A Budding Romance in Würzburg (1959)

Dear friends,

Forgive me for hopping from one topic to another in my blog.  But I think every post is like a puzzle piece of my life and eventually you might be able to join all  the pieces together to get the big picture.

As I told you before, my life as a child and teenager was quite restricted.  My mother tried to shield me from negative experiences and people. I had freedom within the confines of home and school, but my mother controlled my outings. The older i got the more controlling she became. While my twin brother was allowed to visit his friends and stay out as long as he wanted, I had strict curfews. Although I was allowed to go to my girlfriend’s to study and do homework, I had to be home before dark. Often my mother would unexpectedly show up at my friend’s house under the pretext that she had business in the neighborhood to walk home with me.

Although I hadn’t shown much interest in boys,  I was now at an age when it was just a matter of time and “hormones”. My brother’s friends who often visited our home were unattractive to me. I considered them annoying like my brother at that time. “Stupid little boys”.

One of his friends was a few years older and looked like a young man compared to the rest. My parents liked his company, because he always engaged them in interesting conversations, plus he loved my mom’s food.  As you may remember that always won her heart. In fact, eating was one of his favorite activities. He seemed to like me and tried to invite me to the movies, the ice cream parlor or pastry shop on many occasions. Such invitations were a sign that a boy was serious about a closer relationship. I always refused and tried to avoid him. In my mind he did not measure up to the romantic hero of my dreams. This young man’s mother was a close friend of my parents and I wonder, if my mom would have let me go out with him, if I had accepted his invitations.  In retrospect I have to admit that he was a nice person but not for me.

That year, our class went on a school trip to Würzburg, a beautiful historic city in Northern Bavaria. I am still amazed that even at that time so long ago, field trips were considered educational and important for the social development of children and young adults.  In that respect our educational system was quite progressive.

Most of my friends and I did not have the opportunity to travel far from home and so we were excited with the prospect to see new places, meet new people and have exciting experiences and adventures. These school trips usually took place in the beautiful month of May.

Würzburg, Germany - Photo Credit: wikipia.org

Würzburg, Germany – Photo Credit: wikipia.org

Würzburg is a picturesque medieval city located in a scenic wine region on the river Main. We traveled there by train, which is always an exciting experience, and we stayed in a youth hostel together with a group of senior male students from the big northern port city  of Hamburg.

Würzburg is a beautiful city and  sightseeing was interesting and fun.   But for us teenagers the evenings after supper sitting in the court yard of the youth hostel was the highlight of the day. There was a class of senior boys from Hamburg, the biggest port of Germany. Our teachers had arranged that we should sing German folk songs together.   That was fun. We never sang with so much enthusiasm before.

Our teacher kept a close watch on us and we were not allowed to speak with the young men or have any other interactions. However, there were many glances exchanged.  A skinny tall young man with blond hair and bright blue eyes would always look in my direction and smile when he caught my eye. My discerning girl friends pointed out to me that he probably liked me. I was shy and embarrassed and did not want to admit that I liked him too,

The last night together we sang with extra passion and exuberance and glances darted back and forth without restraint. Just before we had to say good night to our singing companions a little rose bud landed on my lap, which my secret admirer had thrown in my direction. I didn’t even know his name. That gesture was so romantic and I couldn’t sleep for a long time that night. The next morning our singing partners from Hamburg were gone. Our last day in that beautiful city lost its luster. Singing that night was pitiful.

For a long time after our trip I would think of the young man from Hamburg so far away from where I lived. There was probably no chance of ever seeing him again.

One beautiful sunny morning just before the summer vacation, I decided to walk to school instead of riding in the stuffy bus. For part of the way I had to walk along the busy highway between Velbert and Essen. Although i liked the pastoral scenery along the highway, I did not like the noise of the cars and trucks speeding by and the periodic loud honking.  It was the custom in Germany at that time that any young female would be acknowledged by male drivers with loud honking or whistles.

i kept on walking ignoring the attention seeking drivers.  When I heard the loud ringing of a bike bell I pretended not to hear by looking straight ahead. Suddenly the bike stopped right beside me and an excited male voice said,  “It is really you!”   When I dared to look up into the face of the rider (I had to look up high because he was so tall)  I recognized my  unknown admirer from Hamburg. The man of my secret dreams.

He told me that he had embarked on a bike tour through Germany and decided to travel through Velbert in the hopes of seeing me again.  We were both like in a dream.  We arranged a meeting for after school. I had to make a quick decision. I knew my parents would never allow me to bring a strange young man home. I would meet him in town.

After agonizingly long  hours at school I rushed home and told my mom excitedly that I had to leave right away to do a major assignment with my girlfriend at her place. Meeting my friend in a small cafe in town was wonderful. We got to know each other and discovered lots of common interests, especially the love for books and art.  He planned on becoming a librarian or even the owner of a bookstore. The time passed too fast.  But we decided to meet again the next day.

At home I was in for trouble.  My mother who had a sixth sense had found out about my secret meeting. She kept me at home the next day to prevent me from seeing this strange young man again. I was devastated and helpless. My mother was very strong willed and it was her goal to protect me from mistakes she and my sister made in their youth.

My friend made many attempts to contact me or see me again over the next few months, but his efforts were eventually all foiled.

The budding romance from Würzburg was not destined to blossom like the little rose thrown my way that night in the youth hostel. It  became a faded memory in my favorite novel.



In retrospect I thank my mom. She was an agent of fate to keep me free for my beloved husband Peter.






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 Flickr.com

Photo Credit: Jen at Flickr.com

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,




Escape to the Golden West


Thousand mile fence separating East Germany from West Germany


While my parents increasingly suffered under the oppressive political system,  my brother and I experienced a happy childhood. We were oblivious to the hardships my parents had to endure.  My mother had to struggle every day to provide food and other necessities for us.

Even basic food items such as butter, flour, sugar, meat and cheese were scarce  and there were long line ups at the grocery stores every day for the limited supplies.  Luxury items such as coffee, cocoa, chocolate, citrus fruit  and cigarettes were hardly ever available.  Ironically, the most coveted items for many people  were cigarettes and coffee.

Not only food was scarce but basically everything from clothing to building materials was in short supply or unavailable. Even electric power was rationed by regular planned outages.   While West Germany had a rapid economic boom after the war,  East Germany had an economic decline.

People in the East were angry and upset  that they had to struggle for survival under a totalitarian system while their brothers and sisters in the West were enjoying freedom and prosperity.  If people complained or criticized the system, they could be “denounced” to the authorities and severely punished.  People could no longer trust each other.

For many demoralized  people in the East, West Germany became the “Promised Land” and they  started calling it the Golden West.  Great numbers of  desperate people escaped to the West risking their lives and giving up all their material possessions in the pursuit of freedom and happiness.

There wasn’t much that West German people could do to help their friends and relatives across the border.  On occasion, West Germans were granted permission to visit their relatives, if their application was approved by the GDR officials.  People from the West often feared that they would  arbitrarily be detained and would not be able to return home after a visit. For a while the only way  to stay in contact was by mail.

To share some of their newly acquired wealth, West German people would send parcels with precious items to relatives and friends  At Christmas time we received big gift packages from my mother’s relatives.  There were delicious sweets. chocolates,  beautiful toys, well made  stylish clothes and shoes for us.    Fragrant  “real”  coffee  beans for my mom and aromatic cigars for my father were some of the desired luxury  items, which you could not get in the East.   My brother and I were fortunate that we always had comfortable and well made shoes, because of my mother’s relatives who owned big footwear companies in the West.

Books and other printed materials were forbidden, because they could contain “propaganda” against the political system.  Letters and parcels often were confiscated if they looked “suspicious”.   My mom tried to keep up a good relationship with the mail man so her letters and parcels would not get “lost”.

In my imagination,  the Golden West was a fairy tale kind of land where all the houses had golden roofs like  the castles and palaces I had seen in the movie theater. My father’s friend owned the “White Wall” movie theater close to our home.   On many a Sunday my dad took us there to watch Russian fairytale cartoons and  other movies.  Since I had no concept of the “Golden West” I thought it was a beautiful place in fairyland where you lived  “happily ever after.”

My parents protected and shielded us from their increasing  hardships and sorrows    We had lots of friends and were allowed to play in our quiet neighborhood without many restrictions.  After the war, only few people could afford cars. There was hardly any traffic. Most people traveled by bike, street car, train or horse buggy.  Special forest trams would take us out into the beautiful surroundings for hiking or other outdoor activities.  On weekends my mom prepared a simple picnic lunch and we would either go by tram or on the back seat of my parents’ bikes out into the forests.

It’s amazing how far we could hike at an early age.  My dad would goad us on by promising a pop like beverage if we made it to the next village or any other destination he wanted to reach. Picking berries or mushrooms would supplement our diet.  However,  at that time I fiercely hated mushrooms.

Located in close walking distance to our home was a public outdoor swimming pool in a beautiful forest setting. My  father was a passionate swimmer and he taught us to swim before we even entered school. I inherited my dad’s passion and went  to the pool every day during the  open season  no matter how cold the water was.  Even before I was six years old i was allowed to go there on my own without adult supervision,

In the winter, we would get lots of snow.  Every day we would spend hours tobogganing with friends down a steep street in our neighborhood.  At suppertime we would trudge home tired  but  with glowing cheeks  looking forward to our big warm  tile stove and my dad’s nightly stories about the great explorers and inventor of the world.

Gotha in the SnowIt was on such a day in January 1953 that our life changed forever.  It had been clear and cold.  Our tobogganing hill was slick and fast.  Many of our friends were out and we raced down the steep street again and again.  One of my friends wore a new fur trimmed hat which I liked very much.  It was so much prettier than my hand knit wool tuque.  She had just received it it in a belated Christmas parcel from her aunt in the West. She also shared some chewing gum with us, which we  never had before  and enjoyed tremendously for the first time in our life.  What a wonderful place the West must be, I thought to myself, when I looked at my  friend with the pretty hat trying to blow bubbles with her bubble gum.

It started to snow softly when suddenly  I saw my mom approaching us. She never called us home before supper. Puzzled we ran to her. Taking hold of my brother with one hand and of me with the other, she told us that we had to go quickly to town with her before an important office closed.  In spite of our protests demanding to stay with our friends she pulled us hurriedly along.  I started whining, demanding that she at least buy me a new hat as pretty as the one my friend had received from the West.  Without responding to my increasingly vocal demands my mother pulled us relentlessly along.

Eventually  we reached the office.  She signed and received some papers.  It was pitch dark when we headed home.  i was very tired and hungry by then and had given up whining.    Suddenly i heard my mom whisper to me that i would soon get a new hat in the West.  I was too drowsy to understand what her words meant.

Finally at home, we hastily ate some hot cabbage soup.  After supper, instead of getting us ready for bed time,  my mother made us change into some warm good clothes.  Without explanation she made us kiss our dad good-bye and then grabbing a big suitcase from a closet  in the hallway whisked us out of the front door.  When we stepped out on the snow-covered sidewalk faintly illuminated by occasional street lights my mother whispered to us that we would have to go on a long walk but there would be a surprise in the end.  We walked silently like in a dream world enveloped by the thickly falling snow.  Tired and dazed we walked for a long time until we finally reached the railway station.Bahnhof

Once we were settled in an empty train compartment my mother told us that she had received permission to visit her sick guardian aunt in the West.  My dad had  to stay back as a guarantor for our return.  If we did not come back, he would be severely punished.

My brother immediately fell asleep in my mother’s arm when the train started rolling.  I, however, had my face pressed against the cold dark window.  I did not want to miss the first glimpse of the “Golden West” once we crossed the border.alte-eisenbahn



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.

Some Strange Childrearing Practices

Struwelpeter‘The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissor-man.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught out little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast,
That both his thumbs are off at last.’

Right from birth and maybe even before I sucked my thumb with passion and abandon.

My parents never got tired of telling the embarrassing story when I tried to suck my brother’s thumb.   He often stood still  when observing something with his hands folded on his back like a little statesman.  I was playing on the floor behind him when I suddenly grabbed his hand and tried to put his thumb into my mouth.   He screamed in horror thinking I was going to bite him.

Initially my parents thought that  I would eventually give up this bad habit on my own.   But when I still continued  past the toddler stage, they started to get worried.   All their attempts to stop me from putting my thumb into my mouth failed. As soon as their attention was diverted, I made up for lost time especially at night.

Thumb sucker

Finally my mother and sister  decided on more drastic measures.

They  read the then bestselling children’s book ‘Struwwelpeter’ by  Heinrich Hoffman to me.  I listened attentively sucking my thumb peacefully when suddenly my ears pricked up.   There was a story of a little boy who like me had this habit of thumb sucking.  Like me the boy did not stop when told so by his parents.  Then one day the thumb cutter came and cut of his thumbs. Thus he stopped him once and for all.

I was getting a bit worried hearing the story, when suddenly the door bell rang.  My sister got up to answer it.  She returned after a few minutes looking very serious.  “The thumb cutter is here looking for Biene”, she told my mom.  “Should I let him come in?”   My mom replied looking at me, “Tell him to go because Biene will not suck her thumb anymore.”   My thumb was out of my mouth in an instant.  I was shaken to  the core.   “Miraculously”  from that day on I stopped this bad habit for good

Another child rearing practice my parents  employed is also of dubious nature.

My parents’ generation stood under the influence of the naturopathic  medicine movement of Sebastian Kneipp who believed in the therapeutic  power of cold water.

My parents wanted us to grow up strong and healthy. Every Saturday my brother and I  had our weekly bath in a big zinc tub placed on two chairs in our spacious kitchen.  A  hot bath was a luxury at that time.   We enjoyed this rare pleasure tremendously.  But all pleasures come to an end and for us it was very abrupt.  Without warning my mother would dump a bucket full of cold water which she had hidden under the chairs over us as suggested by Sebastian Kneipp.

This “shock therapy”  was supposed to toughen and strengthen us.  Before we could utter desperate cries of protest, we were wrapped in warm towels.  Time and again my mother would assure us that she would not do it again.  But she never kept her promise and was very skillful in hiding the bucket of  frigid water.

Until the end of his life my brother detested cold water.

I on the other hand started to like this invigorating procedure.   To this day I love swimming in cold lakes and conclude my warm bath with a cold shower.

Times have changed.

Another Kneipp practice my parents employed was even more dramatic and terrifying.

As a small child my brother had terrible temper tantrums.  He  frequently would fly into such a rage that he almost turned blue in his face screaming.   All measures to calm him down failed until my mother and sister started to resort to another Kneipp therapy.  They would quickly pick up my hysterical  brother and hold his head under running cold water from the tap.   The shock would instantly calm him.  I was very scared watching this cruel procedure.

Like my brother I was also strong willed.  But I did not voice my protests in furor.  I would rather use passive resistance.  During the fall and winter season my mother tried to give us one teaspoon of pure cod liver oil  every day to prevent rickets and other health conditions. I vehemently detested this foul smelling and  even worse tasting liquid.  My mother could neither coax  nor  threaten me into compliance.  I kept my mouth pressed shut.  When all attempts failed to change my mind, my sister would hold me down on the couch, open my mouth forcefully.  In an instant my mother would  pour the disgusting sticky liquid down my throat.  I could not understand why my mother and sister, who loved us so much, could do such horrible  things to us.

Surviving in a Totalitarian State

After their failed attempt to flee to the West my freedom loving parents had to survive in a totalitarian state.  Many of their freedoms were curtailed and they were cut off from friends and relatives on the other side of Germany and the rest of the world.

Before the war my dad had been transferred to the police force in Gotha.   Now,  under the communist rule he could no longer keep his position as police officer.

Miraculously,  one of my Dad’s old friends who was a dentist remembered that my father had worked as a dental technician in the past.   He offered him a job to work in his dental laboratory.

Food supplies were very short for several years after the war especially in the East.  I remember my Dad taking us to small villages in the surrounding area.  He would try to trade in his high quality police boots, belts, leather gloves and other valuable clothing in exchange for precious food like flour, butter  eggs and cheese.

I never forget the tasty delight of a freshly baked  heart shaped waffle a kind farmer’s wife handed me on a cool fall day.   It was still warm and tasted heavenly!!  I never had one before.

Our diet consisted  mostly of porridge, root vegetables,  bread, molasses and some butter or other fat.  There were strict government food rations.  Since I was underweight and slightly anemic, a  concerned doctor prescribed extra rations for me.

But I was also a picky eater.  It upset my dad tremendously, when I refused to eat or left something on the plate.   He had experienced extreme hunger as a POW.   My mother ended up feeding us children  separately  to keep him calm.

When we turned four years old, my father started teaching us on weekends.   He had a large world map, which covered a wall in his study.  There he taught us geography,  We had to point to and name all the continents, major countries, capitals, rivers, mountain ranges and oceans.

We had to draw maps and were rewarded with pennies if they were accurate.

He explained the solar system to us and allowed us to color his beautiful pen drawings for his ballads.

At bed time he would read to us books of the great explorers and inventors of the past or other historical events.   I loved cuddling close to my father on the bench of the big tile stove and listen to the great stories of mankind.

I learned to read before I even went to school and from then on have always been a voracious reader.

I was six years old when I read my first novel.  My mom had the book sitting on her night table.   It was a gift from my father who loved historical novels.   Whenever I had the opportunity. I secretly read in this big book which intrigued me.  It introduced me to an exciting  world  far beyond  my years.  To this day it is my favorite novel.  The author is Hervey Allen and the title is “Anthony Adverse”.   It was translated into German.   Many years later, Peter found the original American edition for me at eBay.

Although religious practices were tolerated under the new regime, they were not being encouraged.

My mother had been strictly brought up in the catholic faith by her guardians.   However, my father was protestant.   Shortly after our birth, even before my dad had a chance to meet us, she had us baptized in the protestant faith out of respect for my father.

My mother was always a strong believer in the Christian faith and instilled this faith in me.  For her the differences among the various religious denominations were not of great importance.  She believed in a personal relationship with God and salvation through Jesus Christ.

She would always encourage us to pray, and believe in the power of God’s love.

We were introduced to the word of God by an interdenominational Christian group who read bible stories to preschool children.  They must have sown strong seeds falling on fertile ground.  To this day I have never lost my faith in the goodness and truth of God’s word and the miracle of Christ’s promise of salvation.