Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Visit to Southern Burgenland/ Mission Accomplished

After years of research I finally made it to Inzenhof, Burgenland, Austria. This was the finale to my goal of visiting the places where my grandparents were born. I first traveled to Granada, Nicaragua, in 2015, where my maternal grandmother Graciela Del Castillo was born. A couple years later I made it to Chicago where my grandmother Dorothy Mason was born in 1909.  A few months ago I visited Brownstown, Indiana where my grandfather Charles Forgey was born in 1898. I finally made it to Inzenhof where my Grandfather Rudolph Kapple was born in 1909. He was born during a visit back by my great-grandmother Maria Kurta . She was visiting her father Johann Kurta and family.  She had been living in Pennsylvania. When she returned to America, with her children in 1910, she joined her husband Frank Kappel (Köppel) who had migrated to Chicago. His father, Christian Köppel, and Maria's father, Johann Kurta, had both made trips to America, but appear to be among the 22% of immigrants who returned to Burgenland after spending time working in America.

I put off the visit to Inzenhof, and the Güssing area, because traveling there is more of a challenge. Not only is it there a 12 hour flight from Los Angeles, California but it's also at least a few hours, by public transportation, from the nearest airport. There is limited public transportation to the area. Taking public transportation to the nearest larger hub town involves taking trains to buses, which don't run frequently and require several transfers.

I've always wanted to visit Salzburg and Vienna, Austria. I decided to add the trip to southern Burgenland to that itinerary. Since getting to Burgenland from Vienna was a bit complicated for a first time visitor I decided to begin the trip with a structured 10 day Trafalgar bus tour, which would take care of all the trip details, leaving me to navigate my way through Burgenland on my own more rested. This tour began in Munich for a couple nights, moved on to Oberammergau for another two nights, continued to Salzburg for another two nights, then ended in Vienna. I stayed a few additional days in Vienna before moving on to my hotel in  Güssing, Burgenland.  Güssing is the closest area to Inzenhof with hotel accommodations.

The Trip to Güssing and Inzenhof from Vienna

I took 3 trains from Vienna to Alsoronok in Hungary, which is only 9 miles from Güssing. There are several routes and trains that stop within easy taxi distance from Güssing. It costs around 35 euros to travel from Alsoronok to  Güssing by taxi.

Below you can see the route my trains took to Alsoronok. Depending on the route the Trains take and the time the connections meet it can take 3 and a half, to 4 hours, to to travel from Vienna to Inzenhof (the fastest way to get anywhere in Burgenland would be to rent a car in Vienna or Graz). Unless you're lucky enough to have a train stop near your Burgenland ancestral area it can be time consuming to make the journey from the airports to the area. The tricky part when it comes to visiting Burgenland is transportation and lack of accommodations in sparsely populated areas.

Google maps has simplified visiting Burgenland by providing train and bus schedules. Just enter where you are traveling from and where you're going , click the public transportation icon and travel options will be presented. Austrian rail OBB also provides schedules at their website, and the ability to buy tickets online.

Schedule and train numbers for trip to Alsoronok
All of the trains are modern, comfortable, clean, and have WC's (restrooms). All trains have mounted screens providing stop information and train arrival times.

Traveling through Northern Burgenland before crossing into Hungary

Crossing into Hungary, from northern Burgenland,  Austria, Austrian border guards patrol outside the train, but do not board. Passport checks aren't required when traveling through EU countries.

Traveling through western Hungary

We traveled through some beautiful Hungarian countryside on our way to Alsoronok. I saw a beautiful stork in flight too.

Taxi Roni picked me up at the train station in Alsoronok. Taxi driver Ronald Vajda can speak English so I would recommend using his taxi service if you don't speak German. He is also reliable so even if you do speak German,  I would still recommend him.

The taxi took me to Güssing through the back road leading past our family church St. Emmerich. This little known route is shorter.

Crossing the Border from Hungary into Austria

Here we are at the border with signs with the Hungarian flag on one side and the Austrian flag on the other

Arrival in Güssing

Once I got to Güssing everything was simple. I stayed at the Aktivpark hotel, which is part of a sports and fitness complex. I was happy with this hotel which provided a free breakfast, wifi, and had a restaurant and bar. The accommodations were modern and clean.

Within easy walking distance to the town center the location of the hotel was very convenient for me since I didn't have a car. I was able to explore the area, which has some nice restaurants, cafes, a theater and grocery stores along with historic buildings. Burg Güssing dominates the hill which the  town is built around.

After dumping my stuff at the hotel I took a leisurely stroll around Güssing.

I then stopped at a grocery store and bought a drink, and a snack (jelly filled cookies). Nice grocery store with many yummy options.

The taxi driver, Ronald's, English was very good but I did encounter a language barrier more frequently here than in Vienna where more people could speak English.

The  next morning I woke up to the sound of church bells. It was for Corpus Christi a Catholic feast day, and Austrian National holiday. You can watch the procession I videoed below.

First Official Visit to Inzenhof

After the morning Corpus Christi festivities I headed to Inzenhof, about 4 miles away, with Taxi Roni, to look up the house numbers I collected from the Felsoronok church records. This was much more complex than I expected because the house numbers are in random order. Apparently they were numbered as they were built, so house number 5 can be next door to house number 111. Not the tract numbering system I'm used to.

Taxi driver Ronald spotted a man walking his dog. He asked about the house numbers and this man turned out to be the man we needed. This man delivered newspapers to the area and knew how to find the houses I was looking for. I really appreciated his helpfulness.

Below is house number 3. My Kurta ancestors lived for a time at number 3. Kurtas still live in the house. I'm not certain if this is an old house? This may either be the renovated house my ancestor Johann Kurta and wife raised their children in, or a newer house? I believe it probably does sit on the land the original house sat on, if it doesn't contain any parts of the original house?

My ancestor Christian Köppel's family home/property is more difficult to establish. Our local guide asked the current residents of house number 25 if  Köppel's lived in that house? They said a Christian Köppel lived in another house. Because of the language barrier I was not able to understand if they were talking about another Christian Köppel? They stated Christian married a woman in the United States. My Christian did go to the US, but seemed to return to Austria? I really don't know what happened to him? His son, my ancestor Frank, stayed in the US, but I didn't see his father with him, or around him, in Census records? I'm not sure when Christian's wife, my ancestor, Maria Bierbauer died, it's possible he could have remarried in the US?

They seemed to be saying that someone named Köppel was living in Vienna now?

I'm not sure when the current residents of 25 moved into that house? I should have asked. I believe the fact Christian's family lived in the house so long ago the locals no longer have any knowledge of the Köppel's ownership of the house or land?

Like house number 3 the house may have be a renovated older home, or a much newer build.

Christian Köppel later took over his Bierbauer in-laws property at number 111. The Bierbauers relocated to Inzenhof in the mid 19th century and likely built a house then, which is why the number is so much higher than Johann Kurta at number 3.

A Köppel is currently living at house number 24, which the residents at house number 25 pointed out. Apparently this is a longtime Köppel household. It's associated with a Christian Köppel, which I believe is a younger man than my Christian? I do think they are related to my family.

Since we no longer spell our name Köppel I had no idea how the name should be pronounced. We now spell and pronounce the name Kapple. Our original surname should be pronounced K-Opal, as the local residents explained. They didn't recognize Kapple, as a local family. Once they understood what my surnames were they stated there were many Köppel's and Kurtas in the area historically, and currently there still are a number of Kurtas.

One of the residents of number 25 called a Köppel to ask her how my family fit into to the local area. My family having left so long ago little is known of them. The residents of the area were aware of the fact some of the Köppels went America, but weren't sure exactly where they lived or how they connected with current residents?

The house at 111 is definitely a newer home. It isn't built in the traditional local style. Unfortunately the owner wasn't home because his wife died recently. 

After searching for family properties. I asked Ronald to drop me at the family church St. Emmerich. This church was located in no man's land during the Cold War. Because of its location on the Iron Curtain the church and cemetery fell into disrepair. Once the Cold War ended it took a great deal of restoration work to bring the church back to what we see today. The church is now very isolated in a wooded area, miles from the populated areas. 
The road from Inzenhof to the church has signs pointing out this road is part of the Iron Curtain Trail.

I hiked around the location of the old abandoned cemetery. I was only able to read one headstone. The others are too worn. I believe more headstones are likely  buried. Since the border area was heavily mined during the Cold War digging around the old cemetery may not be the kind of blast we'd like? 

I examined photos posted around the grounds of this church.

I was also fascinated by the signs. The painted markings on the trees seem to represent Austria and Hungary. One sign stated a camera was surveilling the area, but I didn't see one?

Back to Güssing

After heading out of the woods back to Güssing I took a wonderful tour of Burg Gussing. When I told the person selling tickets at the Burg that my family was from Inzenhof and I was visiting from California, and my family names, she recognized a name like Bierbauer, she said Bierbaumer. I'm not sure if later members of this family changed the name? Could be a different family too?

If you buy a 7 euro ticket to the Burg Güssing you will get a discount on tickets to the other Burgs in Burgenland. 

I thought touring the Burg Castle/Museum would only take a short time. I was there for hours. After walking so much the past couple weeks I was happy there is a lift up to the Burg, which helped preserve my energy for the vast collections of the museum, and large Burg complex. 

Our previous landlords the Batthyany family are still prominent in Gussing. You can see pictures of the current family members at the Burg museum. 

Closing Service For Corpus Christi

After the Burg tour I attended the closing service for Corpus Christi at the Catholic Church. This was a beautiful ceremony. This service was primarily sung. The German dialect in this area is very interesting to listen to. Listening to this softer German accent was very soothing.

Other Religious Groups in Güssing

Most Burgenlanders are Catholic, but Protestantism did penetrate the area early on. One of the Batthyany overlords converted and became Protestant adding acceptance of that form of Christianity. Below you can see a Protestant church building in Güssing.

This church was built in the 1980's, but the congregation was established in 1783.

There is also a Kingdom Hall located on the same street in Güssing. The Jehovah's witnesses have apparently made converts here.

A Return to Inzenhof Day 3

I returned to Inzenhof the next day again via taxi. I asked about buses at the Rathaus. There was a bus to Inzenhof that day, but no bus returning to Güssing. The only bus headed to Inzenhof left around 1 pm. Lucky I could take a taxi and start my journey earlier because a thunder storm rolled through late in the day, after I left.

What caught my eye in the center of the Village of Inzenhof was the Gasthaus Kurta, since my great-grandmother was Maria Kurta. I'm actually related to the Kurta family at least twice. If I could trace the family back farther it may be more?

The Gasthaus Kurta is a place where local villagers can socialize.

The sky was mostly clear when I arrived in Inzenhof, but there were clouds off in the distance. I enjoyed the beautiful morning weather walking through the entire village. Looking at the surviving houses and farm structures some appeared to be newer and some could be quite old based on the state of deterioration. It is difficult to date buildings by eye because the same building techniques were used until fairly recently. Most structures were made of brick with a coating over it, which looks like plaster. The earliest roofs were thatched, later replaced by red tile. The newer buildings appear to be made of concrete blocks.

Soviet occupation of Burgenland after WWII led to stagnation of the economy. Poverty likely preserved some of the pre- WWII structures, and led to continued use of old building techniques, and preservation of old ways of life. A definite change to more modern styles can be seen immediately after the Soviet occupation ends.

I was surprised to find a newer war memorial in Inzenhof. Not the one I had a picture of?

The house behind house number 55 is very interesting. It appears to be fairly old and has a rusted manual water pump. Next to the old pump is modern water spigot. Many people continue to use the old manual pumps to water their gardens, but this particular pump is likely older than some of the others. I'm wondering if the current house number 55 is a replacement for the older house behind it?

House number 55 and its older neighbor are built in the traditional Hungarian style common to what used to be Western Hungary. The houses were long, not compact like the Northern Austrian Alpine style houses. Recently Swiss chalet architecture seems to be becoming popular in the area. Also western style homes with attached garages can be seen here. 

I spotted a couple of what I thought were old outhouses.

I thought a bread trunk was going through to village the day I was there. No it's actually a meat truck, for those who may not go into Güssing very often to buy groceries. 

Inzenhof residents still erect the traditional Maypole. I'm glad I arrived the end of May and the first couple days of June so I could see the Maypole. 

Burgenland has fully integrated into Austria culturally. They may retain some traditional customs, but the culture is now predominately western and Austrian. American music can be heard playing all around the area, even though few Americans visit here. The family ties of the area to America are strong, maybe that's the reason why American popular culture is found here? The Austrian bicycle culture has found a home here too. Sadly cigarette smoking is common in Austria where cigarette machines can still be found. 

Back to Güssing 

I was pleased to find a phone booth in the town of  Güssing. I think phone booths are a good thing. Not having them forces people to spend money on cellular phones, like it or not. I've forgotten my phone, and can't always find a place to charge the phone. Phone booths are handy if you are caught without a phone in a emergency. 

There is a great deal of signage around Burgenland so getting around isn't that difficult.

Sign of pride for a local woman made good at the Winter Olympic games

"They will not replace us," isn't a chant ever heard in Burgenland or Inzenhof. The man showing us around the village was from Germany. Some distant cousins still live in Inzenhof, but many village residents fled poverty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries relocating to America, Canada and wherever they could find work and were allowed to settle. My own ancestors were brought to that area to replace the population decimated by the Ottoman Turks invasions. The local aristocracy, the Batthyany relocated peasants from other areas to inhabit this land and pay rent to them as tenants.

The residents of Inzenhof weren't always struggling to the point of leaving the area, and not everyone was driven to flee the area during economic downturns. Many Inzenhof residents did migrate to America. In 1910 ninety-eight of the 673 residents of Inzenhof were residing in Copley, Pennsylvania. This depletion of the population continued through population losses due to war, and the decline of farming as viable occupation. Residents also relocated to Vienna and Graz.

The current population of Inzenhof is now around 338 people. The smaller population reflects the early out migrations, and the fact small farms are no longer as sustainable in Austria as in the past. Smaller family size is also a factor, my Kappel great-grandparents had 11 children, which is practically unheard of today. Many new surnames can now be found as people from other areas of Austria, and the European Union, have made their homes in Inzenof. The new residents have likely been drawn to the area because of its quiet charm, and lower cost of housing.

Time to say goodbye for now

I was in Burgenland from Wednesday to Saturday. I left for Graz Saturday afternoon where I continued sightseeing until my flight back on Monday.

I took taxi Roni to the train station in Fehring which is about 24 miles away from Güssing. From Fehring one train takes you to Graz, unlike the 3 trains to Alsoronok from Vienna. It costs more for a taxi to Fehring, but the trip by train is faster, only requiring one train. I would probably fly into Graz when returning to the area, and take the train from there.

My fondest memories of Burgenland. Austria:
  • The cute villages with their mostly one story Hungarian style houses with the church steeple dominating the view 
  • The church bells echoing through the villages and hills
  • The beautiful woods
  • The firewood stacked everywhere
  • The rolling hills
  • The flowers everywhere. Both garden flowers and wildflowers. I love flowers and people who love flowers
  • The lace curtains popular in the area
  • The charming old Burg and other historic old structures
  • The cafes in the town of Gussing and the great gelato
  • The sound of the farm animals, and thunder, echoing through the isolated valley of Inzenof
  • The beautifully maintained Village cemeteries
  • The swallows. I've been to San Juan Capistrano where the celebrated swallows are said to return every year. I've never seen one swallow in Capistrano. I saw hundreds here
  • I saw one stork which was quite beautiful! That is one large bird. I bet they can deliver 10 lb babies. I also saw stork nests 


Seeing my uncommon family names such as Kurta, Hamerl, Muik, on signs around the area was a big highlight. I'm happy to see these families still flourishing in the area providing gardening supplies, photography, and a gasthaus to the local area; these families have been able to make a living and remain in the area.

I'll  will always have fond memories of my visit to Burgenland. I really hated to leave, but I do hope to return.

If you'd like to see a slideshow of my Trip to Inzenhof at youtube I've provided it below (under that one is a slideshow of my nearly 3 week trip through southern Germany and Austria ending in Graz):

1 comment:

Sandra Kich said...

I enjoyed looking at and reading your account of your Burgenland trip very much. My grandparents never got to go back to visit and my parents are dead now and never got to see the area either. Thank you for the pictures and information. Much appreciated.