A Memorable Ride in a Police Car (1965)

My first semester of teacher’s  college was coming to an end, when our English professor suggested a field trip to a a small island at the North Sea together with a group of American exchange students.  During our first semester there had been  very little time and opportunity for social interaction with our fellow students and staff.  The prospect of a trip offered a chance to get to know each other better at a beautiful coastal region of Germany. I immediately signed up.

Winter had been long and dull. The transition from high school to the  busy and overcrowded teacher’s college  had been stressful and demanding.  Every morning at six o’clock  I had to travel by transit bus from my hometown Velbert to the  nearby city of Wuppertal to attend my morning classes at 8:00 a.m.   By the way, Wuppertal  (among other things) is famous for its historic monorail sky train.

Wuppertal Schwebebahn


The one and a half  hour long ride on the often crowded and badly ventilated public transit bus to the main station in the city center of Wuppertal was unpleasant and nauseating.   The college was situated on top of a lovely hill in a spectacular park landscape about half an hour’s walk from the station.  After the often sickening bus ride the walk through the fresh air in the lovely park was pleasant and  revived my body and spirits.


That  year,  spring was slow in coming and I longed for sunshine and the invigorating ocean air.  Our trip was scheduled for the beginning of June.  Finally  all the arrangements were made and the departure day was approaching.

However, I had a problem.  Our train to the coast was supposed to leave at 4:00 a.m. from Wuppertal.  I had no means of transportation so early in the morning from my home. We did not own a a car and the earliest bus from Velbert was too late to catch the train in time. I had no close friends or acquaintances in Wuppertal to help me out.   My professor suggested that I could sleep on a cot in his office the night before and walk down to the station in the early morning.

Needless to say,  I was too excited and also a bit scared to sleep much in the deserted college building.  After tossing and turning for half the night, I decided to get up at the break of dawn and walk down to the station bright and early.

Wupertal Park - Photo Credit: Atamari (Wuppertal)

Wupertal Park – Photo Credit: Atamari (Wuppertal)

A few days ago spring had finally  arrived and flowers and trees were blossoming in profusion.  When I stepped out of the  college building, the first sun rays greeted me and made the dew drops on the grass and leaves sparkle in the early morning light.   The air was fragrant and fresh. Having lots of time,  I decided to walk down through the park paths  instead of the road directly leading down to the city.

My suitcase was not too heavy and I walked briskly enchanted by the beautiful light filtering through the blooming trees and bushes.  I stopped briefly to look at an unusually pretty flower when I noticed some movement behind me.

Daffodils at greenhouse sm

 Nervously I looked around me wondering who or what could have disturbed the peace.  Probably a bird or small animal just waking up.  I walked a bit faster.  All of a sudden someone in a strong male voice  called out, “Stop!”

My first impulse was to run.  But my suitcase would not let me get away fast.  I froze on the spot unable to make a decision.  When I dared to look around to confront my pursuer I was amazed to see a uniformed man.  A police man!  “What are you doing so early in the morning in this park?” he asked sternly.  “Loitering in this park at night is against the law!”, he added fixing his glance firmly on my suitcase.    When I finally regained my composure I managed to explain my situation in a shaky voice.   The policeman’s face relaxed and he assumed a kinder look.  “These isolated parks are not safe for young ladies like you, especially not at this time of day.  Come with me and I’ll drive you down to the station.”  He grabbed my suitcase and together we walked through the park paths to the road where he had parked his vehicle.  I sat beside him and we chatted like friends.  He seemed pleased to hear that I was the daughter of a retired police officer.  When we arrived at the  train station, some of the students and the professor were already gathered at the main entrance.stock-photo-57620416-german-police-van-patroling-berlin-at-sunsetThey curiously looked at the police car stopping at the curb right in front of them. I never forget their surprised and puzzled  looks, when I emerged out of it.   My friendly police escort carried  my suitcase like a valet and delivered me (and my suitcase) safely to the perplexed group.  After exchanging a few friendly words with my professor and the students he left.

During my youth,  the police in Germany had  a good reputation.  I cannot remember any derogatory words for policemen.  They were respected.    A police man was often referred to as your “friend and protector”.    This caring  policeman truly lived up to that motto.  In a friendly manner he had protected me from potential harm.





How I Lost my “Lust for Life”


Our family including my uncle and aunt spent the summer of 1963 at Lake Ammer in Bavaria, southern Germany.  Lake Ammer is the sixth largest lake in Germany.  Since sailing is a popular sport there our father equipped our fold boat with sails.    Our boat resembled a light weight canoe which could be folded up.


My twin brother was excited by the prospect of  easy sailing instead of strenuous paddling. Boats of any kind were his passion.  And he was already a very skilled model boat builder. He loved sail boats in particular.  The previous summer he had learned to sail with a friend on the island of Corsica.



The weather was beautiful that summer at Lake Ammer.   For the first few days of our stay the lake was still and calm like a mirror under a cloudless sky.  I enjoyed the wonderful sandy beach. When I was not swimming or sun bathing, I would sit under a shade tree and  read the interesting biographical novel  “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone.  A great read which is based on Vincent Van Gogh’s turbulent life. Vincent Van Gogh was and still is  my favorite painter.

Van Gogh

My brother was a bit disappointed that he had not been able to go sailing yet. However, that was to change on the first weekend.   On a beautiful Sunday morning , Walter and I went very early to the beach. Our parents had gone on a short excursion by themselves.  I was absorbed by my novel, when my brother suddenly called me.  Looking up from my book I noticed lots of  boats sailing gracefully close to shore on the white-capped lake. Sitting in a secluded and sheltered spot I had been protected from the wind.   “Biene, do you see all those sail boats?”  my brother shouted excitedly. “Let’s go and try ours.” Suddenly a cool breeze was blowing through my hair.  It wasn’t very often that my brother invited me to participate in his fun activities.  I quickly grabbed my towel wrapped it around my book and followed him to the water where our boat was anchored.


Walter expertly got everything  ready for our first sailing adventure. To try it out,  we first sailed fairly close to shore like the real sail boats in the distance.  It was exhilarating to speed effortlessly through the waves.  My brother felt like a captain in command.  He would tell me to shift my weight occasionally from side to side. I obediently followed his commands.  Normally we would argue about everything.  But I had never sailed before.   Imperceptibly, the wind was getting stronger and the waves higher.  We were ecstatic!  This was fun!   Lots of other boats were sailing ahead of us along the coast line.  Suddenly my brother suggested, “Why don’t we try to cross the lake?  We have never been to the other side.  At this speed we’ll be there in no time.”   I had no objections. I loved adventures and was curious to explore the other shore.


In no time we reached the middle of the lake.  “Strange”,  I suddenly thought,  “there are no other boats here. Why do they  keep on sailing parallel to shore?”  I tried to  gently shift my weight to look back to our now distant beach. Suddenly there was a strong gust of wind billowing our sails.  My brother frantically tried to maneuver the sails.  “Sit on the edge of the boat, quick! ” he commanded sternly looking worried.  Although I had reservations, I did not dare to voice an objection. I quickly lifted myself up to sit on the narrow rim of the boat,  when the wind shifted again without warning. Then  everything  happened like in slow motion.

I see the look of horror in my brother’s face while I am gently tilted backwards into the water with the  white fluttering sails tipping in my direction. I am sinking deep down into the cold water.  When I finally surface I see my brother beside the capsized boat looking shocked and angry.  My first reaction is a fit of hysterical laughter.  “What happened?” I stupidly ask while trying to catch my breath.  It all seems so unreal.  “Stop laughing!” my brother yells holding on to the overturned boat. When he tells me to cry for help I am racked by another fit of laughter.  “Why don’t you?” I manage to  reply.  “We’ll swim to shore”,  I suggest.  I am a strong swimmer with lots of stamina. Almost beside himself my brother shouts back, “Never!!! We have to stay with the boat”  Slowly I am regaining my sanity.  I am looking around trying to assess the situation.  We are  in the middle of the lake far from either shore.  The waves are high. The water is churned up and cold.  We don’t have life vests. There are no boats in sight except the sailing boats looking like miniature toys  in the far distance.  Suddenly panic seizes me.


Our desperate attempts to right the boat fail.  The weight of the water-logged sails is beyond our strength.  One of our paddles float away on the waves.  My brother does not allow me to retrieve it.  We  continue to cling on to the boat bobbing in the waves.   occasionally crying out for help which we realize is useless.  Nobody can hear us.  Time seems to stand still like in a bad dream.  Increasing panic is gripping my heart when I look at my brother’s white horrified face.  In my heart I keep on stammering,  “Please, God help us, please, dear God help us….”.   Almost paralyzed by augmenting fear we suddenly see a big motor boat approaching. Almost instantly our fear turns into joy.  Help is on the way!!!!   But our relief and joy are short lived.  The big motorized yacht moves by us at great speed without stopping.  Didn’t they see us?  The waves are high and our overturned boat is blue.  They must have missed us. This time our desperation is almost overwhelming.   What shall we do?  What can we do?


Numbed by cold and fear I am unable to make a decision. I am worried about my brother who  looks ghastly white and is very quiet.  After what seems like an eternity, we see another (or is it the same?} boat approaching from the direction it had vanished.  A small flicker of hope revives us enough to start screaming on the top of our lungs for help. The big boat slowly approaches and then starts circling us. It stops!  Two men climb down a ladder and grab our hands to pull us out of the water onto the deck. Two ladies wrap us in blankets and help us move into a cozy cabin to warm up and rest  while the two men manage to retrieve our boat from the lake.

Our rescuers were American tourists who had initially not seen us in the water.  One of the men, however, had spotted our paddle floating on the water.  This miraculously  prompted their search for us.  Apparently we were hardly visible in the high waves and they had almost missed us again.

Luckily our parents only found out about our near drowning after we were rescued and safely returned to them. Contrary to our expectations our father did not scold us or get upset over the loss of equipment and damage to the boat.  He loved adventures and was happy and proud that we survived. He commended us for staying with the boat and not try to swim ashore.

And I did not lose my “lust for life”  at the bottom of the lake. I only lost the book which is easily replaceable. Thanks to God  who miraculously saved us for our next adventure in the mountains,43

“Knödel” is a Forbidden Word for Thuringians

Dear friends,   after my last post talking about Stefan’s attempt at making the famous traditional Thüringer Klösse   (raw potato dumplings) for  Christmas eve, I received an email from a friend in Germany.   He voiced his extreme displeasure that I told him that our son tried to make Knödel.  Now I have to explain that in Germany there are many words for dumplings and I thought they were all interchangable.  Not so!  I found out.

I have talked about my friend Peter before in an earlier post.  He is from Thuringia and was born at the same time and place as my twin brother and I in my home town  Gotha.   There is a strong connection. He is the one who did the  “research” on the mysterious “Mrs. Goose”, my first teacher. Look in my archives for that post.

Peter is not only a proud citizen of Thuringia but also a master “Dumpling” chef.  He has a very old recipe which dates back many generations and is the treasured  secret of his family. I feel extremely honored that he shared this precious recipe with me.

Now I have to admit that in my childhood growing up in the “hotpot region” of Thüringer Klösse I was not very fond of these enormous potato dumplings. They were swimming in a rich gravy often paired with sweet and sour braised red cabbage and fatty goose meat.  I was an extremely picky eater and could not stand the smell and sight of such rich dishes.  I remember my mom and sister grating enormous amounts of potatoes and working feverishly and nervously  over the hot stove to make sure that  these dumplings would be a success. Christmas would be ruined if the dumplings , oh no I mean Klösse, did not turn out to perfection.

I have to  further admit that when my husband and I started our own household in Canada I left this “Dumpling” or “Kloss” tradition happily behind.  I never ate a Thuringer kloss for many years until exactly twenty-five years ago.  That’s when I met Peter,  the Klossmaster (not Peter, my husband who does not care for any dumplings or Knödel whatsoever.  He does not even know the differences between them.)  But I’ll get to that point soon.

Peter, the “Klossmaster”,  as I will call him now.  was visiting Richard E., his long time pen pal for the first time after the Berlin Wall came down. Since traveling from East Germany  to the western hemisphere was finally allowed  Peter and Edelgard decided to meet their friend across the ocean in person.

Peter and his wife Edelgard came to Canada to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with Richard E.,  our friend from nearby Apple Grove.  We were invited to the party. Richard at that time lived on his beautiful property off the land  (hippie) without electricity and other modern commodities.  His idyllic setting and beautiful productive garden made up for many things. I still remember the beautiful hand woven baskets of freshly picked, sweet smelling strawberries  sitting on the rustic wooden table under the apple tree.


There  were a variety of delicious dishes the guest had brought. The spirits were high.  We did a lot of singing, laughing and teasing Peter and Edelgard who were trying to renew their wedding vows.

Peter was very excited and overjoyed when he learned that we were both born at almost the same time and same place. Such a miraculous coincidence!  He couldn’t get over it.

When Peter and Edelgard finally had renewed their wedding vows after long humorous negotiations and tense moments when Peter threatened to drown himself in the beautiful sauna pond, the guests started to leave.

sauna blog small

Ready to say our good-byes to the newly rewed pair, Peter held us back excitedly.  “You cannot leave until you have tasted my Thüringer Klösse.  They are the crowning conclusion of this wonderful day,”  We couldn’t decline.  Peter led us to Richard’s rustic log house which seemed to belong to another time in the long past.  In the dim candle light Peter dished out two enormous, perfectly round and fluffy white Klösse (dumplings).  He ladled a generous amount of glistening and shiny gravy over these balls and lots of tender meat. He waited eagerly for our approval. When we finally managed to express our appreciation of this delicious food in between big  mouthfuls of  dumplings he told us how he managed to make them that day in spite of major obstacles.

Richard at that time (before Margret) lived mostly from fresh produce from his garden and rarely wasted his time with cooking.  He had a small propane camp stove for these eventualities. The big and beautiful antique wood stoves were only used in the winter.

Green house Ri.jpgsmall

Early in the morning, when Peter was ready to start the arduous process of  his Thüringer Klösse preparations he experienced an unwelcome delay.  Although Richard prided himself with the freshest produce from his garden almost all year round his last year’s  potatoes in the late spring were no longer of top quality.  Peter was almost in tears when he looked at the shriveled and sprouting specimens.  In spite of Richard’s protests and risking to insult his host, he jumped into the car and raced to Nakusp,  a 45 minute drive  at normal speed, to buy the best quality potatoes he could find. The end result of all his efforts was a culinary delight and changed my taste. I finally enjoyed the iconic dish of my birth place.

I never tried to duplicate his efforts though and went for many years without tasting them again until my nephews from Thüringia came for a visit and successfully prepared them for us paired with a turkey dinner and gravy,  a delicious German Canadian combination.

Almost 25 years after Peter’s visit our youngest son Stefan tried to go back to his”roots” and to try his hand at making these Klösse on Christmas Eve with the help of our big brother Google.  With passion and enthusiasm and lots of youthful vigor he set out for this daunting task.Stefan smalling the Klosssmall

Stefan Klosssmall

Knodel bowlsmall

Table Klosssmall

I won’t go into detail but he was moderately successful.  A great accomplishment for the first attempt.  Although they were not perfect, we enjoyed our dinner. The absolutely well seasoned gravy covered the imperfections.  Stefan’s meal was delicious. A few days ago Peter sent me an email showing off his master pieces and reminding me that it is a grave insult to all the people and Klösse makers from Thuringia to call these  famous specialties Knödel, which is another German word for dumplings.  Luckily in English the word dumpling covers them all.

Klosse Petersmall

Peter sent me his secret family recipe again and I promised myself to try and make them on the next special occasion.  I’ll let you know if I succeed.

Have a successful and happy New Year.

  And remember NEVER  call Thüringer  KLÖSSE






An Unforgettable Christmas Gift (1948)

Christmas is so fast approaching and I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of preparing for that short wonderful time of bliss.

I missed writing my post on the weekend because we were attending  one of the most festive and beloved Advent Celebrations at our friends Klaus and Erika. For many years now they have been inviting all their German friends from our village for an afternoon and evening of feasting and celebrating Advent with stories, poems and songs.  It has become a cherished tradition.

Festive baking

The Gerhards are the most amazing hosts. Their warm and cozy log house is beautifully decorated with traditional ornaments and lit with softly glowing bees’ wax candles. Erika’s spectacular desserts would put any pastry maker to shame. They not only look like pieces of art, but also taste heavenly. Klaus is the chef. After the kaffeeklatsch we are joyously singing all the traditional Christmas songs. Suddenly an enticing aroma from his supper concoctions wafts over from the oven, where a big ham and Sauerkraut is heating up.   The spices of the mulled wine simmering on the stove also emanate an tantalizing scent.

There is a lot of joyous chatting and reminiscing going on. Memories of past Christmases and especially from our childhood are evoked and told. I will tell you mine.

My first vivid Christmas recollection dates back to 1948. My twin brother and I had just turned four in October. Our older half sister had recently married. Since there was still a housing shortage from the war they moved in with us. Our spacious and well designed home could comfortably accommodate all of us. My sister was expecting her first child and seemed to need the comforting nearness of my mom.

For the first time I was aware of all the preparations going on in our household. One snowy day our father took us into the forest to get evergreen branches, which my parents and sister wound into a beautiful fragrant wreath for the first Sunday of Advent. They decorated it with pine cones, ribbons and dried red berries. They placed four red candles on it. I was delighted when I was allowed to help. My sister taught us a little Advent poem, which we recited excitedly.four candlessmall

Advent, Advent

ein Lichtlein brennt

erst eins

dann zwei

dann drei

dann vier

dann steht das Christkind

vor der Tür.

Shortly after our first candle lighting with singing and sweet goodies, St. Nicholaus came for a visit with Knecht Ruprecht.  My sister’s husband and a young friend had dressed up as the pair. We were in awe and fear, when they loudly banged on the door to announce their arrival. Had we been good or bad? Would they leave little presents and goodies in our boots placed in front of the door or would they admonish us and leave a stick or clumps of coal instead?

With trembling voices we would recite little poems and sing songs.


In spite of our doubts and fears we always were rewarded by Nicholaus.

Throughout the Advent season our sister and mom would help us create little tree decorations. I loved to make stars out of paper or straw.

In spite of the shortage of many ingredients in East Germany after the war, there was always a delicious smell of baking and roasting apples in the house.

On the morning of Christmas Eve our father would go out to get a Christmas tree. Since our living room was very spacious and had a high ceiling our tree was enormous.

Throughout the day my brother and I would rehearse songs and poems we had learned or try to play quietly so the Christkind would not be upset with us and not bring us any presents.

After an early supper we were sent to our room to get dressed into our Sunday clothes and we had to wait quietly.

Suddenly a little bell would ring and our parents and my sister and brother-in-law would sing   “Ihr Kinderlein kommet….”,  which means  “Come little children…”

My mother and father would lead us by hand into the festive room lit only by real wax candles on the big Christmas tree. We would all stand around the marvelous tree inhaling the wonderful fragrance, hear my father read the Christmas story.and sing the  Christmas songs we had learned by now. Finally, after my brother and I had recited a prayer or poem, we were allowed to look at the gift table, where all the presents were lovingly arranged and an individual plate with goodies for every one was placed.

That particular year our new brother-in-law had worked hard, often at night to make a beautiful wooden crib for my dolls and carve some authentic traditional puppet heads for my brother. My sister had sewn the costumes and knitted outfits for my dolls.


For many years my brother loved to perform puppet shows. When we fled to West Germany, my sister send him the puppets to the West. My brother kept them, until he died. They were sent by his company across the ocean to us in Canada.

These puppets are a precious symbol of the short time we had been living as an extended family in Gotha. They are also a symbol of the love, which went into gift giving. Our brother-in-law created these gifts with his own hands many a night after work.

Love is the greatest gift we can give and receive. It will never be forgotten.

May you all give and receive that great gift of LOVE this Christmas and always.

Frohe Weihnacht.   Merry Christmas to all of you.

New Year’s Eve with Anna Karenina (1960)

Dear friends,

Christmas is approaching fast and as it often happens I am far behind with my preparations.  However, I do not want to disappoint you and take another break from writing. After all, I just recently got back into the routine.

As I indicated before, my teenage years were not always easy and happy for me and very trying for my parents as well.  In spite of my good friends, I often felt isolated, alone and confused.  I wanted to experience life more fully than i was allowed to by my restrictive parents.  Often I withdrew for long periods of time into the world of literature.   Thus I experienced life and love vicariously.

When I was about 15 years old, i discovered the Russian classical authors, especially Dostojevsky and Tolstoy.  Their voluminous novels were right for my taste.  The longer the better.  I would immerse myself into the fictional worlds and  hated to come back to my reality.

New Year’s eve 1960 was a dreary dark day.  My parents had invited some friends to celebrate with  us, but many had to decline because of the flue going around.  My mother had worked very hard to prepare for a cheery and festive night, but I was in  a gloomy mood.  There were no young people only friends of my parents and towards the end of the party my brother, who had celebrated with his buddies.

I felt depressed.  Life was passing me by I thought.   After spending some obligatory time with my parents and their company I withdrew into my room with the excuse that I was not feeling well.  My mother knew that my time of the month was coming up and let me go without major protest.

Wrapped in a warm and cozy blanket I sat in my easy chair trying to uplift  my spirits with some fancy chocolates, which one of the kind guests had brought for me. Then I started reading Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina and didn’t stop reading until way into the New Year when all the guests had left and my family was fast asleep. Needless to say, Anna Karenina’s life and tragic end affected me very much.  For a long time I felt caught in the restrictive webs of fate like Anna….but by the grace of God I did not succumb, but was able to get free and find the love and life I always longed for like Kitty and Levin in the novel.

Anna Karenina

Many years later I took a course on Russian literature at the University of Waterloo and wrote this book review.  My professor was impressed by my insights and rewarded my efforts with an A+.  Hope you give my a good grade as well.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Most readers will agree that Tolstoy*s Anna Karenina is a masterpiece of world literature. In this novel Tolstoy is able to express with amazing simplicity, what is seemingly inexpressable in human nature.

He not only brings to light but also to lucid understanding the most secret inner life of his characters. He conveys their subtlest, and most elusive intimate thoughts, feelings, emotions, spiritual longings and hidden motives. And he analyzes with utmost precision moral and psychological issues and conflicts. He also illuminates the elements of life’s mysterious relationships and links, which may lead to a character’s fate. Tolstoy creates a powerful illusion of reality in his novel mainly through the abundance of detail. From detailed de­scriptive narrative the author frequently shifts over to generalizations and thus leads the reader imperceptibly to metaphysical understanding. Tolstoy manipulates the reader’s consciousness from seeing to knowing by directing his attention from particulars to universals. He constantly juxtaposes characters, events and philosophies and thus provides a multifaceted view of his world. The numerous themes and plot lines are all interwoven and linked together in an intricate way. Each short chapter of the eight books develops its own theme, which may only be concluded later on in the novel. There are two major plot lines.

Anna k2
Anna is the main character of the first plot. Although the novel was written over 100 years ago, Anna is a modem woman in the sense that she seeks personal happiness at all cost. She refuses to live a life of self-denial with a husband she cannot love and who is unable to ful­fill her passionate longings. Anna places her quest for happiness over her social and moral duty. Through her extra-marital relationship with Vronsky whom she deeply loves she expects to find self-fulfillment and happiness. Anna, a beautiful and talented woman, is great in her honesty and courage to refuse a life of pretense and duplicity. She does not lead a secret affair, as so many do in her society. She separates from her husband and lives openly with her lover. Anna is not evil in a sense that she acts out of malice. She is very loving and attracts the love of many, yet the consequences of her unconventional behavior are disastrous. Anna who is de­nied a divorce from her husband is pushed into the role of an outsider from society through her open illicit affair. She also has no right and access to her son, whom she loves dearly. He becomes the innocent victim of the marriage break-up and so does her infant daughter by Vronsky.

Tolstoy does not deal harshly with Anna but shows with deep insight and sympathy how Anna suffers from the psychological consequences and the irreconcilable conflicts resulting from her broken marriage and her living together with Vronsky. He also illuminates the complex inter­relationships of Anna’s inner being with the circumstances of her life, which lead to her fateful death. Tormented by guilt and unable to cope with her compulsive jealousy towards Vronsky she commits suicide.
Although the enigma of death is a recurring theme in this novel; the book does not end on this note of despair. Tolstoy juxtaposes life to death. Life triumphs.
With Levin, the major character of the second plot, Tolstoy deeply probes into the purpose and meaning of life.
Levin, who is modeled after the author himself ,is a seeker and an eccentric thinker. He lives in the country and is deeply concerned with serious social, moral and religious questions. Levin marries Kitty who once was romantically attracted to Vronsky, Anna’s lover. Tolstoy describes with delicate tenderness how Levin and his young wife get to know each other and grow together in spite of struggles and conflicts in their young married relationship.
Out of his experiences with Kitty and the search for answers from the simple life of the peasants on his estate. Levin comes to understand the meaning of life. He realizes that it is man’s purpose to live for goodness and unselfish love as a reflection of divine love and goodness. Levin also regains faith in a God he rationally rejects but prays to in times of crisis and need.

With these two plots Tolstoy leaves the reader with the powerful message that uncompromising egoistical passion in the pursuit of happiness will lead to destruction and death. However, the pursuit of goodness out of love for others will lead to life and spiritual happiness. In this respect, both Karenin and Anna have failed in life. Anna loved without adhering to the principles of goodness while Karenin acted on principles of goodness without true love of the heart. Love without goodness and goodness without love can be destructive. This idea is expressed in many different ways throughout the novel. For example Tolstoy juxtaposes two wronged spouses. Dolly forgives her husband out of committed love and concern for her family. Karenin forgives and acts out of rational principles of goodness but without considerations of true love. While Dolly’s family prospers in spite of material worries, Karenin’s family is destroyed. Disintegration of the family unit was a great moral concern for Tolstoy. He valued the welfare and integrity of the family highly because of its utmost importance to society.
In our day many of the social conditions, which played a major role in Anna’s fate, such as obtaining a divorce and gaining custody of her son, have changed. However, the psychological consequences of a marriage break-up,, which Tolstoy so masterfully describes, remain largely the same.
All the characters of this novel are convincingly complex human beings with whom the reader can identify and who elicit his sympathy.
Tolstoy never openly moralizes or judges, yet he conveys a powerful message of faith in love and goodness, which will never lose its relevance to humanity.

My Favorite Novel

Dear friends,

It’s a very cold November night and after a busy day baking bread and buns and  a delicious apple tart, plus writing an important letter, doing laundry, making a yummy pizza from scratch,  writing comments for  my Flickr friends’ amazing photos I am finally sitting down on my cozy couch near the crackling fire to write my weekly post.  Now I can catch my breath after this lengthy sentence, which my teacher in my long past school days would not have approved of.


I am remembering the long fall and winter evenings in my childhood and youth, which i would spend reading curled up in a comfortable chair or in my bed.

When i grew up, books were for me the major source of entertainment,  diversion and education. Our family like most of my friends didn’t have television, computers, record players or even a phone or other electronic gadgets. My father had a small radio to listen to the news.  We had to find other means of entertainment.

Although I was allowed to visit my friends, I had to return home before dark, which cut my visits short in the fall and winter months.

Thus, books were my major source of exploring the world. As I mentioned in an earlier post  i read my first novel secretly,  when I was six or seven years old.  This book was my first love and I still love it to this day.

I remember seeing it on my mother’s bedside table, when we still lived in our big house in Gotha. I had just learned to read and was intrigued by the size of this book, which my father had given my mother as a present. The title “Antonio Adverso”  (Anthony Adverse is the original title)  sounded mysterious and beautiful like a lovely melody.

I started reading the first few words and sentences feeling accomplished and proud that I could decipher and understand some of what I read. Intoxicated by my success i continued and suddenly felt drawn into a mysterious strange world far beyond my years. I would take every opportunity to hide in the bedroom and continue to immerse myself into the fascinating adventures and experiences of my hero Antonio Adverso as he was called in German. When confronted with difficult passages I had a great capacity for intuitively feeling or sensing what my brain could not yet understand or explain. With the help of my vivid imagination i was able to finish reading this amazing life story of an orphaned twin and his miraculous and adventurous life journey spanning many countries of the world. All universal aspects and topics of life are touched in this epic novel. Eventually i told my incredulous mother that I had secretly read her amazing  book.

Over the years I have reread this fascinating novel of more than a 1000 pages several times.  i sent it to Peter to read when we were first engaged and i wanted to name our first son Anthony.  We ended up giving that name to our third son because there were already four Anthonys in the maternity ward, when our first son was born,

My mom’s book is still in my possession, but it is old and tattered now.  However, Peter was able to find an original Amarican edition on ebay a few years ago.  I was surprised to discover that the previous owner of the book may have never read it but used it to press delicate flowers.  Some pages were still not cut open as was the custom in the long past.

Anthony Adverse was first published in 1933 and remained the bestseller of that time until Gone with the Wind swiped away the lead.

In 1999 Anthony Adverse was republished and is available through amazon.com. I can highly recommend this epic novel, which spans continents and touches all aspects of life.  It still has relevance for this day and age.  Anthony Adverse’s miraculous story will touch the heart and mind of  every reader as it touched mine.  Anthony Adverse has been my first love and I’ll never forget him.




Settling into Our New Home My Mom the Beloved Host

On my last post I took a short break from my life story to insert a story about my relationship with trees.   Now I will continue where I left off with my biography.

We had finally moved to our new home, a small but brand new apartment situated at the outskirts of town.  From our back windows we could see a mostly deserted rural road.  It was flanked by  fields and meadows,  In the distance  it led to forested hills. My father loved this view especially when there were spectacular sunsets.

My brother and I had a long walk to school along a busy major highway.  But we could also take the public transit bus if we were pressed for time.

As you remember, being late was a major offense in our school and we made sure we always were on time.

One morning, i had overslept, because our mother was ill and did not wake us up in time. When I  was running down the three flights of stairs I remembered that I had forgotten  my bus money.  I tried to run up again as fast as I could.  Almost there, I slipped and banged my forehead against the stone step.  I was bleeding profusely from a wide gap.

My mother frantically called my brother back from the kitchen window and told him to walk with me to an emergency doctor in town since she was not feeling well and could not take me.

My reluctant brother and I walked furtively to town ashamed  to be seen by people who could assume we were playing hooky.  Skipping school without a major reason was considered almost a crime,

The doctor was the father of one of my classmates.  He was very kind and made me feel at ease with his friendly talk.  He did not x-ray my head because he thought it could cause more harm in the long run.  He stitched up my wound and sent me back home.   My brother went to school and I think the principal accepted his excuse for being late.   I was more stressed walking through town on a school day  than by my injury,

As I mentioned before my mother was very hospitable and enjoyed company.  Most of my friends would come to our place to do homework and so did my brother’s friends.

My girlfriends were excited because this way they would have the opportunity to meet some boys.  Since I did not have the best relationship with my brother at that time i was not interested in his friends either and could not understand my girlfriends’ attraction to them.  I will tell some anecdotes about that time in a later post.

My mother was very popular.  She would always provide us with delicious refreshments.  Especially the growing boys always had a ravenous appetite.

IMG_8145One hot day my mom did not have any baking to offer,  So she opened a jar of canned apricots.  She passed them out in little glass bowls,   One of the boys kept on staring at the bowl without starting to eat.  Finally he handed it back to my mom and said with an apologetic tone in his voice,  “Frau Panknin,  I really don’t like raw eggs.”   Needless to say,  we all went into hysterics laughing so hard.  His single apricot in the pale juice did look like yolk.



My   young-at-heart  mom also had a sympathetic ear for all our friends and they would value her advice or feel comforted by her genuine kindness and understanding.  I still have contact with a few friends of that time and they still talk fondly of my mother.

Today is Mother’s Day and I will cut my post short to go out into the sunshine to celebrate Life.   I wish all the mothers a loving and joyful day.  I think mothers will always live in our hearts forever. Forget-me-nots (Vergissmeinnichts)S

I love you forever Mom!



Remembering Trees (Past. Present, Future)

In this post I am taking a short break from my chronologically written biography.   Right now we are enjoying an exceptionally beautiful spring.   All of nature is dressed in their finest.   The flowers are blooming in glowing colors and the trees are bursting forth with fresh green leaves in a multitude of shades and hues.  Nature is reviving with a vigorous and joyous explosion of life

sticky l

I want to share a story i wrote a few years ago because right now I am overwhelmed by the  beauty of glorious trees coming back to vigorous life after the winter  .

From my earliest childhood on, trees were a fundamental part of my life. I took them for granted like the air, the water and the soil. Until I was nine years old, I lived in Thuringia, one of the most densely forested areas of Germany. Trees were all around us. Huge apple and pear trees in our backyard, planted by unknown previous owners, supplied us with abundant crops of delicious fruit every fall. With wonder in my eyes, I would watch golden juice ooze out of the cider press. The spicy aroma of apple sauce simmering in big cauldrons over the fire would permeate the house. Strings of countless apple and pear rings would dry over the stove. Jars of canned fruit would pile up on the counter. How grateful we were to have these faithful trees during the post war times when food was scarce in Germany.

CanningOur street was flanked by shady linden trees. I can still hear the buzzing of thousands of bees attracted every spring by the clusters of tiny flowers emanating an intoxicating sweet fragrance. My mother would dry the blossoms for a soothing tea.


I hardly remember the building of our school. But, I still see the enormous chestnut trees framing the school yard delighting us every fall with shiny seeds bursting out of prickly round casings. These trees still symbolize home for me, although I was terribly allergic to their pollen.


Our town was surrounded by vast coniferous forests. One of my earliest, vivid memories dates back to the first years after the war when food was in scant supply. I was about three years old. Every weekend my father would hike many miles through dense woods to isolated villages and farms in the hope of trading precious valuables for fresh victuals from the farmers. Taking turns, either my twin brother or I would be sitting snugly in the ruck-sack on his back. On these walks, I would have the shady canopy of trees above me. Occasionally, twigs would scratch my cheeks like scrawny fingers. I would watch curious squirrels scurrying from branch to branch and vivacious little birds pecking at pine cones. I still remember the time, when the haunting eyes of an owl, looking like two luminous will-o’-the-wisps, startled me in the dark forest. Sometimes, on our way home, the first star or the moon would lurk through the swaying treetops. The monotonous motion would lull me to sleep.

OwlAs soon as my twin brother and I could walk and talk, my father would take us, one on each hand, to the near-by castle park. In this beautiful stretch of land grew a rich variety of domestic and foreign trees planted long ago by the lords of the principality. The noble trees, some of them centuries old, yet still growing healthy and strong, had outlived the royal family and the once imposing but now ruined castle. The park, however, legacy of the tree loving princes, was still there for us to enjoy. Although it had grown wild, no longer regularly tended by human hands, it continued to flourish under  the care of Mother Nature. Native and foreign trees from faraway countries grew together on the same plot of earth in perfect harmony.

On each walk through this awesome park, my father would teach us the names of the trees, tell us their characteristics and show us ways how to identify them. Before we even went to school, my brother and I could recognize a great number of trees. They became our friends through the seasons.

In the spring we would watch the swelling tree buds miraculously burst forth with sticky leaves or fragrant blossoms. I can never forget the first time I experienced the beauty of a blooming orchard. I felt like a princess in an enchanted fairyland, walking under clouds of delicate flowers that snowed their perfumed petals on my hair.


In the summer we would enjoy the soothing shade when playing, running or dancing under enormous deciduous  trees. We observed birds, butterflies, insects and small animals who had their habitat in this enchanting realm.


Fall was our favorite time of year, because we could collect delicious beech nuts, hazelnuts, shiny chestnuts, acorns, pine cones and colorful leaves. We had great fun and excitement hoarding these treasures in big baskets. They would often amuse us more than expensive toys.

BieneEven winter was exciting, when snow adorned the bare branches of deciduous trees and dusted the evergreens. We were delighted by the cascades of soft snow coming down at unpredictable intervals. The cheerful little birds fluttering and skittering in the feeders provided us lots of entertainment.


As we grew older, our parents took us on long hikes through the forests. We would collect berries and mushrooms, pick flowers and observe wild life. The wind whispering in the trees, the bubbling creeks, the rushing waterfalls would soothe us with their rhythmic sounds. The birds’ singing, the small animals rustling under the leaves, the hammering of the woodpecker, the hootings of the owl, the chatterings of squirrels, the cry of the buzzard all contributed to the joyous song of Nature. In my mind the smell of the moist earth, the sun warmed pine needles, the perfumed flowers and the aroma of berries and tree sap lingers on forever.


Deer Posing for a Portrait 2We enjoyed freedom, solitude and excitement. On these hikes. my father would tell us fascinating stories, legends and fairy tales of trees, inciting our imagination, instilling awe. He told us that all over the world, from the beginning of time, people worshiped trees and regarded them as sacred abodes of divine spirits, or souls. Remarkable oak or beech trees were revered by our forefathers in Germany until the Middle Ages. Many villages had holy groves where tree deities or powerful spirits with oracular powers resided. The erection and celebration of the ‘May Tree’ is one of the ancient ceremonies which has survived to the present day. It was regarded a sin or crime to willfully injure or damage a tree. People who had to fell trees out of necessity asked them for forgiveness.

I still remember shivers creeping down my spine when my father told us how severely people were punished if they only peeled bark from a living tree. “The culprit’s navel was to be cut out and nailed to the part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was to be driven round and round the tree till his guts were wound about its trunk.” Thus, he was to replace the dead bark with his own intestines. The life of a tree was as sacred as a human life. He also told us the Biblical story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Thus, even at a very young age, I intuitively understood that our physical and spiritual life depended on trees.

Life without trees was unimaginable to me. But I came close to such a condition when living on the prairie as a young wife. My husband had found his first teaching job in a small town in Alberta, near the Saskatchewan border. At first I felt as though I had been transplanted to a different planet, a world without trees. However, to our great relief and joy, we discovered a small grove of hardy alder, birch and aspen trees near the saline Gooseberry Lake, 20 miles out of town. We would flock to this oasis whenever we could. All the important social events of the community took place in this precious tree sanctuary. Even in the midst of winter, we would have picnics there. People would take any opportunity to visit these trees.

6482-Aspen-forest-webEvery little stick of a tree was cherished on the prairie We planted a few in our backyard and tended them with almost as much loving care as our children.

However, we increasingly missed the lush trees and forests, we grew up with in Germany. Finally, after eight years living on the tree-barren prairie, we found a new home in an isolated logging community in the interior of B.C. Once again we are surrounded by an abundance of different kinds of trees and vast stretches of impenetrable, primordial forests.

In our own backyard alone, we now have cedar, pine, fir and spruce trees, fruit trees, nut trees, willow trees and ornamental trees, all growing on the same plot of land. We are grateful to the unknown people who planted many of the trees on our property long before us. A huge mountain ash proudly graces our front yard, feeding innumerable migrating birds in the fall with its intoxicating red berries. When we first moved here our boys used to jump over it. Now it stretches up to the sky. It is a reminder of the passing of time.

Our TreeMost of our neighbors and friends make their living from logging. Even our sons worked on and off in the bush to earn money for their college education. In spite of my love for trees, I accepted logging as part of life. “We harvest from nature in order to survive. We depend on wood since the beginning of time. There are enough trees to sustain us all. As long as trees are logged in remote areas, we are not directly affected by their loss. Nature will replenish the forests in due time.” With these kind of thoughts, I tried to reconcile my conflicting feelings towards logging.

forests-why-matter_63516847One day, however, I personally felt the impact of logging in a more personal  way. My husband, Peter, and I had discovered on the other side of the lake, an area of old growth forest which could only be accessed by boat. It became our favorite mushroom spot, because it grew an abundance of tasty chanterelles and precious pine mushrooms. For many years, in the late summer and fall, we would paddle in our canoe across the lake, often in the misty morning light, to enjoy the heavenly solitude of this wonderful forest. We would pick mushrooms growing in the dark soil or mossy patches under the graceful hemlock trees. For us, it was a piece of paradise which would restore us physically and spiritually from the daily routines and stresses of life. Every year we looked forward to these outings with joyous anticipation.

Three years ago, after the first rains in early fall, we paddled across the lake to our beloved sanctuary. We landed the canoe on the sandy beach, ran up the banks with happy excitement, labored our way through the stretch of dense brush covering the entrance of the forest and …..we could not believe our eyes! Devastation! Nothing but devastation! As far as we could see, not one tree in sight! Only dusty, stirred up soil. Gigantic heaps of discolored, dry branches and bark looked like heaps of bones on a battle field. A deadly silence. Hardly any motion, only little swirls of dust, stirred up by a passing breeze like smoke. Dumbfounded, unable to speak, Peter and I stood there for a long time….This magnificent, ancient forest, habitat of such rich vegetation and wild life, gone in a twinkling of an eye!

Forests are destroyed, but they are also replanted. We have a friend who is a tree planter. When our youngest son was born I asked him to plant a tree for him. “I’ll plant him a forest,” he replied.

seeslings1All my life I have enjoyed trees and forests which people have planted or preserved for us in the past. Now, Peter and I have started to plant at least one or two trees every year. It is our small contribution to ensure that trees  will be remembered for generations to come.


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


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: wikipedia.org

Seamstress at Work – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

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