What an adventure for a young German family to come to the United States in 1964. They didn’t know they would only be returning to Germany for visits.
They also had no idea that they would make a future home in a place called Paonia.
Ulli Lange was 30 years old when he took a job in the United States with a German mining equipment company.
His wife Inge was 28. They arrived in New York City in 1964. Ulli’s office was in the Empire State Building. Ulli was a mining engineer. The couple planned to come for three years. “But things developed,” Ulli said. “So we decided to stay.” They realized the coal mining industry was on the decline in Germany, so they sought the opportunities available in the U.S.
The first longwall equipment from Germany wasn’t suitable for the underground conditions in the American coal mines. So Ulli had to find other work to do. That turned out to be industrial high pressured cleaning. “That was a real experience,” he said.
What he really wanted to do was have his own company. But he could not because he didn’t have his green card. “When I came to America, I came with a special visa,” Ulli said.
An American coal mining company in West Virginia came to his rescue. Ulli was hired as a longwall coordinator and he was able to get his green card. He and Inge lived in the southern part of that state for several years.
Then Ulli was hired by a German mining equipment company in Pittsburgh in 1973. It was there that they bought a 73-acre farm. “I always wanted to go into farming,” Ulli said. “Mining was a second choice.”
Ulli said the farm was just for his kids’ 4-H activities. “I tried to mess around with cattle. But I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the experience,” he said.
However, Inge and the kids, Jens, Lars and Barbara, worked on the farm. They had sheep, pigs, horses and the cattle. “The kids have fond memories of growing up on the farm,” Inge said. “I was the farmer with the kids, but I also started having my background in library work,” she said. That stayed with her throughout her life. Today she volunteers with Friends of the Paonia Library.
“Ulli was always traveling with his business,” Inge said. So some nearby dairy farmers would help them load their pigs for the fair.
“In 1980, I had a little adventure,” Ulli said. He and a partner started a little coal mine in Pennsylvania. “It didn’t last very long because the coal prices were so bad and it wasn’t the easiest mining conditions. So we had to close up shop.”
After that failed venture, he worked in longwall mining for 13 years. That stint would bring him and Inge to Paonia. “In 1992, we sold a longwall to West Elk Mine, which was Arco at that time,” Ulli said.
Friends suggested he should buy a house in Paonia. They rented a house on Pitkin Mesa for 10 years. “Then we decided to keep it for ourselves,” Ulli said.
Ulli became a United States citizen in 1979; Inge in 1992. Their daughter Barbara was born in New York City in 1965. Sons Jens and Lars were born in Berlin and later both became U.S. citizens while in high school during the 1970s.
All their children are fluent in German. Inge speaks a number of languages — her native German plus Russian, Latin and English. She learned her English while living in England. When she was in New York City, she would go every day to the playground with her two boys and improved her English with a New York accent.
“We still have a very strong feeling for Germany, but then we decided to live here during the time of making a business career,” Ulli said.
The U.S. “was the land of opportunity,” Inge said. She found when she first came to the U.S. that people were easier to get to know. “We became citizens because we wanted to work and have a voice in this country. We are grateful how we were received here,” Inge said.