”. The Lower Sorbs/Wends were the first settlers in this area.
Today Welzow has a population of about 3000. The number is gradually decreasing, however, as the local coal mining industry winds down and jobs are lost. Open-cut mining of lignite (brown coal) commenced at the Welzow-Süd mine in 1959. Mining has been the mainstay of the town and community since then. Almost every family in the district has a connection with the mine.
Surprise #1: Our accommodation
At Welzow, we stayed in our host’s second house, the Kreativum (“creative house”), located on the property next door to theirs. After Silvia and Hartmut bought the two-story building from their neighbour in 1999, they remodelled it.
Originally, on the ground floor, the building housed a hairdresser’s shop. Later, it housed a shoe shop and a beverages shop. Now Silvia has a meeting room on the ground floor. Among her many interests and activities, Silvia teaches English, so she uses the meeting room as a venue for her English classes and informal Conversational English discussion groups.
On the top floor, as well as bedrooms, Silvia has a sewing room and arts and crafts (“creative”) room. The bedrooms serve as accommodation for invited guests (like us) and paying guests (Silvia and Hartmut run a bed-and-breakfast business). The guest bathroom is located on the ground floor.
Tony and I stayed upstairs in the Morgensonne (“morning sun”) room. The room is remarkable, not because it is on the sunny side of the house (yes, it is), but because of its décor. Even before entering the room, I was struck by the colourful butterfly and flower stickers on the corridor wall adjacent to the door. Silvia told us that her son-in-law made these.
As soon as I entered the room, I felt like I was back in the 1960s. As a feature, two of the walls are painted bright yellow, with an orange band at the top and a leafy vine painted in bright green stretching across the yellow walls. There are a number of brightly coloured flowers painted on the walls. An orange-pink floral cloth canopy hangs from a rail attached to the wall high above the bed. The ceiling is adorned with hundreds of little stars that glow in the dark after the light is turned off.
At one time, Silvia’s and Hartmut’s daughter, son-in-law and family lived in the house and one of their granddaughters used this room. After the family moved out, Silvia (the artist) redecorated the room to make it suitable for paying guests.
Silvia and Hartmut own not just two, but several, properties. Over the years they have purchased and renovated a number of buildings in and around Welzow. Most of them are now rental properties. Silvia planned to take Tony and me to see one of these properties the following day.
Surprise #2: Our hosts’ generous hospitality
Each meal our hosts provided us was an adventure. They not only treated us to local food specialties and traditions but also filled every mealtime with stimulating conversation and merriment. After each meal, Tony and I looked forward to the next one with much anticipation and excitement.
On entering their home, Tony and I removed our boots, gloves, hats, scarves and overcoats, and placed them tidily on the floor or on hooks in the foyer. It was such a relief for us to be indoors, out of the cold.
We shared our first meal together on Friday evening soon after we arrived at Welzow.
Silvia ushered us down a hallway and into their dining room. The room was warm and inviting. A fine-looking timber table and six chairs graced the centre of the large room. Our hosts had set the table in readiness for our meal. There was a huge elaborately decorated Christmas tree at the far end of the room. All manner of bookcases packed with books, vinyl records, CDs and DVDs lined the walls. At the far end of the room, there was a handsome timber and glass storage cabinet that spanned most of the wall. An unmissable rainforest “poster” filled one-half of a fourth wall, from floor to ceiling.
Silvia directed Tony and me to take a seat at the table, while she and Hartmut brought the food from the kitchen. We noted the fine gold-rimmed rose floral crockery and authentic silver cutlery laid out before us. It was clearly their best dinnerware. “Our hosts are going to a lot of trouble,” we thought. But it was the same for every meal they served us. “We use only the best for our guests,” they told us.
This fine china was produced during the era of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) (East Germany as we knew it). Silvia proudly showed us the maker’s mark on the underside of one of the plates. The “R” stood for Reichenbach. Clearly, Silvia treasures this dinner set, as it’s a tangible reminder of all that was good about the GDR and is no more.
For our first meal, Hartmut and Silvia served us homemade potato salad with frankfurters and mustard. In German, that’s Kartoffelsalat, Wiener Würstchen und Senf. Note: What we (Aussies) call frankfurters, Germans called wieners. During the meal, we discussed the different names for this kind of sausage, and agreed the differences are most confusing.
We covered many topics of discussion that evening. In response to our questions about the former GDR, Silvia spoke a lot about what life was like for her and her family during the GDR years. She used words like “bland” and “tough but ordered”. “At least,” she said, “there was work, schooling and medical care for everyone.” Hartmut shared a little of his own experience, especially his involvement in the local protests early in 1989. “We are the people” was the protestors’ slogan.
That evening, after the meal, we gave Silvia and Hartmut the gifts we brought with us from Australia. They included a bottle of Tony’s mango chutney, a jar of Vegemite, a packet of Arnott’s Tim Tam, a postcard showing damper, and a “Waltzing Matilda” tea towel. Tony and I purchased the tea towel at Julia Creek, a small outback town in far north Queensland. We spent much of our remaining time together talking about the Australian outback and explaining the meaning of the words and telling the story of “Waltzing Matilda”. They loved it, especially when Tony and I sang the words and had them join in.
Breakfasts were heavenly.
At 8:30 am the following day (Saturday), Tony and I joined our hosts for breakfast in the dining room. Silvia proudly showed us the table set with gold embellished fine white dinnerware (different to the set she used the evening before), silver cutlery and platters and dishes full of breakfast goodies. The huge spread comprised a variety of local cheeses and sliced meats, yoghurt, quark, fruit, several kinds of bread rolls, honey, jam, butter, milk, fruit juice and a constant supply of hot, brewed coffee (Hartmut loves his coffee).
As we had done the night before, the four of us chatted non-stop. We didn’t rise from our seats at the table until 11:00 am! We covered many different topics of conversation: How Silvia and Hartmut met, how Tony and I met, our university days, our areas of study and work. During our time together, we practised our English and German language skills (especially pronunciation) and added lots of new words to our respective vocabularies.
For breakfast the next day (Sunday), Silvia and Hartmut served a number of other traditional German foods for us to try. One was a cheese, which I mistook for pineapple! It’s called Harzer Käse or Harzer Roller. Silvia told us this is a typical sour milk cheese, low in fat and high in protein. Another was Kalter Hund (in English “cold dog”), a German no-bake chocolate biscuit cake. It came from the family bakery, along with a variety of nut bars and sweet buns our hosts served that morning. A final delightful addition to the breakfast table were four brightly coloured hard-boiled eggs.
Potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes.
Each main meal Hartmut and Silvia prepared for us included potatoes. On Friday evening, we had potato salad and frankfurters. For lunch on Saturday, Hartmut served potatoes boiled in their jackets accompanied by a yoghurt-onion mix (made according to a special local recipe). For our evening meal on Sunday, our hosts prepared a local specialty that included mashed potatoes.
German people love potatoes. Potatoes form a large part of the German diet. They are also one of the staple foods of the Lower Sorbian (Wendish) people. Historically, the Sorbs/Wends made their living from the land. In 1756 Fredrick the Great introduced potato growing into the region around Cottbus. Potatoes soon became a popular food. The Spreewald (as the district is called) is still known for growing vegetables – cucumbers (and gherkins), horseradish, onions, pumpkins, asparagus and cabbage.
Our evening meal on Sunday was a local specialty. It included finely mashed potatoes, gerkins, Sauerkraut (“sour cabbage”) and Grützwurst. The latter is a traditional blood sausage made from a mixture of pig’s blood, pork offal and pearl barley. Because of its appearance it is sometimes called Tote Oma (which translates “Dead Grandma”)! Once told the composition of Grützwurst, I had to be coaxed to try it, although (I must admit) it was quite palatable. Hartmut produced a huge (2 litre) bottle of beer for us to share, adding “Beer is a must with this meal.” To complete the meal, Silvia served each of us a small bowl of preserved cherries.
Our last evening together
A highlight of our last evening with Hartmut and Silvia was meeting their adult daughter, Claudia. She lives in Welzow, where she runs a small retail business that incorporates a newsagency and the local post office. We spent quite a lot of time together, getting to know her, hearing about her family and sharing with her the Christian gospel.
Towards the end of the evening, Silvia and Hartmut produced their “going away” gifts. They gave Tony a bottle of apple chutney (based on Tony’s mango chutney recipe), a bottle of homemade grape jam (they used their own grapes) and a handful of biros bearing the name of their business. (Silvia had discovered that Tony collects biros.) Silvia gave me a beautifully handcrafted pendant she made from an ostrich egg shell together with a Zertifikat (“certificate”) as proof of its authenticity. She also gave me an illustrated copy of an Alter Cottbuser Spruch (“old Cottbus saying”) and a birthday calendar she made.
Needless to say, Tony and I were quite overwhelmed by their generosity!
We chatted on, none of us in a hurry to go to bed that evening. We still had so much to learn about each other. Before Tony and I left to go to our accommodation, we asked Silvia and Hartmut if we could pray for them. They agreed. In our prayer, we thanked God for them, mentioning their long marriage, their loving example as parents and grandparents and their generosity towards us. We ended our prayer by asking God that they might come to know Jesus as their personal Saviour and Lord.
During our stay with Silvia and Hartmut, we shared with them what it means to be a Christian and how one can become a Christian. Silvia told us she has heard all the Bible stories but is not convinced that there is a God or that she needs a “saviour”.
Silvia and Hartmut grew up in the GDR under Russian occupation and socialist ideology. “At school and university there was no mention of God or religion,” they said. “Religion and believing in God was normally ignored.” If a person believed in God, they didn’t speak about it. Silvia said that some people – like her parents and Hartmut as a child – went to church and believed.
Hartmut told us how he came to question the Christian faith. When he was 12 years old he asked the priest, “If there is a God up there, shouldn’t Yuri Gagarin (the first person in space) have met him?” Hartmut had learnt that God is everywhere. The priest’s response did not satisfy Hartmut. So Hartmut began to think in his own way about space (which intrigued him greatly at the time), “God” and truth.
Regarding those who identified as Christians during the GDR era, Silvia said, “The only bad thing was that the children of believing parents didn’t have the chance to study at university. So they missed out on a proper education.”
Surprise #3: The museum
After breakfast on the second day of our stay (Saturday), Silvia took Tony and me to see one of Hartmut’s and Silvia’s rental properties. Located at An der Aue 21, Welzow, it comprises two buildings, one they have renovated and one that remains in its original state. The entire complex was once part of a farm called “Gutshof Welzow”, established in 1764.
Hartmut and Silvia purchased the two buildings in 2015. The larger of the two, the one facing the street, houses a museum and three apartments (flats). The entrance to the museum is via the street. The entrance to each of the ground floor flats is via the garden at the rear of the building. From here, you can see the second building. One of the tenants looks after the garden.
The museum is located in the former servants’ quarters (ground floor) and the former hay storage area (the loft) of the larger building. Silvia and Hartmut have turned the ground floor rooms into the entrance to the museum. When we visited, these rooms were chock-a-block with kitchen and dining collectables and displays, and a number of items (like old typewriters) yet to be assigned a “home” in the museum upstairs.
A rickety staircase leads to the loft, the museum proper. Above the entry to the staircase are the words Dach Boden Fund(us), which translates as “upstairs storage area for extras”. This is the name Silvia has given to the museum.
The upstairs area (loft), with a floor area of 300 square metres, is huge. Before setting it up as a museum, Hartmut and Silvia did a lot of repair work on the roof, replacing some of the roof trusses, reinforcing others with new 4 x 4 timbers and steel work, and covering the old roof with new roofing iron.
Silvia took Tony and me on a conducted tour of the museum.
The displays, some of which Silvia was still setting up at the time, line a passage that winds its way from one end of the loft to the other and back again. Nearly all of the items on display have been made locally or in the eastern states of Germany. A lot of personal items make up the displays. Each display is part of a room or section.
There are two bedrooms (one from the 1920s, one from the 1960s), camping area, children’s play area, school room, doctor’s surgery, laundry, office, workshop, kitchen, dining room and two lounge rooms (one from the 1920s, one from the 1970s).
Silvia is a collector. She told us she collects “absolutely anything” from the years up to and including 1989, that is, from the GDR era and the decades before that. She obtains items from members of her extended family who are renovating and from families disposing of unwanted items from deceased estates.
At the time of our visit (January 2022), the museum was a work in progress. It was not yet open to the public. Silvia said, “I am longing for the time when all of my items are on display.” She admitted she needed help to complete the task. Regarding the museum, Silvia’s final words were, “I love this place.”
Hartmut and Silvia opened the museum on 11 June 2022. Invited guests included town officials (the Deputy Mayor and representatives of Welzow’s clubs and societies, such as the Local History Society), family and friends. Regarding the opening, Silvia wrote:
Surprise #4: Welzow’s industrial history
After lunch on Saturday, Silvia invited Tony and me to visit Bergmannspark Welzow (Welzow Miners’ Park). It’s located within walking distance of Silvia’s and Hartmut’s home. The park is a joint project of Germany’s Federal Government and the Land of Brandenburg and is funded by the European Union (EU) and supported by Vattenfall Europe Mining and the municipality of Welzow.
It has been established as a recreational area for locals and an attraction for tourists. The park provides a link between Welzow the township, Welzow’s mine and industrial past, and its future (rejuvenated) landscape.
Despite the cold, the three of us spent some time exploring the park. After reading a little of the history of the town, we strolled part of the way along the Gleispromenade, a 2-km long pedestrian and cycle track that follows the railway route of the former mine. At each stop (“magnometer”) along the track, there are displays with information about the historical development of the town and its industries.
The park’s attractions include the industrial culture trail, nature experience trail, geology trail and Lusatian (Sorbian/Wendish) legend trail. In addition, the park houses former mining equipment, a skate park, fitness area and a locomotive and carriages that run on the historic railway route.
It came as a surprise to Tony and me to learn that Welzow once had a thriving glass industry. The industry sprang up after the discovery in the 19th century of pure quartz sand deposits in the area. The Germania glass factory opened in 1891. A second glass factory, Bismarckhütte, opened in 1895, and a third (later known as Thomashütte) in 1897. The Bismarckhütte closed in 1931. Its employees were taken over by the Germaniahütte and the Thomashütte. These two factories remained in production for decades. However, in 1991, after German reunification, the factories closed, marking the end of the glass industry in Welzow – exactly 100 years after it began.
On the last evening of our stay at Welzow, Silvia and Hartmut took Tony and me to see the open-cut mine from the vantage point of the “Welzow Window”, a lookout located at the eastern edge of the town.
The Welzow-Süd open-cut mine, initially located just one kilometre from the town, produces up to 20 million tonnes of lignite each year and today covers an area of 108 square kilometres. It’s huge!
Coal mining began at Welzow in 1866. Initially, the coal was mined underground. Open-cut mining commenced in the 1920s, at a mine called “Grube Clara”. This site, located near the town centre, is now a lake (“Clara See”).
The Welzow-Süd open-cut mine opened in 1959. Since that time, the inhabitants of 17 villages in the district (including many Lower Sorbian/Wendish families) have been resettled to make space for the mine. Mining in the district has long been both a boon and a source of conflict.
Surprise #5: An outing to Cottbus
Our hosts planned our stay with meticulous detail. They aimed to give Tony and me a wide variety of experiences – as much as they could fit in during our short visit.
After lunch on Saturday Silvia and Hartmut told us to have a short rest in the Morgensonne room before getting ready to leave for an outing to Cottbus at 3:30 pm. They planned to show us around the Old Town, take us to a traditional German restaurant for dinner, and end our visit to Cottbus by attending a concert in St Nicholas Church.
Our tour of the Old Town
We started our sightseeing tour of the Old Town at Uferstraße. There Hartmut and Silvia showed us the Gerberhaeuser (“tanners’ houses”) where in earlier times tanners lived and worked, because of their proximity to the river Spree. The Gerber Houses (as they are known) are the oldest private buildings in Cottbus. They were erected, respectively, in 1727, 1760, and 1860.
Ours was a walking tour. We passed the Brandenburg State Museum of Modern Art, also known as Dieselkraftwerk Kunstmuseum. The building, dating from 1928, once served as the town’s diesel power generating station. From there, we circled a little pond called Amtsteich.
Our tour took us through Goethe Park, with its nice playground and big old oak trees. We left the park by taking a pedestrian bridge across Mühlgraben Cottbus, that is, the left mill canal of the river Spree.
From our vantage point on the bridge we could see the former Elektrizitätswerk (“power station”) in the distance. The 19th century power plant provided hydroelectric power for the city’s many textile mills. At one time, Cottbus and district had a thriving textile industry, with hundreds of wool and cotton mills. Indeed, the nearby town of Forst (Lausitz) was known as the “East German Manchester” because of its large number of wool and cotton mills.
Once over the bridge we came to Schlossberg (Castle Hill). Here, in the 10th century, the Sorbs/Wends built a fortified castle on a sandy island in the river Spree and established a township around it. Later, Germans settled in the area, living side-by-side with the Sorbs/Wends. The castle has long gone (it burned down centuries ago), but some of the walls of the castle and the castle tower remain. In 1877 a district courthouse was constructed on the hill and the 46 metre high castle tower gained a merlon crown and a neo-Gothic tower cover.
After circling Castle Hill, we walked to Oberkirchplatz, the square containing Oberkirche St Nikolai (St Nicholas Church). The late Gothic three nave hall church was built by the Sorbs/Wends in the 15th century on the same site as a much smaller 12th century church. Following the Reformation in the 16th century, Oberkirche St Nikolai, originally a Roman Catholic church, became the main Evangelical church of Cottbus. Most of its members were ethnic Germans, so the local Sorbs/Wends chose to worship in the smaller Klosterkirche down the road in Klosterplatz. St Nicholas is the largest church building in Lower Lusatia.
Silvia and Hartmut told us that we would be returning to the church after dinner, to attend a concert by Project Intrada, a local brass ensemble. For Tony and me, it would not be our first time inside St Nicholas Church, as we explored the building during our first visit to Cottbus in 2016.
Before turning right and heading towards Puschkinpark, Silvia pointed out one of the buildings of the so-called Wendish Quarter, a former enclave of the Sorbs/Wends. The current buildings were constructed between 1984 and 1989 in the traditional style of the Lower Sorbs/Wends.
We strolled through the historic Puschkinpark on our way to Restaurant Klosterkeller. The park borders the northern side of the old town. The northernmost boundary of the park, the Puschkinpromenade, was built in the second half of the 19th century on the former city wall and ditch. In 1949, the popular city park and promenade were renamed “Puschkin”, in honour of the Russian poet Alexander Sergejewitsch Puschkin.
Dinner at Restaurant Klosterkeller
Restaurant Klosterkeller (Monastery Cellar), where we dined, is located at No. 5 Klosterplatz (Monastery Square). The restaurant is so named because of the historical area and the beautiful cross-vaulted cellar in which it is located.
A Franciscan monastery was established on this site at the end of the 13th century. Following the Reformation and the dissolution of the monastery in the 16th century, the monastery church became a parish church for the Sorbian/Wendish people of the surrounding villages. Consequently, the Klosterkirche (Monastery Church) became known as the Wendische Kirche (Wendish Church).
Restaurant Klosterkeller offers seating for 30 patrons inside and 24 on the terrace (outside). Hartmut and Silvia booked a table for four inside. The terrace was closed as it was wintertime. The friendly owner-cum-waiter who greeted us was dressed as a monk! After the four of us went through the vaccination check process (COVID-19 restrictions still applied at the time), we took our seats in a cosy corner of the cellar and heaved a sigh of relief. At last we were sitting down and inside out of the cold.
The meal was superb, as was our time together. For the main course, I chose a traditional German dish Knoblauch-Rumpsteak im Tiegel: Ein würziges Steak mit Knoblauchrahmsauce und frischen Bratkartoffeln, that is, “Garlic Rump Steak in a Pan: A flavoursome steak with garlic sauce and fresh baked potatoes” (pictured).
Given that the restaurant is located in a building on a former monastery site, our conversation naturally included a discussion of the Christian faith and its practice. Hartmut and Silvia spoke about the restrictions imposed on Christian worship during the GDR era. Although they do not believe in God (so they said), they were interested to know how Tony and I came to faith in Jesus, and what our Christian faith means to us.
The concert at Oberkirche St Nikolai
After dinner, we walked from Klosterplatz to Oberkirchplatz via the Wendish Quarter. It was already dark. In the distance, we could hear a commotion. Having seen a lot of police cars in the city centre earlier that afternoon, we realised the noise was coming from a COVID-19 anti-vax protest march through the city streets. As we arrived at Oberkirchplatz, we saw the last of the protestors walking and cycling down Sandower Strasse.
Before entering the church for the concert, Silvia showed Tony and me something in Oberkirchplatz she said would be of interest to us. It was a life-size bronze statue of Ludwig Leichhardt. The inscription on the plaque below the statue describes Leichhardt as Naturwissenschaftler und Australienforscher, that is, naturalist and Australian explorer. Leichhardt was born on 23 October 1813 in Sabrodt/Trebatsch, a village about 50 kilometres north of Cottbus. From 1824 to 1831 Leichhardt attended the Cottbus Gymnasium (high school). He was just 34 years old when, in 1848, he disappeared in an attempt to cross Australia from east to west.
The concert in St Nicholas Church was very well received by the appreciative audience. It was Project Intrada’s first public performance since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Entitled “Frosti”, the program included a mix of classical, traditional and popular Christmas carols and musical works. We (the audience) had to wear masks and sit on chairs placed one metre apart to maintain our “social distance”. We sat facing the rear of the church and the organ loft, rather than the sanctuary and altar (the seating for church services).
After the exhilarating concert, Hartmut drove the four of us back to Welzow, where we went straight to bed. What a full and exciting day! Tony and I were exhausted.
Surprise #6: An afternoon at the ATZ Welzow
Silvia and Hartmut organised yet another outing for Tony and me. On Sunday afternoon, they took us to the ATZ Welzow, the Archäotechnisches Zentrum Welzow (Archaeotechnical Centre Welzow). The centre is located in a brick building dating from 1928, the fire and first aid station of Welzow’s former brown coal briquette works.
On arrival at the centre, Silvia introduced us to Dr Hans-Joachin Behnke, the person in charge of the ATZ. He told us he established the centre in 2008. Since 2011, Dr Behnke has made education the main focus of the ATZ, combining talks and displays with hands-on activities for the public (especially children). His particular interest is to convey the cultural history of mankind together with wood use and processing. Dr Behnke told us that the Welzow area is a good source of archaeological information, with many “finds” there due to the excavation work during mining.
Before Dr Behnke commenced his talk, Silvia introduced Tony and me to Ilka von Schirp, a South African born native English speaker and teacher of English. Silvia arranged for Ilka to be our translator for the afternoon. Tony and I were among 6-8 participants in the afternoon’s session. Interestingly, during Dr Behnke’s talk, a film crew arrived and took about 10 minutes of footage for a local television program.
It was of interest to us that, during his talk about the way of life of the district’s early hunter-gatherers, Dr Behnke said, “This is wolf country.” No wonder Welzow’s first settlers, the Sorbs/Wends, came up with the name Wjelcej, which means “a settlement in an area where there are a lot of wolves”.
After Dr Behnke’s talk, which was based on what he called “experimental archaeology”, we relocated to a workshop for the afternoon’s activity. Here, Dr Behnke showed us how to make a rudimentary “cup” out of birch bark and sisal using a flintstone and antler spike as tools. Then he set us to work to make our own “cup”. It was quite a challenge!
The four of us lingered over breakfast on Monday, knowing that this was our last morning together. Tony and I had a train to catch at Cottbus at 11:00 am. After such a wonderful time together, it was going to be hard to say goodbye.
We had learnt so much about each other. We realised that, despite our vastly different backgrounds and experiences, we had a lot in common. The three days the four of us spent together served to cement our friendship.
Thanks to Silvia and Hartmut, Tony and I understood a lot more of the history, culture and traditions of both the German people and the Sorbs/Wends from this part of Germany. They made our visit to Welzow incredibly exciting and enjoyable and, most of all, educational.
We learnt a lot about each other’s language and quite a few new expressions. Before our stay with Silvia and Hartmut, Tony and I knew the German word wunderbar (“wonderful”). When we were excited about something, we would say, “Wunderbar”. But often that word wasn’t strong enough to reflect our appreciation. So Silvia and Hartmut taught us to say, “Wunderschön”, which means “exceptionally beautiful”.
That’s how Tony and I describe our three-day sojourn with Silvia and Hartmut: “Wunderschön”.
We met Silvia and Hartmut again, 10 days later. They were visiting Hartmut’s sister in Mainz and Tony and I had returned to Frankfurt. We arranged for them to have a meal with us and our son and daughter-in-law. We met at a traditional German restaurant in Hoechst (a suburb of Frankfurt).
Tony and I should not have been surprised, but Silvia and Hartmut (our “Welzow angels”) brought more gifts for us.
Since returning home, I have often contacted Silvia. She has been the go-to person when I’ve needed to check information, or request photos, for this article and its companion Snow angels in Cottbus: The reunion (Part 1).
I cannot thank Silvia enough for her kind and tireless assistance.
MAIN SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Stadt Cottbus/Chóśebuz (Official website): https://www.cottbus.de/en/
Stadt Welzow/Wjelcej (Official website): https://www.welzow.de/
Wendish Museum, Cottbus: https://wendisches-museum.de/
Archaeotechnical Centre Welzow: https://www.atz-welzow.de/