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!



Two New Paintings

Two weeks ago I added a new page to my menu. I named it Art Gallery. Each week I will publish one or two pieces of my art. As time goes by, the Art Gallery will grow and unlike my posts will become a prominent and stationary place for everyone to view my paintings. Today I will add a wolf and an owl painting to the gallery.

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

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.





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