“The German is like a willow.
No matter which way you bend him,
he will always take root again.”
– Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The banks of the Rhine River were fertile and much coveted by kingdoms and later countries. Along the Rhine River there are more castles than any other river bank in the world. Lorelei, a siren, sits on the rocks to lure fishermen to their destruction on the Rhine’s rocky shores. The famous landmark ‘Drachenfels’ castle, where Siegfried killed a dragon rests beside the river.
The Rhine’s name comes from the Celtic word renos, meaning raging flow. The river has cut the deep, steep sided Rhine Gorge. This picturesque gorge, with terraced vineyards and castle-lined cliffs, has often been called the “heroic Rhine,” renowned in history and romantic literature. It is complete with fairy tale castles and vineyards snuggled in the overhanging rock face, known as the Mittelrhein.
This is where my ancestors dwelled as farmers near what is presently known as Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
We are all familiar with the folk-lore and fairy tales that stem from these lands, but reality was so different. The lands passed numerous times to different aristocrats and later countries. Karlsruhe is on the east bank of the Rhine River and the west bank is presently part of France’s lands. For a long time the people were under the protection of the Holy Roman Empire. This was a good thing for my ancestors as they were Roman Catholic. But protection didn’t necessarily mean defense. Others fought and sometimes won this area at any time in history.
The Muller’s were interested in peace, farming and growing crops. The fights and wars that surrounded them weren’t important when compared to whether the season would let them bring in a ‘bumper crop’. But I’m sure they had to accept and were aware of the dangers that surrounded them.
In the late 1700’s Napoleon decided to conquer the world and the margrave of Baden was forced to cede his lands to Napoleon’s troops. But not before the lands were devastated once again. I can only imagine the horrors and suffering they experienced. Families ran into the Black Forest and were punished depending on their nationality at the time of occupation. By this time the Holy Roman Empire has retreated and Baden came under protestant rule.
Often people say that all wars are caused by religion and possibly the majority are. There are also many stories, documentaries and movies about the oppressive Catholic Church. But in my ancestor’s case, it was the opposite. Their lands were destroyed and their lives were at risk, often because they were Roman Catholics.
The Muller’s (pronounced Miller) left the area in the early 1800’s when Catherine the Great of Russia, (1762-1796) wanting to open up the lands of the Ukraine needed good, competent, hard-working farmers. Her manifesto promised religious freedom, exemption from military service and thirty years without taxation.
** Thank you to Victor Tribunsky for letting me use his photo that is at the top of this page. You can visit Victor’s blog by clicking here.