In Berlin on a Hot Day

On our trip to Berlin in June last year,  we had the opportunity to vote for the federal election at the Australian Embassy in the centre of Berlin.

In Berlin, you can find statues of the Berlin emblem, the Berlin Bear, everywhere in all different disguises. We even found one inside the embassy.

 

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The Berlin Bear greets little Aussie Lucas at the Australian embassy.

But there was a kangaroo too. It looked a bit on the “dry” side in a Berlin court yard.

 

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“Skippy” the Bush-Kangaroo hiding in a backyard in Berlin on a diplomatic mission

In the next picture, you see indeed some Aussies marking the ballot papers. The children thought we went there for a scribble session and Lucas wanted to have a pencil and a piece of paper too.  This is election Australian style. The voting papers are not marked in secret nor are there any cabins where you can hide what you are doing.

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It was a very hot day in Berlin, actually 33°C. So we felt quite at home and what better idea than heading for the water. We did a river cruise.

 

 

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One of the modern buildings replacing the infamous Wall.

Remnants of the Wall can be seen nearby.

 

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Parts of the old Wall has been transformed into an outdoor gallery.

Not far away up-river is the beautiful Oberbaum Bridge. You can see another Berlin anomaly where the underground train is actually an elevated train.

 

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A castle-like structure over which the, here elevated, yellow underground train traverses.

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At the Technical Museum, the elevated train crosses the Landwehrkanal meeting a plane that used to be part of the air-bridge during the “Blockade” of 1948 / 49

 

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The office of the Chancellery as seen from the River Spree. From here Frau Merkel runs the country.

The river cruise took us right through the centre of Berlin.

 

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This is the Central Railway Station. Trains are pulling in from all directions of the compass. The East/West trains are above the ground and the North / South trains are under ground.

 

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This is the Parliament building the centre of the German democracy.

 

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The “Ganymed” Restaurant and the theatre of the world famous “Berlin Ensemble” to the right of it.

 

The “Ganymed” was once owned by a member of my wife’s family. Because of the closeness to the theatre, it attracted members of the cast and crews after the show.

 

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The ‘Berlin Cathedral at the Pleasure Garden.

At the end of the 3-hour cruise, we were all exhausted and when we arrived at the train station we found this sign:

 

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Train has been cancelled

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because in Berlin the trains run every few minutes and every station is well stocked with food and drinks of all description. As we were parched we were able to buy some bottled water.

 

It was a memorable day

 

 

 

 

Memories of the Past and towards 2017

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

These are the words of the refrain from the beautiful song “Bookends” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. A song about two old friends sitting on a park bench – reminiscing.

 

 

If you have more time on your hand you can be listening to the full version here.

Last month,  Uta and I had our 60th Wedding anniversary. It was a moment to reflect on our past together.

Just before we got married this photo was taken of us two on the balcony of my mother’s apartment in Berlin. In the meantime, this building has been torn down and a more modern one has taken its place.

img_20170106_0001 In the picture, my future wife looks rather sceptical at me.  Or is it whimsical? We were innocent at the time. We believed in a better world and eleven years after WW 2 we had all reasons to believe in a bright future. Out of that belief grew our confidence to start a family.

In case you are wondering about the plate on the wall, it has been painted by Anselm  Feuerbach and is of his favourite model, Nanna, in a classical pose. This plate is still in the family and belongs to my son now.

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From then to now it was a time of great changes in all our lives. We moved to Australia and raised a family. Of our four children, our eldest daughter passed away nearly five years ago.

2016 was an especially bad year all round. The election of Donald Trump to be the new President of the US makes for interesting times. Interesting, because he seems to be unpredictable. He loves conflict and will have a fight on his hand, among others, with the American secret services. The establishment believes the advice of the services are sacrosanct without considering that they might have their own agenda.

Terrorism is an old game but since 9/11 it has become global, as so many things have since the end of the Cold War. We shake in our shoes as our governments think of more useless schemes to stop this menace. But all those measurements make the would-be terrorists more cranky.

On a personal level, my health is precarious. At least this is what my doctors tell me. Next week I will know more. At my age, anything can crop up in my body. When I was born my life expectancy was just sixty-four years. Fifteen years later I am still here to tell my stories.

A few years ago, I talked about this with one of my neighbours. We called it bonus time and laughed about it. This was on a Friday and the very next Monday his bonus time came to a sudden end. So, you never know.

In case you wonder what happened to the couple in the first photo. We changed into an old couple day by day without noticing it. And now, sixty years later, we look like this.

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We have come a long way and I’m happy that last year we were able to visit Berlin, our hometown, once more. If we are lucky, we will be able to see Berlin again in two years time. Our health allowing, of course.

I nearly forgot. For the fifth time, we became great-grandparents. So the family is growing and we hope the politicians are not mucking up the great-grandchildren’s future.

For 2017 I wish all my followers all the best. Most of all stay healthy because without good health life can be a drag.

Back to the Future

“Back to the Future”, everyone knows that title from the film trilogy  by Robert Zemeckis with Micheal J. Fox in the starring role. It is with a rather quiet satisfaction that I can say, I thought of the title already in 1977  before anybody thought of the film.

 

The title came to my mind for a diary I was going to write about my first trip back  from Australia to West-Berlin.

Germany, and with it West-Berlin, had experienced an economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) and I wanted to see those changes.

 

 

I bought a big, fat copy book. Its title is still  the only written evidence  of that trip. Actually, it is no evidence at all, just a thought bubble.

 

Now, thirty-eight years later, it came to my mind again, as my wife and I, plus a large number of my family are preparing for another trip to that beloved city of my personal history.

 

Berlin has undergone another tremendous change from the time the Wall came down. That event changed the whole world by accelerating globalisation.

 

In the meantime, the youth of the world has discovered Berlin and they are  moving in great numbers  to the city at the river Spree. Berlin is a modern city but not a mega-city per se. It has still a human scale  to it.  It is a far cry from “Metropolis” the famous film by Fritz Lang. It is a much more laid-back, creative city now than was envisaged during the Twenties.

 

For me, the journey back will be my tenth one. I always have to catch up  with what has happened. Only in this way can I keep up with its latest development. So, it is  really a trip to the future as I have not experienced the developing city. I’m playing catch-up with the immediate past. Every time I go there a new future is awaiting me.

 

Last time, four years ago, were there,  we had a good time. This time, we go there with our three surviving children and some grand- and great-grandchildren.

 

Will they notice the unique Berlin sidewalks? Will they see the bullet holes in the masonry of many buildings? Will they fall over the “Stolpersteine (stepping stones)” let into footpaths to remember the Jewish citizens who have been taken to the extermination camps during the black days of Nazi regime?

 

Berlin, like no other city, has shaped the 20th century and we are still living in the aftermath of it. I’m a child of the 20th century and all that happened to that city is ingrained into me.  What I know now  made we wary of politicians. When I see or hear  one,  I smell a rat. The next disaster is just around the corner because of them.

 

When I’m there, I’m fully there and Australia  seems to be a memory only.  This time, it will be summer in all its glory when we get there. Berlin is a green city and most of the streets are tree-lined and the city is surrounded by forests, rivers, and lakes in a landscape shaped by the receding Ice Age twelve thousand years ago.  There will be plenty of opportunities for long walks, outings, river cruises, and to refresh memories.

 

Some of those memories are three-quarters of a century old. Like we, as children, being banned from the main air raid shelter for being too noisy. Grown-ups, who were afraid of the falling bombs,  could not stand the singing and playing of innocent children. Who would have thought then of the year 2016? That would have been the  far-off future, yet  I’m living in that future now.

 

People are being made to feel afraid again; this time by politicians who would like to stay in power. If I could speak to the people of the nineteen-forties, I would tell them of the future and how good everything would be. But for us, the people living now, we have new fears. Fears of others and fears of a future of unimaginable heat and rising sea levels. Our present fears  were not even dreamt of  then.

 

Then we were told, by the politicians of the day, to be afraid of the Bolsheviks and the hordes from the East. Now we are being told to be afraid of asylum seekers, and refugee who come by boats. We are being told that they are illiterate, take our jobs, and they live on welfare. We are being told that the ravages of climate change  are just a load of crap. Climate change does not fit into the electoral cycle.

 

What would  the people, living then,  have thought of a description of the second decade of the 21st century?  Then we lived at the edge of death from the bombs and starvation. Death was a constant companion. Today we ignore the real problems and indulge in imaginary ones.

 

What does the future hold for me? The short-term future looks good, as I’m preparing for my trip to Berlin.  The long-term future is promising me a cool grave and a peaceful eternity. For mankind, as a whole, I can’t predict anything. But, I would like to hear from a time traveller how the future is panning out in seventy-five years from now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Bridge of Spies” – Glienicke Bridge

Today, 26 years ago ( on the morning of the 10 November, Australian time) the Berlin Wall was opened. Next day, Berlin Time, the old border between West-Berlin and the GDR (East-Germany) was opened at the border to between Berlin and Potsdam.

Sign on Glienike Bridge, today

Sign on Glienike Bridge, today

The sign reads, “Here was Germany and Europe until the 10th of November 1989 at 1800 hour divided”.

So it was astonishingly appropriate that we, my wife Uta and I, saw a film today that had that bridge as a dramatic backdrop. It was another story, from the time of the Cold War, that was told in the film “Bridge of Spies“.  Here is a trailer of the film.

As a former resident of Berlin, I’m not unfamiliar with the bridge. I visited her many times and the bridge was once before the background for a movie. “Under the Bridges” was the last German film made before the end of the war but only shown after the end of the war.

This particular construction of the Glienicke Bridge was only completed in 1907.

In 1986, three years before it re-opening we were visiting her.

View across the River Havel towards Potsdam

View across the River Havel towards Potsdam (1986)

The bridger with boadersign and guard's hut 1986

The bridge with border sign and guard’s hut (1986)

This really was the border of the Western world. Whereever you were in West-Berlin, you always faced the East.

This really was the border of the Western world. Wherever you were in West-Berlin, you always faced the East. (1986)

Today, you should take a walk across the bridge and let the full impact grab you.  In the middle is a line marking the former border.

This masrks the old East / West borderline.

This marks the old East / West borderline.

This the approach to bridge from the Potsdam end of the border. Today the bridge is the border beweteen the City of Berlin and the Federal State of Brandenburg.

This is the approach to the bridge from the Potsdam end of the border. Today the bridge is the border between the City of Berlin and the Federal State of Brandenburg.

And if you have made it to this spot, you are right in front of the beautiful cafe “Garage Du Pont”.

You can sit and ponder the history of the bridge while you indulge yourself.

 Garage Du Pont

Garage Du Pont

Here you can enjoy a coffee, an apple tart or a brandy  or all three of them.

Bon appetite!

Bon appetite!

The film is not only based on a true event, but it is also a stark portrayal of the American justice system. Justice is not always been done but depends often on people  like James B. Donovan  100 out of 100 for Tom Hanks too. The scenes at the border, in August 1961 when the wall went up, were just frightening to watch.

A few times I had to fight back tears as I saw how Berlin suffered.

A Wedding Picture from the Year 1911

Aunt Mary's Wedding in 1911

Aunty Mary’s Wedding in 1911

Today is the anniversary of my Great-aunt Marie‘s birthday and while rummaging through old family photographs I came to an old wedding picture from 1911. It is the family on my maternal side and you can spot my future mother, as an almost eleven-year-old (one month short of her birthday).  She is the tall girl in the white dress at the right.

There are thirty-one people in the picture and I have known thirteen of them.  My children and grandchildren would share DNA with twenty-one of them. But such is life, that most of my descendants would have no idea of them.

The bride I knew as “Tante Mariechen”.  Aunty Mary was extremely kind and a war widow. Her husband died of war wounds in July 1918, four months before the war ended. She had a rocking chair in her apartment in “Kopischstrasse”, Berlin. It is one of the shortest streets in Berlin and at the corner stands a landmark of Kreuzberg, the old water tower.

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My Great-Aunt Marie (not the bride) whose birthday it is today, is standing in the back row, second from the left. She was born in 1873 and lived through an age of innovations and two world wars, a revolution and civil war, as well as the hyper-inflation. On her 80th birthday, there was an uprising in East-Germany and fittingly, her birthday became a national holiday.

I will never forget her!

Thursday 26. April 1945

I do not know when and how my mother found the time to write these notes. During the day she was out organising anything useful and was trying to prolong our lives another day. In the evening we were in the air raid shelter and had only candlelight. Perhaps she was writing while I slept the sleep of the just.  This is what she wrote on the 26. April:

“Day 6 Thursday 26. April 1945

Today we are moving, even by daylight, with our provisions into the air-raid-shelter. A frightened resident of the building spreads the instruction that all alcoholic beverages should be consumed, poured out or otherwise destroyed so they would not fall into the hands of the enemy.

Well, it seems the situation is slowly becoming serious. But – what is the result of this instruction? A brainless group of people which senselessly and without understanding pour a good drop of alcohol into the sand. Some are gathering up the courage and take the bottles to their flats and hide them in safe places. The connoisseurs pour half a bottle down their throat. For sure, this time without much appetite or pleasure.

I, too, am rushing back to the flat and hide here and there three small bottles of liqueur. A fourth  I’m taking back with me to the shelter, as one should have at least something for the odd occasion where a drop of spirit is asked for.

Midday, the news filters through that the Russians are already on the tarmac of the Airport Berlin-Tempelhof ( we lived only 300 m from the airport main entrance.berlioz). But, one would be able to get some food items from a warehouse, for instance,  potatoes, bread, semolina, flour etc. Now, we women are on the move! We are not shirking the shellfire, we are only thinking of getting the provisions. Three times I’m going on this dangerous mission.

The especially good food has been taken already. Still, I’m able to gather approx. 20 kg potatoes, 1 1/2 kg sauerkraut, 1 1/2 kg jam and 1 kg barley.  The barley, I must confess, I took from a woman’s pram, in which she had many kilos of it. In this case, I called it self-preservation. In the end, I dared myself into the big airport building to look for bread. But the stores were all cleared out by looters. It was high time to return home.

The machine gun bullets were flying all around us. I felt like a front line soldier. I had to take cover constantly. When it was quiet for a moment I jumped up and ran across the road or to the next doorway. When there was a whistling sound I bend down and ran for dear life around the next corner. When a shell exploded people threw themselves on the ground or pressed themselves tightly against some walls.

This was the greatest fear I ever had to cope with. But I reached our own shelter unscathed. I was so hot and excited that the sweat poured down my cheeks. My face looked blue for 2 hours.”

 

There is even some humour and irony in her notes. The situation is becoming “serious” she writes. Of course, it is serious if you have to pour schnapps down the drain. What she did was “self-preservation”, but the other people were looters. I remember a conversation my mother had with an old man, after one of her missions.  He informed us, that an army under the command of General Wenck was on its way to relieve Berlin and to chase the Russians out of the city. To my horror, I heard myself saying, and I was just one month short of being   10 years old, ‘The only army that is coming is the Red Army”. Indeed, they were coming closer by the minute.

In the same conversation, the old man said, that the Allies, after their victory, would occupy Germany for fifty years. This time span seemed enormous at the time, but it turned out to be pretty accurate. Germany was only reunited and an independent country again in October 1990.

But the Russians were not in our street yet and anything could happen.

Tuesday, 24.April 1945

My dear mother wrote:

Day 4 Tuesday 24. April 1945

“We are up since 6 o’clock. During the night there was an air raid for one hour ! Russian fighter aircraft are over Berlin. Our borough is unscathed.

Russian plane over Berlin. The destroyed building can easily be spotted. Russian plane over Berlin. The destroyed buildings can easily be spotted.

From 6.30 till 11.30 we were waiting to get 1/2 kg of meat, also we received 30 gr coffee and one loaf of bread.

Just now, we hear that the Anhalter Railway Station and the Görlitzer Railway Stations are in the hand of the enemy (approx. 2 and 4 km away, but in different directions. berlioz). One can hear intensified artillery fire. and easily distinguish our own heavy Flak. From time to time we can hear targets being hit nearby and observe some aerial combats. And during queuing and shopping we have to take cover from time to time. One is always amazed how people adjust to the prevailing condition and their thought processes quickly find a way to prolong their lives.

The fourth Day passed without any special events. (Shades of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ berlioz)

It has come to this.  The war was coming closer and closer, the bombardment of the city has intensified and my Mum says, “…the day passed without any special events .” 

While we were queuing for the meat we witnessed some aerial combat. We were waiting at Hefters in Boelkestrasse (what irony, the street is named after a famous air combatant in WW I) close to our Parish church. We heard the sound of the two planes approaching. A Russian fighter plane was chasing a ME109. The German plane tried to shake the Russian by flying around the church which is a round building, actually.

The Church on the Field of Tempelhof The Church on the Field of Tempelhof

Quickly they were around and disappeared behind the trees and buildings. But we could hear the onboard cannons of the Russian plane and shortly after a loud explosion as the ME 109 crashed into and exploded a few streets away at the nearby hospital.  Only this year, while researching another story about the hospital – where I was born – I learned that four people died in that incident. On that day, my Mum came home from a warehouse, obviously looting it, with a large soup tureen full of jam.

 Aerial combat, people taking cover, the enemy fighting with the remnants of the German Army in house to house combat and my Mum says no “special events”.

Even during a war, we can become blasé. Or is this a defence mechanism?

Tempelhof Airport

Today I found an article on the internet about the former Tempelhof Airport.

The former airfield

The former airfield

Tempelhof Airport  used to be the mother of all airports. It has not been abandoned by the people. They love the big open space and they have beaten the developers and make full use of the mother of all open, urban spaces in the world.

The Wright brothers used the field for a longest flight ever at the time.

I grew up there, only meters away. My Dad took us kids on an inspection tour of the building site in 1939.

During the war, it was protected by the Allied Airforces. They did not bomb it.

During the Airlift in 1948/49.I watched the incoming planes and counted them as they came in for the landing, only  90 seconds apart.

Read the article it is full of information. I will be in Berlin next year and so will be members of my family and I will take them out there and guide them, like a mother duck, and show them around. It is a holy ground for me as my mother went with her parents and brothers for walks there, long before anybody thought of aeroplanes. The “Tempelhofer Feld” is actually my birthplace.

An Airbus 380 over Neutempelhof during a flyover over the former Tempelhof Airport.

An Airbus 380, paying homage, over Neutempelhof during a flyover over the former Tempelhof Airport. The building with the green tower is the hospital, St Joseph’s,  where I was born.

After the war friends and I were chased by Red Army soldiers as they found us playing in a former Luftwaffe plane(Ju 88). Later when it opened again for civilian airlines, during the fifties, I flew a few times out from there to West-Germany.

It is good that the people can use the field as a common  park for all. It came full circle.

Coffee Break

Tom stepped out of the taxi and wiped the sweat of his forehead. He checked his watch and found that he had time to spare before his next appointment. What better idea then to use the time to have a cool refreshment and to take in some of scenery of the great city he had started to enjoy.

He looked around and saw at the next corner a garden restaurant under the shade of a giant chestnut tree. That will do, he thought. It was early afternoon and there were plenty of empty tables. He sat down and it did not take long for a waiter to attend him.

Tom had taken a liking to a particular local brew, which was colourful, to say the least, and was refreshing. So he ordered the wheat beer with a nip of raspberry syrup. The obliging waiter took the order without fuss and disappeared inside to get the beer.

Tom looked around, taking everything in: well dressed women on the wide side walk and the not too heavy traffic on the road. He could not miss the big double decker buses that where so attractive. While in London he had seen the ‘Big Reds’, here they were a bright yellow.

Berlin bus

As his eyes followed such a bus he caught sight of a middle aged women, clad in a floral dress and wearing a large colourful hat, coming into the restaurant and taking a seat nearby. She had a self assured attitude. She placed a shopping bag on another chair, tugged, here and there, at her dress and started to look around for a waiter.

Just then the waiter came out the door with Tom’s ‘Weisse’, placed the giant glass in front of him and turned to attend to the woman who was the only other customer outside.

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Tom thought he was pretty happy as his lips dipped into the reddish foam of his beer. The waiter had even given him a straw in a wrapper. Just in case. Because of the closeness to the other table, Tom could not help overhearing that the woman ordered a pot of coffee.

‘Nothing else, thank you,’ she said to the waiter and continued to peruse a fashion magazine.

Tom just looked around taking in all he was able to see. The beer he drunk was refreshing and he wondered whether it would sell in Australia. Probably not and he could hear his friends dismissing it as a beer for sheilas.. But here, in Berlin, he had seen people of all ages and both sexes enjoying it, especially in the heat of the summer. While in his thoughts he became aware that the waiter brought out a tray with the pot of coffee and a small creamer with cream as was customary. The woman took her nose to the creamer and with a slight wrinkle put it down. She called out to the waiter and with a raised voice pronounced, ‘the cream is OFF!’

“Sorry, Madam, it can’t be. The cream came straight out of the fridge and the bottle has been opened only a short while ago.’

‘Please take the cream back,’ demanded the woman,’and bring me fresh cream, PLEASE.’

The waiter shrugged his shoulders, took the creamer and disappeared inside.

‘This is interesting’, Tom thought and took another sip of his beautiful refreshment.

It did not take long and the waiter came back and placed a creamer on the woman’s table. ‘I hope it is to your liking, Madam’ he said and waited at the table for the woman’s reaction. She smelled it and then poured some into her coffee. She took a sip and said, ‘This is much better, thank you.’

What now happened, Tom had not seen anywhere he had been. This was sheer spectacle.

The waiter, shuffling around could not contain himself any longer, ‘Now I got you, this is the same cream as before. I just carried it back out again. You see how silly you are, there was nothing wrong with the cream in the first place. Enjoy!’

Tom looked at the woman, it seemed her face was a shade more red than it was before.’You are a shameless character. I want to see the head waiter,’ she demanded.

‘There is no head waiter here, I’m the only one,’ the waiter answered with a smirk.

Tom finished his drink, paid the waiter and got up, still wondering whether the waiter was fair dinkum or not.

My First Railway Journey Part II

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