Getting to Know my New Hometown Velbert and Surrounding Area in 1954

Velbert.hagdVelbert  is a big town in North Rhine Westphalia.  Its primary industry is small scale steel  production.   It is renowned worldwide for the manufacturing of keys, locks and fittings. You can see all kinds of interesting locks and keys in the local museum.


Velbert has a primarily small based metal industry which evolved from backyard forges.  Right beside the Old House was such a small  forge.  At suppertime we would see tired and grimy looking  workers emerge from the dark, windowless stone building  to trudge home,

forge My mother had respect and pity for these hard workers looking emaciated and pale from working long hours in that hellish plant. North of Velbert is the city of Essen where the largest steel manufacturing plant of Europe was located.  My dad found employment in the dental laboratories of the 400 year old Krupp dynasty of steel manufacturing.

Papa labor

My Dad at the Krupp Dental Laboratory in Essen 1954.



Every morning my dad would leave by bus around 6:00 a.m. to go to work.  It would take him about an hour to get to his workplace in Essen.  He would return at 6:00 p.m. dead tired but happy to have employment with a prestigious and socially progressive company, which treated their employees well.


Symbol of the seamless railway wheels patented by Alfred Krupp.

Krupp plantFor my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary a representative of the Krupp management visited my parents at the Old House and delivered some gifts and well wishes.   My parents were touched and felt honored by this caring and generous treatment of my dad’s employer.

Essen_Gussstahlfabrik_Krupp-Denkmal_um_1910Located near the city of Essen is the beautiful lake Baldeney, a dammed reservoir of the Ruhr river.  It was the destination of one of our first family excursion on a sunny spring day.  It would become our favorite recreation spot.  Lake Baldeney has personal significance for me because it changed my life forever.  But I won’t get ahead of myself.

My dad who loved nature and above all water sports was delighted to have this jewel of a lake in our vicinity.   It would still take some effort to travel there by bus, but these outings were  recreational highlights and brightened up our otherwise drab existence in the Old House.

see Werden  A few times my dad and I walked the ate approximate 16 km distance through forests and fields.  I felt very proud that I could keep up with my dad on these long hikes.  My brother who was not fond of swimming in cold water and hated exertion would seldom accompany us.

wanderweg VelbertOn those hikes my dad and I would often daydream about the future.  We would envision a beautiful home built on a hill surrounded by forests and overlooking a big lake.  Far in the future this dream would  come true for me at the Arrow Lakes in Canada.  On his last visit to Canada before his death my father experienced the fulfilment of our dream for a short time with us.

2009-09-27_0132_Baldeneysee__speziell_0900_0700_svThe first time we walked barefoot at the shore of Lake Baldeney  we were puzzled that our feet were sooty  black even after a swim in the   clear water.  At that time the coal industry was still in full production and there was heavy pollution around Essen.   Blue skies as seen on these pictures were rare in my childhood but all the more appreciated when we had them.

This is the house and the lake of our dreams in Fauquier, B.C. at the Arrow Lakes.

our house


Memories of Our Life in the Old House of Rocky Docky in Velbert (1954)

When I woke up from a deep sleep the next morning, I could see through the big window that a clean blanket of snow had covered the drabness of the yard outside the Old House of Rocky Docky.  My father had heard the popular  song on the radio and aptly applied it to our new abode.  It would always cheer us up to hear our “theme song”,  and we would sing it with gusto to make the old house rock.

The bright  morning sun made the snow crystals sparkle and dance,  In spite of the first signs of spring earlier, winter was not over yet.



My parents were already dressed to go out. My mother told us that they had been allocated some funds by the manager of the refugee shelter to buy household items, utensils and other necessary equipment for everyday living.

Our mother told us that before she would go shopping, she would enroll us in the nearby school called Elementary School at the Tree.   Since we had missed classes for more than a month in the transition camp in Massen,  we were looking forward to a regular school life again.


Evangelische Grundschule Am Baum


Am Baum Decal


The school looked new and bright.  Our teacher was a young, tall man with a serious expression.  He didn’t smile at us once. There were about thirty students quietly staring at us when we entered the classroom.  I recognized a girl and a boy I had seen last night at the Old House.  When our teacher introduced us as refugee children from Thuringia, a  tall girl with big brown eyes smiled at me.  Gisela was her name and she eventually became one of my best friends.   She still lives close to Velbert, Germany.  We have only seen  each other twice after I moved to Canada but we have been corresponding with each other for almost 50 years.

i soon found out  that she was also born in the “East” and came from Eisenach, a town close to Gotha in Thuringia.   Eisenach is renown for its imposing Wartburg castle.


Wartburg castle. World heritage site in Eisenach, Germany.



Minstrel Contest. Sängerkrieg at the Wartburg.

In this castle the famous medieval minstrel contest (Sängerkrieg)  took place and there are many legends about this unique historic event.

The  Wartburg is also closely associated with Martin Luther.  He took sanctuary there to translate the New Testament of the  Bible for the first time into the vernacular German language in 1543.



Martin Luther Statue in Dresden


In 1999 the Wartburg was declared a World Heritage Site.

After this digression to the Wartburg back to my memories of the first days in Velbert.

When school was dismissed,  a girl from one grade higher than us approached me and introduced herself as Margit.  I had briefly seen her through the window at the Old House this morning.  Margit smiled at me warmly and invited me to walk back with her.  She became my closest friend for the time we lived at the Old House.

Margit was mature beyond her age.  She was a motherly type and a born leader.  We  liked her cheerful and outgoing personality.  Fights  amongst us kids never lasted long because she was a peace maker and we trusted in her judgement.  There were about 15-20  kids about our age at the Old House and we spent most of our time playing in the big yard around the old  building.   In its younger days, the Old House used to be a beer garden restaurant with a  bowling alley.  The hedged in yard with old trees had been the garden area of the venue where people would eat and drink on warm and sunny days.


ibeer garden

Although the yard was neglected,  it was an ideal play area for kids.   We had plenty of safe space to engage in ball games, skip rope, play badminton, hopscotch, marbles, tag and even hide and seek in the bushes and behind the old trees. There were even some grassy areas where we could put blankets to suntan, read or do gymnastics.

We played outside in all kinds of weather until night time.  The rooms in the Old House were too small for children to play.

While our parents struggled to cope under such primitive and restrictive conditions in the decrepit emergency shelter, we had lots of freedom, space and companionship with other kids our age.   We were happy.



jump rope

Moving to the Old House of Rocky Docky in Velbert, Rhineland, 1954

One day in early spring our mother told us that we would soon be leaving the camp in Aurich, East Frisia,   We would move to a place called Velbert situated in the Rhineland region of  West Germany.  My mother sounded very excited and joyful because she was born and raised in the Rhineland, a beautiful part of Germany.


map of Velbert

For me it meant saying goodbye to my best friend Ingeborg and all our many other playmates with whom  we  had shared so many exciting adventures and experiences.


However, before moving to Velbert, we first had to spend several  weeks in a transitory camp in Massen,  a small town near Unna, close to Dortmund,  which was our first station in the “Golden West”.   All I remember from that short stay is that my mom  was  quite upset because we had to sleep in a big dormitory again  with lots of strangers.  And to make things worse, we had to lie on straw mattresses.  But my parents consoled themselves with the prospect    that we would soon move to Velbert.  That’s  where apartment buildings for refugees were being constructed at a rapid pace.

Refugee Camp in Massen by Unna


On a bright, sunny day in early Spring we were loaded with all our luggage and several other families onto the open back of a big, old transport truck with makeshift benches.


My brother and I had rarely ridden in a car.  This was the first time in a truck. For us it was exciting!  My mom thought it was odd that we were transported like baggage. She didn’t like that we were all crammed together in this small, drafty and not too clean space. But my brother and i were laughing with the other kids and some boisterous men enjoying the cool breeze and the changing scenery.

After a few hours  we were all shaken up by the bumpy ride.  The increasing cool drafts, the loud noise of the motor and  the rattling of the vehicle started to make us feel sick. Suddenly the truck came to an abrupt halt beside an old, dilapidated stone building which looked almost like a dungeon, dark and foreboding.



The Old House of Rocky Docky in Velbert, Germany.


The driver jumped out of the cab, opened the ramp of the truck and started unloading the luggage and helping us to jump out.   Dazed and bewildered, numb from the cold and very hungry we all stood  speechless for a moment.  “Take your belongings and follow me,” the driver told us.

He led us around the extremely long building  to a courtyard with a row of several outhouses.  “You can go there in a minute,” he told us, “but let me show you your quarters first. This old building used to be a pub and a bowling alley,” he continued,  “now it has been converted into an emergency shelter for people like you.  I’ll introduce you to the manager of this establishment.” He laughed  and pointed to a man who just stepped out of the entrance to receive us.

We were the first ones to be led to our room.  We had to go through a long hall with several big sinks, laundry tubs and a wash line with a few rags drying.  There were brooms, mops. pails. garbage cans and other equipment stored along the walls.  The evening light coming in through big windows could hardly soften the drabness of this dingy hall.

At the end of it there was a door leading to a small room with a large recessed window in the raw rock wall.  It looked like a prison cell except  there were no bars on the window.  There were two sets of bunk beds, a table with four chairs, a small table with a two burner hotplate and a small dresser.  “This is your temporary place until your apartment is completed,” the manager told us.  And in response to my parent’s questioning glance he added, “This may take up to two years.  We just don’t know where to house all you people,” he grumbled leaving  us to attend to the other families.

For a moment we all stood dumbfounded  until the silence was broken by my mother’s loud sobs.  She collapsed on one of the beds and cried and cried.  I had never seen my mother cry like that before and it shocked me deeply.  My father looked helpless.  Eventually he started stroking my mother’s back.  My brother and I climbed onto our  top beds completely bewildered.

Eventually my mother’s crying stopped.  She rallied and took us to the outhouse.  She found a clean wash basin to scrub the grime of the long dusty truck ride of our face and hands.   She magically produced some bread, butter, cheese and jam. She also made some weak tea on the hot plate.   We were so starved,  it tasted heavenly. Then she hugged us warmly and said,  “With God’s help we’ll make it through.”