Finally In Our New Home (1957)

We were all elated when our apartment building was finally completed and we could move in.  It was located at the outskirts of Velbert en route towards the Baldeney Lake  and  the city of Essen, where my dad worked at the Krupp dental  laboratory.

Our apartment building had three floors with two apartments on each except on the third floor where we lived. Our apartment was on one side and the big communal loft for drying laundry on  the opposite side.   Our apartment was an attic apartment with slightly slanted ceilings.

We had two small bedrooms, a large living room, a kitchen and a bathroom.  In the basement were individual storage rooms for all the renters and there was also the big laundry room.  At that time most women ( it was still the women’s job) still washed by hand.   There were big tubs to boil bed and table linen in,

laundry tub

scrub bwashboards to scrub  grimy work clothes with, and other utensils to wring out the heavy items.  Every month each family had scheduled wash days.   My mother was always exhausted during those days and dinner was mostly a lentil soup which I hated.  But the new bed sheets smelled so fresh.


Even though our apartment was by modern standards very small, we were thrilled to move out of that crammed  emergency shelter  at the Old House.

My mother was overjoyed to have a bright, clean kitchen with running water and a big electric stove. Through the large window over the sink she could see the comings and goings on the front yard and the road.  She could wave us good-bye in the morning and see us come home.

My dad was thrilled by the location of our apartment which was close to a park like a forest leading to the city’s outdoor swimming pool under an old railroad  bridge.

brucke V Pe

He also loved the view from all the windows.  Endless fields and meadows leading to forested hills at the horizon.  Great hiking territory.


blick Velbert

In the living room, he finally had a huge wall unit where he could store his many mostly historical books and his beloved Brockhaus encyclopedia,  Over the last few years my sister had sent these big tomes from the east one volume at a time.  Now they had a home again.

My brother and I were happy that we would get our own room and didn’t have to sleep in bunk beds any more. I was so relieved that we finally could have a regular bath and shower and go to a flush toilet instead of a cold, smelly outhouse.

My mother had a great talent of finding and arranging practical and attractive looking furniture. To save space she bought wall beds.  Since my parents slept in the living room that was a necessity.   Wall beds were cleverly designed and very comfortable.

iwall bedFor me she bought a futon style bed which looked very beautiful and served as a couch over the day time.   I also had a wall bed in my room for visitors since my room was bigger than my brother’s bedroom.

Although our apartment did not match up to the spacious and luxurious places my parents were used to rent in the past, they were happy.  My mother was brimming over with ideas how to make our bright  new home comfortable and beautiful.

Finally we could invite friends and neighbors without feeling ashamed by our primitive and crammed accommodation at the Old House.

Since my mother was a wonderful host and loved company, my friends were delighted to visit at our new place.  From that time on my friends and I met mostly at our place.

Gudrun bie

There was also another incentive to visit our place because there was a chance to meet my brother and his friends.  Since we went to segregated schools, meeting young people of the opposite sex was not easy.

I’ll talk about those meetings and interactions in another post.   And it is about time that I tell you more about my twin brother.

Walt Boat Bi

An Accident on Ice (1956)

One day in late November we had a heavy frost and all the puddles from previous rainfalls were frozen over.  After school, my friends from the House of Rocky Docky and I had fun sliding on the ice. We had competitions trying to slide the farthest and fastest on the frozen tracks.

threekidsonice_crane 2

When it was my turn I took a long and fast run at the icy patch.  I didn’t notice a boy coming almost at the same time from behind  me. Before I could react, he bumped into me. I fell hard hands first onto the ice.  A bit dazed from the shock I got up.  A group of kids gathered around me and they all seemed to be looking at my hand.  “How can you turn your hand around so far?”  a little boy asked.  I was puzzled and asked him what he meant.  But when I looked down I saw my hand completely turned around and hanging limply.  I tried to will myself to move it back, but there was no response.    It just stayed in that strange  position.  I didn’t have any pain, but I was getting concerned.  It dawned on me that something  was terribly wrong.   My friend Margit gently put her arm around me and said, “Let’s go to your mom”.   All the other children followed us like in a procession.

When my mother opened the door and saw me looking pale and shocked, cradling my right arm, surrounded by my worried looking friends, she knew something was wrong.  As  soon as she noticed my limp, contorted hand she panicked.  Without warning she grabbed it and tried to set it right.  I almost fainted with pain.  Horrified my friends left.

My mother, however, quickly regained her senses and gently put my arm in a sling. Then she walked me to the nearest doctor in town, which took about half an hour.   My readers have to remember that at that time we had neither telephone nor car.

Although it was close to supper time, the doctor was still in his office. He gave me a sedative, set my broken wrist and  put my arm in a cast. It was quite late and dark when my mom and I  finally went home. I felt lightheaded as if in a dream. Relieved that my ordeal was over,  I enjoyed the walk under the sparkling night sky with my mom gently holding me by my left hand and murmuring comforting words.


Initially I found it difficult to function without the use of my right hand.  But before long, my left hand took over and I even started to write with it. The teachers were quite forgiving when my homework looked a bit more  messy than usual.

After six weeks the cast came off and my arm looked white and thin for a while.  But it regained its strength quickly.

The doctor’s prediction that I would get arthritis in my wrist later on in life miraculously did not come true after more than 50 years.


Two New Friends (1956)

After our return from summer camp in Berg Neustadt our parents told us the exciting news that the construction of the apartment building was nearing completion.  If all went according to schedule we would celebrate Christmas in our new home.

Angelika had moved to Wolfsburg during the summer    My friend and I had been an inseparable pair keeping  mostly to ourselves.  Angelika did not like to “share” me with other girls and had jealously guarded our friendship.  I felt lost without her.   I was apprehensive about going back to school fearing to be without friends.  Once in awhile Angelika and I  had been invited for a special occasion  to Gisela’s house.  Gisela was the girl from Eisenach, the famous town close to Gotha, where the Wartburg is located.

4But as so often in my life, my fears were unfounded.   Gisela and her friend Gudrun felt sorry for me and asked if I wanted to walk with them during recess.  They also invited me to do homework at their homes.  They always took turns.  Knowing my situation they did not mind that I could not invite them back because of the Old House.  I promised them that they could always come to my place once we had moved.  They were fine with this prospect.

Gisela lived with her grandparents, her mom and older sister in a new apartment,  not too far from our prospective home.  Gisela’s pretty mom, a petite, dark-haired woman, was a war widow. Gisela had never known her dad, a pilot, who was killed shortly before her birth.

After the war and their flight from east Germany  Gisela’s mom worked as a seamstress, while her parents took care of the household chores.  Gisela, a tall long-legged girl with big brown eyes, always wore  the most stylish and beautiful dresses which her talented mom designed  and sewed for her.  Gisela was a bit more serious  and reserved than most of our classmates and, therefore, appeared to be older.

Seamstress at Work - Photo Credit:

Seamstress at Work – Photo Credit:

Gisela’s grandparents always received us warmly,  when Gudrun and I came for a visit and they treated us with delicious homemade refreshments. They took a genuine  interest in our lives and liked to tell us stories of the their exciting past,

Unlike Gisela,  Gudrun  was very outgoing and radiated warmth.  She always had a sweet smile on her  round face.  Blond,  blue-eyed and well developed she liked to take life easy and have fun. While I still wore hand-me-down clothes  from my second cousins, Gudrun had the most beautiful  skirts, blouses and dresses, which her mom sewed for her.

Like Gisela’s mom,  her mother  was also a war widow and  a seamstress.  She also had a tailoring business at her home.  Gudrun’s grandma lived with them. But her grandpa was dead.  Gudrun’s Oma did the household chores while her mom sewed on a big long table in a corner of the spacious kitchen close to the window.

Gudrun’s well dressed  mom looked glamorous with her fashionably styled  blonde hair, her heavy  makeup and her bright red, enormously long fingernails.  They were curved like claws.  I secretly wondered how she could handle delicate materials with them.  She would take frequent smoke breaks showing off her long  fingers by gracefully holding the cigarette.  She half closed her mascaraed eyes, leisurely  and slowly exhaling  the smoke through her rounded red lips.  Smoking looked so pleasurable and alluring to us girls.


Photo Credit: ifyouinsist @Flickr

Periodically.  a male friend of the family who was a truck driver for a brewery would visit Gudrun’s mom.  At those times there  was a lot of laughter,  joking and  thick clouds of smoke, which were coming from the sewing corner distracting us from studying for school. I think her mom’s friend  was a father substitute for Gudrun.

Gudrun had a record player, a luxury our family could not yet afford.  She owned records of the top hits, most of them presents from her mother’s friend.   We would listen with excitement to the catching songs and rhythms of Little Richard, Elvis Presley. Connie Francis and Brenda Lee. As soon as Gudrun’s mom and Oma were out doing errands, we would even dance around.  When our top idol Elvis sang, “Love me Tender” we  were mesmerized and started dreaming of first love.

Elvis-Presley-009  I envied Gudrun and Gisela for their wide skirts with stiff petticoats that swung in style when they twirled and spun around trying to dance Rock’n Roll.  But I still had fun and was thankful for my two new wonderful friends.

petticoats 2







Surviving Bullies at a Summer Camp (1956)

In August 1956 our parents sent us to a summer camp in Bergneustadt,  a  beautiful town situated in the forested hills close to Cologne.  We were sponsored by a charitable organization for refugee children from the east.

The prospect of having a real vacation away from home like many of my classmates seemed exciting at first.   But then separation anxiety from my parents took hold of me.  Eventually my mother succeeded in persuading me to go.  My brother didn’t appear to have any mixed feelings and was eager to leave for new adventures.

The big, bright youth hostel was nestled in the forest.  There were lots of children our age, about 10 to 14 years old.   We slept in large dormitories.  It reminded me of the refugee camp in Aurich.  I felt intimidated by the crowds of strange children, especially the boisterous teenage boys.   There were a few bullies who made life miserable for some of us.  They verbally abused us and were physically rough when we played unsupervised games  These boys mercilessly  teased us and gloated when they could see that they had upset or hurt us.  The group  leaders were overwhelmed by the great number of kids in their care,  They often overlooked or did not seem to notice these negative behaviors.  Since  I was extremely shy I did not dare to complain, I suffered silently.

hikersWe did some exciting excursions to the Aggertalsperre (dam at the river Agger) and the Atta limestone caves. We  hiked in the beautiful natural surroundings, Nevertheless I felt increasingly homesick.   I couldn’t eat or sleep.  I withdrew even from  girls who were trying to be friends with me.



One day, we were all supposed to write a postcard home. I wrote a desperate plea to my parents to come and get me as soon as possible.

A few days later I received a letter from my father.  I eagerly  opened  this welcome  message from home with joyful anticipation.

But what my father wrote to me seemed to top off all the bullying I had endured.

Instead of comforting words my father wrote what he may have thought to be a witty and humorous  “dissertation”. He explained the linguistic origin of the German words ‘dämlich’ and ‘herrlich’,  roughly translated as ‘dumb’ and ‘masterful’.   Unfortunately the allusions and fine points of his linguistic examinations are lost in translation.  There are no equivalents in the English language. He told me that the word “dumb” derives from the word “dame”.  On the other hand “masterful” or “manly” originates from master or man,  ‘Herrlich’  also has the connotation of wonderful or glorious.

I could not finish reading my father’s letter because tears of shame and disappointment blinded my vision.  But miraculously my pain was short lived.  A supervisor approached me and told me that I had a visitor waiting for me in the  main office.  When we entered, there was my beloved mother!  It seemed like a miracle. She had made the long and costly trip by bus and train to see me against my father’s advice.

I was overjoyed.  We spent the beautiful afternoon together walking in the forest and talking.  I unburdened my heart and she listened with empathy.   When evening approached she gave me the choice of going back home with her or staying for the remainder of the vacation.

One thing my father’s letter had accomplished. It had stirred up my pride and courage. I was going to show him that I was not that ‘dumb’  weak ‘dame’  intimidated by the ‘wonderful masters’.  I would not give him the satisfaction of proving his point.  I decided to stay.

I enjoyed the remainder of my time at the youth camp. I learned to ignore verbal assaults and not take them personally. I avoided playing unsupervised games with rough boys  and sought out the company of friendly girls.  I also noticed that the supervisors intervened more readily  when they saw inappropriate behaviors. Maybe as a result of my mother’s visit they were more vigilant.

Summer camp in many respects was a great learning experience for me and it made me stronger. I felt happy and relieved that I did not quit or give in to fears and feelings of insecurity, thanks to  my mother’s love.  In retrospect I also appreciate my father’s words.  Although it was not so obvious,  he also acted out of concern for me.  He knew that by taunting me I would rise to the challenge.   In his words I learned to  ‘master’ my fears.