Ostheim Before 1945, History of a Street
by A Longtime Resident: Jean-Jacques Sturm
Today, I feel a strong desire to talk about Church Street in Ostheim which, for some, will evoke memories of childhood and, for others, will enable them to discover it.
Church Street, where I grew up, was a street similar to those still seen in certain villages of the Ried. It was a street lined with roughcast houses of various colors, all one story high. The wash water used in the houses was poured into a narrow space called a "Schlupf" that separated the houses from each other. This water then flowed out into paved gutters which ran down both sides of the street where from time to time a wet noodle would be quickly snatched by a stray hen.
The street started around the current intersection of Colmar Road and Jebsheim Street and continued south to the houses numbered 9 and 11. It was there, that there was a little stand of magnificent chestnut trees and, in the background, the old Catholic church. The street hen ran into to the intersection formed by General Geil St. and Albert Schweizter St., the old Colmar Road.
Back then, the village essentially consisted of farmers. Everyday, starting at dawn, their comings and goings in horse drawn carriages animated the street. Along with the shrill squeaking of the wheels on the road came the sound of hammering from the cobblers, Henri Barbaras and Virgile Liss. From their cellars came the invigorating odor of tar mixed with that of leather. The aroma of fresh bread right out of baker Jacques Sigwalt's oven floated down from up the hill. To reach their store, you went down two steps. Behind the counter, Miss Amelie sold enormous crusty loaves. Long ago, the bread was sold by weight which made the kid who was picking up the bread happy because he would receive an extra piece of bread instead of change. It was during the summer that the baker built up the supply of wood that would be later used to cook the bread. It was an event for the kids of the street to see the arrival of the team of horses of the stevedore, Charles Froelich. Two docile but powerful horses, Ardennais, pulled the wagon which was loaded with at least six steres of logs from the forests of Riquewihr or Ribeauvillé. In order to get over the obstacles of the gutters and the cobblestones, the horses would have to pause for a few minutes to catch their breath. Then suddenly, under the order of the authoritative Mr. Froelich, the animals would surge into the courtyard throwing off sparks from their iron shoes. In a final charge, the wagon was pulled in front of the wood shed. Then the horses were unhitched and, on their own, they returned to the stables.
The grocery store of Charles Barbaras was located at the intersection of Church and Jebsheim streets. It was, on the one hand, a place for housewives to meet and talk and, on the other hand, a paradise of delights for the kids who would sometimes get candy from Mrs. Barbaras. Her husband was busy in his bicycle and motorcycle repair shop. Back then, there were only a few people in the village who owned cars. These were occasionally requested to take the infirm to the hospice in Colmar. On the last house of the street lived Joseph Ottenwaelter, a tailor of men's clothing. While these artisans contributed to the liveliness of the street, it was the farmers, even though they were no longer in the majority, who were still the real animators. We children were witnesses to the movements of the farm people which set a rhythm for village life. The street was host to eight farms: those of the families of Émile Specht, Charles Hartmann, Gottfried Grimm, Charles Sturm, Georges Heim, Paul Schaerlinger, Daniel Kuchel, and Jacques Wickersheim. These households consisted of a principal dwelling, where often three generations would live together, and the outbuildings: the barn, stables, cowshed, and pigsty as well as the shed storing the farm equipment. Waddling with an intolerable cacophony around the manure piled in the yard were geese, hens, ducks and other poultry. Each farm had its guard dog. I remember in particular the Émile Specht family dog, "Maxi", whose growl and nasty stare I always had to face when going to get milk.
These magnificent horses were also part of this pictoresque scene in the pre-war years. On a number of Sunday mornings in summer, ridden by their master they crossed the street towards the "Rosschwamm". The Rosschwamm designated a section of the Fecht which was reserved for them to take their traditional bath ( accessed facing the actual "Fecht Street"). The passing of the seasons, which brought the succession of planting, harvesting, and then ploughing over also provided a rhythm to the life of the village. During the period of haymaking, the smell of fresh-cut hay floated through the streets. The coming and going of the heavily loaded wagons covered the road with a thin layer of stalks. During this work, the carts of hay, wheat, straw cluttered up the main square and avenue, waiting to be unloaded later during the evening.
During the war, the trucks of the Wehrmacht were concealed in the shadow of the chestnut trees in the square sheltered from the machine-gunning of the Allied airplanes. It was at this same place that the village was witness to the requisition of the great horses by the invaders. There were so many tears for the adults but, for us kids, this place remained our favorite for games. In addition to the artisans and the farmers, three families of railway workers also lived on the street. Émile Wintermantel worked at the Ostheim station.
My father, Jacques Sturm, a tinplate fitter at the Colmar depot and Charles Barbaras, Sr. who was retired. My father and Mr. Frédérique Barbaras (better known as Uncle Fritz) were the only inhabitants of the street to leave the village in order to go to work in Colmar.
The Catholic church, the building with the tower of chiseled pink sandstone dominating the square, had as its spiritual leader Herrmann, the parish priest, a tall thin man dressed in a cassock with a black skullcap on his head, an eminent person whom we always greeted with respect. It was the good life on my street...I remember nostalgically the long winter evenings talking with neighbors and friends, the men savouring the warm wine and playing cards, the women busying themselves with their work while the children played games. In summer, these same people sometimes sat in old wooden chairs on the street and talked until the small "Nachtglok" clock (displayed in the town counsel room at the town hall) was rung at ten in the evening by the night watchman, Jean Arnold.
The life of Church Street came to an end on the December 21st, 1944 at midnight, the date when we had to leave our houses on the order of the German "Feldgendarmerie" and take refuge in Colmar to escape the intense bombardments which the village underwent in the liberation of the Colmar Encampment. At the return of the exodus the street was nothing more than ashes and ruins. Now, Church Street is no more than a memory but it remains alive in the hearts of the old Ostheimers.