My first week in Munich was like being home. It felt like home, it sounded like home and the streetscape reminded me of Fort Wayne in an intangible way. It was the beginning and continuation of my journey through Germania.
In the years since that 1971 first day in Mûnchen I have made all things German central to my life and travels from founding Germanfest in Fort Wayne to visiting German settlements in the foothills of the Andes. I’ve taught myself the language, studied the history and immersed myself in the culture. In southern Russia I looked for the Volga Germans, in Fort Wayne I produced a living history of World War Two German refugees in our midst, in Transylvania, on Crete, in eastern Poland, the American midwest, and the coast of Florida I’ve found German settlements or their remnants.
And, I’ve traced my own German roots to a village, Arzberg in Oberfranken where a village history book records the Sack family as early as 1389.
Dad was a German-America, his paternal grandparents both from Arzberg, a village of a couple thousand but a few miles from the now Czech border. Across the borderland marshes was Egerland in the Sudetenland, then Austrian, to the west, south and north was Oberfranken, a part of Bavaria when my great-great grandparents and siblings moved to South Bend, Indiana, to join cousins. It was 1855. In the 1870s some of the Sack family moved to a faming community between South Bend and Fort Wayne called Ligonier. My grandfather, William Fredrich Sack was the son of Georg Friedrich Sack and Wilhelmina Antoinette König Sack. Georg was one of four brothers who arrive in South Bend in the section of town called Little Arzberg in 1855. The story goes that letters home from South Bend to Arzberg, from Dr. Christian Sack prompted an a steady exodus from the village to America.
My father was born in Ligonier in 1913. His mother was Hazel Brand McDonald, the daughter of a newspaper publisher and state senator, James McDonald, himself the son of a newspaper man, Civil War hero and state senator, Isaiah Brand McDonald. Scots with German wives.
Grandmother Sack was also politically active being elected the clerk-treasurer of Ligonier, the job a precursor to what evolved into the position of mayor. She was a staunch democrat, a champion of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and oft a delegate to state and national Democrat conventions.
My father grew up in Ligonier, travelled extensively as a young man and went to war in 1941 against his not-so-distant cousins. After the war he met my mother, Ruth Elmore Bryant, a beautician, farm girl, of English heritage, and staunch Republican from Lily, Kentucky, in Indianapolis and they married in 1947. Soon, he took a transportation job in Fort Wayne and I was born in 1948, but in London, Kentucky, a few miles north of Lily, her ancestral home since 1790, in deep southeastern Republican-since-the-Civil-War Kentucky. To the chagrin of my Republican mother, but to the delight of my Democrat grandmother, I was born on October 11th, sharing a birthday with the arch feminist-reformer-liberal, Eleanor Roosevelt. Interestingly and ironically enough, my father had been born on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, 1913. I am a political offspring and I grew up in Fort Wayne, a city once called “That Most German Town,” by an 1880s Chicago newspaper.
And so I began my travels through Germania.