Thursday, December 31, 2015

Background (Albert Dittes)

I am the grandson of Gotthold Dittes, born in Diedelsheim, Germany, and immigrant to the United States.  He went into the grocery store business on Long Island, New York, sometime after 1905 and became an American success story there.

I am looking forward to going to Diedelsheim in March with my son and two grandsons and have some correspondence I want to take with me.

One of Gotthold's first cousins, Frances Dittes, lived in nearby Madison, Tennessee, and helped some of our Diedelsheim relatives with basic supplies after World War II ended.  Her aid relieved some real suffering, and the Ditteses there wrote her many letters of gratitude.  Through a series of unusual circumstances, I came into possession of these letters two or three years ago.  I want to take them with me to Diedelsheim and should find people there related to those reading them.  My Aunt Frances died many years ago, and some of the correpondents are probably no longer alive, but they are bound to have childrean and grandchildren who would be interested in reading them.

I plan to leave for Germany the day after Easter Sunday, March 28.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Introducing: the Kraichgau

As part of my preparation for our trip this year, I'm reading a book about the Familiendorf of the Ditteses: Diedelsheim: Vorm ritterschaftlichen Dorf zum Brettener Stadtteil (Diedelsheim: from a chivalrous village to a suburb of Bretten).

My great-grandfather, Gotthold Dittes, was born in the village of Diedelsheim in 1880. Orphaned at a young age, he left Germany at age 18 for New York, never to return. I was the first of his descendants to return to the village, stopping one December evening in 1990. I have returned twice since then.

I will write more reflections on my previous visits to Diedelsheim in this blog, even as I look forward to returning in March 2016 with my father and my sons on our "Vaterland Voyage."

I was given the book, Diedelsheim by Otto Bickel, after my third visit back in 1996. While I have pored over the pictures of Ditteses and landscapes, this is the first time I have read the book in full. My German is pretty good, but I haven't pushed myself beyond conversational German and simple writing until now. I plan to read the book, looking up words I don't know, and practicing them with my Beolingus vocabulary trainer.

I plan to publish a number of blogs about what I learned from the book, this is my summary of Chapter One.
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Diedelsheim lies east of the Rhine River in a region known as the Kraichgau. It's an area of low hills that rise up from the plain next to the river. At its north is the Neckar River and Heidelberg. To the south lies the Black Forest.

I learned a little about the history of the Kraichgau, too.

The lack of mountains or think forest makes this region vulnerable to attack. Invaders have criss-crossed the region for millennia. The Huns charged through en route to their destruction in northern France at the Battle of Chalons in 451.

Earlier, the Romans had crossed the Rhine and settled southwestern Germany. Many great estates in the region were granted to veterans of the wars, who build Gasthöfe in the style of Roman villas and managed large farms, enslaving the local population.

I learned that Diedelsheim had been founded in the 6th Century CE by a Frankish tribesman known to history as Didin or Tiutini--this makes me wonder if our family name might stem from his. Perhaps "Dittes" (the oldest spelling of which we have is "Dittiß") might represent a "son of" variant of this original name. It certainly belongs to quite a few families who originate here--and very few of whom originate elsewhere.

While I had heard many times of Diedelsheim, tonight was my first chance to learn about the Kraichgau. I'm looking forward to learning more in advance of my visit there.