October 9, 2005
I’ve now had time to collect my thoughts about my recent trip to Germany in August 2005. I must say we had a wonderful time and appreciate the hospitality of Manfred and Ute Mundhenk and also Kerstin and Dieter Brackhahn. Also special thanks to Kerstin’s father Horst Mundhenk for his kindness.
From Frankfurt we spent several days on the Rhine, visited Köln and spent time with our daughter Paige, who was studying the German language in Düsseldorf. From there we traveled to Hannover and on to Berlin where the history is almost overwhelming. We had heard that Berliners can be difficult but we did not find that to be true. The food was excellent and I sampled many different wines and beer. I thought the beer in Hannover was especially good. From Berlin we went to my favorite place in Germany, Bad Pyrmont. Despite Manfred’s recent surgery he was a fine host and was following his doctor’s advice; Ute made us feel welcome even though she must have been weary from the stress of Manfred’s surgery. As a doctor I know that sometimes these medical events are almost as hard on the spouse as the patient. Jochen and Bärbel Mundhenk served us supper at their remodeled home and was saw the newest Mundhenken, Laura and Luise. Again many thanks to all who helped us enjoy our time.
As I reflect on the large body of work already completed by the German Mundhenken historians, Emil Mundhenke, Howard Mundhenke and the late Jürgen Ritter I don’t have much to add to their information about Die Mundhenken, particularly after the late 1400’s. As some of you may know I have further investigated my clan who originated in Hagen (Bad Pyrmont) and ultimately moved to the United States in 1848. I have considerable information about my ancestry here in the U.S. which I won’t elaborate on at this time. However any review of a trip to Germany requires some discussion or at least speculation about our ancestry, though I hope I do not cause previous Mundhenken historians to rise from the dead and laugh at me!
Therefore I would like to take this time to speculate about the origins of Die Mundhenken prior to the 1400’s. Please understand this is just speculation based on information obtained from historically accurate books relative to Europe in general.
It is known that about 5000 years ago most of Germany was rather sparsely populated. There were small bands of people along the Rhine River in the West, along the Danube in the South and near the coast of Denmark in the North. Probably altogether only a few thousand people and essentially no one lived in the Bad Pyrmont area. We come from one of those early groups of inhabitants. Which group, you say? I strongly believe that our early ancestors came from the Rhineland. Geographically this makes some sense however there is also good access to the Bad Pyrmont area from the North along the Weser River.
It is interesting to note that some areas of Germany have much in common with the Dutch. There are some similar physical characteristics (although of course the Germans are better looking!) but even language and manner have many close associations. I am told that the German language of Bad Pyrmont is a neutral version of German and that it is easier from some from the Bad Pyrmont area to communicate with far West Germans and Dutchmen than to communicate with Germans from Bavaria. Language from an area changes very slowly over time and I think this concept supports The Rhineland theory. Some of the Dutch probably originated near the Rhineland and migrated west just like we gradually went east. Successive generations gradually moved further and further East ultimately to be found along the trail from the Rhineland to the Bad Pyrmont region. It is interesting to speculate as to where we were along that route some 2000 years ago.
Additionally, I think we are probably from the Cherusci tribe or one of its related barbarian tribes in and around Detmold, just to the west of Bad Pyrmont. I don’t mind thinking of myself as a barbarian; in fact my wife Beth says she is pretty sure I am a descendant of a barbarian!
The reason the Cherusci and the location are relevant to this discussion is that there is good historical evidence that there was really little movement of people over the last 2000 years in Germany in general and therefore it is somewhat likely that the Mundhenken were already in their current general location by the time of Christ or at least generally within 50 miles. About 9 A.D. a now famous leader of the Cherusci, Herman, defeated three Roman Legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus somewhere between Detmold, Bielefeld and Osnabrück; probably closer to Osnabrück. In fact they massacred them over several days and thereafter the Romans never successfully dominated that area although they did trade with the local barbarians. This single battle changed the course of history and the Romans never again ventured much further north than Osnabrück. Herman was then referred to by the Romans as Arminius and his statue built in1875 is now just west of Detmold. Before the Statue of Liberty was built this statue was the tallest statue in the world. We visited the statue and you can almost see Bad Pyrmont from the top of the statue. On some days the visibility is nearly 60 miles in any direction and Bad Pyrmont is well within that distance. Again if the Mundhenken were not part of the massacre, they knew of it or knew people who participated in it. Roman coins are on display in the Bad Pyrmont museum and were found in the Bad Pyrmont caves where the special healing properties of CO2 were discovered along with the source of the water. Likely the coins were traded for goods from the local tribes by the Romans and indeed date back about 2000 years. Interesting indeed! It is also interesting to speculate on what Germany would have been like if the Romans had conquered northern Germany. Probably no 30 years war.
Another interesting historical event that may have involved Mundhenken occurred somewhat near Paderborn. In 782 Charlemagne, whose primary seat was in Aachen and whose original throne is still there, traveled to Lower Saxony and slaughtered and beheaded 5000 Saxons, placing their heads on stakes to display his power to the entire region. Frankly I hope we weren’t there but it is possible we were. If we were not there we again heard of Charlemagne’s might and I suspect we quickly became loyal supporters. Charlemagne later conquered much of present day Europe including Rome and was ultimately became Emperor of Rome.
There are many other historical events from the Bad Pyrmont region that I’m sure the Mundhenken were aware of or effected by. German history after Charlemagne is very complex with I would think, very difficult times for anyone living in that area. Wars, local princes fighting for dominance in their local communities I’m sure disrupted everyone’s life. In addition to being farmers and serfs, I can’t imagine we didn’t also have some knights but it doesn’t sound so glorious, just difficult. Some Mundhenken may have participated in the Crusades and earned the right to wear the Red Cross of Bad Pyrmont, only allowed by those who completed their mission.
Again, the history is sound but the rest is just my speculation. The speculation however is what also gives ‘Life’ to our ancestry and makes us realize how little we really now from the early time period and what we may never know. I feel like a young boy, fantasizing about adventure when I look back on our history and it makes me feel young; even if I can’t prove it. I challenge anyone to prove to me that we were not in that vicinity for the last 2000 years.
I wish the Mundhenken organization the best of luck in the future and understand that these are difficult times with the loss of Werner Mundhenke. I remember how sad I was when I heard of Jürgen Ritter’s death. It would have been especially interesting to talk to him about early German history. Lastly, I especially wanted to recognize Manfred for his tremendous contributions to the organization but new blood must come forward and lead us further.
Best Wishes from America,
Dean L. Mundhenke M.D.