How I came over from [Zeyer] Germany

An “old neighbor” from Zeyer, Karl Jochem (deceased), whose descendants now live in the US, wrote the following school assignment, after his arrival in the US in the early 1900s.

Because most of my stories are from the period immediately after the Second World War, I thought our readership might enjoy this tale of adventure and exploration from “a better more hopeful time”. Thank you for sharing Dan!


(by Karl Jochem for school assignment)

I was born in Germany. The village was Zeyer, which is some eight miles north of the city Elbing, West Prussia. My father was fishing. He afterwards bought a farm in Schwartzdamm. Here I went to a school. We, my two brothers and I, had to walk along a small river, and in summer after school we bathed in it. At winter times we skated to school, it. In March 1907 my father sold the farm to start for America. On the 1th of April 1907 we left our village and started on our voyage. We took a train at Nuefelde. Nuefelde was a village 1/2 of a mile from ours. We bought our tickets here and entered a car of the west train. The car was overfilled with people. Only half of the passengers could sit on benches, all the others had to stand, I was standing near a window and looked at the fields. The rye was just beginning to grow and looked beautiful. Before night came, I had found an empty seat. I could not sleep before midnight. The next morning we passed through Berlin. Taking another train, we arived in Bremen in the evening. We staid in Bremen for ten days because all the places on the next two steamships going to America were taken already. Bremen is very clean and beautiful city. Near the hotel where we boarded was a small river, called the Kleine Weser, (Small Wesser) here all sorts of tamed wild ducks were cept. Also swans, geese and other ducks were raised here. I walked along the river nearly every day. A little farther off was another river called the Grosse Weser (Great Wesser) here were river boats. A little farther north was a harbor, here I saw the first ocean boat.

Friday, the 12 of April, we left Bremen on a train and started for the harbor. We walked on board the steamer Gera, this was the name of the steamship which should take us too the new continent. On the same evening the ship slowly began to move. I soon heard that there were nearly six hundred people on board. Of these nineteen were German. I mean nineteen German passengers that is with out the crew and officers. All the other passengers were Russians or Polen. These were dirty people.

This evening was very cold it was windy and rainy, therefore I went down and lay for sometime on the iron bed. Soon the supper bell rang. I took my pale and went on deck. Here I saw half a thousand people, the women in one crowd and the men in another crowd, all trying to get their supper first. I thought “Shall I go among those and try to get something”. ” Aint you going to get your supper”, called a young man. “Yes I’m going to try”, I ran back. I went over to the crowd and soon was among the men. But woe me, I was looking for an outlet in the same minute. They had nearly choked me. I went down and lay on the bed again and cried. I could not help that, because my breast and head were nearly crushed. After a while my brother came down too, he had been luckier than I was, He said, he had helped one of the sailors carry something, and got his supper from him. My father and mother also had something in their pales. The supper was, potatoes, salt herring, coffee and a big biscuit. I ate some of my brothers supper and went to sleep.

The next morning I went on deck, and soon met the young man who had called me the last evening. We were friend in ten minutes. He came from Switzerland. We spended the day, cold as it was, sitting on a bench and talking together. Sunday we passed through the Straight of Dover. It was a beautiful day and the sun shone warm. We could see the shore of France at the horizon. The English shore was much plainer, we could see houses, trees and trains. In the evening the land vanished in the distance and we were floating on the ocean.
For five days no change took place, only one or two ships could be seen in the distance and than water. A little change had taken place for getting our food. We had to form a single row. I sometimes had to go out of this row, but most times my friend was behind me.

On the seventh day on the ocean, a storm broke loose. The ship was shaking to and fro. The pales fell down from their places and more than one hat went overboard. The waves were just as high as the ship’s deck. Once or twice a wave dashed among us when we went for our food. The storm lasted two nights and one day.

On the 24th of April we saw land again. It was in the morning, the sky was clear, as we saw Long Island. All that day we were in sight of land as we ran along the coast.

The next morning we entered New York Harbor. It was a beautiful sight to look upon. First came the forts. The tops of these were round and solid. Then came houses. The ship had to stop for a doctor to come on board. We only had to march passed him and he looked at us while we did so. At noon the anchor was dropped, and the ship was safe in the harbor. The next day we set foot to land again. Here we had to open our coffers.

From here we rode on a small steamer to a large building, here another doctor looked at our eyes and tongue. In this house we had to wait until afternoon. This was the 26th of April. In the evening we were on a train going to Chicago. We arived here on the 28th of April. Here we lived in Kensington for an half a year. Than we bought a house on Curtis Ave., were we now live. (11343 Curtis Ave., Chicago, IL.)

THE BILLINGS GAZETTE, November 28, 1976

Karl Jochem, 82 of 1228 Ave. F, died at Deaconess Hospital of cancer. He was born June 12, 1894 in Germany, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Gustav Jochem. He came to the United States in 1907 and became a naturalized citizen. He married Frieda Reese on Jan. 15, 1919, in Buffalo County, Neb. They farmed in Buffalo County until they moved to Billings in 1946.

Gera (1890) North German Lloyd.

Built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co., Glasgow, Scotland. Tonnage: 5 005. Dimensions: 413′ x 47′. Single-screw, 13 knots. Triple expansion engines. Two masts and one funnel. Passengers: 49 first, 38 second, 1,900 third. Also served in South American service. Sold to Italian owners in 1908. Renamed: Valparaiso (1909). Sister ships: Darmstadt, Karlsruhe, Oldenburg; Stuttgart and Weimar.

Gera GeraEllisIsland

Gera's Sistership the Darmstadt
Gera’s Sistership the Darmstadt


The GERA was a 5,005 gross ton ship, length 415ft x beam 48ft, one funnel, two masts, single screw and a speed of 13 knots. There was accommodation for 49-1st, 38-2nd and 1,901-3rd class passengers. Built by Fairfield Co, Glasgow, she was launched on 8th Nov.1890 for North German Lloyd of Bremen. Her maiden voyage from Bremen to Baltimore started on 2nd Apr.1891, and on 24th Jun.1891 she started her first Bremen – South America voyage. On 28th Jul.1892 she commenced her first sailing between Bremen, New York and Baltimore and on 19th Jul.1893 started her first Bremen – Suez – Far East run. Her first Bremen – Suez – Australia voyage started on 22nd Nov.1893 and on 25th Mar.1903 she commenced the first of three Genoa – Naples – New York sailings. 10th Dec.1903 saw her start the first of five Hamburg – Far East voyages and on 1st Apr.1905 she commenced her last Bremen – Baltimore voyage. Her 18th and last Bremen – Australia voyage started on 8th Aug.1906 and on 15th Dec.1906 she resumed Bremen – South America sailings. Her final Bremen – New York sailing started on 12th Apr.1907 (22 round voyages on the North Atlantic) and her last Bremen – South America voyage started 7th Sep.1907. Sold to the Italian owned company, Lloyd del Pacifico in 1908, she was renamed VALPARAISO and on 14th Oct.1917 was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Libya. [North Atlantic Seaway by N.R.P.Bonsor, vol.2,p.555]