Monday, November 4, 2013

The “Benningen” Connection: Part 2 of our Interview with Deborah Storz - Great-granddaughter of The Storz Brewing Company Founder, Gottlieb Storz

Deb Storz and entourage in vineyards overlooking Benningen, 1975

In this installment, Deb entertains us with a blow-by-blow account of each of her three trips to Benningen-am-Neckar, a small German village in the region of Württemberg, 23 kilometers from Stuttgart, where her great-grandfather’s legacy still looms large for the 5,600 local town people.  Although he left Germany at the age of 20 to seek his fortune in the New World, Gottlieb Storz retained a strong attachment to his birthplace throughout his life.  He made several return visits to Benningen and used some of his newfound wealth in America to restore the local church tower, pave roads and even help feed the townspeople after WW I.   Deb's scanner was broken and I didn't have the time to crop the photos, so please excuse the photos of photos.  I think it adds a little character to it honestly.  Enjoy!  
NBB:   What made you want to go to Benningen?  Was it always on your “bucket list?”
 Deb in Benningen Town Hall with Mayor by picture of Gottlieb Storz
DJS:  Well, I was an “armshair traveler” dating back to the first grade.  I spent a lot of time down in my parents’ den/library, poring over the encyclopedia and Time-Life Books for photos of foreign lands that I hoped to visit someday.  The three at the top of my “bucket list” back then were Egypt (to see The Pyramids), Jerusalem (to visit the Wailing Wall) and India (to see The Taj Mahal).  My dad had been stationed in North Africa during World War II (flying B-24 Liberators) and used to regale us with tales at the dinner table of weekend furloughs to places like Cairo, Jerusalem and Khartoum.  It all sounded terribly exotic, as did the photos I came across of India.  Benningen made it onto my bucket list a few years later when we had to do a school project about where one of our ancestors came from.  I chose Gottlieb Storz and began to research his hometown of Benningen-am-Neckar, boldly declaring at the end of the report in my fourth grade cursive that I would be going there soon!
NBB:  And did you, in fact, end up going to Benningen as a child?
My first visit to Benningen was actually when I was in college.  I spent my junior year abroad in France and England and during one of the school breaks decided to drag a couple of my classmates with me on a “pilgrimage” to Benningen.
NBB:  What was your first visit to Benningen like?
Deb's friends, Mayor, Claus-Peter Hutter standing under the Gottlieb Storzstrasse Street sign
It was pretty amazing.  I had written ahead to the Burgermeisteramt (the mayor’s office), to tell them what day I would be coming but didn’t specify an exact time.  We got there around noon, but Germans are early birds.  They told us we had missed all of the morning festivities, including a small parade they had planned for us!  I had not expected such a massive welcoming.  We met with the Mayor, the head of the Benningen Historical Society, the head of the school district and two or three other local dignitaries in the Rathaus (Town Hall).  I didn’t speak a word of German back then, but one of the friends who accompanied me kept nodding and saying “ja” every 30 seconds, so they all kept chattering away excitedly.  At one point, the head of the Historical Society pulled out a giant book that weighed about 20 pounds called Benningen im Bild, which was the pictorial history of the town dating all the way back to the year 1200.  There were many pages devoted to Gottlieb Storz and his return visits to Benningen.  In one of the pictures taken in the mid 1920’s, there were fireworks and also some gymnasts performing for him (one of whom was now one of the local dignitaries in the room with us 40 years later!).  
Deb holding Benningen Im Bild book
Finally, after about 20 minutes, a young man came in and introduced himself as the mayor’s summer intern.  He spoke fluent English and we were soon able to learn what Gottlieb Storz meant to the townspeople.  He had been given the title of “Ehrenburger der Gemeinde” (Honorary Citizen) and they told us the local school children learned about him on their first day of school.  He had a street named after him (Gottlieb Storz Strasse), a park, a bell tower and a bell.  They told us that during World War II, most of the church bells were melted down for weapons, but the people of Benningen managed to hide the Gottlieb Storz bell.  They then walked us up a rickety old ladder in the town’s church to see the bell and right when we were standing next to it, they rang the bell, which was slightly terrifying!  They had a wonderful luncheon for us at the new sports complex they had built.  The day was capped off by a visit to some local vineyards, whose wine was only sold to the town’s inhabitants (and distinguished visitors!).  We each left with a bottle of red and a bottle of white, and they were indeed delicious (and almost immediately consumed, I might add). 

Gottlieb Storz Bell from 1997 visit
NBB:  What was your second visit to Benningen like?  What made you want to go back?
My parents had never been to Benningen and so we added it on as a side trip from Paris one time in the mid-Eighties.  It was more of a low-key visit than my first visit (no parades this time), but we did spend a fair amount of time going through the Storz family history.  My mother had always thought that the name Storz had been shortened from a longer name, but apparently this was not the case based on the extensive Storz family tree that the Benningen Historical Society had prepared for us going back all the way to the 14th century.  We did learn, however, that the Storz name once had an additional “t” in it and was spelled “Stortz.”
Photo from her second trip with her parents Rosemary and Robert Storz
NBB:  It’s amazing they had records going that far back.  Did you find any surprise ancestors?
No, but one funny thing did come out of it a few years later.  I was VP-Marketing of Swatch Watch-North America in the late 1980’s and traveled to a small town in Switzerland called Grenchen every 6 weeks to approve production samples of the new seasonal collections.  The heads of both the Swatch production facility and the design atelier used to always insist that Storz was a Swiss name and I would painstakingly correct them and say it was a German name, but to no avail.  Several years later I was looking again at the Storz family tree they had given us in Benningen and noticed that one of Gottlieb Storz’s brothers had actually died in Biel, the next town over from Grenchen, so we were both proven right!
NBB:  Tell us about your third visit to Benningen. 
Newspaper article 1997
As many Nebraskans know, my uncle, Art Storz Jr. was a devoted keeper of the Storz legacy from the time the Storz Brewing Company was sold to the day he died.  In November 1997, I took him on a trip to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy.  The highlight for him, of course, was the visit to Benningen (although he said that Rome was a pretty close second!).  Once again, the mayor, along with several local dignitaries, received us with great fanfare.  Funnily enough, he was the exact same mayor that I had met on both of my previous visits, so I guess they must not have term limits over there!  This time, the local press came to interview us and they wrote a big story about our visit, which really delighted my uncle.  Knowing I could provide them with a good sound bite, I told them that it had always been my dream to go see The Pyramids, The Taj Mahal and Benningen.  Sure enough that turned out to be the lead sentence of the article.
Uncle Art had a wonderful time in Benningen but was in for a bit of a shock when he asked to see the Storz family coat-of-arms of arms at the end of the tour of the Benningen museum.  Having already asked this same question myself during my first visit back in 1975, I knew that the Storz family crest that we had grown up admiring had, in fact, been a New World improvisation, but my uncle refused to believe me.  He was, if you’ll pardon the pun, crestfallen to learn that there was no Storz coat of arms (because a coat of arms was reserved for the nobility, the museum head explained). 
Left - right  Mayor of Benningen, Deb's Uncle, Claus-Peter Hutter and Deb Storz
One special treat on this visit, arranged by Claus-Peter Hutter (the young mayoral intern I had met back in 1975 who was now head of a prestigious European environmental agency) was a private tour of the nearby Ludwigsburg Castle and its gardens.  As we exited, my uncle chuckled and said “Gee, do you think some of our ancestors might have worked as servants here in this castle?”  I told him, I doubted that, as it was a 20-minute drive from Benningen (and surely a lot longer drive by horse and buggy back in the day!).

Deb and her Uncle with Claus-Peter Hutter and his wife in 1997

NBB:  Have any of your siblings or cousins gone to Benningen?
My brother, Steve Storz, and his wife visited.  My cousin, Bob Storz Howard has visited as well, as has his mother, Susan Storz Butler (my dad’s first cousin).  
NBB:  You mentioned making it to Egypt and India.  What brought you there?  What destinations are on your “bucket list” these days?
I have traveled quite a lot for business over the years and have probably visited about 35 countries so far (two of my favorites being Morocco and Italy), if you count all those Caribbean islands as separate countries.   I lived in France for 3 years after graduating from college, and have also lived in the UK a few times for 3-month stints and in India for 18 months (when I set up the Estee Lauder subsidiary over there).  My trip to Egypt was a last-minute idea I got when being tantalizingly close (at least in my mind) in Greece while I was in college.  I hopped a $59 student flight from Athens to Cairo and spent 5 amazing days there.  I made it to Jerusalem (and The Wailing Wall) in the early Nineties on a tour with my church group, completing my original childhood bucket list. 
What’s on my bucket list these days?  South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Antarctica (though the latter is surely a pipedream best experienced from my laptop computer).
NBB:  What are your best beer memories in some of these countries?
I know I’ll probably lose all credibility with your readers by saying this, but I totally fell in love with shandy beer in the UK when I was studying there!  I drank a lot of Cidre Brut while living in France and the occasional Stella Artois (which is actually a Belgian brand).  In India there were some interesting beers, including one with cardamom, one with coriander and several rice beers.
NBB:  What else can you tell us about your great-grandfather Gottlieb Storz?
Well, apparently he was a pretty tough taskmaster.  When my dad was in high school he had a summer job down at the Storz Brewery.  One time Gottlieb caught him sleeping on the job.  “Hey, you vork hier?” Gottlieb asked him.  “Yes,” my father replied somewhat sheepishly.  “Denn vy don’t you do some vork hier?” Gottlieb reprimanded him! 
I guess you could say my great-grandfather was a “workaholic” before the term existed.  Work was everything for him and despite a few bouts of ill health, he was at work at the brewery every day, even the day before he died. 
Gottlieb was one of 10 children.  His parents died when he was ten years old, leaving him and his two younger siblings orphans. He began his professional life at age 11, apprenticing to become a braumeister in the Württemberg region at a very young age.
NBB:  Even though you never met him, it seems you feel a pretty strong connection to your great-grandfather, Gottlieb Storz.
I do.  After all the trips to Benningen, I really feel like I have come to know a lot about my great-grandfather, and I marvel at the courage, determination and vision he must have had, not to mention resilience.  Prohibition lasted 13 long years, during which time the Storz Brewing Company made ice, root beer, ginger ale and something called “near-beer.”  Once when I was in the third grade, my dad completely flipped out when he saw a biography I had brought home from school called Frances Willard, Girl Crusader.  “That woman damn near put our family out of business,” he scolded me (in a rare incident of scolding).  “Why, if she’d had her way, the Storz Brewing Company would have been out of business forever!.”  Frances Willard was President of the WCTU – the Women Christian Temperance Union –an organization that played a critical role in getting the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) passed.  Her name was never uttered in our household again!  Years later, I learned that Frances Willard was also instrumental in helping to bring about women’s suffrage, so she sort of redeemed herself in my book.
Although I can’t say that Gottlieb Storz ever appeared to me in a dream to dispense commercial advice (as the guy who is bringing back the new iteration of the Storz Brewing Company claimed in one of his early press conferences!), I do feel a strong connection to him.  The Gottlieb Storz/New York connection is especially fascinating to me.  He spent two years in New York (from 1872-1874), worked his way west to St. Louis in 1874 and finally to Omaha in 1876 (nine years after Nebraska became a state).  By that time he was an accomplished braumeister and was hired by Joseph Baumann, owner of the Columbia Brewery, to be its foreman.  Later that year, Joseph Baumann died and his wife, Wilhemina, ran the operation until 1884, when Gottlieb and a business partner named J.D. Iler purchased the brewery, which was renamed Storz & Iler.  They quickly set about improving the building and machinery and increased production.  In 1891, Gottlieb founded a company called the Omaha Brewing Association to make beer and named himself president.  In 1901, the name was changed to The Storz Brewing Company.
NBB:  Do you know where your great-grandfather Gottlieb Storz actually lived in New York? 
That’s an interesting question.  I suppose he probably lived down on the Lower East Side, as most immigrants did.  Or maybe in Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  I am still trying to find out.  The first day they put the Ellis Island records online, I decided to check and see when Gottlieb Storz first arrived in New York.  I typed his name in and a rough time frame when I thought he might have travelled.  The answer came back 5 seconds later, and strangely enough it was the exact same month and day (albeit many decades earlier) of my online inquiry.  Yes, cue that Twilight Zone music again! 

NBB:  What do you think your great-grandfather would think of this new incarnation of The Storz Brewing Company?

You know, it’s hard to say.  He was definitely all about quality, craftsmanship and the integrity of the product.  The Storz family is proud of its commercial and civic legacy in Nebraska. The modern-day descendants of the Storz family who actually ran the original Storz Brewing company (i.e., my siblings and I, along with our two Storz cousins) are watching closely what is unfolding and sincerely hope that the high standards of the original Storz Brewing Company in terms of product quality and appropriate consumer messaging will not in any way be compromised by this new incarnation.    
Holiday card/poster

Thanks Deb!  We appreciate all your stories and hope to hear more in the future.  What are some questions you would like to hear answered?

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