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















Non Scolae Sed Vitae or We Do Not Learn for School But For Life (1954-65)

When my twin brother and I were at the end of grade 4,  my parents  had to decide if they wanted us to go on to high school. After successfully concluding grade 13, we would obtain the senior matriculation certificate, Abitur in German, which was a prerequisite for post secondary education at a university.

Only a small percentage of students would enter high school.  Your elementary teacher had to recommend you based on your performance and you had to pass a stringent entrance exam.  While all children by law received eight years of free  elementary school education,  high school students had to pay tuition fees and finance their books and  other educational materials.  It was an honor and a privilege to attend high school.  You belonged to an elite group if you passed your senior matriculation.  Only about half the number of students that started high school would accomplish that  hard to achieve goal.

There were scholarships for top students who had financial difficulties to pay the tuition fees.  My twin brother and I, plus my best friend Gisela,  were the lucky recipients after successfully completing  grade 4 with top marks.

For the first time in our life,  my twin brother and I would attend different schools.  The two high schools in Velbert were segregated by gender and academic orientation.  I went to the  modern language branch for girls and my brother to the science and ancient language branch for boys.  While the school buildings were in close proximity,  we had no contact with students of the opposite sex for our entire high school life except for a short extra curricular ballroom dancing course in grade 10.

While our school had a high percentage of male teachers, my brother only once,  for a short time,  had a female teacher teaching at his school.  That was “sensational” for the boys and she enjoyed a special status.  The boys “adored” her like a queen.

Gymnasium VelbertThis is the beloved school I attended for nine years.  Over the entrance was a stained glass window which read “Non scholae sed vitae.” I hardly ever missed a day and was always eager to go and learn for life.

We started out with 45 girls in grade 5 and after nine years only 15 of us graduated. Our homeroom teacher  was called Mr. Meckenstock.  He mentored us for the entire  school time.  We fondly nicknamed him  Mecki after the beloved little stuffed hedgehog toy of our generation.

MeckiMecki did only faintly resemble the little toy because he had lost most of his hair.   Although he was very strict (like almost all German teachers),  he was also kind and warmhearted.   Above all, he was a unique character full of contradictions, He taught us English and French with lots of enthusiasm. He was proficient in both languages, even though he had never studied them in the native country.  In fact, he had never been abroad, until we went on a field trip to Paris with him in grade 11.  The comical adventures of that memorable trip I will never forget.  But I will talk about them in detail later.

Mecki laid great stress on oral participation in classroom discussions which I really liked.  I enjoyed sharing thoughts and opinions on ideas or books we had to read eventually in English and French.

Our math teacher, nicknamed Ata (father), was also popular, This  short,  round, red-cheeked jovial man was a wizard with numbers.   Every math lesson he magically turned into a fun experience by engaging us in group math competitions at the  blackboard.  He really cared that we understood and freely helped us when we had problems.  We tried very hard not to disappoint him.

These two outstanding teachers probably had the greatest influence on my academic achievement.  I will talk more about other teachers in the near future,

Teachers at my time were highly respected.  When they entered the classroom, we had to rise and greet them in unison.  Whenever we volunteered an answer, we also had to stand up.  In their presence we had to act and speak politely and respectfully.  But life is full of paradoxes.  We girls were not as docile and disciplined as was expected.

Before concluding this post,  one more afterthought on our school building.  As I mentioned, the boy’s high school was adjacent to ours.  The schools were so close that we had to cross the boys school yard to go down some rock steps to our own yard.

We were not allowed to talk or interact with the boys when walking to our yard below.   The boys would stand at the retaining wall and look down on us.  Maybe that reflected an attitude symbolic for that time.










Eine “Ohrfeige” (slap in the face) by a Teacher; Meeting Father Rhine and Other Memories of My First Year in Velbert 1954-55

As I already mentioned in a previous post I was happy to have regular school again and was looking forward to every day of classes.

Two days after my mom had enrolled us at the Elementary School Am Baum  (at The Tree)  I woke up with a sore throat.  I was prone to suffer from severe allergies,  especially in the spring during  pollen season.  My mother suggested that I stay home and she sent my brother off  at the usual time.  I did not want to miss school and pleaded with my mother to let me go until she relented.

I ran as fast as I could not to be late but when I arrived classes had just started.   Out of breath I reached the class room door where my teacher received me.  As I already indicated earlier he seldom smiled and was very strict.   He looked especially serious this morning,  “Why are you late?”. he asked in a stern voice,  Still out of breath I stammered, “I wasn’t feeling well.”

“Don’t lie to me!”, he shouted and without warning slapped me across the face.

Never in my life before had I been physically punished by my parents or other adults   For a moment I felt like frozen in time.   I was so stunned and shocked  I did not know what was happening to me.  Eventually, like a sleepwalker  I made it to my desk and sat there dazed until dismissal time.  I felt humiliated by this unjust punishment and  very sad.  Until then I had idolized and adored teachers.  In my mind they embodied the highest human qualities like  wisdom, knowledge, fairness, justice and kindness.  This undeserved slap in my face shattered that illusion.

Only when I got home did I cry.  It wasn’t the physical pain of the slap in my  face that hurt but the emotional pain of undeserved punishment and  the betrayal of trust by an abusive person in authority.

Most people did not own phones when I grew up and so my mother talked to the teacher in person the next day, but the damage was done.

To my relief  the school year came to an end about  two weeks later.   Our new teacher in grade 5 quickly restored my faith and trust  in teachers again.

Although he was very strict as well,  he never lost his temper or control.  I loved his exciting lessons, his fairness and his warm smile and sense of humor.

This teacher decided to take us on a field trip to meet Vater Rhein or Father Rhine as the longest and mightiest  German river is fondly called.

map rhineOn a beautiful sunny spring day we went by train to Cologne.  Cologne is the fourth largest city of Germany situated at the Rhine river.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited the awe inspiring cathedral which towers majestically at the river shore.  We went down to the banks and immersed our hands into the water to greet Father Rhine.  He was starting to get polluted.  Twenty years later when visiting the Rhine river again my friends prevented me from putting my hands in the water because of the dangerous levels of pollution.  Now Father Rhine is clean and safe again.

rhine-castle-4Towards the end of our excursion we walked through the Altstadt or the picturesque historic part of the city.  We did window shopping and were allowed to buy some small souvenirs in the romantic boutiques.

Altstsdt käln

Heißes Pflaster I remember the fun we had reading the ornate and artistically designed  shop and pub signs hanging on beautifully crafted cast iron brackets. We laughed at the often  funny and clever names.  A butcher shop was called  The Jolly Fat Sow,  A wine pub was named  The Bottomless Barrel.  In the Busy Bee Bakery we bought some honey sweetened pastries.

shop sign

Back at school we had to write about our excursion.  Our teacher told us that the best  report would be published  in our class journal.   We all had to read out what we had written and then we voted which one  we liked best.    I was the proud and happy winner because I described  in detail all the humorous signs and other fun  impressions of our exciting trip.

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.”




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.





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.