Memory Triggers

Pictures as Memory Triggers

 Two brothers, both students at the University of Leipzig (Germany), went out together to see a movie. Two young girls, who wore identical dresses, in a giggly mood followed the students into the cinema and sat down behind them. One of the students was my father Alexander, twenty-one at the time, and one of the girls was my mother Charlotte.

Naturally, the two young students did get to know the two girls. Soon the four of them went on outings together, and before long the two young men even started visiting the girls’ home, where they were well received by the girls’ widowed mother.


Five years later Charlotte and Alexander were married. In the meantime Charlotte’s sister Ilse had been engaged to Alexander’s brother Edmund for a few months. Ilse broke the engagement off and later  married well- to -do  Adolf S.

After World War II my parents separated. My father lived in West-Germany. My two brothers and I stayed with my mother in West-Berlin. At the beginning of 1951 I found out from my father, that some months previously my parents did get a divorce. My mother had never bothered to tell me this.

A few years later, when I went to visit my father, he told me that my mother had the marriage annulled by the pope, which would mean, that we three children had been born as bastards. My father was totally outraged about this.

Apparently my mother had the marriage annulled, so that she could marry another man, who happened to be Catholic. But when that other man wanted my mother to move with him to another city, she decided she didn’t want to marry him after all. So my mother stayed in Berlin, where she had lived since 1931 and where she died in 1994.

I keep looking at this photo, which has triggered all these memories. On the photo I see: Ilse and Charlotte; Edmund and Alexander. The girls are dressed in fashionable cotton-shifts. Both dresses had been sewn by fourteen year old Charlotte, who was very good at the sewing machine, whereas Ilse shunned machine sewing. Her contribution was doing the hems, which she could do by hand. Charlotte would sit at her sewing machine all day to finish the two identical dresses, so that the sisters could wear them for going out on that same day.

 My mother had another sister called Martha and a brother called Kurt. Cousin Sigrid is the daughter of Martha. Cousins Renata and Wolfgang are twins and the children of Kurt. Ilse never had any children.  Cousin Sigrid once hinted that she had had a botched abortion and that was why she couldn’t have any children. I would say her second husband didn’t mind this at all.

 Her second husband was Helmut L., but she called him Peter. Tante Ilse and ‘Onkel Peter’ were very much in love. They married on July 20th, 1944. It was a good marriage right to the end. Ilse died of breast cancer in 1978. Onkel Peter tried to stay in touch with us. But I think my mother rejected him. Somehow she had a grudge against him. All my life I found that my  mother had a grudge against various people, which did puzzle me no end. Why, why, this negativity all the time? I never wanted to step into her shoes! She would call me ‘Opppositions-Geist’. I guess, that is what I was. I found myself opposing her in a lot of things.

Just before my mother died, I was able to spend a few weeks with her in Berlin. She became very child-like and very likable in her old age. I just did get along fine with her towards the end. Her funeral became very problematic though and upset me no end. But that is another story.

Here is the little picture that triggered my memory. The other pictures show Alexander and Edmund as students in Leipzig.  I guess all these pictures are from 1925.

29 thoughts on “Memory Triggers

    1. Hi John!

      You may perhaps be interested to hear some more about my memory triggers. Sometimes I am a bit amazed myself that I can still remember certain things that were talked about in the family when I was little, wheras other more recent conversations I might forget unless I write some of it down.

      When I looked at the picture of the two young girls and the two young men I remembered what family members had to say about it. For instance that my mum (Charlotte) did take to sewing on the sewing machine at an early age and that Tante Ilse, mum’s sister, was not able to do any sewing except for doing the hems on the dresses by hand.

      I can also remember that there was talk amongst family members about how Charlotte and Ilse followed the two guys and were sitting themselves behind them in the cinema. I find it remarkable, that Charlotte was only 14 at the time whereas the guys were 21 and 23. Ilse, who was 18, presumably liked her younger sister’s company whenever she went out somewhere.

      It is also a fact that Olga, the mother of Charlotte and Ilse, welcomed the two students with open arms. I always had a very good relationship with Grandma Olga. I felt sad when after the war Grandma become quite hostile towards my father.

      1. Hi Auntyuta!

        It is interesting the things we remember and how they pop in to our memories. I am very much enjoying your writing and the stories of your life. I also want to thank you for sharing your husband’s blog address. I suspected it was his and was initially disappointed that I was unable to connect with it. You are both fascinating people and impressive writers. Thank you for sharing your experiences!
        Between the two of you I have spent much more time reading than writing…
        Have a wonderful day!


  1. I’m glad that you think it’s worth compiling into a hard copy book! For the time being though I’m just happy to be able to write down whatever comes to mind. Thank you for being so encouraging, dear Kate. It is much appreciated!

  2. How lovely all four of them are looking in that picture! Are those your parents,on the left?

    It’s interesting to note that none of us want to step into our parent’s shoes. When it is our turn, we all want to do better. But do we succeed, in our children’s eyes?

  3. Yes, my parents are on the left in the picture.

    Wanting to do better than our parents? I assume you mean in regard to relationships. This is a vexed question. I’ve been married for 55 years. Since our children are all grown up and some of our grand-children are also quite grown up already, I could perhaps ask whether they are doing better than we did. The way I see it, I can only say that the lives of our children and grandchildren are very different from our life; and my married life is very different from the life my parents and grandparents had. There seem to be many changes all over the generations. Some changes may be good, some not so good. In the end we all make our own choices, don’t we?

    1. Sorry, I wasn’t clear in my earlier comment, Auntyuta. I meant, we all want to do better than our parents at ‘parenting’. The lingering question is, ‘Do we succeed, in our children’s eyes?’

      I guess I asked it on your blog, as you have seen the many sides possible in this equation; being a daughter, mother, grandmother & great-grandmother!

      1. I just read your reply about ‘parenting’ once more. ‘Do we succed in our children’s eyes?’ This is a very good question. I can see why you asked it in connection with my blog.

        Maybe I should blog about it a bit more and express some more of my feelings in regard to parenting and also in regard to marriage relationships. I don’t say my parents should not have separated and divorced because they were clearly not suited to each other. But what I regret immensely is that they became so hostile towards each other. I suffered very much because of this during my teenage years.

        Do our children think we did a good job with parenting? To be honest, I don’t know for sure. – – – I know that my parents both loved me and I loved both of them even though they were very different in character and outlook on life. The same goes for our children, I am sure all of them love both my husband and me. As parents we certainly love all our children, even though they are all quite different from us.

      2. I feel bad to hear about your suffering as a child, Auntyuta.

        All parents love their children. And that love is unparalleled to anything else, I am sure you will agree. But parenting is a different ballgame altogether, as you have pointed out from your experience. Even though both your parents loved you dearly, you had to endure suffering. This is what I was attempting to address and continue to seek.

  4. Hi Uta. I love the old photos. I can see how they would trigger memories. You’re lucky to have them. We have very few pictures of our parents when they were young.

    I think you’re smart to write out your memories and knowledge of the past. I hope your children will keep a hard copy of them. There’s almost at least one “historian” in the family who will treasure them. It’s important to know where we came from. That’s my opinion.

  5. ‘It’s important to know where we come from.’ I think so too. I started writing about my childhood memories hoping future generations would be interested in reading them. So I can only hope what I’ve written down so far won’t get lost. Some of what I’m blogging I wrote already a few years ago. It’s stored in OpenOffice and some of it I printed out on paper. But it’s not sorted in a particular order. Kate Kresse says I should keep a hard copy book of my memories.

    I can’t say for sure yet who the “historian” in our family is going to be. Our son as well as one of our daughters have several children, this means we have eight grandchildren in all. Plenty of chance that there might be some historians amongst the grandchildren and later on amongst the great-grandchildren!

    I know that some in my family sometimes have a look at my blogs. Occasionally I do get some feedback per email from them or they mention my blogs when I see them.

    I always love to get comments from friendly bloggers. It’s immensely stimulating. And reading other posts is a great learning experience especially for someone who’s first language isn’t English. I want to read some of your blogs again soon, dear Pat. Thank you very much for visiting and commenting!

  6. Was your mother an unhappy person when she was younger. Hence the oppositional tendencies? Glad to see that in her waning years, she was easier to get along with. That was a good experience for her and for you.

    1. I think you’re spot on there, Mary-Ann. I often had this feeling that my mother was very unhappy with the way her life had turned out to be. She started with a council job at age fifty and diligently worked till she was sixty-five. She could have retired at sixty, but then her pension would have been accordingly less because she started working late in life. Once she had a permanent job doing administrative work she saved all year for her twice annually holidays:Two weeks in summer and another two weeks in winter. She lived all year for her holiday breaks. She travelled all over the world during her holidays.
      Towards the end of her life she couldn’t recognise people anymore and had very little short-term memory but she could still remember things she had done during her holidays!

      1. Although we would like to see our loved ones happy, it is beyond our capabilities to make it happen. To believe otherwise is to delude ourselves. Happiness starts from within and it can only happen when the person truly wants it.

      2. Wise words from Mary-Ann here, ‘Happiness starts from within and it can only happen when the person truly wants it.’

        But then it also makes me think, who doesn’t want happiness?

  7. Hi Mary-Ann! You express it so well. I feel there’s truth in what you’re saying. However I think I was quite often somewhat bewildered during my lifetime. When I felt bewildered I tended to wish for the gift of being able to write about it in form of a novel. The wish was there, yet I never did anything about it. Now I’m approaching eighty and I still haven’t started writing my ‘novel’! – I read the other day that you can never truly know another person. This is why I think novel-writing ought to be a good medium. As the author you can pretend to know your characters inside out. If you write in the third person the author is omnipotent, isn’t he?

    1. Hi Eliz, thank you very much for visiting. You say you find the story remarkable. I am very interested what your thoughts about it are. Maybe you can tell in what way the story strikes you as being remarkable? I’d appreciate very much your input in this. Sorry to be so inquisitive!
      And thanks for finding the story remarkable. Praise like this is great encouragement to keep on writing. Thank you.

  8. I just read again the comments to this blog.
    I am fascinated by Idealist Thinker’s question:
    ‘ . . . who doesnt want happiness?’

    And Mary-Ann says:
    ‘Happiness starts from within and it can only happen
    when the person truly wants it.’

    So the question, who doesn’t want happiness, is very thought provoking. Initially one would think: For sure, everyone wants to be happy. But is this really true? I mean there are always a few things you mighn’t feel happy about, but this doesn’t mean you have to be totally unhappy about everything in your life, does it?

    It seems to me some people don’t look for the things they can feel happy about but constantly stress only the things that make them unhappy forgetting that there is plenty they could feel happy about.

    So maybe this is what Mary-Ann points to, that just wanting to be happy can be a start to happiness. And maybe this applies even to situations where not everything is wonderfully rosy!

  9. An absolutely precious read, precious insight into what you’ve lived. This was wonderful, especially the photos – just wonderful to read. Well written, too.

  10. Reblogged this on auntyuta and commented:

    It’s only three and a half months since I blogged this blog about pictures as Memory Triggers. Since it created a great response at the time, I want to try and reblog it as a Memory Trigger.

  11. I am impressed with how vivid the story was, like it happened only yesterday. Sorry to hear about the annulled marriage of your parents. It must had been hard. I wouldn’t know what to do is my parents separate. I’m glad though that you get to spend time with your mom on her last days. It only shows how much you love her. She left this Earth at peace and happy knowing you stood by her side. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I felt some sadness at one point but this is life in reality for any of us. Take care m friend.

    1. Thank you very much for your heartfelt comment, dear I T. It is true marriage break-ups are often very upsetting for the children. But some marriages just cannot last. That’s life.
      As it turned out, we were unable to stay for mum’s funeral. She was to be cremated. The cremation had to be delayed for one month because at the time they had a huge backlog in Berlin. We couldn’t stay for that long. We had to go back to Australia. Our youngest daughter was sixteen at the time. She was traveling with us.

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