A nice collection of old photos was donated to me in Hamburg recently. There were only a few photos in the lot that were labelled with names, and I could determine these 5 RPPCs to have belonged to one family Stoffers from Blankenese in Hamburg, Germany – my hometown!
This photo of a couple in love is of Willy Stoffers and Frida v. d. (von der) Heide, who got engaged in April 1918 in Dockenhuden, Mühlenberg, which lies within the city limits of today’s Hamburg. I can understand the somewhat concerned expression on Frieda. They got engaged in the last year of WWI, but noone knew how long the war was still going to last when this photo was taken. Will she ever get to marry her dear Willy, or would she be widowed before she gets to say “I do”?
I’ve got good news for you – Willy Hinrich Johannes Stoffers and Ida Frieda Emma von der Heide were married on November 21, 1919, in Blankenese in Hamburg. Their marriage record reveals some valuable information. Willy had been born on June 3, 1894, in Mühlenberg, Dockenhuden, to parents Claus Carl Wilhelm Stoffers and Wilhelmine Dorothea Margaretha née Suhl, both from Blankenese. Willy was a fisherman, just like his father.
Frieda had been born on March 27, 1896, in Bitter, Bleckede, in today’s Niedersachsen. Her father Johann Heinrich Wilhelm von der Heide had been a seaman. Her widowed mother Marie Dorothea Elisabeth née Gabriel was living in Bitter at the time.
One of the witnesses to their marriage was a bridge keeper Wilhelm Stoffers, 49 years of age, from Blankenese. I’ve identified him as Willy’s father, but about him a little later.
Four of the photos in the lot are field post RPPCs from WWI. One of them is labelled “My brother Willy”. Willy was the one holding the shell.
The second one was signed by Willy and addressed to Miss Helene Stoffers, living at 5 Panzer Str. in Mühlenberg, Hamburg. The stamp reads November 18, 1916 and the RPPC was sent from Wilhelmshaven. It says, “Dear sister, sending you a photo of our squadron. Best regards, your brother Willy”
There are so many clues here! Firstly, the address in Panzer Str. Secondly, Willy was in military service in 1916, so we might find a military record for him. And thirdly, Willy had a sister Helene back home.
I did indeed find one military record for Willy. In August 1916, he served with the Infantry Regiment No. 163 in the 2nd company and his whereabouts were unknown. He was missing in action. I can imagine the relief of his sister Helene when she received this life sign from him in November!
I have not been able to find his sister Helene in the records. I wonder if she was much younger and her birth records are not public because of the data protection laws in place in Germany. I might have to pay a visit to my local archives to go through the birth books myself.
Willy’s other sister Dora Magdalena Stoffers had been born on July 11, 1896. She gave birth to a son Paul Stoffers in 1915. She married Erich Menge in March 1919, her brother Willy served as one of their witnesses. But the couple divorced a year later. She re-married a fellow divorcé Curt Anton Böger. I don’t know if the couple had any children. Magdalena was widowed in 1934. She herself passed away in 1981 in Diepholz. What became of her son Paul, I don’t know. The good news is I don’t find him among the fallen of WWII. Paul got married in 1943, but that is all I’ve been able to find out.
The third field post RPPC of a squadron peeling potatoes was addressed to Miss M. Stoffers in the same address in Panzer Str 5 and it reads, “Dear Lena, sincere regards from your father in enemy land. I am fine, I hope you are too. Your father. See you at home”. The stamp reads November 25, 1916. So, this RPPC was received just a week after Willy’s.
So many new clues again! It looks like, both Willy and his father Wilhelm were in the Army during WWI. Willy’s father Carl Claus Wilhelm Stoffers had been born on September 2, 1870, so in 1916 he was 46 years old, probably one of the “older” faces in this RPPC. He came back from WWI, as did Willy. Father Wilhelm passed away of heart failure at 70 years of age in October 1940. On his death certificate, he is referred to as bridge keeper.
I’m quite sure that the addressee of this RPPC, “Lena”, was Willy’s sister Magdalena, who in 1916 was living in the same address with her sister Helene (and probably their mother) and taking care of her 1-year-old son Paul.
And the last RPPC is of Willy:
It was signed by him and sent to his parents from Ostende in Belgium in June 1917. Interesting how someone has used the photo to do some math calculations on it. Paper must have been scarce :).
I was not able to find out if Willy and Frieda had any children. Willy passed away at just 39 years of age on September 15, 1933, in Blankenese.
But before I close, let me tell you a little bit about where Willy and his family were from – Blankenese in today’s Hamburg. 200 years ago, Blankenese was Danish and it was Hamburg’s biggest competitor for what one would call fish industry today. Located directly at the river Elbe, fishing was the life of so many Blankenese families for centuries, including the Stoffers as you could read above. Men went to sea, and women often worked in the fish processing industry which surely was one of the least lucrative jobs at the time – it stank, women worked long hours and they were paid a quarter of what men would get for the same job. At the beginning of the 20th century, the fishing industry of Blankenese and Altona began to decline; in the 1930s Blankenese became part of today’s Hamburg. The fish market hall of Altona still stands in Hamburg today, as a reminder of the golden days of fishing on the River Elbe. But why don’t you come and see for yourself what a beautiful city Hamburg is today – it is definitely a bucket-list-worthy travel destination! See you here! 🙂