October 19, 2019

Searching for Von Franquemont

Parts of a Sugar factory in Kaliwungu
Posing in Old Town, Kota Lama in Semarang

These last days I spend tracing Caroline Josephina von Franquemont footsteps. This mysterious Batik entrepreneur has been on my mind for the last 3 years, ever since my previous ‘journey to Batik’. Not sure what I would be able to find, much has changed since 1867 of course, I still felt I needed to explore locations in the Semarang region. To know what is still here, what people maybe know and how to continue with re-telling this story.

Sugar factory owner’s house

My friend Denny Antyo Hartanto joined me here to help me film the location and also drive. We could stay at the former gallery Rumah Seni Yaitu and were welcomed by Aris. Last time me and Aris did some sight seeing in Semarang and he was happy to join us on the adventure on Saturday and Sunday.
On Friday 11 October first destination was what is left over of sugar-factory owned by the family of Von Franquemont. Some sources say her workshop was located near or on the land of this factory. I “walked” the area on Google maps many times and was so excited when I found a structure matching old photos I found of the factory. The factory was in use for a long time. It was used as a base during the Indonesian War and later got demolished by Indonesians. So I was surprised to find still something of it.
Not knowing what was left now, we headed for the location saved on my map. I spotted the building on my left, next to an empty field with a fair. We parked and walked around a bit to explore. Behind the small structure two more buildings turned out to be intact. An old European style house and a long big warehouse. A man stopped on his bicycle on his way from Friday prayer. He told Denny, I was inside of the European house, that this all was part of an Sugar-factory. The little building at the beginning was a check-point, the big warehouse was for storage and still used now to store rice and the European house was of the owner of the Sugar-factory. He also confirmed it was demolished after the war by Indonesians. So his story matched what I found so far and I had two extra buildings to document!

Jati, teak trees
Filming at a ricefield

Next up was an old house that was part of a tea plantation, later bought by the family of Von Franquemont on the Northwest side of Mount Ungeran. I couldn’t find if it was still there, but found a possible location and wanted to drive there to check. On the way we stopped for Gado gado. We passed many jati trees, teak plantations. They lose their leaves in Summer so it looks like an Autumn forest. Between the trees, I spotted some lost tea bushes. We didn’t find the house, but we had a great view of a ricefield and filmed there instead.
Last spot for the day was the entrance of a Batik kampoeng on the North side of Mount Ungaran. I was there before in 2016 and I was wondering if this location might be connected to the former Batikworkshop of Miss Von Franquemont. No one knows and maybe just coincidence new Batikworkshops started up there, but wanted to include some shots of the new entrance they were making last time I was there.
The finished entrance is nice, but even more beautiful was the traditional graveyard next to it.
Still hoping I find the grave of my Batikmaker. We asked everywhere if in this region, Ungaran or Semarang, people know old Dutch graves - nothing yet, so if you read this and have an idea, let me know!

Graveyard on Mount Ungaran
Candi Gedong Songo

For our second day Candi Gedong Songo, a group of Hindi Temples from the 8th or 9th century, was our destination. I only went to two temples before, Borobudur and Prambanan, both in 2009 and both with Denny. So very fitting to visit my third temple with him again. The reason to visit was that in a book from 1915 mentions that the family of Von Franquemont, and other who owned the land before them, revealed the structures by cutting down trees for their sugar, tea and coffee plantations on the East side of Mount Ungeran. How much is true of this I don’t know, but I was curious if the structure maybe matched in designs with Batiks attributed to Von Franquemont.
Aris joined us as our navigator. The road towards the temples was very different then the route we took Friday. Hotel after hotel, flower-shop after flower-shop { technically they are plant-stores, but they refer to them as flower shop } and selfie-park after selfie park. The selfie-park thing is a new development. Yes, many who travelled here will now the “Mister, mister, selfie?” phenomenon, but an actual theme-park with different backdrops to take selfies in is a new one for me.
The location of temples is also turned into a park, with around the temples nicely created landscaping and even a selfie area. It made me wonder how it once was. Was it a thick forest, or was it kept open when the temples were still in use?
The structures are located on different spots on the flank of the Mountain. The first temple was pretty crowded and Aris explained there are 5 locations in total and it was a bit of a walk. I thought it best to walk to the last one first and then make our way down filming the temples one by one. We walked the path up used for the horseback riding. People can be taken up by horse, which I find scary and sad for the horses actually. The road was super steep. Nice surprise, we came across rows of red roses in bloom. A motif attributed to Von Franquemont is actually roses!

Roses on Mount Ungaran
Ganesha at Candi Gedong Songo

Arriving at the third location in the heat and after some much needed breaks, Denny gave up.
Aris was ready to continue and I thought, well why not, I will regret it if I don’t try. The road took us on a little detour and we had to stop every few minutes to let people on horses pass.
When we made it to the last location, we were the only two there and we heard bird sing and nothing else. This was only short, the afternoon prayer started and huge group came up, but we had this short magical moment. The last location is what give this temple it’s name ‘Songo’. ‘Songo’ is seven in Javanese and seven small temples were build. All but one turned into a pile of rocks, but the one that still stands has a beautiful Ganesha on it.
We went from location V to IV, and back to III where Denny was making a time-lapse.
Burned my neck and nose, but happy I made it all the way up!
On our way down I bought a plant with Aris, or flower, we had a whole discussion about it. Because we use flower for cut-flowers, a bouquet, and plant when it is in a pot. Besides most plants I see here are what we buy as houseplants and never bloom. We planted our flower-plant the next day in the front-lawn.

Inside Benteng Willem II in Ungaran

Next stop was Benteng Willem II in Ungaran, a late 18th-century Dutch-built fort. It was constructed to guard a trade route in central Java. The fort is the place where Prince Diponegoro was imprisoned while waiting for his judgment in Batavia and further exile to Makassar. (Source: Wikipedia)
The Fort is rather empty with just some plaques of the building, prince and baron. We walked one by one around on the building and drank coffee. A strange empty feeling this building has.
Before the Sunset we had one more place we needed to go. Doing my research, I stumbled upon this haunted house. The building called ‘Gedung Kuning’, Yellow house, is far removed from it’s former glory. The roof is collapse, it seems like there was on fire and everyone is afraid of it. On the side still completely in tact the so depressing text “Ende desespereert nimmer”, “And Never Despair”. If you put that on your house, pfff, things weren’t going well at all. I still have to figure out who lived here, but the building is owned by the local railway company.
We walked around it, looking at the still visible ornaments while kids practiced football on the what was once the front-lawn entrance I would presume.
Before the Sun was totally gone, we quickly left this creepy building.

Gedung Kuning, Yellow house
“And Never Despair”

For the last day of my filming adventure in Semarang region we stayed in Kota Lama, the Old Town. We started at the ‘Spiegel’. An old warehouse turned into a bistro. Across they were fixing up the ‘Weeskamer’. Many Dutch things in just a few blocks. We went around the corner, away from all the selfie making people to wonder around in the not renovated part. It was extremely hot, around 40 degrees so it was hard work to just film a little. My phones and me needed a break after two streets. The building seem more Mediterranean then typical Dutch. Some pointed roofs, but more balconies and big wooden shutters for the windows.
I wanted to see the Syahbandar Tower, an old fragment of the VOC, but it was completely shut off. Still happy we went there, because to my surprise the street-name matched a warehouse in the name of the Von Franquemont family. I looked for it online and on maps, not finding anything. Now I just walked there and spotted the name. No building, but at least now I can look at old photos of this area and see if I find something more.

In Kota Lama in Semarang

After the hot hot city we went for another ghost-building, the building with a thousand doors, Lawang Sewu. It was built as the headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company, started in 1904 and finished in 1919. This building is so big, it puzzles me why they needed all this space. It would have been terrible to go from one side to the other. I wonder if anyone got any work done.
I was here before in 2016. In 2009 I was also invited to go see ghosts, and I declined. I made Aris take me during the day last time. We only encountered bats at the attic, nothing else. The building was renovated in 2011 and kinda regret not seeing how it was then.
The main attraction of the building are these huge stain-glassed windows. People wait in line to take selfies on the stairs using the windows as a backdrop.
The building is not related to the Von Franquemont story, yet everything in this region is.
It was three good days of exploring and seeing traces of this colonial past. I haven’t found my batikmaker, but can imagine the past a little better. For it was also good to see how these dark pages of history are handled. Most are nothing more then a backdrop, but happy Indonesian youth just use them as a good Insta-frame.

Lawang Sewu

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