First Impressions of the Golden West in the year 1953.

I want to continue talking about my memories of the first years in the Golden West.

My sister’s friends,  who hosted us while my parents were in the refugee camp in Berlin to ask for asylum, were very kind to us.  Their two young sons became our friends and especially my brother loved their toys.  The Meccano set was his favorite.  He would amaze us with his elaborate constructions.



For a while we were distracted by our exciting new esperiences.  But as time dragged on without any contact with our parents I started getting  very homesick.

I missed my parents who had vanished so unexpectedly.  I missed my loving sister and my two little nephews.

Elsbeth family

I missed school and our friends.  (Except for a short visit to see what a West German school looked like, we were not allowed  to attend classed with our host children.)

I missed our beautiful, spacious home in Gotha with the large windows letting the light shine in.  I missed the comfort and warmth sitting with our dad on the bench of our tile stove listening to his stories.  I missed exploring the world on the big map covering  the wall in his study.   I missed playing with our friends on our quiet street flanked by old linden trees leading to our beloved castle park.


I missed our family bike or tram excursions into the vast forests…   I missed my mom’s cooking since I was a picky eater.   I even missed my teacher Mrs. Goose, who for some reason was not liked by my father.


thur wald

Before going to sleep i dreamed about what I would tell my best friend Anneliese about the Golden West.

I was going to tell her that our home in Gotha was a much better place.  That  here in Dortmund people lived in small crammed apartments on busy streets where it was not safe to play  or even walk alone.


On weekends instead of going to the park or hiking in the forests people would visit the graveyards that looked like parks.  But you could not freely run or roam about or play and explore.  You had to walk respectfully and quietly like adults and sit on stone benches near the graves  to silently pray or meditate.

grave angel

I would tell my friend that the Golden West was not golden.   It was a figment of the mind like the story of Santa Claus or the Easter bunny.  As for the big allure of freedom it was overrated.   Although,  I could have chocolate and even bubble gum,  I felt more restricted here than at home.

My sister’s friends did not let their boys and us go anywhere without supervision except to the nearby fenced-in playground.  They would drop us off and pick us up,

In Gotha we were allowed to play for hours in our neighborhood.  Once my brother and I decided to visit the castle Friedenstein on our own.  A  friendly castle guard noticing our curious glances at the open castle portal invited us in and gave us a tour telling us some of the historical highlights.

Gotha Schloss


Famous Gotha Lovers (Liebespaar)


Thus, we learned that even the great Emperor Napoleon had slept in the pompous, canopied bed that looked like a sailing ship.  Since our dad was a history buff,  he had told us about Napoleon who fascinated him.

bed Gotha

Suddenly I longed for all the familiar things of home, which I seemed to be losing.  Every night I prayed that we would return  to Gotha  soon.

But day after day my brother and I were told that we had to wait a bit longer for our parents to get us.

One afternoon, my brother and our new friends  were at the nearby playground with a group of other children.  I was gently swinging back and forth dreaming of playing with Anneliese when a boy I had never met started pushing me.  At first I didn’t mind.  Then in spite of my protests, he pushed me higher and higher.  My screams to stop seemed to entice him to push even harder and higher. I was terrified of the dizzying height and the unrelenting forceful behavior of the big boy who seemed to delight in my distress.


All of a sudden I lost control and fell flat onto the ground face first.  The fall knocked the wind out of me and I struggled for a long time to gasp for air.

Suddenly it was very quiet on the play ground.  All the kids had run away except my brother and our friends.  They stood around me looking worried.

Luckily, I was not seriously hurt.  However, my faith in the kindness of people in the Golden West was shaken.  I had never met such a mean bully at home.

train dort

Miraculously, the next morning our hosts told us that our parents were on their way to get us.


First years in the Golden West

My last post ended with the train chugging through the night carrying my mom, my twin brother and me to the Golden West.

My mother had been granted permission to travel to West Germany to visit her dying guardian aunt.  She was allowed to take us with her under the condition that our father stayed back as guarantor for our return.  He would be severely punished if we didn’t come back.

Although i was dead tired, I fought sleep and attempted to keep my eyes open. I kept my face pressed against the cold, damp train window  staring into the dark night waiting for the first glimpse of gold when we entered the west.

In spit of my valiant effort to stay awake, I must have dozed off for a while in my mother’s arm. Suddenly the rhythmic clanking sounds of the train rolling over the tracks stopped and the train came to a screeching halt.  My brother and I woke up with a startle.

Two uniformed conductors entered the dimly lit compartment. My mother handed them some papers, which they studied for a while. Contrary to her nature my mom did not say a word nor did she smile, but sat stock still tightening her grip around us.

Without saying a word either, the conductors returned the papers and  left the compartment. Shortly after, the train whistle blew, smoke from the engine drifted by the window and the train started rolling through the night again.

Suddenly my mom’s face lit up and she began hugging and kissing us exuberantly.  “We are in the West now. we are in the West, we are free, we are free,”  she repeated over and over again.

My brother still half asleep showed no reaction to her expressions of  joy. but dropped his head into her lap and continued sleeping.

I was completely bewildered.  Why didn’t I see any gold?  There was not even a star in the sky. Only total darkness. The Golden West we had entered looked exactly like the East we came from.

Suddenly it dawned on me that the Golden West was just a figure of speech, a metaphor for something  extremely precious and magnificent like gold.  Somehow it seemed connected to Freedom.

Too tired to ponder this mystery any longer, I snuggled into my mother’s warm arm.  I let myself be lulled to sleep by her happy sing song and the rhythmic clanking and rattling sounds of the train carrying us closer to freedom.

We arrived at Dortmund at sunrise.  At the station we were warmly greeted by my sister’s friends who had escaped to the west a few years earlier.  The young couple with their two sons, who were about our age, took us to their small apartment not much bigger than our front room at home in Gotha.

After freshening up and having some breakfast my mother told us that we would stay with this kind family for an unspecified time. She would have to see her aunt and then travel immediately to West Berlin,   But she and our dad would reunite with us as soon as possible.

My brother and I were too dazed and confused by all the recent events that we did not ask many questions. The two friendly boys engaged us into play and shared some chocolate with us, which helped us recover from the strenuous train ride and made us feel welcome. Without making a fuss we kissed our mother good bye.

I do not know all the exact details of my parents’ defection to the West.  I only know that my mother went by night train to West Berlin where she met up with my father and both asked for political asylum at the Marienfelde refugee camp.

While my mother had traveled with us to Dortmund, my father had traveled to East Berlin where he had relatives. He did not take a suit case.  To remain inconspicuous he carried only his leather briefcase with his small portable typewriter and important documents. In East Belin he went on the subway train and quietly left the train at a West Berlin station.   At that time the wall did not yet exist and people could escape  this way.  That’s why the wall eventually was erected.


My parents then spent a few weeks at the Marienfelde refugee camp, which processed the flood of asylum seekers from the East.  After receiving their refugee status they were then allocated to a refugee camp in northern Germany.  Our first year as refugees in this camp will be the topic of my next post.