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A Winter Walk from Solingen to Kassel, 1902

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 01, 2011

Late in December 1901, German Mission President Francis M. Lyman challenged his elders to come to their scheduled conference in Berlin not by train, but by traveling on foot, without purse or scrip, preaching along the road in the dead of a northern European winter. Two elders who accepted the challenge were Julian Emerson Young (1875-1961), a grandson of Brigham Young, and his unfortunately unnamed companion (I’m sure it’s available in the mission record, but I don’t have access to that at the moment).

The pair left from Solingen not far from the western border of Germany, and headed nearly due east toward Berlin. They made it about 105 miles on their journey before law officers forced them to send for funds from the mission president to complete their travel by rail, but before that point Julian reported it the “grandest experience” of his life.

That’s all in your point of view, no doubt …

-oOo-

… Singing in our hearts that dear, old hymn, “We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness,” we marched forth, our valises well filled with tracts and our pockets empty of money. Only our Heavenly Father knows the doubts and fears awakened in our minds; but, like Nephi, “being born of goodly parents,” we had early learned that great truth, “When the Lord speaks, obey.”

After a sturdy tramp we knelt in a quiet spot and prayed, the power of the adversary left us and we were ministered to by the Holy Spirit. On we tramped, mile after mile, endeavoring to reach a city where we could hold an evening meeting. We thought little of eating; we dared not think of that. It was our first trip without purse or scrip and in the dead of winter. The rain began falling, night was fast coming on. It was very cold, being in a latitude some seven hundred miles north of our home in Utah. That evening we reached a town, but found the main streets lined with saloons and the people Catholics. We took our departure, and after two hours we came to another place, but the people there rejected us also.

On we tramped, the influence of the Holy Spirit being strength to our body and balm to our aching limbs. One of my shoes gave way, letting the water in. By the light from a farmhouse window we could see an old wagon by the roadside, and in this we knelt and prayed. Then, entering the little city of Bohnsal [i.e., Rönsahl; see comment 3], we found, through the guidance of the Spirit, a supper and bed ready for us. May peace and the blessing of the Lord abide with that family.

After breakfast we marched on conversing and tracting by the way, but were rejected pretty generally. We came to a very poor, miserable house, where the family and animals all live on the same floor. We were disappointed at not receiving food there, but were glad enough when not far away a good, old miller invited us to eat at his table, and then we saw how our Heavenly Father gave His servants the best that was to be had.

On we marched, but the whole district thereafter seemed inhospitable and ignorant; card-playing, smoking and drinking were common. One man, a railroad-hand, was kind enough, however, to give us our supper and also to say that he should have liked to keep us over night. After our frugal but welcome meal of a glass of water and sour, black bread and butter, we stepped again out into the night. It was bitter cold now. We tramped past crucifixes and statues of the Saints. At midnight we lay down in a forest, but everything was so wet and cold that we could not rest. At length we found a narrow, frosty plank and lay down, but could not sleep.

Wet and cold we entered another town. The night shift was in a factory, and we sought shelter in the bunk-room, from which came a light. We found two young men; at first they were very friendly (our clothes and manners perhaps accounting for the same). After a few words we gave them tracts and they invited us to stay until 5 a.m. We stretched out on the bunks, which were nothing but boards, and though nearly suffocated with the thick smoke in the low room, we fell asleep – and then awoke! The room was full of angry, dark-faced men, and one in no mistakable terms ordered us out. There was an effort made to lay hands on us, but we kept silent and hurriedly escaped from the weird scene.

It was a little after 3 a.m.; out into the night and storm we went. The wind howling, nearly blinded us with the whirl of snow. With every step came sharp rheumatic pains from ankle to hip, and this made progress slow. We did not know the way, but were led by the Spirit. At 5 a.m. we saw a light and on inquiry found we had been traveling right. On, on we tramped, the crucifix at the entrance of every town and along the roadside telling us plainer than words the kind of community. Still we went on, the snow making it hard to travel. We were so cold that we were driven to ask a few moments’ shelter in one of the prevalent house-barn dwellings, but were denied the same, still, to modify the coldness of the refusal, something more than a penny was thrust into our hands before the door swung to. The cold was intense, especially as we were wet through and through from perspiration and the previous night’s rain.

Death hovered over us all day, death from exposure and cold. At intervals all would turn black before us, and it seemed that we must sink down in the snow and perish, but the sustaining peace of the Holy Spirit never failed us and somehow we went on. At noon we came to two houses by the roadside. The Spirit guided us to go into one, and the good lady offered us money, but after hearing our message she invited us in, saying, “the pastor must have sent you,” but we promptly denied that. She was the only Protestant for miles on either side.

Here we found sympathy and rest; then we tramped forth again. Being warned by her against the whole district, we made Gleidorf our objective point. She said that there we would find some Protestants, and we could easily reach there by evening, but we should not go farther as it was much worse beyond than what we had already seen.

We reached Gleidorf in time, tracted and were at first rejected. At length one very poor man, who had a sick wife, insisted on giving us 2-1/2 d. We explained that the tracts were entirely free, but he insisted. Now the whole village seemed open to us, and altogether we received something less than a shilling. At one place where a large company was gathered, playing cards, a “purse” amounting to nearly fourpence was made up and given us.

We saw the hand of the Lord in this giving of money, and no one receiving us, we concluded He intended us to pay for a bed. We went to one of the lodging house saloons, and after a few moments conversation the proprietor agreed to give us a night’s lodging for what we had. He was kind enough to give us two thin slices of bread with a thick piece of pork between; the bread we ate but the pork we preserved.

After writing our journals we retired. It was the Sabbath, the last Sabbath of the old year. We had been thirty-six hours without sleep and almost constantly tramping, so we were soon off to the land of dreams. Suddenly a loud clatter on the door awakened us and we asked, “Who is there?” After some hesitation we were told, “the police.” I opened the door and let them in. Our American passports were ridiculed, and we were dragged off to jail. We had been asleep just three hours.

The crowd that gave us the “purse” and a Catholic neighbor having read the tracts had aroused the police and we were arrested. It was a long distance to the Catholic town where the prison stood; we were forced to retrace our steps. But O, the heavenly influence that came to us in that prison shortly after midnight; it was like the sweet influence in the Temple of the Lord.

We had free access to the coal and wood room, and spent the night singing hymns and drying our clothes and shoes, refusing to look at the iron bars on the windows or be depressed by a name. Having a little grease with us we oiled our shoes. Never did a blessing come more timely than this seemingly adverse throwing into prison.

In the morning we were taken before an official and he trumped up some charges. Then the Lord raised up the never failing friend, who did all he could for us. He was one of the head policemen and later our jailer. He took the tracts, and he gave us of his best. The mayor was unable to handle us, so we were sent in charge of our friend to another place. This friend wasas much converted as man could be in his unprepared, narrow condition and surroundings. He did all he could to modify and better the conditions, and after the trial we were given the liberty of the city, but only on promise of going no further without money in our possession, so we sent to Berlin. That night we were shamefully abused but I need not tell of our sufferings. If ever I forget the treatment we received at the hands of his satanic majesty I hope to have the experience again. I know the devil; I know his ways. I desire to become his greatest enemy, by keeping the commandments, the agreeable laws of the Lord.

The experiences following, however, were glorious, and all ended well. We distributed a great many tracts, bore our testimony to many who had never heard the Gospel, and under conditions that they will not soon forget, left our warning with them. I can say it was the grandest experience of my life, and I thank our Heavenly Father for it.



19 Comments »

  1. Thanks. This region was my old stomping grounds on my mission. :-) Some of the area is hilly and rugged. I could only imagine the difficulties of traveling by foot in the dead of winter.

    This was an interesting time for the Church in Germany. In 1902 Church membership in Germany was around 1,400–total. In spite of the small numbers, many in Germany did not trust Mormons primarily due to polygamy and emigration policy. Also, German consulates in the United States proclaimed Mormons as “undesirable” for Germany. It wasn’t uncommon for government officials and magistrates, in conjunction with the clergy from the established churches, to harass Mormon missionaries. What’s important is that this time was also the beginning of significant growth in Germany. With the Church at the beginning of the 20th century starting to discourage emigration, membership in Germany grew. On the eve of World War I there were between 5,500 and 7,000 members in Germany.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 1, 2011 @ 7:37 am

  2. I served in an area on the outskirts of Dortmund where I sometimes thought that we could have worked without purse or scrip and relied solely on the generosity and hospitality of the good people we met, members and non-members, but walking from Solingen to Berlin in winter? What was Pres Lyman thinking??

    I am having a bit of difficulty tracing the route. I can’t find a place called Bohnsal. There’s a Bönen outside Kamen, but then they would have had to go far south to get to Gleidorf, which is up in the mountains and straight east from Solingen. I’m guessing that they headed east straight into the mountains of the Sauerland without asking directions to Berlin. It’s a beautiful area, but I think they were probably lucky (blessed?) to get arrested and get out of their adventure alive.

    They should have gone northeast to Wuppertal, Hagen, Unna (all familiar locations, oh my! Ardis! you’re making me homesick for Germany!) and from there across the country to Berlin.

    Comment by Researcher — March 1, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  3. Okay, so I looked at the road from Solingen to Gleidorf, and along the way there is a small town called Rönsahl. That’s my best guess for the first location he mentions.

    If that’s the case, here’s their route.

    And, by the way, Solingen is well known for being the home of a number of knife manufacturers. The location may sound familiar if you have Wüsthof or Henckels knives.

    Comment by Researcher — March 1, 2011 @ 9:08 am

  4. My sister served in Germany, albeit a bit further south. I’ll bet she will have a similar reaction to it that Researcher had.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 1, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  5. Researcher: Yes, a better route would have been through Wuppertal, Hagen and Unna. (Of course, at the time there was no “Wuppertal” as the city wasn’t consolidated until the 1920s). Wuppertal is such a cool place. Unna was nice, too. Served in both during the mid-1980s. :-)

    I couldn’t find Bohnsal either; however, I imagin that it might have been incorporated into another city or Elder Young just might have misspelled the name or something. There is a Bohnsal in Bavaria but there is no way the missionaries would have done that.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 1, 2011 @ 11:23 am

  6. I was thinking that the Lutherans were the predominant religion in Germany at this time, not Catholic. Maybe that’s what Julina Young was referring to as Protestants. However the Lutherans in Denmark in the 1850′s were pretty violent against the missionaries and some of my ancestors on the isle of Bornholm, even to the point that the police could no longer guarantee their safety from the mobs.

    My grandfather in the Southwestern States mission at about this same time had some similar experiences, only it was usually summer, and the biggest issue were rattlesnakes and violent thunderstorms in southern Texas, and Baptists instead of Catholics.

    Comment by kevinf — March 1, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  7. Lutheran Protestantism is the largest religion in Germany at about 60-65% of the population. Catholics make up a sizable minority at about 30+%. There are areas of Germany that are primarily Catholic including southern Germany and the Rhineland (which would include areas mentioned in the OP). Not to go too far off track here, but Bismarck was concerned about the religion question when he was in the process of unifying Germany. He was concerned that the southern German states would be more Catholic than German–hence reluctance to unify the southern states until the Franco-Prussian war and the Kulturkampf (Struggle of Culture) against the Catholics in the 1870s.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 1, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  8. Unna was the area I meant in my first comment, Steve. It was strange biking through the rural areas and seeing the cows and chickens and ducks after having just served in the great and wonderful city of Köln. But it was a lovely ward.

    Wuppertal is a beautiful place — I was supposed to serve there, but didn’t. (It’s too long a story to tell here.) Instead I was transferred to Siegen. The train ride there was very beautiful. But although it’s a beautiful area, I sure wouldn’t want to hike through it in the middle of the winter!

    As I understand it, Kevin, the further south you go in Germany, the higher the concentration of Catholics. This area which is about in the middle of Germany seemed like it was about half and half. (That means that of all the the people who identified their religion for us when we knocked on their doors, about half said “Ich bin katholisch,” and about half said, “Ich bin evangelisch” (Protestant)).

    There were cities like Siegen that seemed to have a higher concentration of Catholics, and of course Köln and Aachen have their great cathedrals.

    Here is a little article about religion in Siegen, which is just to the south of the Sauerland, and which shows some of the complexity of the religious tradition in that area. (It mentions the LDS Church.)

    Comment by Researcher — March 1, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

  9. And what Steve said. : )

    (I should also mention that I was just barely able to sit on my hands and refrain from playing the did-you-know game about the members in Unna…)

    Comment by Researcher — March 1, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

  10. I know what you mean, Researcher. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — March 1, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  11. This sure struck a chord with our two returned German missionaries! Glad to see that, and the responses of others, too.

    Thanks, too, for the additional information, especially the context of the geography, the Church in Germany at this point, and the correction to the city name. I’m going to add the correct name of Rönsahl in brackets to the original post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 1, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  12. Isn’t Wuppertal the place with the really cool suspended monorail?

    Comment by Chad Too — March 1, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

  13. Yes, Chad too, you’re right. It’s called the Schwebebahn. It’s really cool. I think it was either under construction or just recently built at the time this post took place.

    Ardis: It did strike a cord. Thanks.

    Many places in the area have both a Catholic and Protestant population. Unna had both. We taught a lay Lutheran minister, Hans Wobser, in Unna. Researcher, how’s that for playing the “do you know” without a major thread jack? :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — March 1, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

  14. Yes, it seems that despite both parties’ best efforts, neither succeeded in completely eradicating the other in the Thirty Years’ War.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 1, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

  15. Oh my goodness, Steve, I was just writing a note to Ardis and was going to mention Bruder Wobser in particular. But I deleted that bit of the email. Imagine that. You taught Bruder Wobser. What a character. He had pictures of all the missionaries in his apartment, so I probably saw your picture. I remember a particularly funny sacrament meeting talk he gave. Oh my. What memories.

    And now I have to be sober and think somber thoughts about the Thirty Years’ War. It seems like the two religions got on well enough in the late 20th century — the groups that weren’t getting along particularly well were the Germans and the Turks. Solingen was the site of some pretty bad race difficulties and some of that spilled over into Köln where I was working at the time.

    Comment by Researcher — March 1, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  16. Thanks for this amazing glimpse into the past. Yes, very hilly, and still very catholic area. I used to live close-by, and forwarded this to the stake president of the Dortmund stake, who happens to live almost on the very route these brave elders took.

    Just for accuracy’s sake:
    Could it be that the name of the village where they stayed the first night was not Bonsahl but instead Rönsahl, the R being similar to the B in handwriting? There isn’t a Bonsahl in Germany, but if you check on google maps you’ll find Rönsahl exactly on their way.

    Comment by Andre — March 2, 2011 @ 3:30 am

  17. Sorry for the repetition of 3 in 16, that’s what you get when a page is in your cache for a day before answering, I could only see the first comment.

    Steve C, the number of catholics you state is right, abt. 30%. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the population is lutheran protestant: They are on par with the catholics, also at 30%. 4% are muslim, 2% orthodox or other denominations, but the greatest part of the population in Germany is now with 34% undenominational. (See wikipedia.de, “Religionen in Deutschland”) Of course that number for whole Germany is skewed by east German figures of 70-80% being undenominational. (See same article.) 40 years of communism leave their mark.
    The Church is at abt. 0,05%, with 40,000 members and 180 wards in Germany. No ward between Rönsahl and Gleidorf yet.

    Comment by Andre — March 2, 2011 @ 5:11 am

  18. Delighted to hear from you, Andre!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 2, 2011 @ 7:22 am

  19. Re Rönsahl: in one published version of Young’s account that I found, the city’s name is spelled Röhnsal.

    FWIW, here is a link to a December 1900 report providing some historical background on serving without purse or scrip in Germany (see the bottom of column 2 and all of column 3).

    Comment by Justin — March 2, 2011 @ 8:36 am

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