“Sweet” Memories

 During the last days of World War II in Berlin my mother kept a diary and the following is an excerpt of her entry for Wednesday 25 April 1945:

“Early in the morning out off bed at once. There will be an extra ration of Schnaps: 1/2 a bottle of Korn ( Vodka) plus 1 kg of sugar per head. The bombardment is becoming shorter and louder. A sign that the enemy is coming closer. Everyone is getting more restless……..”

Restless we might have been, but not enough not to get the sugar, “Go and get the sugar”, said my Mum and gave me instructions how to find the shop. I did not question her. I was used to go on errands and wait in queues for hours. The day before the front line was only 2 km away on this day it could be in the next street. But for sugar there is no tomorrow. The sugar was not available at a local shop but I had to walk about 1.5 km over a very long railway bridge (Monumenten Brücke). My Mum had no idea about the strategic value of such a bridge – and neither had I.

Spring in 1945 was especially beautiful as if nature wanted to compensate for the folly of men. Maybe nature wanted to tell us, “STOP all this nonsense and enjoy ME!” The weather was mild and flowers and blossoms everywhere. I had to walk through the Victoria Park (named in honour of Vicky, our former Empress and daughter of Queen Victoria of England). I was not in a hurry and looked around in the park, as I liked the trees and everything green.

Coming out of the park and back onto the streets I noticed it was very quiet and hardly any person to be seen. Everyone was probably queuing somewhere or sitting in their shelter reciting “Our Father…..”.

After about 250 meters I approached the bridge which is very long, spanning a very wide railway corridor with many tracks leading south, from two railway stations, out of the city. I was always proud of the bridges across the railway as my father had told me, his father, my grandfather, had built them all. Dad liked to exaggerate in those matters. He meant, granddad took part in building them. Perhaps Dad was showing his pride.

So, I walked over the bridge, no soul was to be seen. I know now that in those times all bridges were wired for demolition in case the enemy wanted to use them. But then, I was oblivious of that fact. When I reached the middle I looked to the north were the Anhalter Bahnhof was. I heard machine gun fire and saw puffs of smoke where artillery shells hit buildings. All the while grenades were whistling over my head as they headed for the inner city. So, that was where the enemy was and the battle raged.

Coming off the bridge I had maybe another 100 to 150 meters to walk. I arrived at the grocery store without any trouble. Not many people were in there and no queue outside. Soon the lady behind the counter asked me my wishes….. Than it happened ! A whistling sound and a mighty explosion followed. The whole apartment building was shaking in its foundations. We thought the whole building was going to collapse. Everything was instantly covered by a big white cloud of dust. The woman behind the counter came out and grabbed me and we rushed into the air raid shelter in case more shells would hit the building. Momentarily there was pandemonium. People expected the worst.

But that was it. The dust settled, the people quietened down and we left the shelter. There was debris everywhere. Everything inside the apartment building and outside on the street was covered in dust. We went back into the shop and the kind lady handed me the sugar with the words,” Here, you earned it!”

I left the shop and went on my way home. Once again I went over the bridge. But this time I noticed high in the sky a Russian fighter plane. It just circled around in the blue sky. He had no worries as the German Luftwaffe did not exist any more. But he probably had the order to keep an eye on the bridge, in case one of those fanatical Hitler Youth attempted to blow it up. That was his mission and by jolly, I fitted the bill and he was coming down on me.

The plane dipped down and I could hear the howling sound as it headed towards me. I started to run as I did not have the other option, to fight. I was running as fast as I could towards the end of the bridge where there were buildings providing cover.

I think, I was lucky that the plane came from a very great height as he must have watched a second bridge (Langenscheidtbrücke) a further 500 meters to the West – made famous later in Wim Wender’s film “Wings of Desire” – plus he did not want to be in the firing line of the artillery shells that were hurdling towards the city centre.

I ran and I ran, clutching my sugar. Coming towards the end of the bridge I spotted a woman heading for the same passageway to a warehouse. All the while that howling noise was increasing as the plane came closer and closer. The woman and I just reached the building, with its passageway for shelter, when the pilot started firing his machine gun and the bullets hit the cobble stones. He pulled his plane up again or he would have crashed into the pavement himself.

When the plane was gone we continued our own ways, and I don’t think anything was said by both of us. I was soon home and handed over the sugar to my Mum. I told my story but no one made a fuss and soon it was forgotten – it was just one of those things. There was a war on, what did I expect? My mother finished her day’s entry ….

“….Around lunchtime a piece of shrapnel went into the pharmacy at Manfred-von-Richthofen Strasse and killed the pharmacist out right We knew him quite well.”

..without mentioning my little adventure.

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Dream Home in the Colonies

The nights are long as I lay awake and wait for the next transport to Port Arthur on Van Diemen’s Land: the ass end of the world. Because of this, I’m in solitary confinement. That can happen when one takes some spuds from respectable people in Sydney Town without asking first. Hunger is as much a motivator here as in the old country.

I’m in luck tonight because it is the time of the month when my jailers are not coming near me. “You stink, you slut,” they say when they bring me my gruel. Otherwise they come  to my cell to take what does not belong to them. Still, I can’t sleep in peace. Rats and other vermin make sure of that. They have to eat too.

I can think of a better life than the one I’m having. I should have taken up the offer of a squatter out Parramatta way. He promised me a small plot where I could have erected a small cottage, keep some fowls and have a vegie patch. For sure, it was not from the bottom of his heart that he made the offer. He is a married man. But we know, what men are all alike. At least he would give me something in return for my favours. Life is like that. One has to make do with what one has and nothing is for free.

I would want my cottage near the river so it is not too far to fetch the daily water and it must have a stove for cooking and heating. I’m sick of those bone chilling nights in the prison. And when I open my window in the morning I will see the warming sun and hear the birds singing in the trees. I will have a tub, and once in a while, I will fill it up with hot water from the stove, and have a bath. What luxury! I would feel like a French Queen. Oh, yes, I will have a cat to keep those pesty rats away and I will have a good night’s rest.

“Stop that racket out there, you drunken bastards!”