More Memories of My Friendship With Angelika – Her Traumatic Past and Her Miraculous Survival from Leukemia 1957

My first visit with Angelika and her parents at her beautiful place  was coming to an end.  Her dad told us to go to his Volkswagen Beetle so he could drive me home.

“I’ll take Torro as well”, Angelika’s dad told me, “but he has to go in the car last.  If he is in before you,  he’ll get very agitated and bark at you. He is very possessive of the car.”

When Angelika and I were settled on the backseats, Torro jumped in last and I could see how happy and proud he was to sit beside his master.

Photo Credit: Jen at

Photo Credit: Jen at

For me a car ride was a special experience since we never owned one.  We rode by bus or train and did a lot of walking and biking.

Initially I enjoyed the ride in the cute little Beetle but the closer we came to my street, the more apprehensive I felt.  I did not want Angelika and her dad  to  see The Old House of Rocky Docky.  I felt ashamed to live in such a shabby small place and feared I would never be invited by Anglika again.

I feigned carsickness  and asked to walk the last stretch home.  I think Angelika’s dad sensed why I wanted to get off and let me go without protest.

My fears were unfounded.The next morning Angelika’s parents visited my mother and asked if I could spend as much time as possible at their home. My mother was happy with the prospect to know I was at a safe place while she was gone fighting for my dad’s pension.   From that day on I spent almost all my afternoons with Angelika and often stayed  overnight on weekends as well.  Angelika and I became close like sisters,  We both were ambitious and spent time together to study and do homework to get good marks.  There was competition between us but we also cheered for each other’s accomplishments.

I noticed that Angelika was very reluctant to show affection to her parents although they showered her with love and attention and seemed to fulfill all her wishes.

When they tried to hug her or kiss her she withdrew quickly or  pushed them away.  That puzzled me.   Her parents were such lovable kind and good looking people.   Angelika’s father often asked me in a half joking way.  “Do you hug and kiss your parents?”   Of course I did and I told him so.  But that did not change Angelika’s attitude towards physical closeness with her parents.

One day I talked to my mom about this and she told me Angelika’s story which offered a possible explanation

Angelika’s parents got married very young towards the end of the war.  Her mom was still in medical school  studying medicine when she became pregnant.  Angelika’s dad was fighting at the front.

Angelika’s mom decided to put her new born daughter in a foster home with the intention to get her back when her husband returned and she had completed her studies.

For four years Angelika lived in foster care until she was finally reunited with her parents.   Trying to make up for lost time they showered her with love and attention but Angelika did not seem to return their affection.   She was very quiet,  almost withdrawn and easily upset.  She avoided social interactions and did not like to play with other children.   When Angelika finally developed a close friendship with me, her parents were overjoyed.  Angelika was capable of closeness and affection with other human beings

Angelika never talked about the time  she spent in foster care. But  she often told me that she always wanted a sister or a brother,  She envied me for having a twin brother,  She thought I was never lonely and had always a close friend.  I did not want to shatter her illusion, but at that time my brother and I didn’t love and appreciate each other at all.

I have wonderful memories of the time I spent with Angelika at her loving home.  Her parents would do anything to make life after school pleasant for us.  They’d take us to fancy pastry shops and we could choose the delicious cakes and sweets  for our afternoon snacks.

After we completed our assignments we would sit on Angelika’s bed,  our feet dangling onto Torro’s warm fur and we would talk and daydream and joke around, laugh and giggle. Her mom and dad seemed to like hear us laugh and giggle.

One morning in school Angelika was missing.  Mecki told the class that she was very sick and would not be in school for a while,  I was shocked.  She seemed fine the day before.

My mother looked very concerned when I came home and told me that I could not visit Angelika because she was too ill.

I was very worried and missed her terribly.  Finally one day my mother told me that Angelika’s parents wanted me to see her because she had asked for me.

Angelika’s mom looked pale and thin.  She took me by the hand. “Please, don’t tell her how shocked you are when you see her”, she pleaded.  In spite of the forewarning I was shocked.  Angelika was lying in her bed.  She had sores all over her skin and mouth and she looked very pale.  But she managed a small smile in greeting.  Her eyes even sparkled a bit.  She told me that she had a severe blood disorder and needed a bone marrow transplant.  But now she t was on the road to recovery.    She told me about all the strange things she had to eat to get better.  “Next time you come you have to try sprouted wheat”, she told me.  When I told her stories from school, she even managed to laugh a little.  “The sores in my mouth still hurt a bit”. she said, but she seemed proud that she had overcome her illness.  “I could have died, but I made it”.

Every day I visited her after school and I could see how she was getting stronger.  But she never came back to school.  Another shock was waiting for me.

Angelika’s dad was being transferred to Wolfsburg where the famous Volkswagen was manufactured.  They would be moving soon.

VW Factory Wolfsburg - Photo Credit: Bildarchiv Schroedter

VW Factory Wolfsburg – Photo Credit: Bildarchiv Schroedter

One day when I returned home from school, my mother told me with a trembling voice and tears in her eyes that Angelika’s parents had asked her, if they could adopt me so Angelika would not loose her best friend who was like a sister to her. They even tried to fulfill  this wish.

Although my mother  deep down knew my answer she still asked me if I wanted to be adopted to have a better life.   I was very sad she even asked me.

I visited Angelika in Wolfsburg the following year.  We wrote each other for a while until they moved again to Southern Germany,  Then I lost contact.

When I already lived in Canada I heard  from a distant classmate that Angelika had married a French Count but left her husband shortly after the wedding,  I still wonder what happened to my friend Angelika.  She still lives in my heart,




My Mother’s Fight For Justice and Angelika My New Friend (1956)

The first year of high school was a big adjustment for us.  We had to get used to a variety of teachers and teaching styles.  Learning a new language was fun, but also very difficult.  We had to memorize lots of English words, their difficult pronunciations   and their idiosyncratic spellings.  To this day, the infamous “th” is still a challenge for me sometimes.   Spelling rules are fairly consistent in German but in English exceptions to the rule are common place.  Memorization of words and phrases seemed to be the best solution.

Although school ended at 1:15 p.m. we had very little free time because of heavy loads of homework for each subject.  In the afternoon, my brother and I would sit at our only table in the small room of the “House of Rocky Docky”  and study.   His homework was completely different from mine. We hardly talked to each other each of us immersed in a different world.  My father was at work in the Krupp dental laboratory and would not return until supper time.  My mother had her own battles to fight.  She was  constantly on the go trying to fight for my father’s right to receive a  government pension from the police force he had worked  for until Germany was divided.

Most people in Germany did not have phone service when I grew up.  This made it difficult for my mother to talk to government officials and other important contact persons involved in her struggle to get justice for my father.  It was a difficult and stressful undertaking for my mother and very exhausting. She had to travel by bus or train to government offices in other cities trying to get an appointment.  She had to write letters and fill out long forms which often landed in the wrong departments or were filed away unread. There was an overload of administrative work for the government officials to accommodate  all the  refugee claims from the east.

Often she was at the point of exhaustion and desperation to give up. The bureaucracy was so overwhelming that all her efforts seemed futile.   But my mother’s tenacity and indefatigable spirit finally paid off. After seven years. as a last desperate effort,  she went to the highest government department to plead for justice. Miraculously,  she was received by a representative of the German Chancellor Adenauer who had a sympathetic ear and in no time  got the “ball” rolling.  My father finally was entitled to a sizable pension and a big back pay for the lost years.  My mother had won the struggle for financial security at the expense of her health and vitality. The years of  worries and deprivations had taken their toll.  But my brother and I were too young and self-absorbed to notice.  For us she remained  a pillar of strength and comfort.  Her love for us was inexhaustible.

After this memory fragment of my mother  back to my life. Shortly after our second year of high school had started “Mecki” our home room teacher introduced a new student. He assigned her to sit beside me since I had lost my desk partner from the previous year.  She had failed the grade.

I glanced furtively at my new companion who looked straight ahead at Mecki.  Angelika had a cute snub-nose and big blue eyes with long dark eyelashes. Her short hair curled softly around her round red cheeks.  She had a nicely curved mouth and dimples.  When she eventually dared to smile at me, she looked very beautiful.

AngelikaIt didn’t take us long to overcome our initial shyness and we started to get to know each other during recess.  Towards the end of the week.  Angelika asked if I would be allowed to visit her on the last day of the school week.  We could walk together to her place and her dad would drive me home at night.

My parents had no objections and on Saturday after early dismissal we walked together to her home.  It was a fairly long walk to an unfamiliar part of town.  There were lots of trees and beautiful yards.  In Germany, most people do not own houses but live in apartments.  Angelika stopped in front of a big cast iron gate and opened it with a key.  We walked through a long garden path to a big house with lots of windows.  A young slender lady opened the front door.  She had raven black hair and pale blue eyes.  With a gentle smile she kissed Angelika on the cheek and then shook my hand in greeting.  I hadn’t expected Angelika’s mother to look so young.  She served us some delicious little pastries in a bright sun room. The delicate cakes looked like the ones I had longingly admired in the window of the fancy pastry shop in town,  Finally I had a taste of these small fruit tarts covered with strawberries and topped with whipped cream.

Frau Janzen asked me a lot of questions about my family, my interests and hobbies and about school.   She had a gentle voice and kind eyes. After our refreshments she showed me all the rooms in the beautiful house and I was reminded of our big, wonderful home in Gotha, which we had lost.  Our room at the Old House  where we lived  now was about the size of this sun room.

Angelika’s bedroom was very large and so bright and colourful.  She even had a piano in the middle of the room and her mom made her play me some tunes. Then she left us alone and we spent some time in the park like yard playing badminton on the lawn.  We had fun and laughed a lot.  Later we sat on her bed talking about school and joking about our teachers.

Suddenly I heard barking and a male voice.  Angelika’s dad who was the manager of the municipal hydro corporation had returned from his office with their German shepherd dog called Torro.  Angelika and Torro greeted each other exuberantly.  Angelika’s dad looked on with a big boyish smile on his face.   Then he turned to me.

“You must be that special girl I have heard so much about “,, he said.   “Don’t be afraid of Torro he is very gentle and would never hurt anyone.  Come and pet him so he gets to know you.”  Overcoming my fear I managed to stroke Torro gently on the back, which he seemed to like.  He sat down in front of me staring at my face  obviously expecting more attention.  Angelika’s dad looked very easygoing and friendly.  He laughed a lot and made me feel at ease.


I will talk more about Angelika and her family in my next post.



Sex Education and Other Memories of My School Days in the 50’s

Life was school and school was life for me in those days.  Everything revolved around school.


Gymnasium Velbert

Every morning, except on Sundays school started exactly at 8:00 a:m. and the big portal with the stained glass motto “Not for School but for Life”  was locked by the caretaker.   If you were late you had to ring a bell.  The custodian would open for you and ceremoniously accompany you to the principal’s office at the top floor of the school.  Frau Lindemann reigned like a queen at her huge shiny mahogany desk.  She was a short, round lady with snow white hair, bright blue eyes and very  red cheeks.  She looked kind, but that was deceiving.  She was a tough disciplinarian.  The first time you were late she would give you a severe reprimand. If you were late three times you would be suspended for a week.  If you had three suspensions you would be dismissed from school. We feared Frau Lindemann and would only enter her office with great trepidations.

Our classrooms looked austerely functional. There were  huge blackboards on the front and side wall opposite the big windows.  We would sit in neat rows of two side by side desks  facing the main black board in front and the teacher’s work station. The room was bare of pictures, displays, plants or any decorative items.  There was nothing to distract us.

desksHowever, in this boring physical environment we had the most exciting experiences.  We would vicariously relive mankind’s quest for scientific knowledge and spiritual truths.  Most of our teachers were passionate about expanding our minds.  They tried to teach us skills to foster critical thinking, problem solving and effective oral and written communication.

We read works of  world literature, first in German and then in English and French and in the last three years a few excerpts in Latin. We would discuss, debate and talk about the great themes which moved and influenced man’s quest for the meaning and purpose of life.

I loved our philosophical discussions and would always actively participate.  Although our teachers were in many respects very authoritarian they encouraged free thinking.  We were expected and allowed to have our own ideas and opinions as long as we could back them up with strong arguments to prove their validity.

We were fortunate to have “Mecki” as our classroom teacher.  He was very eloquent in expressing deep thoughts and guiding us through difficult discussions.   He was a great model.

The emphasis of our school was on language arts, while science related subjects were somewhat neglected.  Our physics teacher did not expect much of us.  He would spent most of his lessons telling us interesting  and entertaining anecdotes of his life and war experiences.  Maybe he did not want to waste his efforts teaching science to girls who would never pursue a career in that field.  This  was still the pervasive opinion at that time.  Although I was not scientifically inclined i once delivered an amazing  technical drawing of a Wankel motor.  That was my one and only success in science and I earned the respect of  my teacher. I have to admit remorsefully  that my brother had helped me with it.


Our chemistry teacher liked spirits.  She would tell us more about beer brewing techniques and wine and  liqueur making than chemical formulas.




Biology was another neglected subject.  Our squeamish elderly teacher was supposed to provide sex education.  She would show us a film of a pregnant mare who miraculously all of a sudden had a newborn foal beside her.  The actual birthing scenes were left out.  We were left in the dark.



Another substitute teacher took over  the topic by telling us a Greek legend of a pot which eventually finds it’s matching lid.  It sounded  all Greek to us and we were quite bewildered . Eventually we had to search for answers in real life not at school.


greek pot















Non Scolae Sed Vitae or We Do Not Learn for School But For Life (1954-65)

When my twin brother and I were at the end of grade 4,  my parents  had to decide if they wanted us to go on to high school. After successfully concluding grade 13, we would obtain the senior matriculation certificate, Abitur in German, which was a prerequisite for post secondary education at a university.

Only a small percentage of students would enter high school.  Your elementary teacher had to recommend you based on your performance and you had to pass a stringent entrance exam.  While all children by law received eight years of free  elementary school education,  high school students had to pay tuition fees and finance their books and  other educational materials.  It was an honor and a privilege to attend high school.  You belonged to an elite group if you passed your senior matriculation.  Only about half the number of students that started high school would accomplish that  hard to achieve goal.

There were scholarships for top students who had financial difficulties to pay the tuition fees.  My twin brother and I, plus my best friend Gisela,  were the lucky recipients after successfully completing  grade 4 with top marks.

For the first time in our life,  my twin brother and I would attend different schools.  The two high schools in Velbert were segregated by gender and academic orientation.  I went to the  modern language branch for girls and my brother to the science and ancient language branch for boys.  While the school buildings were in close proximity,  we had no contact with students of the opposite sex for our entire high school life except for a short extra curricular ballroom dancing course in grade 10.

While our school had a high percentage of male teachers, my brother only once,  for a short time,  had a female teacher teaching at his school.  That was “sensational” for the boys and she enjoyed a special status.  The boys “adored” her like a queen.

Gymnasium VelbertThis is the beloved school I attended for nine years.  Over the entrance was a stained glass window which read “Non scholae sed vitae.” I hardly ever missed a day and was always eager to go and learn for life.

We started out with 45 girls in grade 5 and after nine years only 15 of us graduated. Our homeroom teacher  was called Mr. Meckenstock.  He mentored us for the entire  school time.  We fondly nicknamed him  Mecki after the beloved little stuffed hedgehog toy of our generation.

MeckiMecki did only faintly resemble the little toy because he had lost most of his hair.   Although he was very strict (like almost all German teachers),  he was also kind and warmhearted.   Above all, he was a unique character full of contradictions, He taught us English and French with lots of enthusiasm. He was proficient in both languages, even though he had never studied them in the native country.  In fact, he had never been abroad, until we went on a field trip to Paris with him in grade 11.  The comical adventures of that memorable trip I will never forget.  But I will talk about them in detail later.

Mecki laid great stress on oral participation in classroom discussions which I really liked.  I enjoyed sharing thoughts and opinions on ideas or books we had to read eventually in English and French.

Our math teacher, nicknamed Ata (father), was also popular, This  short,  round, red-cheeked jovial man was a wizard with numbers.   Every math lesson he magically turned into a fun experience by engaging us in group math competitions at the  blackboard.  He really cared that we understood and freely helped us when we had problems.  We tried very hard not to disappoint him.

These two outstanding teachers probably had the greatest influence on my academic achievement.  I will talk more about other teachers in the near future,

Teachers at my time were highly respected.  When they entered the classroom, we had to rise and greet them in unison.  Whenever we volunteered an answer, we also had to stand up.  In their presence we had to act and speak politely and respectfully.  But life is full of paradoxes.  We girls were not as docile and disciplined as was expected.

Before concluding this post,  one more afterthought on our school building.  As I mentioned, the boy’s high school was adjacent to ours.  The schools were so close that we had to cross the boys school yard to go down some rock steps to our own yard.

We were not allowed to talk or interact with the boys when walking to our yard below.   The boys would stand at the retaining wall and look down on us.  Maybe that reflected an attitude symbolic for that time.










Eine “Ohrfeige” (slap in the face) by a Teacher; Meeting Father Rhine and Other Memories of My First Year in Velbert 1954-55

As I already mentioned in a previous post I was happy to have regular school again and was looking forward to every day of classes.

Two days after my mom had enrolled us at the Elementary School Am Baum  (at The Tree)  I woke up with a sore throat.  I was prone to suffer from severe allergies,  especially in the spring during  pollen season.  My mother suggested that I stay home and she sent my brother off  at the usual time.  I did not want to miss school and pleaded with my mother to let me go until she relented.

I ran as fast as I could not to be late but when I arrived classes had just started.   Out of breath I reached the class room door where my teacher received me.  As I already indicated earlier he seldom smiled and was very strict.   He looked especially serious this morning,  “Why are you late?”. he asked in a stern voice,  Still out of breath I stammered, “I wasn’t feeling well.”

“Don’t lie to me!”, he shouted and without warning slapped me across the face.

Never in my life before had I been physically punished by my parents or other adults   For a moment I felt like frozen in time.   I was so stunned and shocked  I did not know what was happening to me.  Eventually, like a sleepwalker  I made it to my desk and sat there dazed until dismissal time.  I felt humiliated by this unjust punishment and  very sad.  Until then I had idolized and adored teachers.  In my mind they embodied the highest human qualities like  wisdom, knowledge, fairness, justice and kindness.  This undeserved slap in my face shattered that illusion.

Only when I got home did I cry.  It wasn’t the physical pain of the slap in my  face that hurt but the emotional pain of undeserved punishment and  the betrayal of trust by an abusive person in authority.

Most people did not own phones when I grew up and so my mother talked to the teacher in person the next day, but the damage was done.

To my relief  the school year came to an end about  two weeks later.   Our new teacher in grade 5 quickly restored my faith and trust  in teachers again.

Although he was very strict as well,  he never lost his temper or control.  I loved his exciting lessons, his fairness and his warm smile and sense of humor.

This teacher decided to take us on a field trip to meet Vater Rhein or Father Rhine as the longest and mightiest  German river is fondly called.

map rhineOn a beautiful sunny spring day we went by train to Cologne.  Cologne is the fourth largest city of Germany situated at the Rhine river.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited the awe inspiring cathedral which towers majestically at the river shore.  We went down to the banks and immersed our hands into the water to greet Father Rhine.  He was starting to get polluted.  Twenty years later when visiting the Rhine river again my friends prevented me from putting my hands in the water because of the dangerous levels of pollution.  Now Father Rhine is clean and safe again.

rhine-castle-4Towards the end of our excursion we walked through the Altstadt or the picturesque historic part of the city.  We did window shopping and were allowed to buy some small souvenirs in the romantic boutiques.

Altstsdt käln

Heißes Pflaster I remember the fun we had reading the ornate and artistically designed  shop and pub signs hanging on beautifully crafted cast iron brackets. We laughed at the often  funny and clever names.  A butcher shop was called  The Jolly Fat Sow,  A wine pub was named  The Bottomless Barrel.  In the Busy Bee Bakery we bought some honey sweetened pastries.

shop sign

Back at school we had to write about our excursion.  Our teacher told us that the best  report would be published  in our class journal.   We all had to read out what we had written and then we voted which one  we liked best.    I was the proud and happy winner because I described  in detail all the humorous signs and other fun  impressions of our exciting trip.