Wampler/Wampfler Newsletter, Summer 1999
This newletter is devoted to Michael Wampler's account of his trip to Alsace and Switzerland in May.
In May 1999, my wife, Nancy, and I vacationed in Europe and visited the Alsace area of France, where our Wampfler ancestors lived before coming to America, and the Diemtig Valley in Switzerland, where the Wampflers originated. This newsletter is the story of our visit and my impressions of "where we came from".
We traveled with our good friends, Sandy and Jerry Roberts. Our plan was to rent a car in Paris, and drive into Belgium, then to the Alsace area of France, into Germany and Switzerland, then back to Paris to catch the "Chunnel Train" to London and fly home. We stayed in Bed and Breakfasts (called Chambres d’Hotels in France and Zimmer Frei in Germany) or in inns or small hotels (Gasthaus in Germany) whenever possible. We had no reservations, except for the train and a hotel in London. When we were ready to stop for the day, we looked for a Tourist Information Center in a small town, and they could usually give us information on places to stay. It is a good way to see the country and meet the people. We have been to Europe before and have seen the museums and sites of the big cities, so the small towns and scenery of the countryside, especially the Alps, were the focus of this trip. In our planning, I asked Sandy and Jerry if they would mind if we took a couple of days of our agenda to visit the towns in Alsace and Switzerland where my ancestors lived. Being the good friends that they are, they agreed.
My objectives were to see where we came from and stand where they stood. I didn’t have time to do any genealogy research over there; I just wanted to see and experience our "homeland".. In preparation for our trip, I took a 12-week Berlitz course in German in the fall of 1998. My wife and I remember a little French from High School. We had found that if you at least try to speak the local language, the Europeans were friendly and helpful.
Fred B. Wampler’s book, "Wampfler (Wampler) Family History – The 1500s – 1700s" was my primary source (Reference 1). Fred has done a lot of good, careful, in-depth research and has opened the road for all of us. Thanks again Fred!
We flew to Paris on 5 May 1999 and on 7 May 1999, we drove to Saareguimines, Alsace, France. Saareguimines is on the Saare River, on the northeastern border between France and Germany. We tried to find a B & B in the area, but we could not find one that had two rooms with private bath "ensuite". We ended up in a Comfort Inn, which was a real "no frills" hotel.
I took a lot of pictures of the Wampfler places and towns. I used my 35mm SLR to take slides and with my wife’s 35mm camera, I took regular photo prints and had them developed by Kodak and digitized on their "Picture CD".. I e-mailed these digitized photographs to John E. Wampler, and he kindly and expertly placed them in a set of "albums" here on the Wampler Genealogy Home Page (the Alsace Photoalbum and the Wampflen Photoalbum). You can see at least some of what we saw, and I hope you can get a sense of "where we came from".
We drove south about 20 km to the village of Keskastel, where Hans Peter Wampfler (born 1701) had his first three children christened: Anna Magdalena in 1720; Hans Peter (Junior) in 1722 and my ancestor, Hans Michel (Michael) in 1724. There was not a church in the small village of Hinsingen where the Wampflers lived. Keskastel is about 6-km northeast of Hinsingen (to view the pictures from Keskastel and Hinsingen click here).
Just to show you what a small world this is; one of our good friends in our hometown of St. Charles, Missouri, is from Keskastel. Irene Suit, whose maiden name was Reeb, was born and raised in Keskastel. Her family spoke primarily German, but after World War II, they also spoke French. German wasn’t very popular in France after the War. In her late teens she moved to Paris to live with a cousin and to work there. Doyle Suit was in the U.S. Army stationed in Paris. They met, fell in love, married, and moved to the United States. We have known them for about 30 years, but I didn’t get the connection with Keskastel until a couple of years ago when I found John E. Wampler’s Wampler/Wampfler Genealogy Home Page.
In Keskastel we took pictures of the Protestant Church and I went to the Parsonage to see if I could talk to someone about the history of the church, but no one was there. I did talk to a lovely, elderly lady who lived across the street from the church. In Alsace, the older people still speak German, and some speak both German and French. This lady spoke German. I enjoyed trying to communicate with her with my very limited German. I asked if she knew any Wampflers and she did not. She said the church was about 200 years old, so it probably was not there in the 1720’s. The Church had a large enclosed yard at the side and the rear, but no cemetery. The cemetery was several blocks away at the edge of town. The right side of the cemetery was Catholic and the left side was Protestant. An elderly lady was tending to some of the grave sites, on the Catholic side. The cemetery was very well kept. I asked her, in my broken German, if there were any Wampflers buried there. There were none, as I expected. I told her that I was from America and that my family had come from around Keskastel many years ago. She proceeded to enthusiastically show me the graves of all the families who had someone move to America. I followed and listened with feigned interest, rather than be rude.
We drove through Herbitzheim, another nice little village about 8.5 km northeast of Keskastel and on the river Saare. Johann Christian Wampfler, born about 1785 in Sparsbach, lived here until he moved his family to America in 1747. Christian was described in the Church records as a "linen and picture weaver". (Reference 1) Could that mean that he wove tapestries in addition to cloth?
The next morning, Jerry and I drove to Hinsingen. The narrow road into Hinsingen is lined with an evenly spaced row of trees. It is very pretty. Hinsingen is a small, old farming village. This is where Hans Peter (1701-1749) lived before they left for America in May 1741. It is made up of large, old, two-story house-barns. The house is connected to the barn and in many cases, there are barns on both sides of the house. The house-barns all front on the main street, side by side. The houses were masonry, covered by stucco, and painted white. The roofs were red or black tile. The barns were masonry or frame with tile roofs. Some of them looked as if they could have been there in the early 1700’s when our ancestors lived there.
It appeared that the farmers raised dairy cows primarily. The major crop in the surrounding fields was hay to feed the cows through the winter, but there was also some wheat and wrape. Wrape is a yellow flowering plant that is grown all over Europe. The seeds are used to make cooking oil. The yellow fields mixed with the green hay fields make a beautiful patchwork.
Hinsingen was a sleepy looking place on the rainy Saturday morning of our visit. There were more dogs around than people. The dogs were black and white like the stock-herding dogs I have seen before, but I don’t know the name of the breed. One of these dogs was taking a nap in the middle of the street, so we drove around him.
I found a small cemetery at the edge of town. There were no Wampflers there, but mostly Stucki’s. Stucki is a prominent name in the Diemtigen, Switzerland records (Reference 1), and the Wampfler’s married Stucki’s. This is more evidence that several families from Zwischenfluh, Diemtigen, moved with the Wampflers to Alsace. None of the headstones dated back to the 1700’s. They were all from the late 1800’s up through this year, 1999.
The only commercial establishment that I could see in Hinsingen was a small restaurant/bar, but it was closed that morning. Hinsingen is in a pretty setting of green fields, rolling hills, little patches of woods and narrow, tree-lined roads.
We drove about 5km south to Altwiller (or Altweiler, the old German spelling) where Hans Peter had his children christened in 1726 and after. Altweiler is a bigger, more prosperous farming village with old, large house-barns lining the main street. There were several stores or shops in Altweiler. We stopped at the cemetery but there were no Wampflers, and again no real old graves from the 1700’s. I wonder what happened to the very old gravesites?
Next, we drove south and east to Sparsbach where Christian Wampfler (born 1654) moved from Zwischenfluh probably about 1675. Sparsbach is 44 km from Hinsingen and the terrain is very different. It is very hilly and heavily forested, and the whole area is a regional park, "Parc Regional Des Vosges Du Nord".. Sparsbach is only about 50 km from the Rhine River, which is the German border on the east. La Petite Pierre is the largest village in the area, and it is a tourist/resort town built on the sides of steep hills.
Sparsbach is in the valley of the Mittelbach River. It is a very pretty setting surrounded by the forest. I took pictures of the Church which was built in 1871, and just beside the Church was a memorial to the War Dead from both the First and Second World Wars. The first name on the WWII side was Georges Wampfler who died in May 1940.
We just happened to be there on Saturday, 8 May, and it was a holiday celebrating the end of WWII in Europe.
There is a Brasserie, or restaurant/bar, or a Pub as the English would call it, in the center of the village. Jerry and I went in to have a cup of coffee and found the place full of men drinking beer – at 11:30 AM! I was a little disappointed that the waitress and proprietor spoke French instead of German, but it sounded like many of the older men in the bar were speaking German. I decided that I should have a beer to celebrate visiting this important part of our heritage, even though it was a little early. I should have asked if there were any Wampflers in the bar, but unfortunately, I did not think of it then. I’ll bet there were.
There were several people, including whole families, walking through the town. It appeared that they had been hiking up in the hills. We drove across a bridge and up the side of the hill to where a crowd was gathering. It appeared they were having a celebration and probably a soccer game. We drove down the hill on the same road that we had driven up, but soon realized that it was a one way street – the other way! They will remember us in Sparsbach.
We found the cemetery near the edge of town. All the cemeteries we visited in Alsace were surrounded by stone walls and were very well kept. There were seven graves of Wampflers, all from this century. One grave was of a Carolina Wampfler who married a Stutzman. Fred Wampler’s book (Reference 1) talks about a Peter Stutzman or perhaps Schutzman, coming to America on the same ship as the Wampflers. Could it have been a Stutzman from Sparsbach?
The houses in Sparsbach were not the house-barn type, and there were no large fields around town, just woods. This isn’t a farming community like Hinsingen. Logging and Tourism seemed to be the only industries. Several of the houses were very old. Sparsbach is a vital little village as there were several new houses being build on the edge of town. It would be a great place to live – beautiful and peaceful, but I don’t know what you would do for a living.
Sparsbach was my favorite of the Wampfler hometowns in Alsace. I guess I liked it because of its pretty setting in the wooded hills.
We left Alsace and drove into Germany. We toured Heidelberg and then went south into Bavaria. We toured Linderhof, one of Mad King Ludwig II’s castles. Then we drove into Switzerland. We stayed one night in Interlaken, and then moved up into the mountains to the village of Grindelwald, which is in a beautiful valley ringed by snow covered mountains.
On Saturday 15 May, Jerry and I set out to explore the Diemtig Valley and discover the Wampfler homeland. We dropped Nancy and Sandy in Interlaken to shop.
It had been raining a lot in Switzerland. The two lakes on either side of Interlaken, were overflowing. It was cloudy and raining that morning, too.
The little town of Diemtigen, near the mouth of the Diemtigtal (which means Diemtig Valley) is only about 30 km west of Interlaken. The Fildrich River runs down the middle of the Diemtigtal, and it was overflowing and roaring under the bridge at the edge of Diemtigen. There was a big sign saying "Welcome to the Diemtigtal" as we entered the valley. Diemtigen is a nice little town with crazy, narrow, twisting-turning streets going every which way. The streets probably have not changed much, except for paving, in the last three hundred years.
We drove up the valley in the rain. The clouds hung low on the mountain slopes around us. Just above Diemtigen, the valley is very narrow, with only the river and the road in the valley floor. The slopes are heavily wooded and there were several saw mills. Here and there were cleared pastures on the slopes and a house and barn, or two.
Then we came to Wampflen. The only thing that marks Wampflen is the Post bus stop sign. Across the road from the sign is an old, traditional-looking house and about 100 yards down the road is another old house and several outbuildings. Wampflen is where we got our name. See Fred Wampler’s book (Reference 1) for the whole story. "Wand" means wall in German and "fluh" is a Swiss German term for a steep mass of rock. Wandfluh then means a place with a steep wall of rock, and indeed, above Wampflen there is a steep wall of rock, although we could barely see it through the rain and fog. Wandfluh must have changed to Wampflen over the years. A Wampfler is someone who comes from Wampflen.
I was really excited to see Wampflen – where we got our name. I had feelings of excitement at finding it and pride in our heritage – maybe even a feeling of "home". Anyway, I felt great at being there – even in the rain.
We drove on up the valley and soon came to the road sign announcing the village of Zwischenfluh. We stopped in the middle of the road and I got out to photograph the sign. The village stretches for a mile or two, up the narrow valley.
There are many Wampflers still in this area. I later looked up Wampflers in the Swiss electronic phone book, in a phone booth, and there are 21 or 22 listings for Wampflers in Zwischenfluh and Diemtigen. Many of the Wampfler names in the phone book are hyphenated with another name – like Wampfler-Wiedmer. I wonder why?
The stream that parallels the road down the valley was running high with white water, and it was still raining. Just past the Zwischenfluh road sign, there were crews of men and machines working on the road where it had washed out. The road was closed. I was really disappointed. We were stopped short of my goal of seeing the Geissegg – the oldest Wampfler home site that we know (Reference 1). I got out of the car in the rain and took pictures of everything around us. There was a small ski lift going up the mountainside, across the stream on the other side of the valley. There were a couple of houses in view on the hillside and some cows grazing up the hill almost in the clouds. I took pictures of them all, since I thought this was all I would see of Zwischenfluh. I was downhearted.
We turned back to go down the valley. My friend, Jerry, was driving and when we came to a bridge across the stream to the other hillside, he turned and we took a road up the mountain just to see what we could see. This area was heavily forested and the road was blacktop, but very narrow. Up the hillside, there was a complex of condos or apartments. I think the Diemtig Valley has been "discovered" and is experiencing significant growth – ski resorts and new houses. There seemed to be many more houses than appear in the pictures that Fred B. Wampler took in 1986 (Reference 1).
We found a crossing road running along the hillside, or rather mountainside, and turned right to follow it up the valley back toward Zwischenfluh. We came around a corner into a clearing, and there it was spread out below us – the beautiful Zwischenfluh Valley. The rain had stopped and the clouds were thinning out. The sun broke through. I was very excited to get to see it after all, and I jumped out of the car, and took the picture of my first view of the valley. (photo #8) The valley had widened out at this point and the slopes of the mountains were less steep. The trees had been cleared to create meadows, which were lush and green, and sprinkled with flowers. It was beautiful. There were many houses dotting the slopes on both sides of the valley.
It was a great experience. I was excited and very happy to see what a beautiful place we Wamplers came from. I really like the fact that our family originated in such a great place in Switzerland. I’m proud of it. I hope many of you that read this, are able to visit our "homeland" and experience this same thrill.
We found a road leading down into the valley and followed it. We had bypassed the roadblock, and were on the main road in the valley floor. We drove up the valley and spotted a cemetery. It was behind the schoolhouse. There were several people gathering in the schoolhouse. We guessed it was a community meeting about the flooding, but I don’t know for certain. The cemetery was very well kept, and there were flowers growing on all the graves. There were many Wampfler gravestones, and several of them had Wampfler hyphenated with another name. Again, the graves were fairly recent. I think the earliest was in the 1960’s.
Next to the schoolhouse, there was a road that left the main valley road and climbed up the eastern side of the mountains. Across this road from the schoolhouse at the corner of the main road was a building and two men were standing beside it. I told Jerry that I wanted to talk to them, and see if they knew any Wampflers.
I walked up to them and introduced myself in my bad Deutsch. I told them I was from America and that I was looking for Wampflers. The younger man became excited. They were Wampflers! The older gentleman was Niklaus Wampfler, the postmaster whose picture is in Fred Wampler’s book. The younger man was his son, Jacob. Jacob, or Jack, as he told me he likes to be called, went into the house and got the rest of the family. He brought out his mother, Niklaus’s wife, who I think is named Dora, and Niklaus Junior, the younger brother, who is now the Postmaster in Zwischenfluh since his father has retired. Niklaus Junior spoke a little English, about as much as I spoke German, and he has been to the United States twice, on vacation. Also in the group, was a young woman who had been filling in as replacement Postmaster, while Niklaus, Junior was away on vacation. I didn’t get her name, but she spoke good English and helped us communicate.
I asked if I could take a photograph of them and Jerry took a picture of the whole group of us- Wampflers and a Wampler. Through the Postmistress, we learned that the Niklaus Wampfler family is involved in several businesses. They run the Post Office, and they serve as the central collection point for the milk and cheese from the farmers on the mountains. The farmers bring down the milk and cheese to the Wampflers, and I suppose it is collected by a dairy for distribution and sale. The Niklaus Wampfler family also acts as toll takers for the private road, the road I mentioned earlier, that goes up over the mountain toward the west. They must be doing quite well because it appeared that they had recently built a large addition onto their house. The building has three wings and two floors. One wing is the old Post Office, the rear wing contains a large steel vat to collect the milk, and the new third wing is built like the traditional Swiss houses all around that area. The name of the family is carved in the wood on the gabled end of the new wing.
I asked Niklaus, Jr. where the Geissegg was. As Fred tells us in Reference 1, the Geissegg is the name of the property that was owned by Hans Wampfler and where his house was. This is probably the birthplace of his son Christian Wampfler in 1654. Christian moved to Sparsbach Alsace, and Hans Peter (1701-1749) was his son, who moved to America in 1741. So, I wanted to see and walk on the Geissegg (which means goat ridge). Niklaus, Jr. said we couldn’t get to the Geissegg, because the road had washed out and the people that live there had been evacuated for fear of further mudslides. But he said he would take us to where we could see the Geissegg. So Niklaus, Jr. and Jack got in our car and we went back the way we had come, up the eastern slope of the valley for maybe a mile or so.. They told us to stop and we got out of the car and looked across and back up the valley to where Niklaus, Jr. told us to look. Photo numbers 13, 14, and 15 are pictures of the Geissegg from this spot. The Geissegg is beautiful. Boy, was I pumped! Talk about being high in the mountains! This was what I came to see and experience. It was great.
Jerry took my picture with Niklaus, Jr. and Jacob (or Jack) with the Geissegg in the background. We drove them back to their house and thanked them for their hospitality. I told them to please visit us if they come to America again, and I gave them my card.
Jerry and I left and drove further up the valley to Schwenden. There is a ski lift there and a RV park. We ate lunch in a small "Mom and Pop" restaurant and then returned down the valley the way we had come.
It was a great day and the highlight of our trip for me. Seeing our beautiful "homeland" and meeting the Niklaus Wampfler family were wonderful experiences.
Reference 1. "Wampfler (Wampler) Family History The 1500s – 1700s " by Fred B. Wampler Ph.D, Los Alamos, New Mexico 1986.