Life, today, makes no Sense

24/02/2015

IMG_0718Nothing makes sense to me anymore. We have arrived at the Orwellian future, where one thing is said and the opposite is meant. We live in a country where the Prime Minister scares the wit out of us and proclaims he will protect us from the nasty terrorists. Fourteen women, so far this year, have been murdered by their deranged husbands or partners. None has been murdered by deranged terrorists, still the PM wants more control over our lives. He said we have to forgo a few of our freedoms to be safe. He wants to save all our mega-data for two years so he can one day go on a fishing expedition to find an enemy of the regime. All this is the way of a fascist.

I think our value based society, established as an outcome of the enlightenment, is in its terminal stage. The Enlightenment started about the same time as the industrial revolution. For a time, it looked as if we were getting a better society, but the capitalists won. They have more power than our democratically elected representatives. What then is democracy good for?

Our ministers sell their time to the captains of industry instead of working for us, as they promised under oath. A nice little earner on the side helps with the bills. In the meantime, they are planning to reduce the old age pension after 2017. to such a level, that the pensioners will not take part in the increases in the standard of living.

The freedoms we used to enjoy are but a distant memory. George W Bush used to say, “Our way if life is not negotiable!” But that was a lie or wasn’t it? Our freedom, our way of life, is eroded on a daily basis without any negotiation on our part. In Australia, we don’t even have a Bill of Rights. So, the new way of life is being forced upon us by governments who tell us they are democratic and liberal. It does not matter what the governing parties are being called. They seem to me doing the biddings for a secret establishment consisting of multi-national companies, secret services and media conglomerates. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the so-called victory of the Capitalist system “The end of History” was proclaimed. That was the naive outpouring of an intellectually challenged person celebrating this victory too much.

Guess what? History has not ended and we see on YouTube people are being beheaded, by people with black beards who make their own history. Our governments are not the least better, bombing other people and countries who do not believe in our way of life. The permanent war of “1984” is here.

The principle is if you don’t want to be my brother, I hit you on the head. Our own governments are running local and international protection rackets for the benefits of the Military and Industrial Complex! We cry “wolf” and supply the weapons to slay the wolf.

It is for our security, we are being told, that our air forces attack others. Aren’t those drone attacks beheadings by more technological means? And we wonder why they hate us. And when people run away from their hell on earth, we lock them up on islands in the middle of the ocean and pretend they are the terrorists. People say the refugees only come because they want to have a better life. Who doesn’t want to have a better life?

The statement, “We never had it so good,” by John Howard, probably was correct at the time. It seems that was a long time ago. We are now looking into an abyss and this view is supported by the government to get control over our lives.

Good luck and good night!

IMG_0687

In and out of Dreams

28/01/2015
Ghost House

Ghost House

 

Last night I had several nightmares. After I shook off one,  another one  started. In the last one, I tried to escape from a high building and the only way out was climbing down a ladder outside. This ladder was attached to the long end of a  beam on which the ladder could slide towards a door. But first I had to reach the ladder. Once on it, there was nothing underneath. I thought I was in a Buster Keaton movie and “knew” I would fall off the ladder. I was at a great height and decided to wake up.

After that,  I drifted off to a quieter dream in which I found myself in an old  carriage, with wooden benches, on a train in Melbourne. In deep thoughts about my whereabouts, I lifted my feet up and placed them on the seat. Before the next stop, a man got up and walked to the door. When he stopped beside me he indicated, with a nod of his head, that he wanted me to take my feet off  the seat.

I apologised and told him, that I normally would not do such a thing.  We got talking, in an amicable way, about the ignorance of people. When the train stopped and he got off the train I had a thought and shouted after him that it was not easy for knowledgeable people and they  often were  mistaken for shy people.

A woke up and grabbed a notebook, I have  on my bedside table, to complete the thought I had started in my dream:

“In a sea of ignorance, the knowing person is quietly swimming to a distant shore. His silence is often mistaken as shyness by other swimmers around him, who noisily splash about, covering for their fear of the unknown.”

After TTIp comes TiSA

20/01/2015

While researching TTIP on the net ( a former judge of the German Highcourt says TTIP is against international law) I discovered that there is something even more insidious in the offering: TiSA.

It boils down to that the USA want to conquer the world without having to fire a shot. All negotiations are in  secret and Australia is part of it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_in_Services_Agreement

As a Hitler Youth in the “Land of Peace”

12/01/2015

The home belonged to the Inner Mission of Germany. This mission was part of the evangelical church. I will deal with my religious life in the home in another post.

We all know in 1944 the Nazi regime in Germany was on its last stretch. But in

Friedland, this “Land of Peace”, we did not notice. It was the duty of all children from the age of ten to join the Hitler Youth or the Deutsches Jungvolk. Before that age one could volunteer to join the Pimpfe, a sort of pre-Hitler-Youth. I did not volunteer, but had no choice at all. All the boys at the home joined. There wasn’t any debate about it.

Each Wednesday evening we had our “day of duty”. When it was dark we stayed indoors and instruction regarding the Nazi Party and its leaders were given in the common room. Naturally, a large photo of our Führer was on the wall. It appeared that he looked at any observer, no matter from which angle the observer looked. There were also some pictures of Jesus Christ on other parts of the wall.

In no time at all I knew all about the birthdays and life stories of our leaders. Don’t ask me now, because now I only know something about Hitler’s life. I did not mind those lessons. What I did not like was when we went outside onto a football field and received drill instructions. We turned right and left, we marched, did sit- and push-ups; we were ordered to run and stand at attention. Anybody who has military boot camp experience knows what I’m talking about. We learnt all the military songs that were in vogue. They were drummed into us. Often the weather was miserable and a strong wind blew over the field. Except for the drill I must confess I liked a lot of this activity.

Normally the Hitler Youth wore a uniform, but we did not have any. This did not stop them from using us as if we wore uniforms. We learnt to draw maps of the environment so we could make reports to our leaders. From time to time we went out into the parks and forests to play manoeuvre-like games were we could use our new learnt skills. A few years later all this would have been handy on the Eastern front. But the war was over a year later.

During the summer the Nazi Youth organisation set up a large coming together and march-past of all the units of the province, at Falkenberg, now Niemodlin ( pol., engl, germ). After a walk of 8 km to the railway station and a train ride we arrived at Falkenberg, a town in a festive mood. Drums, pipes and flags were everywhere. We assembled at the beautiful town square. We boys were all excited and marched to the athletic field. There, some big shots in uniforms made speeches. After it was all over we went home again. It was a long and exhaustive day.

In late summer of the same year we were once again sent to Falkenberg. This time to see a film. It was the film “Münchausen“. It was especially commissioned by the government as a project for the 25th anniversary of the UfA (German film company). It was also the first German colour film. By the time it reached us, it was already a year old, but I did not know that at the time. The showing of the film was arranged in a large hall. I’m not sure, but it could have been in the town hall. There were hundreds of people and the hall was filled to capacity and the walls were adorned by many large Swastika flags. As we were waiting before the start of the movie suddenly there was a commotion and it was announced that the Gauleiter for the region of Upper Silesia would enter the hall. We all jumped up and and shouted, “Sieg Heil”.

Of course the Gauleiter gave a rousing speech of which I can’t remember a word today. I’m sure it ended with, “Heil Hitler”. The lights were dimmed and we saw a newsreel first. What I remember of this newsreel is an item where they showed a night air raid on Berlin by the RAF and how the air defence operated. Search lights scanned the sky and the Flak was firing its deadly grenades up into the air. This was done with an over the top commentary as was the norm during the war. For me as a boy from Berlin it was suggesting that Berlin would be safe even so my mother had written to me that there were now daily air raids day and nights.

The main feature was enjoyed by all, but when I saw the movie on the internet a couple of years ago I found it rather mediocre. Seeing a film, for the first time in colour, that day was a special experience for us. We would have talked about it for days.

All the indoctrination did not turn me into a proper Hitler Youth, because I did not like the military drill at all.

The School in the “Land of Peace”

05/01/2015

Friedland was a small town. The Boys Home was at the edge of town on the corner to the country road to Opole (Germ. Oppeln). “40 Km to Oppeln”, a road site sign at the end of town told us. I never got to go to Oppeln and those forty kilo-meters always seemed to be a yardstick for a long distance. Later on in life I ran Marathons and the distance past the forty kilo-meter mark was especially hard.

The school was in the centre of the town, about ten minutes to walk. We boys from the home all walked together. But once we reached the school we all dispersed to our respective class rooms. I had to go to third grade but none of the other boys went into the same class that I did.

The school building was a rather more modern one from the one that I was used to in Berlin. The Berlin schools were beautiful brick buildings built before the turn of the century. The building in Friedland was probably built during the twenties or early thirties. To my surprise we had girls in the class. But we were not sitting together. Two rows of desks were divided by a centre-aisle. The boys were sitting on the right side and the girls on the left side. For reasons little understood by me at the time the girls became of an enormous interest to me. They all seemed pretty and nicely spoken. But the real, big surprise, was the lady teacher. In Berlin I only knew elderly lady teachers. Mostly war widows, dressed in black mourning dresses. They did not seem to like boys and we all received corporal punishment for little wrong doings.

But this young lady, always dressed, in the blue work dress of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labour Service), was the most beautiful woman I had seen in my short life. She took a liking to me too. This became apparent when she marked my work, giving me encouragement. My copy books looked as messy as in Berlin, but contained only good marks.

One day, a paper bag containing sandwiches was found in the class room. The teacher was looking for the owner of it. When nobody owned up to it the teacher decided I should have the sandwiches as I was from the boys home and would probably not get enough to eat.

Her decision was so popular that from that day on three or four girls brought me, without fail, every Monday each a parcel with cake from the previous Sunday. It mostly contained Streuselkuchen, a speciality in Silesia. I loved it but could not eat it all myself. I took some to the home to share with other boys.

I have to report, that corporal punishment was not absent in that school. And even I raised the ire of my young teacher. But she did not carry out the punishment herself. A couple of times I was sent to another teacher in the building and had to report for punishment. He then gave me about three hits with a stick across the upturned hand. This was very painful and the fingers started to swell after it. This silly teacher was in the habit of having one foot on a seat while our hands were above his thigh. One day, more from instinct than by design, I pulled my hand suddenly away and the teacher hit his own thigh very hard. I got an extra smack for that.

Instead of listening to the teacher I often looked out of the window where I could see some hills. I imagined them to be part of the Riesengebirge (Mountain of the Giants). For a city boy this was something new and unexpected. To be able to see so far into this distance was inspiring. Thoughts could fly over the landscape to wherever I wanted them to go.

At the end of the school year – in Summer – I got a good report and was allowed to join the forth grade after the Summer school vacation. All in all the experience of that school was not a bad one and with a steady supply of cake on Mondays I really had it made.

Killer Instinct

16/12/2014

The school bell rang. The school was over for the weekend. The children shouted with delight, throw their books and pencil cases into the brown school-cases where they joined the rest of the school lunches and assorted collectables, that were exchanged during recess. Jack dropped his case and the content spilled all over the floor. Other children did
not stop and stepped on his belongings.

“Stupid Jack,” he heard Charlie Walters scream and stomping on Jack’s sandwich box, squashing it totally. Only Mary Henderson stopped for a second after she broke his HB pencil and said under her breath, ”Sorry. Jack” and then she  was out of the door too.
The teacher, Miss Jones, gathered her things and observed how Jack was coping.
“You had some bad luck., Jack?”
“I’m all right, Miss. I’m out of here in a sec,” Jack said, shut his case and run towards the door nearly running into Miss Jones. She only shook her head.

“I hope,” Jack thought, ”nobody will see me with teacher alone in the classroom. They would think I want to be teacher’s pet.” But nobody saw him. Everyone was gone and the school yard was empty.
Outside the gate Jack slowed down and as he looked across the road he saw Charlie pushing another boy from Year 4 around. Jack did not want to know and headed home, where Mum always had a glass of milk and a cookie waiting for him. He ran along the footpath and then across the road towards a large undeveloped parcel of land, which all the children called ‘The Forest’, because they could play there and pretend to be in the bush, Sherwood Forest, or in Africa as big game hunters. Once he had seen a Green Tree Snake. There were rabbits and even a Goanna had been sighted. And there were Lorikeets‚, Cockatoos and Kookaburras. In September the children had to watch out for diving Magpies. The undergrowth was cinder dry after a long, dry spell. Dry leaves and sticks were thick on the ground. Older people always warned of the danger of bush fires as the council had no money for controlled burning.
Jack picked up a short stick and started to run again, still trying to find a purpose for the stick. He saw a Peewee prepare to land nearby. Before it had time to fold away its wings Jack throw the stick, like a Mexican knife, towards the unsuspecting bird. For the first time in his life he did not miss his target.
“Yes,” Jack called out and raised his fist in triumph. The stick hit the bird on the wing. It tried to lift off again; but couldn’t. It hopped away with the injured wing still partly outstretched. The instinct told the Peewee to hide under some bushes. Jacks eyes were now fixed on the unlucky bird. The white patches in its feathers could easily be spotted.
Jack ran into bushes, dropped his school case and bent down to crawl under some
branches. He noticed that the ground was alive with ants and other creepy crawlies. He was not afraid, not now. Something unknown spurned him on.
“I must catch up with the Peewee and kill it,” he said to himself. Grandpa had told him, that a good hunter never lets a wounded animal get away. It will die a horrible death unless the hunter gives it the death blow. That is what he had to do, he thought. As he came closer, the bird  hopped further but got tangled up with some branches. It slowed down
and Jack was able to get closer. Jack picked up another stick and hit out at the bird. He missed and the frightened
bird jumped up. The stretched out wing was a real nuisance and got caught in the dry undergrowth.  It was exhausted and turned its head towards Jack who had reached it within striking distance. Jack lashed out as hard as he could and caught the bird on its back, breaking it. Jack struck it again, this time near the head.

The Peewee who only minutes ago swooped down to pick up a large bug was now dead and some hungry nestlings were waiting for their mother.

Jack straightened himself up and took a deep breath. He was hot and when he wiped sweat off his forehead he noticed some blood on his hand. The hands and arms had scratches too. He looked at the dead bird, did not know what to do next. Ants were crawling already over the body. Slowly, Jack pushed some dead leaves with his feet over it.
With his handkerchief he tried to stop the bleeding above his brow. In his rush he had not noticed how he got those scratches. Now they started to burn. The sun seemed especially hot now. He was very thirsty.
Jack found his way back where he had left his school case. At first he walked but then he started to run. He wanted to get home and tell his Mum. He raced around the house to the back door and pulled open the screen door, shouting, “Mum, Mum, I did something terrible!”

“Again?” his Mum asked. “What is it this time, Jack?”

“Mum I killed a bird.; a Peewee!”

“How did you do that?”
“I didn’t mean to, Mum. How did I know that I’d hit it with that stick?”
“I told you many times not to linger on the way home. Go and wash your hands.”
Only then did she see the mess he was in. Blood was trickling from his forehead.
“Did you have to fight the poor bird?” she asked but did not wait for an answer.
“Get ready for tea. Dad will be home soon and we’ll have chicken tonight.”
“Chicken?” Jack called out from the bathroom, “I won’t eat any dead bird tonight,
Mum!”

Despite being under the hot shower he started to shiver. He did not eat much that
evening, only the desert. Later, when he was in bed he swore to himself never to go
hunting again. Never, ever.
“It is so stupid to kill an animal,” he thought before he fell asleep for a restless night.
He was fighting off giant  birds in his dreams.

The Beginnings in the Land of Peace

12/12/2014

Having been sent away from Berlin I did not know what to expect. Life outside my home was a big, unknown territory.

My life had consisted more or less of family life. It was not, what some would classify a happy one. When my mother was especially exasperated with me and my antics, she threatened that she would send me to a home for maladjusted children. I wondered whether this was what she had done by sending me so far away -

What I experienced in Friedland happened seventy years ago. Some things I have probably forgotten; some other memories are hazy, while for a great part I have vivid memories.

After my first night I was led, along the road, to the building that housed the Knabenheim Bethesda (Boys Home Bethesda). It was still during the Christmas school break and the children were all at the home and greeted me on the scale of feigned disinterest to genuine curiosity. Half of the boys were Berliners, the others were Silesians. The genuine ones were the Berliners. They welcomed me and wanted to hear news form their home city. They all wanted to know where the bombs had fallen lately.

It turned out we all had to go to a funeral on that very day. Only a few days before, one of the boys had passed away. That was the reason for the vacancy; I realised! When the staff showed me the bed I was to occupy, a howl went up among the boys and they all screamed I had to sleep in the very same bed in which the boy had died. His ghost will get me, that was for sure. At that stage I was not afraid of death, as I believed children would go straight to heaven and that could only be better than life here on Earth.

It wasn’t far to the cemetery, only a few hundred meters and we all walked there. The dead boy’s parents had come for the funeral. What sticks to my mind is, that the mother screamed like a wounded person when the white coffin was lowered into the open earth. Her pain could not be overheard. I was wondering whether my mother would cry for me. I doubted it very much.

Later, during the afternoon, back at the home two big Silesian boys, made their move. When I say, big, then I mean for an eight year old fourteen year old boys are practically grown-ups. Somehow they had become aware that I had fifty Pfennig coins that my mother had given me at the train station. I probably played with the coins in all innocence and wondered how, and what for, I could spend them on.

They were two brothers, working just like a tag team, who pointed out to me, that it was no good showing my wealth for all to see. There are really some bad boys in the home who would not hesitate to steal that money from me. Therefore, they suggested, in all friendship, they could protect me from that fate, if I paid them each a coin. Who wants to be robbed or even beaten when one can have peace for a small price. Their logic was impeccable to my young mind and I gave them each a coin and even thanked them.

This procedure was repeated during the next few days and soon most of my money was gone, without having had the opportunity to buy something “nice”, as my mother had framed it. When the coins became fewer I had the sinking feeling that money doesn’t make people happy at all, because I wasn’t happy. Before I gave up the last coin the boys had to give me a punch into my ribs to reinforce their arguments. I understood and after all the money was gone I had peace of mind. The two brothers never bothered me again.

In the evening of the first day one of the carers came up to me and told me it was time to write a card to my mother and letting her know how I was. I was sitting in front of the card and did not know what to write. I was not happy and did not want to tell my mother how sad and miserable I felt. When the carer noticed my inactivity she came up and started to dictate what I had to write down. She said,” Write, ‘Dear Mutti, I have arrived here and I’m very well!’ “. When I heard this tears welled up, because I never called my mother, Mutti. She would know straight away, the card was a fake. I always called her “Mama”.

The first night I was a bit fearful of the dead boy. The weekend was ahead of us. It was the last weekend of the Christmas Holidays. On Monday school would start.

My First Railway Journey Part II

06/12/2014

When the train started to move, Frau Fischer opened the compartment window and said,

“Have a look whether you can still see your mother. I’m certain she is waving.”

The war ravaged Görlitzer Bahnhof. My train left from the platform on the far right along the wall. Even from this photo one can get an idea of the beautiful architecture.

The war ravaged Görlitzer Bahnhof. My train left from the platform on the far right along the wall. Even from this photo one can get an idea of the beautiful architecture.

I did not see her and it saddened me. We had gone too far. People on the platform and steam from our train blocked my view. Almost without sound the train glided out of the huge station hall. From time to time there was a little jolt when the carriage went with a “clickety, clack” over a set of points. The tall yard lights were standing between the train tracks and shone onto the rails. I was wondering whether the light would stay on during an air raid. We could hear the  whistle of the locomotive as the train slowly picked up speed.

We crossed a canal, passed under a bridge of the Ringbahn  (Circular City Rail)  and got further away from the city. I pressed my nose against the cold window to see as much as possible in the dark. Soon we were travelling beside a suburban electric train (S-Bahn) which our country train, becoming faster and faster,  slowly overtook and left behind because the train had to stop at a local station. I could see sleepy passengers in the suburban train. I felt sad, as I thought, it might be the last time I would see all this. I had no idea what the future was holding for me.

Despite this, I felt peckish from all this new and unique  travel experience and unwrapped a “Stulle” ( a sandwich) which my mother had given me to eat on the trrain.  There was Teewurst  on the sandwich, which was my favourite. I had no idea how long the train trip would take and when I would get something to eat again. Eight-year olds are not known for will power; especially when it comes to tasty food. Still, I did not eat all and saved a bit for later.

The train was heading in a south-easterly direction. The first light of the rising Sun was visible on the horizon. Shortly before Königswusterhausen I saw  the  last  S-Bahn. From now on Berlin lay behind us and we where travelling through the Mark Brandenburg.

Whilst the night gave way to  daylight  the train stopped at Cottbus and Spremberg. Nowhere did the train stop for long. Doors were shut loudly and the station staff called out loud, sharp commands and soon enough the train was on the way again to the next stop. For a more seasoned traveller the journey could have been boring, but not for me. There was so much to be seen. The telegraph wires flew beside the train down from one post and swung  up to the next one.

Frau Fischer did not talk  much to me. She was reading in a book, looking up from time to time. She must have been happy to be away from Berlin for two days, escaping the air raids. Any other time she would have been sitting in her office, waiting for the sound of the early warning system.

“Are you looking forward to your new home and the many friends you will make?” she asked at one stage. I only shook my head, indicating, “No”. I did not feel like getting to know other children. And who knows what kind of food they would be  dishing out there.

It depressed me very much, thinking I could not see my Mum any more. I thought back to a school vacation,  when I stayed with the wife of a war comrade of my  father. She lived in Adlershof, a suburb of Berlin. I stayed with her for a whole week and I enjoyed it tremendously as she spoilt me with beautiful food. Every day  I got stewed fruit as desert. She lived in her own house with a large garden containing many fruit trees. That was heaven for a boy used to live in a courtyard building.

Our apartment on the ground floor right in the centre of the picture. There was no greenery then.

Our apartment was on the ground floor,  in the corner, right in the centre of the picture. There was no greenery then.

In the train it was comfortable warm and I avoided, for a long time,  going to the toilet, because it was outside.  But the moment arrived when this could not be avoided any longer. And after the Frau Fischer showed me the way I went reluctantly. What shock I received when I lifted the cover of the toilet seat and saw straight to the track and the railway sleepers. The sleepers were passing underneath so fast that I was afraid. There was a draft and I felt I could be sucked into  the toilet bowl and straight onto the track. And while peeing, the toilet bowl seemed to shift position.

“Everything all right?” asked my companion when I returned. I could only nick my head. She must have thought I’m too lazy to speak. The next larger station was Görlitz;  the town after which the station in Berlin was named.  The train stopped there  longer than at other places.

I watched the going-ons on the platform. I could could not get enough of it. People were hurrying to their carriages or to the exit. I saw people hugging and greeting each other. Some were seeing others off. I could see a few soldiers. One was on crutches and was assisted by a Red Cross nurse.

Of course, there was a war on and I was happy that from now on my sleep would not be interrupted by the air-raid sirens.

The train continued its journey.  Despite the cold outside it was pretty warm in our compartment. Suddenly we could hear the train whistle and the train hurtled into a tunnel and filling it with its steam and smoke.

For a short period it was was pitch-black.  The hard working piston of the steam engine became much louder and some of the smoke filled even the compartment.

Suddenly we came out of the tunnel and bright light filled our compartment. I  looked for the reason for  this enormous brightness. It was snow! There was snow everywhere. It was a new experience for me. Before the tunnel there was no snow and then after the tunnel this glistening light caused by the snow. I was happy now.

What I had yearned for all winter, was suddenly here. Every morning, full of expectations, I had jumped out of  bed, rushed to the window to see whether snow had fallen during the night. I decided to like Silesia after all, because it seems to have lots of snow in winter.

Immediately after the tunnel the train slowed down and came to a halt. The large signs told me we were in “Hirschberg“.  Today this beautiful town is in Poland and it is called, Jelenia Góra

The modern Jelenia Góra

The modern Jelenia Góra

We had arrived at ” the  mountains of the giants” (Riesengebirge). I was  immediately thinking  of Rübezahl,  the giant of folklore and numerous tales. But I could see no giant.  There was a large coke works beside the station. Not that I knew at the time what it was, but I could see the long battery of the coke oven with its many compartments in which something hot was glowing. A machine drove up and down and stopped at one compartment and hot coke fell into a wagon. Everywhere was steam and clouds of smoke. I was fascinated, as I had never seen anything like it. I had no idea what it was, what I saw. It looked pretty hellish to me.

There was not much time to wonder. After only a couple of minutes our train moved on again, soon speeding through the snow covered landscape. I started to munch on my last sandwich. At times the locomotive had to work harder when we went up some mountains. Then the pistons had to work a bit harder.

It was winter and naturally the days were not very long. Dusk was setting in. Soon it was stark dark outside. When I tried to look outside I saw nothing but the mirror image of our compartment. I even could see Frau Fischer  as she read her book. She must have noted me starring at her in the window.  She got up and shut the curtains over the window.  She said to me in a soft voice, “We’ll get off soon and still have to walk for about an hour before we are there.”

I think she did not want to scare me, but I was alarmed. Never in my life had I been walking for a whole hour. The longest walk I could remember was the way from a suburban railway station to the beach at Wannsee.  I hated that walk because it made me thirsty and my mother never stopped at the beer garden , which was right at half way, for a drink of lemonade. We were lucky that there was a water bubbler at the station. On our way back in late afternoon we rushed to it. Of course, my oldest sister always drank first. If I was able to reach the bubbler first or I came too close to her, she would  give me a well directed kick, with her elbow, into my ribs.

Frau Fischer put her coat on and helped me into mine. The train stopped. She took our luggage from the rack and we walked to the door. It seemed to me we were standing in the middle of nowhere. I could see no station building or any platform. We had to climb down two steps before we reached the snow covered ground. If there was anything, I am sure I did not see it. The loco blew its whistle as if she wanted to say, “Good bye,” and the train disappeared. We were standing in the dark. Then I heard my companion  say, “Well, lets start – and if we don’t hurry up we’ll miss out on supper!”

I was hungry already and for sure would not like to miss out on supper. She knew the way and  had done the same trip with other children. We soon were in the middle of a forest. The snow crunched under our shoes. Slowly, I got used to the dark and was able to see where we were going.  Sometimes my escort gave me a warning. Otherwise she was quiet. I did not dare saying a single syllable to her. We stomped towards our destination, which should have been somewhere beyond the dark, dense wall of trees. Slowly and softly it began to snow.

After, what appeared to me to be a long, long time, I could spot some lights through the forest. We must be getting closer to the town or village.

“This is Friedland,” (today KorfantówI heard her voice in the dark, “It won’t be long now.”

“Lucky me,” I thought, because I was starving, thirsty and tired. Friedland was a small town with single story houses only. A few street lights were shining.  We could see no other people in the streets. I was thinking of a Christmas poem, “Markt und Strassen stehen verlassen…” (in English and German)

We turned a few corners and were suddenly standing in front of a villa. The lady pushed a door bell. An old woman in a long frock opened the door.

“There you are Frau Fischer,” she said, “and the young man from Berlin you brought along. We have been worried about you and how you’ll find your way through the snowed-in forest.” She took my suit case off Frau Fischer and asked us inside.

“It is best, you come straight through to the kitchen,” said the old woman and opened a door that led from the hallway to a huge kitchen. There, a second woman was busy cleaning  a large stove. The first woman turned to me and said, “The other children are all asleep and you will get to see them tomorrow. Tonight, you will sleep in here.” She pointed to a room behind a glass partition and begged me to come to a  table in the kitchen.

“You must be hungry after the long train trip. You will get a Schnitte and then it is straight to bed.”

I had never heard the word “Schnitte” in my life and learnt later that it was the local term for a open sandwich.  I was wondering what it could be and feared if I couldn’t eat it, I would go to bed hungry.  I didn’t need to worry at all. It turned out to be a large slice of bread with liverwurst and a cup of peppermint tea. Just the same as in the hospital years ago.

Frau Fischer wished me  “Good Night!” and left the kitchen. I never saw my train companion again.

When I had finished eating the old woman led me into the small room. Except for a bed there was no furniture there.

Later, when I was in  bed and the lights were switched off in my room, I could see through the glass partition into the well lit kitchen.  The two women were still busy cleaning. I was wondering how my life would continue here. I put my thumb into my mouth to suck on it, as I was used to, before falling  asleep. But as I started to suck the thought came to me, that the time had come to stop this childish habit. I was eight years old and could imagine what the other boys would say to me if they found out I was still sucking my thumb. My mother and my great-aunt tried for a long time to rid me of this habit. The time had come and I found I could get to sleep without it.  Tiredness overcame me quickly and I fell into a deep sleep. Later I dreamt of a train huffing and puffing through a white, winter landscape. The locomotive was  trailing  a long white cloud of steam.

 

 Winter-Landscape-Train-of-Harz-Narrow-Gauge-Railways-Germany

My  First  Railway Journey. Part I

27/11/2014

This is the first instalment to a page I’m creating and it is called

“My Year in “Friedland” (Land of Peace)”

My year in “Friedland” started with my first railway journey in nineteen-forty-four one early  January morning. The good thing about the morning was,  that we had been able to sleep through the night, without being disturbed by the air raid sirens.  The RAF stayed at home that night. They probably did not like loading bombs into their planes during the Winter weather.

The bad news was that I was sent away from Berlin and from my beloved mother. I was freezing and shivering while my mother helped me getting dressed.

“Hurry up and don’t muck around”, she said. ” The train will not wait for you!”

I was still sleepy and had no plans to muck around at all and asked her, while still yawning: “Do I really have to go?”

“What silly question is that? They have  searched long enough  for a place were  they would send you to,” said my Mum as she put a shawl around my neck. “You know quite well that all the children are being sent away. The girls are in East-Prussia and you are going into a home in Silesia.”

 

“But I don’t want to go into a home!” I tried to say it defiantly.

“What you want will not be debated,” said my Mum firmly, ending all discussion about it.  For breakfast I had a slice of bread with “ersatz” honey and a cup of “ersatz” coffee.

 

“Why do we call it ‘ersatz coffee’? What then  is proper coffee?”

“Don’t ask silly questions. It is bean coffee, of course.”

“What is bean coffee?”

“Coffee we could buy during peace time.”

While I was busy chewing my sandwich, I decided that I really liked “ersatz” honey.  Peace time did not need to be explained to me. It was the time before the air planes came and dropped bombs on us. The whole building would be shaking. Next morning, on the way to school, the air would smell of burnt paper and wood. One could find shrapnel from the Flak and incendiary bombs the “Pommies” had dropped.

Then I  heard the voice of my mother:

“Don’t day dream. We have to leave shortly. It is already 6 o’clock!”

Mum had packed my suitcase  the evening before. Everything was ready. We could go. I put on a winter coat and gloves against the biting cold. Mum took the suitcase and soon we were on the street. It was still pitch dark and bitter cold. But what could we expect in January.

There was no snow which I yearned for in winter. It wasn’t far to the subway station “Flughafen” (Airport). Walking down the stairs I loved the smell from the subway tunnel that wafted towards us. A long tunnel, in a quarter circle, led to another staircase. I could see one train departing and quickly disappearing in the tunnel. Mum bought tickets for us which we handed to an employee who in a disgruntled mood punched holes into them. We then walked down the second set of stairs.

The station platform today as seen from the top of the stairs

The station platform today, as seen from the top of the stairs

“You watch where you’re going,” Mum called out as I stumbled a bit. “If you keep this up you might end up in hospital instead of Silesia.”

Wouldn’t that be better,  I thought. Mum would visit me there and bring me presents and sweets. I was once in a hospital with Scarlet Fever and could observe  the passing of trains from my bed all day. In the evening for super I was given sandwiches with liverwurst and sweet peppermint tea. I liked that very much.

“Watch out, the train is coming,” I heard my mother say. A stream of air,  pushed by the train into the station cavern, engulfed everyone at the station. Like a monster, with two enormous oval eyes,  the yellow train swept out of the tunnel and came suddenly  to a full stop. We opened the two doors and and entered the carriage. The station attendant called out with a mighty voice: “Stand back!”. Hearing this, nobody would dare rushing the train. The door shut  immediately and the train accelerated to a high speed  while disappearing  into the dark tunnel.

We had found two seats and sat down side by side. I looked around and noticed that nobody looked up to take any notice of us. Nobody spoke, it must have been too early for that. Even though they had been able to sleep through the night without an air raid they seemed nevertheless  happy to continue their night rest here on the underground train.

I was thinking of yesterday, when one of my godmothers came to help with the necessary formalities with the authorities. First they went to the police to report my change of address.

The white building used to be the police station in 1944

The white building used to be the police station in 1944

It had to be done as the police always wanted to know were people were residing. Then we had to go to the office where the ration cards were issued. My mother would not be allowed to receive the ration cards when I was not living with her in Berlin any more. Everywhere people  made remarks that I would now go on a long journey. Perhaps they would have liked  to go away themselves from the grey and dark city.

“Well,  you will be able to sleep through the nights,” they all said with a sigh. In the end we went to the Jugendamt (office for Children’s  Affairs) to get to know Frau Fischer, the lady who would accompany me on my long train trip.

“We will get along fine with, Peter, won’t we?”  she asked me. I did not dare saying anything and only nodded. To me she  looked like an old dragon or a teacher. Which was very much the same to me anyway. And who would take the fight up to a dragon. Only Siegfried (a legendary hero) would dare.

At   Hallesches Tor station we had to change trains. We climbed many stairs to get from the underground to the elevated train.

From the underground...

From the underground…

...to the elevated train station

…to the elevated train station

Mum walked slowly, but steady, so she would not get out of breath. I was always afraid she would die when she beat me with the carpet beater. She would only stop when she completely run out of breath and sunk on to the bed almost unconscious. Usually it took a long time before she could breathe  normally again.

“You will kill me one say,” Mum said then. I did not want that at all and felt for ever guilty. What could I do not to enrage her? I wanted to be good at all times, but something happened that made Mum angry. Soon we would have to part and her life would be much easier.

The elevated train arrived and we could continue our journey. I liked the Hochbahn  (elevated train) because from above I could observe  the traffic, the buildings  and the people below. With a bit of luck I was able to see into the windows of some apartments to see how other people were living.  This interested me a lot. I thought perhaps I could see whether other children were beaten too.

Once I saw a man hitting the table with a fist while a woman was standing beside him. But on that morning it was too early. All windows were still covered for the black out.

The train arrived at Prinzenstraße Station.  I knew the street because  the previous summer I had wagged  school one day to see the Circus Sarrasani which was in town. I had heard so much about it.

In front of the circus tent I saw an elephant for the first time in my life.  He was tethered  with a heavy chain to the ground and was moving his head and  trunk from side to side.  On the way back I stopped at the Hertie department store to look at the latest war books in the book department.

The old pre-war Hertie store

The old pre-war Hertie store

I had started to read “proper” books only during the last year. By “proper”, I mean books that were written for adults and not particularly for children. We children were encouraged by the school  to collect “Altpapier” – second hand books and old news papers –  for recycling. We were told this way we would help the war effort. But I sorted the books out and kept the ones I wanted to read myself. Yes I know, this meant I was a book thief too.

Kottbusser Tor. “Next station we have to get off,” I heard my mother say. It was still dark. But soon, by seven o’clock, children would have to walk to school. No school for me on that day! Suddenly our train arrived at the station Görlitzer Bahnhof.  From there it was only a short walk to the large railway station.

Elevated train station Görlitzer Bahnhof today.

Elevated train station Görlitzer Bahnhof today.

Görlitzer Bahnhof during the 1920ties

Görlitzer Bahnhof during the 1920ties as seen from the elevated train

The damaged station building after the war

The damaged station building after the war

There it was like a mighty castle.  Cars and taxis arrived bringing people who wanted to catch one of the trains. Others came with trams. There was a lot of activity in front of the station building. It was bitter cold.

Mum carried my small suitcase. I only carried my school satchel on my back. When we came closer to the pillars in front of the station building I could recognise my beloved uncle Alexander. That  made me really happy when I realised that he must have got up early just to see me  to say “Good bye”. I would not have expected such a gesture from anyone.

“Hi, Peter, are you looking forward to the long train trip?” And, before I could say anything, he added, “You will get a lot to see. Perhaps even mountains.” Mum and uncle shook hands.

“When will the train depart,” he wanted to know.

“Five past seven,” answered Mum. Suddenly I could see Frau Fischer from the Office for Children’s  Affairs, the one I had met the previous day. I did not like her as she tried  to be overly  nice to me. She walked up to us and said: “There he is, our little man. We better get onto our train!” After a short exchange of words the lady took my suit case off Mum and took my hand and said: “Lets go then. We don’t want the train to leave without us. Do we?”

Oh, yes, I would have loved that very much. I did not like her artificial friendliness.

I could not remember later whether Mum gave me a kiss or not, because she surprised me by giving me ten fifty Pfennig pieces, saying: “Don’t lose them. You might want to buy something with it.”

And with that I and the lady hurried along the train. There were several platforms in which trains were waiting to depart. The steam engines hissed and snorted like impatient horses who could not wait any longer  to leave the claustrophobic city  behind for the the vastness of the countryside.

Mum and my uncle did not come to the train. I assumed they did not want to spend money on platform tickets. The lady from  Children’s Affairs looked at the carriage numbers. The clock in the middle of the platform showed it was exactly 7 o’clock. Still the Sun had not risen. Finally we reached our carriage with our reserved compartment. The lady helped me to get into the carriage. We walked along a long narrow corridor till we reached our compartment. Our carriage was a 3rd class carriage and we had to sit on a wooden bench. Nobody else sat in the compartment and all through the long journey nobody joined us either.

It was comfortable warm in the compartment and I took off my gloves and coat. My companion stowed my things on to the luggage rack above the seat. Shortly after that we could hear an announcement over the loudspeaker. I did not understand anything. Some people hurried past our window, doors were shut and the train, after a slight jolt, started, almost imperceptibly, to move out of the huge hall into a cold winter’s  morning.


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