This Week: Privates Johann and Josef Berger

Our story this week comes from Franziska Langer of Ettlingenweier in the district of Ettlingen, whose father und uncle fought in the Great War.

Franziska's family was originally from Bavaria, but she has lived in Ettlingenweier most of her life. At the outbreak of war, the family owned a small farm in the village of Hintergrub, Bavaria. Back then, in order to be accepted by the community, a farmer's obligations were to build a house, plant a tree, and to produce a son and heir.

Franziska's father Johann Berger was born on August 20, 1877 in Hintergrub. Before the outbreak of war, he had already been called up for military training and in 1914, aged nearly 37, he was sent to fight in France.

Private Johann Berger, 1914

As a farmer, Johann had valuable experience in working with horses and as such he was entrusted with the task of looking after the horses with which his regiment went to battle.

Johann fought in the Ardennes, one of the opening battles of the First World War, and Sedan. He spent the rest of the war at the Western Front.

Johann survived the war and returned home, where in 1920 he married Anna, who was 20 years his junior and with whom he had a total of thirteen children. Franziska was the sixth child.

Johann died on January 24, 1949.

Franziska is still able to recite some of the songs of the Great War sung by her mother, such as "Der Gute Kamerad" ("The Good Comrade"):

Eine Kugel kam geflogen
Gilt sie mir oder gilt sie dir?
Ihn hat es weggerissen
Er liegt vor meinen Füssen
Als wär's ein Stück von mir.
Will mir die Hand noch reichen
Derweil ich eben lad.
"Kann dir die Hand nicht geben
Bleib du im ewigen Leben
Mein guter Kamerad.

The song is about two soldiers, one of whom is killed by a bullet that could have hit either one of them. The dying man reaches out to his friend, who cannot give him his hand because he is loading his rifle. His friend tells him, "Kann dir die Hand nicht geben, bleib du im ewigen Leben mein guter Kamerad" - "I can't give you my hand, but you will always remain my good comrade, in eternal life".

Anna and Johann with eight of their thirteen children in 1938

The other five children in 1938. Franziska is in the middle of the back row in this photo. Her brother Hans, next to her, was reported missing in World War II and did not return.

Johann's older brother, Josef Berger, was born in February 1875 and went to war together with his brother in 1914. He also returned home after the war in 1918, when he left the farm to live in Munich.

Private Josef Berger in 1914

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