By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —
“And so,” Michael Freiherr von der Tann continued, “we are so pleased to have these documents returned to our family. They will join the rest of the Tann Archive in the Hesse State Archives in Marburg.” With a hand-off of an acid-free box containing four vellum documents, this chapter of Susanna von der Tann nee Waiblingen’s story ends.
But wait! Isn’t there anything more? Indeed there is. Every chance I got I asked questions and listened to Michael’s stories about his family, which are now a part of the Sophienburg’s story and family, too.
For example, Michael spoke of Susanna’s father-in-law, Eberhard the Elder. He played a role in the Protestant Reformation. He was Catholic like everyone else until he met Martin Luther. He even hid Luther when the Church was looking for him. Eberhard the Elder then built the first Protestant church in Tann (remember Susanna’s wedding?) and the village converted from Catholic to Protestant. “Not so today,” says Michael, “we now have Catholic, Jew, Muslim and other churches.”
Eberhard the Elder controlled land all over Bavaria (some of which became Hesse) and the Rhine provinces. The village of Tann grew up around the ancestral home. The forests surrounding it belonged to the Church in Fulda, but were on a kind of “medieval loan” to the von der Tanns for care and use. It wasn’t until after the Napoleonic wars, that “The Tann”, the village and 2000+ acres, became the property of the von der Tann family. The governance of the city was by the von der Tanns until the 20th century when it became a city government with elected officials.
Michael von der Tann is an unassuming thoughtful man, with a deep sense of duty and responsibility to his family and the area of Tann. That sense of duty and responsibility was a character trait he inherited from another of his ancestors. He spoke a bit about Ludwig Freiherr von und zu der Tann-Rathsamhausen. Ludwig was born in 1815 and received that name from his sponsor, King Ludwig I, the second king of Bavaria; Ludwig’s second name “Arthur” came from Arthur Wellesly, the 1st Duke of Wellington. Talk about connections…Ludwig was destined for greatness.
Ludwig became a soldier and a highly decorated war hero during the various wars and campaigns of the 19th century. He was a close personal friend of King Maximillian II of Bavaria. He served in King Max’s army during the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars leading troops to numerous victories and attaining the post of Commander-in-Chief of the 1st Bavarian Corps. In 1849, a gunboat was christened Von der Tann. A WWI German battle cruiser, the first large German warship to use steam turbines, was named SMS Von der Tann. Kaiser Wilhelm I renamed Fort No. 8 “Fort Tann” in 1871, and streets in the cities of Munich, Erlangen, Dortmund, Wuppertal, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Neustadt and Regensburg bear the name Von der Tann and show the esteem Germany had for this man.
I told you this was an important family.
As a few of us sat enjoying Shiner beer at the Gristmill in Gruene, Freiherr von der Tann said that after World War II, ”which we started,” that the Iron Curtain then became the eastern border of the Tann. There was no war damage to the town. “Thankfully, the Americans got there first.” The town spread westward from that border. The Russian threat of the Ukraine truly resonates with his family and village. Like most Europeans, Michael is keenly interested in world news and asked many questions about American feelings on global subjects.
Since he took over the reins of running the family estate, Michael has been active in promoting the sustainability of Germany’s forests. He is president of the Hessian Forest Owners’ Association which advocates policies to protect them from government control and laws. This volunteer position has taken him to many places around the world. He attends countless gatherings in small villages and listens to forest farmers’ concerns. He advises mayors of city-owned forests on upcoming laws, issues and solutions. He regularly lobbies members of the Hessian state parliament and government to make them aware of the association’s concerns. Michael speaks with a quiet but very real passion about forests. And he loved our cedar and oak trees…his forests are fir and beech.
The von der Tanns still serve in city council positions and are involved in Tann politics. After all, the town of Tann sits at the feet of their ancestral home. With a bit of dry humor, Michael described this home — which is roughly rectangular with a central courtyard. “It is actually three castles. There is the Blue Castle which is really white with blue around the windows and there is the Red Castle which is also really white with red around the windows. My family, the von der Tann-Rathsamhausens, live in the Yellow Castle which is actually all yellow.” The three conjoined castles have housed the different lines or branches of the original Tann family. Michael has spent many years constantly updating and restoring the over 500-year-old structures.
The “official hand-off” of Susanna’s documents occurred this past Tuesday, April 19th. In attendance were Mayor Brockman, members of both Rotary Clubs (Michael is a long-time member of his local club), Chamber representatives and Sophienburg board members and staff. The donor of the documents to the Sophienburg was also there. Ken Brandt and his wife were thrilled to join the festivities and truly happy that the vellum documents were going home; after all, Ken’s father had been the one to save Susanna’s history!
I need to mention that Michael Freiherr von der Tann was intrigued by the country music emanating from Gruene Hall so we took him inside to listen and watch the dancing. A couple of young girls in cutoff jeans and cowboy boots were two-stepping along adding a few swing turns in for good measure.
“Can you do this thing?” I nodded yes and said, “Since I was a toddler!” Michael just grinned.
I am fairly certain Michael Freiherr von der Tann will be coming back to visit us, this time with his wife. You can take her documents out of Texas, but Susanna will remain a Texas woman.