Visitors share Dudenhofen connection

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Diane Hoppenjans of Ferdinand, right, took a photograph of Michael Schmidt, left, of Dudenhofen, Germany, Tina Ofer of Owensboro, Michael’s wife, Barbara Kischka, Clemens Körner of Dudenhofen and his wife, Silvia, on Friday at a farm in northern Spencer County where Ofer once lived. The four Germans traveled to Indiana and toured Ferdinand before visiting the farm settled by the Ofers, a family that originally came from Dudenhofen. 

Herald Staff Writer

FERDINAND — An international vacation seems like as good a time as any to leave the responsibilities of home and work behind. But for four Germans visiting Ferdinand last week, their vacation was more than just a pleasure trip.

The Europeans were scouting locations for when they plan to return to Dubois County with their church choir in 2015, a visit that will mark Ferdinand’s 175th anniversary and celebrate the unique relationship of goodwill between the southwestern Indiana and southwestern Germany towns.

The particular connection between the communities was born in 2007, when Alvin and Diane Hoppenjans of Ferdinand traveled to Dudenhofen, a town 30 minutes west of Heidelberg, to explore Diane’s family heritage. When they arrived, they were greeted by Clemens Körner, then the Burgermeister, similar to the role a mayor plays in the United States. The American couple met Clemens’ wife, Silvia, a vocalist and organist and director of the church choir.

After six years of correspondence, the Körners, along with Michael Schmidt, the choir’s president, and his wife, Barbara Kischka, took the Hoppenjanses up on their offer to visit Ferdinand. The Germans are hammering down concrete plans for the larger group trip planned for March 2015. They arrived Thursday and stayed through Monday.

The connection between Dudenhofen and Ferdinand is more than a result of random chance. The region in southern Dubois and northern Spencer counties was historically known as “Dudenhofen Eck,” or “Dudenhofen Corner,” thanks to the high concentration of immigrants from the region who settled there in the early to-mid-19th century. Names familiar to those in Dubois County — including Balbach, Bettag, Koenig, Lindauer, Ofer and Tretter — all originated close to Dudenhofen, which is approximately two hours north of Pfaffenweiler, the sister city of Jasper that shares a lot of names with that community. It is about an hour north of Wagshurst, a city with which the community of Celestine has a relationship.

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Tina Ofer of Owensboro, left, and Barbara Kischka, Clemens Körner and Barbara’s husband, Michael Schmidt, all of Dudenhofen, Germany, looked down well on Friday to see if there was still water there on the northern Spencer County farm where Ofer once lived. The Germans traveled to Indiana and toured Ferdinand before visiting the farm settled by the Ofers, a family that came from Dudenhofen.

Michael said he could see why settlers from the Rhineland chose to live in Dubois County. “It is nearly all similar to our home state,” he said. “The same weather. ... Near us we have wine land and the forest is the biggest in the country.” He mentioned a German could settle in northern Spencer County and never know he had left Europe.

Barbara did notice one large change between the motherland and its U.S. counterpart.

“In Germany, it’s house by house by house,” she said, describing the small hamlets among the hills in western Germany. “You have a bigger space here,” she said, noting that cars are a bigger part of American culture and one has to drive to do any errands. ­­­­

The four guests got a crash course in German-American culture during their five-day visit, starting with a large surprise party held in their honor at the Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper on Thursday.
On Friday, the Hoppenjanses, along with about a dozen other Teutophile locals, took the Schmidts and Körners on a tour of Ferdinand, starting with the monastery and ending at the Ofer family farm on State Road 162, smack dab in the middle of what was historically Dudenhofen Eck. As the mix of Americans and Europeans stood in the sun and passed around black-and-white wedding pictures of stern-faced Dudenhofen ancestors in high-buttoned jackets, a friendly farm dog solicited fetches, bolting into the grove of trees before returning, happy, to her new friends.

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