‘Your father has always been a selfish person. He doesn’t send any money for you but I bet he sits down for breakfast with a soft boiled egg in front of him. He knows how to look after himself and doesn’t care whether his children have anything to eat.’
The voice of my mother still rings in my ears. When years later I talked to my father about his so called selfishness, he justified himself with a lot of words and by producing the Post Office receipts which proved that he had constantly sent money for us children. True, he never could send much, however Mum’s claim that he didn’t send any money at all was totally wrong, according to Dad. He made sure that I looked at all the relevant slips. It seemed very important to him that I should believe him.
I felt sorry for Dad and I felt sorry for Mum. I used to feel that I could not take sides for either of them: I was totally torn between them. My loyalty belonged to both in equal proportions, that means, I could never decide on who’s side I should be. Mum of course accused me constantly of siding with my father and rejecting her. She probably did not feel supported by me. She just could not stand it when I tried to defend Dad.
Dad was the opposite. No matter how much he complained about Mum and let it be known how frustated he was about Mum’s behaviour, he was never angry with me when I tried to defend Mum. He always listened patiently to what I had to say. On the contrary, he liked it when I pointed out how much Mum meant to me and the boys.
‘You are right, Uta,’ he would say, ‘it is very important for you and the boys that you have a good relationship with your Mum. After all she is your Mum. I certainly would not like you rejecting her. In her own way she loves all three of you. You should never forget this.’ Then he would continue to complain about it that Mum was not willing to leave Berlin and live with him and us children as one family. He also had some gripes about Tante Ilse. According to him it was she who had wrecked their marriage.
I loved this aunt. For me it was very hard to listen to Dad’s accusations about her. Dad claimed in a very angry voice that Ilse had lived a ‘Lotter-Leben’ (bad life) when she was younger. He said that she had now a very good marriage. He was of the opinion that marrying HL was the best thing that could have happened to her. Dad regarded HL as being of very good character. I could only agree. In my experience, this Uncle spoke of Dad always in a respectful way, that is, I never heard him say anything bad about Dad. Come to think of it, neither did Tante Ilse. The way I saw it, only Mum would talk about Dad in a very nasty kind of way. It shows that to her mind he must have been a great disappointment to her. Even as a child I tried to see both sides. This was mind boggling for me. A lot of the issues were about what normally only grown-ups would be concerned about. On the other hand – even though I had no way of being able to tell what for instance the sexual difficulties may have been – I none the less felt those vibes which told me, my parents had those very strong love/hate feelings towards each other. I also sensed Mum’s absolute disgust about the way Dad’s life had turned out to be. Yes, I can imagine what immense disappointment this was for her!
Some time after Dad had managed to set himself up in a secure position again he talked to me about how it would be best for all of us if he remarried Mum. I told him that I could not imagine this happening. And sure enough, when he asked Mum to live with him again, she refused.
In 1959 Peter and I migrated to Australia with our two baby-girls. The following year Dad married Gertrud. Peter and I were under the impression that the new wife was right for Dad in every way, I am sure, Dad had a very good marriage with G. They had only a short time to
gether: At age sixty-two Dad died of prostate cancer. After having stayed in hospital for a while Dad pleaded with G to take him home. She did this and nursed him for the last six months of his life. It so happened, that G received Dad’s pension after he died. This upset my Mum and my brothers immensely! They thought, G had no right to receive all the benefits. They told me that the first wife should get more consideration for having had a much longer marriage as well as children. I felt awful when my family talked badly about G. I know that she had always been very welcoming, kind and supportive towards my brothers.
G is ninety-two now. Over the distance I still have some occasional contact with her. I am never going to forget, how, during the last years of his life, she gave Dad so much of herself. When I received her letter six months before he died, telling me about the seriousness of Dad’s illness, I cried and cried.
PS on the 14th of October 2017:
My step-mother, Gertrud Spickermann, died recently aged 98. Her 99th birthday would have been on the 23rd of November 2017. Not so long ago she skyped with Peter and me. She was always keen to keep in touch with family.
The village school in Lichtenow had only one teacher. That was Herr Grosskreuz. His wife, Frau Grosskreuz, came to the school on Wednesday afternoons to teach the girls needlework. Under her guidance I learned to knit socks with five needles. I also learned how to mend socks. Mending socks was called ‘stopfen’. I was taught, how to fill in a hole with a beautiful woven pattern. I probably could still do this kind of work today, only these days one hardly ever finds any holes in socks: It shows how the quality of socks changed over the years!
Every day, including Saturdays, school finished at lunch-time. The only afternoon session for girls was Wednesdays. I did not mind having to go back to school after lunch on that day. I often arrived early in Lichtenow for the afternoon class, stopping at the teacher’s house on the way, where I was always welcomed. I loved to play with daughters Christa and Gerlinde. Christa was the same age as I and had skipped year three together with me. Gerlinde was two years younger. There was another three year old daughter, who was called ‘Puppi’. Puppi and baby-son Hartmut were very sweet. I enjoyed very much visiting the teachers’ family.
The Grosskreuz-family lived in a modern one family home, which stood on a large block of land away from the village. In the village itself were ancient, small farmhouses with huge sloping straw-roofs. People said, the father of Frau Grosskreuz, who was the mayor in a neighbouring small town, had seen to it that the Grosskreuz family could live in style in a modern home.
Why was Herr Grosskreuz not called up to join the army? It seemed to me that he was probably past forty. And besides, he had a slightly crooked leg. It was good, that we were able to have a man-teacher in Lichtenow, so that he could look after all the boys and girls, aged from six to fourteen, which meant that eight different school-years were given lessons in the one class-room!
Later on when I attended school in Herzfelde, I found out that the whole school was run by women. Presumably all male teachers had been called up to fight in the war, the same as had been the case in my school in Berlin.
Aunty Else often invited me to sit with her in her cosy living-room, which had extremely comfortable seats upholstered in an expensive velvety red material. Aunty kept an eye on my attempts at knitting and darning of socks. This is how I received a great deal of practise and encouragement. (When I was still very young, Aunty always praised me for doing little pieces of cross-stitch embroidering for her birthday. I felt very proud then that I could give her something I had made.)
When Aunty Elsa started doing office work for Werner M, she sometimes let me help with checking additions of huge columns of numbers. From then on I always found additions easy to do. Aunty must have thought that I was good at checking additions because she asked me again and again to do it with her. I willingly obliged. I loved to do things together with her for I felt very peaceful in her presence.
Mum and Grandma (Omi) and later on also Uncle Peter pointed out that Elsa was a bit of a scatter brain. Once Uncle Peter remarked, that he did not know, how his wife ever was able to get a driver’s license. To me Aunty Elsa seemed rather calm as compared to my nervous and highly strung mother. Mum’s nervousness constantly upset me, even though I usually tried not to show it. As far as I know, I always tried very hard, not to lose control of myself —
Mum had a large roll of hair across her forehead and two more rolls parallel behind it on top of her head. She made me wear one huge roll of hair right on top of my head, which would constantly slip unto my forehead and annoyed me a great deal. One of the first verses, when I started learning English, was:
‘There was a little girl,
who had a little curl,
right in the middle of her forehead.
When it was good,
she was very, very good.
But when it was bad,
she was horrid.’
I imagined, I was very much like this girl!
On my tenth birthday I was finally allowed to discard the nasty roll. It made me feel really grown- up. Best of all was, that I never again had to wear this terrible roll!
Edith had a ‘Poesy-Album’. I thought it was a great idea to get family and friends to write a little verse in such a book and possibly add a photo as well. Mrs T found out that I would very much like to have a ‘Poesy-Album’. She said: ‘I believe I still have a spare album amongst my things in Berlin. I’ll ask my mother to look for it. When she finds it, I’ll give it to you.’
Eventually I was given Mrs T’s album. I regarded it as a very special gift. After sixty-five years it is still in my possession. Looking through it, I find that my father wrote something in it for me on the 16th of April 1944. This shows me that he must have been with us on leave at the time. What he wrote, makes a lot of sense. In his writing he points out that in the long run true luck comes only to the efficient person. Therefore he urges me, to be diligent and ambitious. However I should at all times hang unto my peace of mind!
I look at that page which he seems to have written the way it came into his head. One word is crossed out, another word misses several letters. I wonder, whether he made mistakes because it is a first draft or whether he was upset about something when he wrote it . . . .
I like the passport-photo that he stuck next to his writing. This photo was probably taken before he joined the army, well before he turned forty. Oh, my father was still very healthy and good looking then!
Since Aunty Elsa was a single person, she was supposed to have a regular job. Everyone who was capable to work, had to work for the war effort! That meant Elsa had to prove that she had a proper job. Naturally Werner M came to the rescue again. ‘You can work for me in the office,’ he said. And office work she did, however not in the office, but at home. She did not even have to collect the work!
One of the workers, who lived in our complex, was given the task of handing over the sheets of paper to Mrs. Elsa S. on his way home from work. When the paper-work was finished by Aunty Elsa, he took the sheets of paper back to the office on the way to his work-place. How did he transport the papers? He simply fastened the bundles unto the back of his bike. This worker was Herr F. He was a smith and worked for Werner M. – – A smith was always needed in a huge estate with lots of horses and farm equipment. Even though Herr F was a qualified trades-man, he and his family lived extremely simple lives; indeed, he did not seem to live any better than an unqualified worker.
Mr. and Mrs. F, had two sons; one was ten, the other one fourteen. The older one was quite talented. He built complicated mechanical things out of odd bits and pieces. I admired him very much. The younger son told Edith and me stories about the ‘Lamp Angel’ (Lampen-Engel) who was supposed to have kerosine-lamps in a straight line out in the country away from any built-up areas to distract bombers, who might accidentally have come to our countryside.
A few times I went with Edith and Bob in search of those lamps. Yet we never could find any of them. Unfortunately the neighbour’s son, who had told us the story, was not willing to come along with us to show us where the lamps were. To this day, I really do not know, whether there ever had been any lamps!
Both sons of the neighbours went to Lichtenow village primary school, the same school that Edith and I went to. The school had eight school-years. After year eight you had to leave and start work or learn a trade. Students who wanted to go to high-school, were supposed to enroll at high-school after finishing year four of primary school. By September 1944 I should have started high-school. However I had no chance to travel to high-school from where we lived at the time. Mum said: ‘Since you skipped year three, it does not matter, if you repeat year four. Next year the war will be over anyway and then we do not have to live here anymore and you can be enrolled in high-school. But I want you to go to a different village-school now and start again with year four. I made enquiries in Herzfelde. The primary school in Herzfelde is much larger then the one in Lichtenow. So this is why I’ve enrolled you in Herzfelde.’
I went to Herzfelde Primary for three months only. By the end of January 1945 we had moved to Leipzig to stay with Grandma. All schooling had stopped by then. We felt more and more, that it was very close to the end of the war.
During the warmer months of 1944 we did a lot of athletics at the Lichtenow school. There was running, high-jump and long-jump. There was also an athletics’ carnival in which only students who were ten years or older were allowed to participate. I was not quite ten yet, but they let me join anyway. I was good at running for my age. In all the jumps I was just average.
I had plenty of opportunity to practise high-jump at home. Mt. T and his brother, who was at the Ausbau for a visit, set up two poles with a line to jump over. The line could be set higher or lower. It was set very low for Edith and for Bob. The T brothers were both quite good sportsmen and could still jump astonishingly high, even though they were both well over forty.
I often thought that the afternoons at the Ausbau were boring. What was there to do for me? Not much. When the weather was fine, I liked to go for walks, always wishing, that the landscape were not as dreary. I longed for a variety of trees and the view of a lake or a river.
During the colder season we had sometimes real terrible winds. On the way to the outside toilets we had to turn around the corner of the house to walk to the shedlike building at the back. You had to be quite brave to turn the corner, when that gusty wind was blowing, blowing, blowing. Winds like that were unknown to us in the city. Well, the Ausbau was in open country area after all.
We had a warm lunch when I came home from school at about one. And after that in the afternoon there was nothing to do! Maybe a bit of home-work here and there. But this certainly did not take all afternoon. When we had to stay in the playroom because of bad weather, I usually read a book. I loved reading. I was glad I could borrow books from Mrs. T. She had dozens of books for girls, which she had kept from her own childhood and which eight year old Edith was not able to read yet.
Naturally my two younger brothers and Edith and I sometimes played together as well as talking to each other. Still I missed all my friends from Berlin. In Berlin I was always surrounded by many different children. We all lived in the same street; it was easy to see each other on a daily basis.
One Thursday during the summer school-holidays Mum came home from Berlin with excellent news. ‘Guess what?’ she said ‘I saw Rosie today! She is going to stay in Berlin for a few weeks and I asked her, would she like to come and stay with you at the Ausbau for one week. I could pick her up next Thursday and take her back to Berlin the following Thursday.’
I cried with delight: ‘Oh, Mum, that’s excellent! I love to have Rosie here for a visit!’
The visit took place as Mum had planned. Rosie and I went for lots of walks . We had so much to talk about that we hardly noticed, how dreary the landscape looked. Once we went into the direction where the lamps of the ‘Lampen-Engel’ were supposed to be. However we never saw any lamps.
I felt a bit jealous, that Rosie was allowed to stay in Berlin for a little while during school-holidays. I could never talk Mum into letting me stay in Berlin, not even for a day. Mum always said, that it was too dangerous since there could be bomb raids day-time or night-time. I was not to be put into danger. And that was it.
During that summer of 1944 I learned to swim. We had summer holidays. On a hot day Bob and I went on our bikes some distance past the Lichtenow school to an artificial lake, which people called ‘Bruch’. It was possible to swim in it. Dozens of people were stretched out on some grass near the lake or frolicked in the water. I went in up to where the water reached my chest. Then I tried to lie on my tummy reaching out my hands to touch the ground. After a while, I noticed my hands had left the ground and I was swimming in the water! What a thrill that was! Being nearly ten I was finally able to swim. What an achievement! Bob had stayed obediently in shallow water. I could not wait to go to him to share the great news with him.
I remember I had to wear an old two-piece swimsuit of my mother’s which she had sewn together for me. Later on in the year Mum found in a shop in Berlin a proper swimming costume for me which she was able to buy with some coupons. I was given that swimsuit for Christmas. It looked lovely. There were some little orange pictures of girls with bath-caps all over the costume.
The swimming costume was a perfect fit and I was fantasising how I would wear it the following summer. Unfortunately I was never able to wear it since it got lost during the upheaval of moving to Leipzig. —
Towards the end of January 1945, when we were about to leave the Ausbau, Mum, Aunty Elsa and Mrs. T as well as Katja and Maria were busy all night killing all our rabbits and chooks and preserving the whole lot in glasses. We ended up taking quite a few of those glasses to Leipzig, where miraculously they survived the total distruction of our house during a bomb raid in the pantry next to a very strong wall. Not one glass was shattered! I myself though was not able to at any of the rabbit- or chicken-meat, since from early childhood on I’ve never been able to eat this kind of meat. …
Before we left the Ausbau, all the furniture in the house was pushed together as much as possible. Some beds had been dismantled already. But we children were meant to get some sleep in spite of all the commotion. I was put with Edith in one room. The two of us were much too excited to sleep. We kept ourselves awake for hours singing all the songs we knew. Edith taught me a few new songs which I had not known until then. Yet I still know them now. One song was a song from Tirol about some young men who go looking over the fence to see a girl, the one who looks after the cows.
Ja wenn wir schaun, schaun, schaun
übern Zaun, Zaun, Zaun,
in das schöne Land Tirol –
Ja dann freuet sich die Sennerin,
ja wenn wir schaun, schaun, schaun übern Zaun.
Ja wenn wir gucken, gucken, gucken
durch die Lucken, Lucken, Lucken,
in das schöne Land Tirol –
Ja dann freuet sich die Sennerin,
ja wenn wir gucken, gucken, durch die Lucken, Lucken, Lucken …
Instead of having every Wednesday afternoon off, Maria had every second Wednesday the whole day off. That made it possible for her to go on the long journey to Berlin to see the butcher to whom she was engaged to. When she came back, she always carried a large packet of smallgoods. There was liverwurst and salami and Berliner fleischswurst as well as frankfurts and ham. That Maria was willing to share all this with us, certainly shows that she must have regarded us very much as her family.
Yet as far as I remember, she alsways had her meals in the kitchen the same as our previous maids. I guess this was just the custom at the time. I don’t think any of the maids would have felt like complaining about that. Yet Maria once said to me, she would like to be allowed to go to Berlin every Wednesday. She pointed out to me, that Mum went to Berlin every Thursday. Therefore on Thursdays Maria had to look after us children all by herself. ‘Why cannot your Mum do the same for me every Wednesday? Certainly this is not too much to ask?’
I talked to Mum about it. Her answer was: ‘Now look, a maid is entitled to only one afternoon off per week. I am very generous that I let her stay away for the whole day every second Wednesday!’ And that was it. Nothing would have made her change her mind.
Mum enjoyed to go to Berlin once a week. She stayed in our city apartment, which we were still renting, even though there was hardly any furniture left in it. Eventually Mum had to take in several ‘Untermieter’. That is some rooms had to be sublet to people who had lost their homes during some bomb raids. Towards the end of 1944 Mum was only left with one room to herself. None the less, she liked the excitement of being in Berlin. I can’t recall Aunty Elsa ever going to Berlin. She did not have an apartment to go to any more, since the top floor where her apartment had been, had been totally destroyed by fire-bombs.
At age thirteen my best friends were Cora and Lilo. We had formed a ‘circle’ and met each other several times a week. None of us had a boy-friend. That does not mean that we didn’t talk about what it would be like to experience romance. We felt talking about it was exciting.
One afternoon the three of us had our picture taken at a photographer’s. I still have this picture. Looking at this picture brings back memories how much at ease I felt then. Yet this Threesome lasted for a short time only. Cora had already lost her Dad. All of a sudden her Mum died too. How upsetting for her! She moved away to live with her aunts in West-Germany. The departure happened so quickly that there wasn’t time to say good-buy. I felt shocked about it. Yet I sensed that there had been a need for the sudden departure.
The blockade of West- Berlin followed and I was air-lifted to West-Germany to live with Dad and Aunty Lies and her family. When I returned to Berlin I had no idea how Lilo was doing because we had completely lost touch. She had left school in the meantime to take up a job. Quite by chance I once noticed her walking along the street arm in arm with a boy-friend. I cannot recall what she wore, but she looked very grown up to me. I never thought of approaching her.
I continued to go to the same girls’ high-school. Many girls in my class were talking about their boy-friends. I did not have a boy-friend and did not have a clue, how on earth I could ever get to know some-one from the opposite sex. I stuck to day-dreaming. In my mind I fantazised about romantic meetings: I loved making up conversations with an interesting young man!
I had hardly any money to spend on clothes or make-up. I felt very inferior to other girls, who all seemed to be better off.
I liked to keep my hair long and just a little bit permed. I was astonished and gratified when a girl in my class said she liked my hair-style.