Memories of Our Life in the Old House of Rocky Docky in Velbert (1954)

When I woke up from a deep sleep the next morning, I could see through the big window that a clean blanket of snow had covered the drabness of the yard outside the Old House of Rocky Docky.  My father had heard the popular  song on the radio and aptly applied it to our new abode.  It would always cheer us up to hear our “theme song”,  and we would sing it with gusto to make the old house rock.

The bright  morning sun made the snow crystals sparkle and dance,  In spite of the first signs of spring earlier, winter was not over yet.



My parents were already dressed to go out. My mother told us that they had been allocated some funds by the manager of the refugee shelter to buy household items, utensils and other necessary equipment for everyday living.

Our mother told us that before she would go shopping, she would enroll us in the nearby school called Elementary School at the Tree.   Since we had missed classes for more than a month in the transition camp in Massen,  we were looking forward to a regular school life again.


Evangelische Grundschule Am Baum


Am Baum Decal


The school looked new and bright.  Our teacher was a young, tall man with a serious expression.  He didn’t smile at us once. There were about thirty students quietly staring at us when we entered the classroom.  I recognized a girl and a boy I had seen last night at the Old House.  When our teacher introduced us as refugee children from Thuringia, a  tall girl with big brown eyes smiled at me.  Gisela was her name and she eventually became one of my best friends.   She still lives close to Velbert, Germany.  We have only seen  each other twice after I moved to Canada but we have been corresponding with each other for almost 50 years.

i soon found out  that she was also born in the “East” and came from Eisenach, a town close to Gotha in Thuringia.   Eisenach is renown for its imposing Wartburg castle.


Wartburg castle. World heritage site in Eisenach, Germany.



Minstrel Contest. Sängerkrieg at the Wartburg.

In this castle the famous medieval minstrel contest (Sängerkrieg)  took place and there are many legends about this unique historic event.

The  Wartburg is also closely associated with Martin Luther.  He took sanctuary there to translate the New Testament of the  Bible for the first time into the vernacular German language in 1543.



Martin Luther Statue in Dresden


In 1999 the Wartburg was declared a World Heritage Site.

After this digression to the Wartburg back to my memories of the first days in Velbert.

When school was dismissed,  a girl from one grade higher than us approached me and introduced herself as Margit.  I had briefly seen her through the window at the Old House this morning.  Margit smiled at me warmly and invited me to walk back with her.  She became my closest friend for the time we lived at the Old House.

Margit was mature beyond her age.  She was a motherly type and a born leader.  We  liked her cheerful and outgoing personality.  Fights  amongst us kids never lasted long because she was a peace maker and we trusted in her judgement.  There were about 15-20  kids about our age at the Old House and we spent most of our time playing in the big yard around the old  building.   In its younger days, the Old House used to be a beer garden restaurant with a  bowling alley.  The hedged in yard with old trees had been the garden area of the venue where people would eat and drink on warm and sunny days.


ibeer garden

Although the yard was neglected,  it was an ideal play area for kids.   We had plenty of safe space to engage in ball games, skip rope, play badminton, hopscotch, marbles, tag and even hide and seek in the bushes and behind the old trees. There were even some grassy areas where we could put blankets to suntan, read or do gymnastics.

We played outside in all kinds of weather until night time.  The rooms in the Old House were too small for children to play.

While our parents struggled to cope under such primitive and restrictive conditions in the decrepit emergency shelter, we had lots of freedom, space and companionship with other kids our age.   We were happy.



jump rope

Moving to the Old House of Rocky Docky in Velbert, Rhineland, 1954

One day in early spring our mother told us that we would soon be leaving the camp in Aurich, East Frisia,   We would move to a place called Velbert situated in the Rhineland region of  West Germany.  My mother sounded very excited and joyful because she was born and raised in the Rhineland, a beautiful part of Germany.


map of Velbert

For me it meant saying goodbye to my best friend Ingeborg and all our many other playmates with whom  we  had shared so many exciting adventures and experiences.


However, before moving to Velbert, we first had to spend several  weeks in a transitory camp in Massen,  a small town near Unna, close to Dortmund,  which was our first station in the “Golden West”.   All I remember from that short stay is that my mom  was  quite upset because we had to sleep in a big dormitory again  with lots of strangers.  And to make things worse, we had to lie on straw mattresses.  But my parents consoled themselves with the prospect    that we would soon move to Velbert.  That’s  where apartment buildings for refugees were being constructed at a rapid pace.

Refugee Camp in Massen by Unna


On a bright, sunny day in early Spring we were loaded with all our luggage and several other families onto the open back of a big, old transport truck with makeshift benches.


My brother and I had rarely ridden in a car.  This was the first time in a truck. For us it was exciting!  My mom thought it was odd that we were transported like baggage. She didn’t like that we were all crammed together in this small, drafty and not too clean space. But my brother and i were laughing with the other kids and some boisterous men enjoying the cool breeze and the changing scenery.

After a few hours  we were all shaken up by the bumpy ride.  The increasing cool drafts, the loud noise of the motor and  the rattling of the vehicle started to make us feel sick. Suddenly the truck came to an abrupt halt beside an old, dilapidated stone building which looked almost like a dungeon, dark and foreboding.



The Old House of Rocky Docky in Velbert, Germany.


The driver jumped out of the cab, opened the ramp of the truck and started unloading the luggage and helping us to jump out.   Dazed and bewildered, numb from the cold and very hungry we all stood  speechless for a moment.  “Take your belongings and follow me,” the driver told us.

He led us around the extremely long building  to a courtyard with a row of several outhouses.  “You can go there in a minute,” he told us, “but let me show you your quarters first. This old building used to be a pub and a bowling alley,” he continued,  “now it has been converted into an emergency shelter for people like you.  I’ll introduce you to the manager of this establishment.” He laughed  and pointed to a man who just stepped out of the entrance to receive us.

We were the first ones to be led to our room.  We had to go through a long hall with several big sinks, laundry tubs and a wash line with a few rags drying.  There were brooms, mops. pails. garbage cans and other equipment stored along the walls.  The evening light coming in through big windows could hardly soften the drabness of this dingy hall.

At the end of it there was a door leading to a small room with a large recessed window in the raw rock wall.  It looked like a prison cell except  there were no bars on the window.  There were two sets of bunk beds, a table with four chairs, a small table with a two burner hotplate and a small dresser.  “This is your temporary place until your apartment is completed,” the manager told us.  And in response to my parent’s questioning glance he added, “This may take up to two years.  We just don’t know where to house all you people,” he grumbled leaving  us to attend to the other families.

For a moment we all stood dumbfounded  until the silence was broken by my mother’s loud sobs.  She collapsed on one of the beds and cried and cried.  I had never seen my mother cry like that before and it shocked me deeply.  My father looked helpless.  Eventually he started stroking my mother’s back.  My brother and I climbed onto our  top beds completely bewildered.

Eventually my mother’s crying stopped.  She rallied and took us to the outhouse.  She found a clean wash basin to scrub the grime of the long dusty truck ride of our face and hands.   She magically produced some bread, butter, cheese and jam. She also made some weak tea on the hot plate.   We were so starved,  it tasted heavenly. Then she hugged us warmly and said,  “With God’s help we’ll make it through.”




Some more Memories of our Time in the Refugee Camp in East Frisia, Germany in 1953

Before t am going to tell you about our move to  the Old House of Rocky Docky in the Rhineland region of Germany, I want to talk a bit more  about our experiences in the refugee camp in Aurich, East Frisia.

emblemMost children live in the present.  To this day I always liked to live in the present moment rather than in the past or future.  However, writing my blog now forces me to relive the past.  This is a request of our five sons who want to hear my side of the  “Peter-Gertrud Story ”  my husband is writing,   I have to admit that I actually start enjoying this trip on memory lane.  Now back to the past…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery day is a new experience for children and I enjoyed every day of my new life.  No time to think of the past.   School was exciting because of our inspiring and kind teacher.  With so many families living  in close proximity in the camp my brother and I had lots of friends.   Most of the time we spent outside playing in those endless meadows surrounding the camp.  There was never a dull moment  because someone would always come up with an exciting activity or game.  We skipped rope, played ball games, did yoga type gymnastics  often inventing new poses, had talent shows singing and performing songs we had heard on the radio.  We played all the old fashioned games like marbles, hopscotch, hide and seek, catch or make belief games.  Sometimes we would just collect daisies, dandelions or other flowers  to braid wreaths, or  we would  lie back in the lush meadows and daydream.

dandelionLooking back now from an adult perspective life for my parents was not that idyllic. They were eager to have a place again where they could put down roots and call it home.  But time dragged on.  Sometimes my mom would take us to the picturesque  town of Aurich, where my dad had found a temporary position as dental technician at the local dentist’s office.  On those outings my mom would slip quietly into the beautiful old church to kneel down and pray a few Our Fathers. Often it looked like she was crying.

1024px-CatholicChurchAurichMy brother and I loved these town outings because my mother would buy us cones with whipping cream, a specialty of the region, which is known for its sweet and rich cream from happy cows grazing on those lush pastures.  My mom would drink East Frisian black tea  with little “clouds” of heavy cream, also a specialty of the region.

220px-Tee_mit_sahneNovember 11, is a special holiday  for children in East Frisia, called St. Martin’s day.  A  few days before  the special night we were taught at school how to make paper lanterns.  We also learned to sing special St. Martin’s songs.

On the night of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we dressed up in costumes and then walked in a group from house to house singing the songs we had learned.  Like at Halloween we would receive candies or other goodies in return.  For my brother and me it was the first time we experienced such a magical night.

5In contrast to Halloween it does not have any scary origins. The historical St. Martin was known as a friend of children and the poor and there are many legends about his kindness and charity.  He once shared his coat with a beggar in a severe snowstorm to save his life.  Often this legend is reenacted in a parade with St. Martin riding on a horse with the beggar wearing half his coat.

Martin Pferd





Memories of the Aurich Refugee Camp (1953-54)

After our first night in the crowded dormitory shared with twelve strangers and with other strangers passing through our room  from the adjacent sick room my mother was very upset.  She feared for our health and well being due to the proximity of the contagious people who had to pass  frequently through our door to visit the facilities or other places in the building.

After my mother voiced her concerns to the management we were assigned to a small private room which was furnished with two sets of metal bunk beds, a table with four chairs and a small wardrobe.  Although this room was smaller than my father’s study in Gotha we felt happy to have more privacy.  We still had to share our door to the hallway with the occupants of the neighboring room; a young widow and her two children.  Her son was five years older than my brother and I, while her daughter two years younger than us.  But in spite of the age difference we became good friends.

Rainer and Gabi’s mom always looked glamorous. She  dressed like a film star.  I knew how film stars looked like from pictures of American actors and actresses which were in the packages of chewing gum.  I had  started collecting  those pictures when staying with our friends in Dortmund.

When I made a comment about her mom’s clothes to Gabi she told me her mother’s secret.  Her mom had found a way to contact fan clubs of actors in the United States.  She would tell them of her plight as  widowed refugee asking for charitable donations.  Among other things she would receive big parcels with the most fashionable, expensive outfits, shoes and accessories often only worn a few times by her idols.


liz taylor

Gabi’s brother Rainer went to the Merchant Marine Corps  as a cadet   after he turned 14 years old and had passed grade 8.   He brought me a beautiful scarf from one of his training sessions in Hamburg, the biggest harbor in Germany.  My mom proudly displayed it on the wall as you can see on the picture. I admired and adored Rainer.  He would be traveling to many of the places my dad had shown us on the world map.


My brother and i adjusted quickly to our new life in the camp although we did not like to eat in the crowded and noisy dining hall.  I in particular was a very picky eater and often felt nauseated just from the food odors permeating the building.  My father who had experienced extreme hunger in the war had no sympathy with me and would get very upset and angry when I refused to eat certain foods or left something on my plate.   Eventually my mother would feed us separately at different times so my dad could enjoy his meals without stress.

CantineAfter a long break in Dortmund my brother and I were able to go to school again right at our camp.  Makeshift classrooms were set up in one of the large lecture and meeting halls.  We sat at round tables which was a nice break from individual desks.

I always loved school and even enjoyed homework.  Since we were instructed by one teacher in a multigrade setting we had to work independently for long periods of time.  Math problems were my favorites because when they were completed we were allowed to read or draw.  I would always draw beautiful princesses in lavish dresses.

I remember the day I received my first report card.  My brother and our friends were walking across the big court yard back to the living quarters when we were stopped by a stranger.  “Well”, he asked, “who of you children received the best report card today?”   Immediately some of our friends pointed at my brother, some at me and some at another boy.   “Let me see your report cards”, the man demanded.  Timidly we handed them to him.   After studying them for a while he handed them back except mine.  “You have the best,” he said with a smile, “congratulations, you deserve a reward.”   He reached into his wallet and gave me some money, the equivalent of about  $5.00.   I was so stunned I could barely say thank you.  I never had so much money before.  My dad was so proud hearing the story that he matched the stranger’s reward.

Although I missed my best friend in Gotha, I made lots of new friends.  After school we would play on the big meadows surrounding the buildings.  Contrary to our parents the restricted living area in that small room was not an issue.  We had lots of space and freedom to roam on the meadows and green spaces surrounding the barracks.

One day we ventured as a group out of the camp confines to a nearby treed area to play hide and seek. It was almost getting dark when one of the kids shouted,  “Let’s go back, there is a dangerous man trying to catch us!”   With pounding hearts we raced back to the camp gate and breathlessly told the attending guard that we were pursued by a dangerous man.  Although, as I found out later none of us had actually seen this man, we were totally convinced that we were telling the truth.  In our minds he existed.  I guess this is a small example of mass hysteria.  We never ventured into that forest area again.





A Year in the Refugee Camp in Aurich Germany (1953-54)



Happy to be finally reunited with our beloved parents we had to say good bye to our new friends in Dortmund.

Our parents told us that we would not go back home to Gotha for a long, long time until the two separated Germanys would be reunited again.

First we would have to live in a refugee camp for some time until we would hopefully find a new home in the Rhineland region where my mother was born.  After the destruction caused by the war and the rapid immigration of refugees from the East housing was in short supply.   There was a construction frenzy all over West Germany to keep up with the urgent demand for housing.  People had to live in temporary shelters often for a long period of time.

We were assigned to live in a refugee camp in Lower Saxony.  Abandoned military barracks were converted into a refuge camp in Sandhorst, a small community close to Aurich, a quaint small town. This camp could house thousands of refugees.


The buildings looked bright  and clean.  They were surrounded by lots of green spaces.  There were meadows and lush pastures stretching to the endless horizon on this flat landscape.


aurich meadow



We were assigned to a room with six bunk beds.  Three other families shared the room with us. From our dormitory a door led to another room about the same size.  Occupants of that adjacent room shared our door to the hallway.  Thus there was a lot of traffic through our room and there was little privacy.

We were told that we should  avoid close contact with the people in the neighboring room because they had a very contagious disease. I noticed that my mother looked quite shocked when she heard that. My brother and I, however, were very excited  with the prospect of sleeping  on the upper bunk beds

After we stored our small suitcases under our beds, the camp attendant led us to a big hall lined with multiple long racks of clothing in all sizes.  They were donated by American charities and other organizations and people from all over the world. We were invited to pick some clothing we needed and liked.  That was exciting for me, because I had never had the opportunity to chose a dress on my own.  I had always worn hand-me-downs sent from my mom’s distant relatives.

I picked a dress, which the attending lady told us was donated by a family from South Africa. I loved the dress and imagined a girl like me having worn it in a far away place.

The kind lady invited us to pose in our newly chosen clothes for a photo out on the lawn in the mild spring air. We all looked happy on this rare family picture, the first one  in the “Golden West”.