We were at the southernmost point of our summer-long travel through Europe — the Costa del Sol, southern Spain. After weeks of beach and city, paella and flamenco, we were ready to head north. My Wife Jane and I traveled by plane, boat, train and thumb. The year was 1970. For the most part, travel was casual and people were easy.
Along our travel north we stopped in the hills of France, vineyards in Italy and the Schwarzwald in Germany, trying not to stand out as tourists. On the whole there were no major blunders. But as we were riding a bus through the Freiburg region of Germany, we decided to stop and take a few days there. We, being at the rear of the bus (the last seats) and the driver being at the front of the bus (a good place for him to be) meant we had a distance to cover to send a message. Looking up I noticed a wire running along the length of the bus toward the driver, and recognized it, from my childhood in Connecticut, as one that sends a signal to the driver to stop the bus so that passengers could disembark. Great. Only things were not as I thought. The wire was not simply a signal, but an emergency cord. The bus came immediately to a screeching halt, while the seatbelts were non-existent. All 20 sets of eyes turned to the back of the bus where Jane and I nonchalantly looked around, avoiding all eye contact. La-de-da we walked to the front of the bus, and did manage to disembark. I can only imagine that the other passengers were okay with the parting of these pushy Americans.
You may be asking by now, where is the Grandpa in the story. Getting to that. I was carrying an envelope in my pocket, with a return address, on a letter sent to Grandpa, from Northern Denmark — our current destination. I was determined to locate the town where my grandfather was born and lived until he left, as a teen, for the United States.
Denmark was a lovely country, and as we moved further north, it became more and more rural, with subdued yet inviting landscape and colors. We even noticed thatched roofs and folks wearing wooden shoes in places.
On to the city of Thisted we went, where my father had suggested we go and begin asking about anyone with the Nystrup name. But upon arriving we realized it was a city, filled with many souls, and asking for a specific name was not going to work.
We found a local campground to spend the night, and to decide our adventure for the next day. I pulled out the treasured envelope, no Google search in 1970. Klitmoller was the town, and we searched for it on a large map mounted in the campground. There is was, not so very far away. And there also was a large green area labeled Nystrup Plantage (Nystrup Forest or Plantation). Cool. The next day we rode bicycles to the Plantage and to my surprise stumbled onto a place I had seen in post cards as a child — Nystrup Manor, surrounded by fields of rye and wheat grass — though sorry to say no people were around. I realized that this was what some relatives back home referred to as the Nystrup Castle, to be on the lookout for. How stories can grow.
The following day we hopped a very rural bus that took us to the town of Klitmoller. The first thing I noticed was how bleak it seemed, yet peaceful. There were only a few houses, maybe a dozen, perched there on the North Sea, on the north-western coast of Denmark. The next thing I noticed, as we walked down the dirt road, was Nystrup Strand (Beach). Further on was Nystrup Campground. It certainly was beginning to feel very welcoming.
As we registered for a night at the campground, and showed my passport, we came to realize that the managers there were some numbered level of cousin to me. It was an exciting time as we met more and more relatives. One problem, however, was a language barrier (English was not common that far north, at that time, and no Danish for me) — until we located another cousin who could speak both languages. Add another surprise, he was the manager of the Nystrup Forest, now a state-owned preserve. He said the Manor and lands did once belong to a vast Nystrup estate, but had no information about the changes over time.
At a dinner at the house of a cousin, packed with many relatives, we observed a picture on the wall of my great-grandfather Otto, a stern looking man with short white hair and long white flowing beard. As all looked back and forth from the photo to me someone exclaimed, “Yes, yes, the nose is the same.” A famous Danish nose.
But for all these forests and beaches and campgrounds, I met no-one with the Nystrup name, and there was no obvious wealth to be seen in the family. This is why my grandfather, Paul Paulsen Nystrup, Grandpa, made the brave journey to America, at the age of 16, knowing not a word of English. There was nothing to do in the village at that time, except to fish the North Sea, a tough and dangerous life. Grandpa was looking for more, though he continued to enjoy fishing throughout his years.
The boat he took, loaded with immigrants, did not land at Ellis Island, but at Philadelphia. Somehow he made his way to Connecticut where he eventually met my grandmother, Margaret, of immigrant heritage, though a bit further back, English. She told me that Paul “dated” her for two years before she would let him kiss her. What determination, what perseverance and what good luck for me and my beautiful aunts and uncles and parents and cousins. Where would I be without his “pluck”?
My grandparents eventually ran a dairy farm in Connecticut, where they raised their several children in addition to the cows and myriad creatures — until it was all swept away during the depression — but that is another story.
Grandpa Paul was not alive to hear of my adventures, though the rest of the family enjoyed the tales, as did our Danish counterparts. Fifty years after this adventure I checked the internet to see what had become of the tiny town on the North Sea. To my surprise Nystrup Campground is still there and thriving, and the area has become a world-class destination for wind-surfing and other such delights. The little town of Klitmoller now owns the prestigious title of “Hawaii North.” Brrr. Bring a wet suit if you plan to test the waters.
Glenn Nystrup, a teacher of 47 years, holds degrees in Mathematics and in Special Education. His most recent publication is an award-winning book called “Anger in the Classroom,”ISBN 978-1-948796-61-3, published by Epigraph Press in 2019, written for teachers and those looking for personal growth, in or out of the classroom.