Home of the Danube Swabian for over 200 years.




Journey to the Other Schwabenland

Johannes Banzhaf

Translated & Edited by Rose Vetter, 10 Apr 2011

Author Johannes Banzhaf of Gütersloh, Westphalia, in northern Germany, wrote this heart-warming account. During a challenging 2,000 km trip he and his wife, Herta Fisslacker Banzhaf, took in a DKW automobile in 1938, they stopped off in Indija and Neu-Pasua to get acquainted with Johannes’s large extended family.

The article was originally published in the Geislinger Zeitung (Newspaper)
on July 19, 1939 and in the Stuttgarter Zeitung on August 11, 1939.

For a long time we knew very little of the Schwäbische (Swabian) Landsleute who had ventured to distant countries and settled there 150 years ago. Even in present times, many of us have no clear perception of the people who live out there in foreign lands, yet they are still our people; in fact, they are often more steadfast than we in honouring and preserving Swabian traditions.

The final impetus for our long-planned journey to the countries along the Danube was the discovery that fifteen families by the name of Banzhaf, members of our extended family, lived in a Donauschwaben village close to Belgrade. We had contacted them, enquiring if they would welcome a visit from us. As they are not closely related to us, we had no way of knowing anything about their living conditions. However, all our concerns were swept away by the reply that came from a yet unknown kinsman: “Please don’t write about your time of arrival to anybody else but me, otherwise they will all come to the train station, and then you won’t know whom you should go with.”

While spring was still timidly announcing its arrival in Germany, we were already basking in the summer-like weather of southern Hungary as we traveled along the Danube through the vast areas dotted with German settlements. As if the intense heat and poor roads were not enough of a challenge as we crossed the border into Yugoslavia, a torrential downpour almost overwhelmed us.

On the next day we finally arrived in the town of Indija. As we slowly drove through the village, we eagerly read all the business signs bearing German names, but could not find the name we were looking for. We finally stopped and asked a little girl for directions to the address of Schneidermeister (master tailor) Ludwig Banzhaf. “Ja,” she replied eagerly, “You have to turn around, he lives on the first street to your right, on the Kirchgass.”(Church Street)

After we have finally arrived at our destination, we feel as if we had never left home. We find the Meister in the tailor shop with his journeymen, efficiently going about his business. We have so much to talk about - our homeland and the long journey; we instantly feel as if we had known each other for a long time.

After an hour has passed we inform the kinsman that we would like to continue on to Nova Pazova (Neu-Pasua) as arranged. Cousin Ludwig is aghast that we would even entertain such a thought and insists that we stay with him for a few days; he had just bought a larger house a week ago and has ample room for us. We have a difficult time to explain to him that we cannot extend our vacation, as we are planning to continue our trip through the south Serbian mountains to the Adriatic Sea. We are finally able to calm him down after we promise to come back for a few hours’ visit in two days.

Reluctantly the cousin agrees, but he is very firm about sending his wife with us to show us the way - there are so many Banzhafs in Nova Pazova, he says, he’s afraid we might not find the right ones.

Driving over the dirt roads, we now realize that we are in a country where people have plenty of time. The tranquility and slow pace makes us visualize times that my wife and I have never experienced. Perhaps our parents in their youth had lived under conditions such as we find here.

Dusk is already descending upon the vast land in the Danube plain. As far as the eye can reach, all we can see is an endless quilt of fields and meadows blending into the horizon. After a half-hour’s drive we arrive in the Schwaben village with the foreign name. The German settlements differ from the Serbian ones only by their greater cleanliness. All houses are built with a single floor, but are up to fifty metres long, with the narrow gabled end facing the street.

After reaching the first houses, our guide points out the road we have to follow. There had been a heavy downpour during the afternoon, and although there is a bridge spanning the ditch, we cannot recognize anything resembling a road. We are driving on a 20 to 30 metre wide mass of clay. Our kinswoman insists, “We’re on the right track.” Clay lumps are flying as we slowly slither forward. Suddenly descending into a hollow, the wheels fail as we sink deeper into the mire. While we wonder what to do next, we think, how ironic, that after traveling two thousand kilometres without a breakdown, we are now stuck only one hundred metres from our destination!


House of Ludwig Banzhaf, Gary's grandfather, where the visitors from Germany stayed in 1938

Village youth in front of the Lutheran church on a
Sunday afternoon

Bible brought by settlers to Neu-Pasua ca. 1790-1792.

Lutheran church

Unidentified Farmyard

Cattle on street

Site of destroyed
Lutheran church

Our gallant escort disembarks and plods through the mud to go for help, while we wait in the car feeling quite useless. After only a few minutes, two, three, five Banzhafs arrive - never in our dreams did we ever imagine our reception to turn out this way! It doesn’t take long before a few more Banzhafs show up. One member of the clan happens to live at the very spot where we are stuck. Not surprisingly, he comes up with a very practical solution - that we stay with him, that way we wouldn’t have to continue further in this mud, and besides, it will be dark soon. The others, the ones we were supposed to stay with, object energetically – it is out of the question, they would rather go and get the horses and pull us out! Nevertheless, after a hearty heave-ho with human muscle power, we are pulled free. The news of our arrival spreads through the village like wildfire: The Deitschländer - the people from Germany - are here! The neighbours are already standing in front of their houses in anticipation and welcome us as if we were royalty!

We have barely had time to bring our bags into the house and become acquainted with our hosts before the room fills up with people. Kinfolk living close by can’t wait to meet us. The evening resounds with lively talk and eager questioning, surely known only among the Donauschwaben. They want us to confirm everything they had read in the papers or heard on the radio about the new Germany – everything they already knew about and had surely discussed many times. Their fervent belief in Germany that speaks out of every word embarrasses us.

It is very late by the time we go to bed. The dominant feature in our typical peasant style Swabian room is a whitewashed Kachelofen, a tiled oven that heats two rooms, with heat supplied by the Sparherd (cooking stove). The two beds are piled very high with feather duvets and pillows, and we’re afraid we might need a ladder. But several of these layers are purely decorative, and once they are removed we have a refreshing sleep. We surely must have slept longer than is customary in Nova Pazova. When we show up for breakfast, the son has already returned from the fields with a fully loaded feed wagon. Also, Pastor Friedrich Renz from the neighbouring village of Novi Banovci, who comes from Cannstatt (a suburb of Stuttgart, Germany), and who is eager to welcome us, has already come and gone. He will be back to join us for dinner at noon; he wants to tell us all about the German people who live in the area.

During the next two days we visit all the families belonging to the clan of 130 persons, not counting the more distant relatives. The patriarch, Ludwig Banzhaf, a 70-year old short but spry man, is our guide. He is very clever, a living encyclopaedia who has an answer to every question and knows everything about the history of the village.

Eighty families had settled here almost 150 years ago and today over 5000 people live in the village. Ownership of land had tripled during this time and extends over seventeen Serbian villages of the area. The Serbs, who learned too late what the Germans could achieve through industriousness and diligence, had sold off land at bargain prices, as they owned more than they could manage. Now they have also learned how to work, and have become more prosperous than the Serbs who have no contact with the Germans.

Wherever we go in the village, we have to drink homemade wine; fortunately it is quite light, otherwise we would not be able to finish all our visiting! The men are often not at home when we arrive; then the children are sent off to tell them the Deitschländer are here. In every house we have to tell the same stories over and over again; everywhere we are invited to dinner, everyone wants to do his best for us. Grandfather keeps repeating, “We never would have dreamed that any relatives from Germany would ever visit us!” The Banzhafs of Nova Pazova are rather proud that they are in contact with the Heimat – the ancestral homeland - whereas the other village families can’t make that claim. All too frequently we are stopped by people asking about this or that family name, or whether we know a certain person in Germany; they are mostly Swabian names. After numerous enjoyable, but exhausting visits, we return to our home base, where we sit together for a few more hours with more relatives we haven’t met yet. Some of them express the hope of visiting Germany in the near future.

The dialect of the villagers is very similar to that spoken in the Schwäbische Alb (Swabian Highlands) in Germany. Their lifestyle lags behind ours by many decades. With respect to health care, there are gradual improvements underway. Young women are receiving preparatory training in infant care. Children attend elementary school for five years and are required to learn Serbian as a second language, as well the Cyrillic script. All business signs are in German and Cyrillic. The official language of the village administration is German.

The people in this southern land between the Save and the Danube labour from morning till night. The main crops are wheat and corn. Fruit is not grown widely due to a lack of turnover. There are mainly mulberry trees grown in the village, not for raising silkworms, but rather for producing a wholesome Schnaps from its berries. The village owns large forested areas, however, they are almost a day’s ride away, mainly along the frontier (Grenzland) on the Sava River.

During the last night our sleep is interrupted at 1:30 a.m. by a knock on the window. When we open up, we recognize the three men. They explain that they are the Hochzeitsbitter (wedding inviters) and are asking for our hosts. They are visibly embarrassed when they realize that we are the Deitschländer; they thought we had departed already and offer their apologies. But we are happy to be introduced to this tradition. The men knock on the next window and soon we hear the farmer calling to his father, “Grandfather, get up, the Hochzeitsbitter are here!” In the morning the grandfather tells us excitedly how honoured he is to have been invited to the wedding, although he is only distantly related to the couple. The Hochzeitsbitter are respected village men who are involved in the marriage process, sometimes even acting as matchmakers. They begin their rounds in the evening and don’t stop until all chosen guests have been invited to the wedding, even if it takes until the early morning hours.

The time has come to pack our bags again. We cannot allow even the most urgent invitation to hold us back, for we have already stayed a day longer than planned. Some relatives have come to bid us farewell and we promise to come back again. As we resume our journey south along the village streets, we see people waving to us here and there. Many fond memories unite us with the warm, hospitable people of this Donauschwaben village on the southern Danube.

Comments by Gary Banzhaf, Contributor of this Article

The first contact for the visitors from Germany was my father, Ludwig; the patriarch in Nova Pazova by the same name was my grandfather. The intrepid tourist guide who had to trudge through the mud to call for help, was my mother, Elisabeth Neumann Banzhaf. To this day I cannot remember how she ever managed to get back home to Indija, for it had gotten dark, or whether she stayed overnight with the relatives. I’ve had dreams of mother with her boots filled with mud! Years later, she and the author, Johannes Banzhaf, corresponded, recalling the “muddy experience” of 1938.

As a twelve year-old boy, I remember staring in wide-eyed wonder when these people arrived from far-away Germany just to see their unknown kin. For them, our environment and traditions must have felt like a journey into the past. While I had obediently sat in the living room during the visit, I must admit that the main object of my fascination was the DKW automobile, the forerunner of today’s sophisticated Audi – it was quite the sensation in our village.

My father spotted the above article in the Donauschwaben paper Neuland, published in Salzburg, Austria, after World War II. For decades, Johannes’s article lay forgotten in a drawer and did not interest me until I became older and started collecting items relating to my family name.

[Published at DVHH.org 24 May 2011 by Jody McKim Pharr]

 Last Updated: 17 May 2018

Keeping the Danube Swabian legacy alive




Eve Brown



DVHH.org ©2003-2017
Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands,
a Nonprofit Corporation

Webmaster: Jody McKim Pharr
Last Updated: 17 May 2018
Keeping the Danube Swabian legacy alive

Support DVHH