First Three Years at School in Gotha Germany

Schule 2

As I already mentioned my dad prepared us well for school.  Before every lesson in his big study he would say in English, “I am your teacher.”  He wanted to acquaint us with a foreign language early on in life.   He refused to teach us Russian, which actually would have been more useful in a communist state controlled by the  Soviet Union.

At this point I want to insert a story which I forgot to tell earlier.

When the Soviet troops first occupied Gotha, my mother was ordered to work for a commander who had taken over a neighbor’s house as residence.  For a few hours every day my mother had to do housework for him in exchange for some precious victuals.

One day when my mother reported for work, the whole household of the commander was in disarray and  upheaval.  The commander had lost his precious ring. An extensive search by all the members of his household had been unsuccessful.  The ring was not found.  Finally, my mother was accused of having stolen the ring.

The commander told my mother that she had to return the ring by the next morning or there would be dire consequences.

My mother was scared to death.  She had seen and admired the ring, but had no idea where it was.

She spent the night in agony not knowing what to do.  Finally, after many prayers she decided to offer the commander all her jewellery  the next day to prove her innocence,

The following morning,  weak with fear and apprehension she arrived at her work place.  She was immediately sent to the commander’s office who held out his hand to her when she entered.  My mother could not believe her eyes, when she saw the precious ring sparkling on his finger.

In his broken German the commander explained that when he was getting dressed that morning he had felt a small object in the lining of his jacket.  On further investigation it felt like his lost ring.  He remembered suddenly that he had put it in the pocket of his jacket for some reason my mother could not understand. Maybe to keep it safe.  His coat pocket had a small tear in the seam and the ring had slipped through it into the silk lining. That the ring was found in the nick of time to save my mother from dire consequences is another miracle.

From that day on the commander rewarded her more generously for her work.

After this digression I want to continue my stories of  our early school experiences.

Math was always fun.  My brother and I had competitions in mental math, which I would usually win. Until the last years in high school I always outperformed  my brother.  But then he surpassed me and I could never catch up. Calculus was my downfall.

We had to memorize poems, ballads and of course lots of folk songs, which we would sing on long hikes in the beautiful forests of Thuringia.  Most of the songs are still fresh in my mind. They bring back happy memories of picking berries, swimming in rivers and lakes, and  of picnics under beautiful tress.  On these outings my dad would tell us legends and fairy tales often connected to the folklore of the region.

Since the German language has fairly consistent phonetic rules, I learned reading almost on my own, before I entered school.

The famous German “Zuckertüte” or sugar cone bag originated in Thuringia in a town close to Gotha. This very large, brightly decorated cone shaped paper bag was filled with chocolates, candies and other delicacies or little gifts to “sweeten”  the first day of school.  I wished we had a picture of ours.  But at that time my parents did not have the means to buy films. 

Erster SchultagFirst Day of School

For the first few years we only had a few hours of school every morning including Saturdays.   Students were expected to do homework and practice their new skills after school.   Since my brother and I were fast learners, we had lots of free time to play when we returned home for lunch.

My brother had an inquisitive mind and constantly tried to find out how things worked or how they were made.  I would often discover  that my toys or dolls were  broken or taken apart.  They had fallen victim to my brother’s curiosity.   It would upset me tremendously.

Although my parents expressed some sympathy to me, they never punished my brother or tried to change his behavior.  They not only condoned his  often destructive  explorations,  but almost encouraged  them.  They were proud of his clever findings and discoveries.

In the name of science I was expected to sacrifice my toys.


I do not have many memories of our early school days. But I remember that our teacher was called Frau Gans (Mrs. Goose).  My dad was very much amused by her  name.  In German you say “dumme Gans” to a “”dumb female.  Our teacher definitely was not ” a stupid goose.”

Both my brother and I were artistic and liked to draw and paint.

I produced my first “master piece” in grade one.  We were supposed to paint a picture of a wall.  Mrs. Goose was very much impressed with my work because i painted such a realistic looking brick wall and a  happy worker beside it.  My dad was a bit puzzled by this unusual theme.  “Why paint an ugly wall?” he asked.  Ten years later the Berlin Wall was built to permanently separate the two parts of Germany.  Maybe this early art exercise in wall paintings was the first step to glorify wall building.IMG_0757 wall

Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria

Shortly before we started school, my brother and I fell ill with scarlet fever, a very serious disease at that time often leading to death.

We were hospitalized. It was a very traumatic time  for us. Missing my mother was almost more agonizing for me than the pain and the fever of this savage disease.

My brother was far worse off than I was and was put in an isolation chamber partitioned from the ward by glass walls.

I often saw doctors and nurses bend over him with serious expressions on their faces.

My mother knew how distressed we were.  Many times during the day and even at night she would race on her bike to the hospital. Disregarding strict visitor regulations she would find ways to sneak into our ward and comfort us until she was asked to leave.  Since my bed was close to a window,  I would often stare out onto the street in the  hope  to spot my mother in the distance on her bike.

Antibiotics were very scarce in East Germany.  Even in the West there was only a limited supply because of the recent war.

My brother was at the point of  death when a desperate doctor asked my mother if she had relatives in West Germany.  He suggested to phone them and ask for antibiotics to be sent to the hospital.  He helped my mother to contact her aunt via his private phone and make arrangements with a doctor in the West. This was a precarious undertaking because contact with the West was considered a serious offense.  Miraculously the mission was successful.

When the antibiotics finally  arrived, I was already on the road to recovery.  However, for my brother they came just in the nick of time.  He was saved from death but suffered from a weakened heart for the rest of his life.

Shortly after we recovered, my newly wed sister and husband came down with a severe case of diphtheria, from which they took a long time to recover.  They were in quarantine for many weeks and my parents had to look after their infant son during that time.

Looking back now I wonder how my parents coped with all these extreme hardships.

As my mother often told us, my brother and I were the reason why they never despaired or gave up.  We were their pride and joy.  Trying to raise us for a better future gave them strength and hope.  Especially my mother was prepared to sacrifice anything for our well -being and prospects for a happy future.  Without personal freedom these prospects were compromised.  My parents felt increasingly oppressed by the totalitarian state.

Hello world!

The theme of my blog is this miraculous life. Like life, I don’t know where my blog is leading me, but I know I will be talking a lot about miracles and wonders.

Today is a dark,  dreary November day.   I am suffering from a cold  which prevents me from walking my  regular 10 000  Flex steps and  rake up the last leaves from our enormous nut trees.   But there is a small silver lining.  I have some time to continue the  post on my new blog.

I want to tell  you about the first miracle in my life.   I was born in Germany,  a few months before the end of  World War II.   While every new life on this planet is a miracle, the birth of my twin brother and me was even more miraculous.    My mom had been told by doctors after the birth of my half sister  that she could have no more children.   For twenty years my sister was the only child.  My  mom was 43 years old and thinking she was in her menopause when she found out that she was pregnant with twins.

On the last Sunday of October I entered the world fifteen minutes before my twin brother.   A retired, old doctor who was exempt from war duties, my awestruck sister and a full moon casting a soft light in the candle lit bedroom witnessed our birth.

My father, a reserve  police officer,  was stationed in Croatia at the time.  The next day the police department  notified  him by a telegram of the joyous event.

His comrades designed and drew a beautiful card to congratulate him on his “master shot”,   a suggestive play on words in the German  language.

birth congrat 44 croppedbirth congrat 44_2

It wasn’t until early January 1945 that my dad was finally able to hold us in his arms for the first time.   We rewarded him with brilliant smiles.

My dad’s leave from the Balkan countries to meet his new family  miraculously saved his life.  While he was home  getting to know us, the German troops in Yugoslavia were completely cut off from the homeland.  When his leave was over,  my father could no longer return to his battalion.    Most of his unfortunate comrades who had stayed behind were killed.   He would very likely have endured the same fate.



Papa and the twinsMutti and the twins


Today is Remembrance Day.  With countless others all over the globe I remember the sacrifices of the brave young soldiers who fought and died for our freedom and welfare in the two world wars and other wars of our time.   And I remember all the brave families who had to let their loved ones go.

I dare not imagine the agonies I would have felt if my brother, my husband, any of our five sons or our grandson, or even our two granddaughters had to fight in the war.  UNIMAGINABLE!!!

Today I want to write about my parents who lived through the two world wars and suffered through the devastating years before andafter these wars, especially World War II.My  mother was born in the spring of 1901.  She had three younger brothers.  Two younger sisters had not survived long after birth.    My  mom’s parents loved each other and their four surviving children dearly.   They were a close knit, happy family.   When my mom was eleven years old another child was on the way.   Everyone anticipated the birth with great excitement.

Then, one day in early summer when my mom returned home from school she was told that her mother and newborn sister had died in childbirth.

Her dad never recovered from this great tragedy and loss of his beloved wife.  Three years later he also died.

My mother was sent to a convent school by her guardian aunt and her brothers to a foster home.  I don’t have many details because my mom rarely talked about her past.

Born in the Rhineland region of Germany, my mom incorporated all the positive qualities attributed to a typical Rhineland personality.   She was always cheerful and full of vitality.  She loved life and above all people. Her keen sense of justice and fairness combined with an indefatigable fighting spirit.  Her memory was astounding.  She could recall events and people of the past in minute detail.  She was very resourceful and overcame many insurmountable obstacles.   She always fought for freedom in all its forms.


People would gravitate towards her; even complete strangers would love her almost at first sight.  Sometimes my brother and I were a bit embarrassed by the attention strangers gave her when we traveled with her.

Her hospitality was famous and all our friends loved to visit our home.  She took a genuine interest in other people.   She had good advice and people accepted it with gratitude.

She was also beautiful.   After she left the convent school, she found employment as a receptionist for a popular photo studio and frequently sat as a model for her employer.

My half sister was born when my mom was 23 years old.  My mother never talked about that time and the identity of my sister’s father has remained a mystery to this day.   My nephews are still searching to find out who their grandfather was.  Until I was 20 years old I did not even know that my father had adopted my sister.   My parent’s generation kept a lot of secrets.

There are some indications that my sister’s father was not acceptable to my mother’s strict catholic guardians.   Very likely he was a Jew.  I remember a rare moment when my mother told me that she was once given a beautiful necklace by a Jewish man who loved her very much but died in a motorcycle accident. At that time I did not know that my sister had a different father.   Looking back now there is the possibility that my mother wanted to force the marriage by her pregnancy. Tragically, her lover died in a fateful accident, before my sister was born.  This is speculation.

How my mother coped as a single parent and how she eventually met my father I do not know either.   I only can presume that my father must have loved her very much to overcome the social barriers of that time to marry an unwed mother and thus jeopardize his status as police officer.

1928 Walter and Elisabeth small

My Dad

 My father was born 1898 in West Prussia,  Germany where his dad owned a construction business.  His mom was a lot younger than his dad. I inherited her name Gertrud.  My father had an older brother and a younger sister.   His dad died when he was 17 years old.   Shortly after  this great loss, my father enlisted as a soldier at the western front in World War I.

He suffered from shell shock which triggered a nervous condition from which he never completely recovered all his life.

After the war,  he apprenticed as a dental technician and worked in that profession for several years.    In his mid twenties he entered the police force and moved to Westphalia where he eventually met my mother.

Early on in his career he had an accident returning home from duty on his bike.  He fell on his revolver which went off and shot a bullet  through his kidney.  He lost his kidney but miraculously his life was spared.

My dad did not have the outgoing, cheerful personality of my mom.  Although he could be humorous  and enjoy company, he was more introvert and loved to read, study and write.  History was his passion.

But he also was an outdoor enthusiast and loved to hike, bike, ski. swim, go camping and boating in his canoe like paddle boat.  My mom and dad explored all the major rivers of Germany by embarking on extensive boating and camping trips in the summer.

Until late in his life my dad led hiking clubs.  He loved  exploring  and marking new trails.  He also loved collecting mushrooms and became an expert in that field researching new species and cataloging them

He also liked to compose poetry, especially ballads which he would  illustrate with beautiful ink drawings.  The only thing he lacked were practical skills.  According to my mom he could not even “cook  water.”  While my mom was loved, my dad was respected.