Last evening, we arrived home from the promotional trip to Germany, exhausted but delighted by the welcome we received both in Koblenz and Nickenich. Before either of my presentations, Victor and I found the Stolpersteine (Stumble stones) for Joe Stirling’s parents, set into the pavement outside their last known address in Koblenz and laid a white rose in their memory. It was a touching moment.
On Wednesday 11th May I spoke to an audience of about 70 people at the prestigious Bundesarchiv (Federal Archive) in Koblenz, hosted by the President of the Archive, Dr Michael Hollmann and the Kulturdezementin (Head of Culture and Education at Koblenz City Council), Dr Margit Theis-Scholz. The Chairman of the Koblenz-Norwich Friendship Association, Günter Hahn, valiantly acted as my interpreter. The equipment for my presentation was ‘state of the art’, the Rhineland wine and huge pretzels were delicious and we met many people interested in Joe’s story. I am most grateful for their support. The very next day the local newspaper, Rhein-Zeitung carried the story.
On 12th May we arrived in Joe’s home village of Nickenich where we met with Jutta Hansen, local historian and the Town Mayor, Herr Gottfried Busch. Jutta took me for a walk around the village where I could still see signs of the farming village as it was in Günter’s childhood. Herr Busch then treated us to dinner at our hotel. During Friday we spent some time at the beautiful Maria Laach (ancient monastery) on the shores of the Laacher See (both of which feature in the early part of Escaping Hitler) where we were thrilled to find a poster for my book event on the tourist board by the lake! During the late afternoon we helped prepare the room in the Nickenich Pellenzhalle for the evening’s presentation. This went well beyond my imagination – more than 80 people – mostly locals but some from Andernach and a couple from Luxembourg, people all fascinated to hear from the man himself (on video on a huge screen) what exactly happened to that little Jewish boy, Günter Stern, once he had disappeared from the village with his mother Ida, on the morning following his father’s arrest on Kristallnacht in 1938. Joe’s family remains part of the folklore of the village, his parents’ names commemorated in the wall of the church. My words were translated into German by student and Nickenich resident Jessica Hansen and people were clearly moved by Joe’s story. Again, the local press were in attendance and the story is now in print.
In total from the two presentations I signed and sold 44 copies, each signed in advance by Joe Stirling. Considering the book is in English this was an amazing result and in both Koblenz and Nickenich I now have people actively seeking a German publisher who will work with Pen and Sword Books to translate and publish the book for a German audience. Fingers crossed! Meantime, here are some photos to give you a flavour of this most satisfying trip to Joe’s homeland.