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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Communists in Pennsylvania?

It is a wellknown fact that most of the American pioneers didn’t try very hard to come up with new names for the towns that they founded on the continent. Instead they recycled whatever name from their home countries (or their ancestors’ home countries) they could remember. Of course that also went for the settlers of German origin, and so you can find several namesakes (Namensvetter) for almost every German town in the USA, from Bremen, Georgia/Maine/Ohio …  to Heidelberg, Texas/Minnesota/Mississippi …

Even as the most patriotic German tourist (which I’m not), you get used to this phenomenon pretty soon, when you are driving through the country. But my attention was re-awakened, when I saw a sign announcing the town of East Berlin, Pennsylvania. East Berlin, the capital of communist East Germany, the GDR? Which good American would name his town after an evil place like that? Well, it turned out that neither the Communist Party USA nor the Stasi (the infamous secret service of East Germany) had its hand in this mysterious naming. The real reason is rather boring: East Berlin used to be called just Berlin, but since there was already a different Berlin in Pennsylvania, it had to be renamed in the late 18th century.  With the result that nowadays there are only 17 towns called Berlin left in the USA.

Another mysterious name: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Here‘s the story

(Written in Vermillion, South Dakota, June 29, 2012)


Thank You, Pennsylvania Dutch!

Hardly any German who gets to live in the USA for a while fails to complain about how difficult it is to buy good bread over here. While these complaints are certainly justified, I will refrain from repeating them here and rather concentrate on another problem that gets far less publicity: the lack of liquorice (Lakritz) in this country. Americans just don’t like liquorice, so you never see it at gas stations or convenience stores. Fancy supermarkets may carry some, but then that’s usually only one sort, and not a great one. So imagine my excitement when I saw a selection of some of my favorite German liquorices at a farmer’s market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The reason for this surprising offer is that this part of Pennsylvania has a strong population of very traditionally-minded people of German origin (which for obscure reasons are called Dutch). A lot of them are Amish people, so after I had stacked up on liquorice at the market, we went for a drive through the Amish country in Lancaster County. And sure enough, there they were, wearing their funny hats and riding around in horse-drawn carriages. The landscape in that area, by the way, looks a lot like the surroundings of my hometown Osnabrück.

(Written in Vermillion, South Dakota, June 29, 2012)

The Battlefield Tour

I certainly wasn’t the most knowledgable person on the battlefield that day, but I probably had the biggest umbrella

After Tish’s shows in Lemont and Harrisburg, which both went fabulous, we picked up our wonderful host Katherine Pearson on her offer to stay at her place for an extra day. That gave me the opportunity to visit the site of the battle of Gettysburg, the biggest battle in the American Civil War and possibly its turning point. “GEO Epoche”, the history magazine that I’m working for in Hamburg, might publish an issue on the Civil War next year or later (this is classified information, so I can’t be anymore specific …), and that issue would definitely contain a long article on the battle of Gettyburg, so it seemed like a good idea,# to visit the place and get a feel for what happened there.

I took a guided bus tour across the battlefield area, which is huge and full of monuments of all kinds.  It was interesting to learn about the tactical successes and failures that occured on both sides. The tour guide made it a clear point, though, that most of all the battle, which was fought on July 1-3, 1863, was a horrible mass slaughter.

Another Pennsylvania landmark: The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, famous to people of my generation for an accident that ocurred there in 1979. While in America the event is remembered by the name of the power plant, in Germany most people will associate it with the town it happened in, so for us it’s the Harrisburg accident

Tish and I on stage in Harrisburg.Pennsylvania. More about our performancein a little while

(Written in Vermillion, South Dakota, June 29, 2012)