Geislingen an der Steige

Apr 19, 2018

Last year I went with cameraman and editor Leo van Emden to Geislingen. We were well underway, and I started to recognise the landscape: gently rolling hills, small towns and villages. On the signs we could already read Geislingen. When we entered the town by the main road, it seemed vaguely familiar.

But I didn’t recognise the streets. I had come here by train several times but now I was slightly confused. We stopped to look at the large map next to the road. A family, living close to the street, was watching us patiently, waiting to ask their inevitable question: do you need to be in Geislingen, or Geislingen an der Steige? And off we went, 100 kilometres in the direction we just came from.

I wondered what it was like for the first UNRRA team to find the right roads. UNRRA, the international relief organisation, had set up two bases in Normandy,  to assemble and train teams to organise the refugee camps. One base was in Jullouville. This is where the UNRRA team for Geislingen was formed.

There was a shortage of staff and instead of the thirteen people every team was required to have, only five went to Geislingen on the 27th of May 1945. Five people from different nationalities, most likely none of them familiar with this part of Germany. According to the map they had to drive over 1000 km. It took them ten days to arrive.

I have found no reports of these ten days, but they were accustomed to chaos and probably there was nothing unusual to communicate. Once arrived they wrote about their location: Geislingen, sometimes Gieslingen, but not: Geislingen an der Steige. So I guess they were unaware of the existence of another town with the same name.

But they did know it would be wise to give some directions where to find them and so, on the first reports it was written: Location: Geislingen. Directions for reaching: road no 10 South Stuttgart. Had we used these directions, we probably would have had no problems reaching Geislingen an der Steige, the place where once the refugee camp had been.