Our Landlord in 1943/1945

Our toilets were “plumps-closets” some distance away from the house. Water for cooking and washing had to be fetched from a pump in the backyard. Fetching water from the pump kept both maids, Maria and Katja, very busy indeed. For lights we had kerosene-lamps, for heating there were coal-fired stoves which could also be used for cooking. Everything was very basic.

Gradually some changes were being made. The first big change was that our landlord had electricity laid on. All the workers who lived with their families in the other part of the building, received the benefit of electricity at the same time. This certainly was a very welcome improvement for them.

The ‘Ausbau’ was built close to a dirt-track which meandered through wide open barley-, oat- and potato-fields. On the track it was a good half hour to walk to the next village. Bike-riding however made it a bit quicker.

Werner Mann, the owner of all those fields that went on for miles and miles, was an acquaintance of Tante Ilse. People said he was a millionaire. Apart from these Ländereien he owned extensive brick-works (Ziegeleien). He was our landlord and he liked to spoil us. With no strings attached! Tante Ilse only had to voice a wish and Werner Mann immediately did whatever he could to fulfill her wish. He spoiled all of us by constantly getting produce delivered to us such as: Potatoes, cabbage (for making sauerkraut), wonderful treacle made of sweet-beets, and coal for our stoves.

Even I, as a nine year old, could see that sixty year old Werner Mann was hopelessly in love with Ilse. I also was quite aware, that she always kept him at a distance. He was happy to just be invited for ”Kaffee und Kuchen” on weekends and to spend some time with all of us. He always came to visit on his bike. On his daily inspection tours of the workers in the fields he also went around on his bike. He owned coaches with horses, but hardly ever used these to go anywhere.

Occasionally we were invited to his place (which people called ‘Schloss’), Then he sent a coach with a coachman to pick us up. Once in winter when there was plenty of snow, Werner Mann sent a ‘Pferde-Schlitten’ (horse-drawn sledge). On this sledge we were wrapped up in blankets under a clear night-sky with the moon and lots of stars shining on us. It was unforgettable and one of the rare highlights in our otherwise pretty dreary country-life existence.

The place, where Werner Mann lived, did not look like a castle at all, even though people called it ‘Schloss’. It was not even a mansion but a rather large, but fairly plain house. There was a huge, fenced in veggie garden next to the house. I have seen the veggie garden only once. However I was very impressed by it, because it seemed to be very large.

When we moved to the ‘Ausbau’, Ilse had already been divorced from her first husband. It was obvious that Werner Mann would have liked to marry Ilse. However, it never came to that. Tante Ilse married Onkel Peter aka Helmut Lorenz on July 20th, 1944.


Our part of the building had a huge storage room on the top floor. A lot of our furniture was stored there. I loved to go exploring among the furniture where Mum used to store a lot of goodies. Especially in the weeks before Christmas Mum used to store there a lot of stuff. It was very exciting for me to find out what new things had been stored in that big room. I remember seeing huge chunks of nougat (a yummy hazelnut-paste) as well as heart-shaped marzipan-pieces. There was a pot with sweetened thick milk. Sometimes I dipped my finger into it to lick this wonderful sweet stuff! I also liked to eat a few of the stored raisins and prunes! There were smells of ginger bread and apples: It made me feel that Christmas was something to be looking forward to.

Where on earth did Mum get all these things from? It was war-time after all! We were in the midst of war. – However I knew very well where all this stuff came from. The parents of Mrs.T. had a distributing business. It was called ‘Backbedarf en Gros’. That meant they delivered goods to bakeries and cake-shops. Even in the midst of war deliveries of the above mentioned goods still took place! Of course there were shortages, but basically most things were still available. Mr. Fritz T. was in that business with his parents-in-law. This is why he stayed in Berlin during the week. But on weekends he left Berlin to stay with his family in the Ausbau. He usually was able to bring along some delicious Backbedarf. And apparently he was always willing to let my mum Charlotte have some of the goodies too. Mr.T., being over forty, was not required to join the German army.

Mr. Fritz T. and Mrs. Edith T., as well as Tante Ilse and Mum were all good friends. Every Saturday night they came together for some card games. Eight year old daughter Eva and I were allowed to stay up late on those nights. For hours we were watching the adults playing cards. At the same time we entertained ourselves with doodling on bits of paper. At around ten o’clock some cake and hot chocolate as well as coffee were served. But the maids did not have to do the serving, They were already in their rooms at this hour. The cake was usually freshly baked, very fluffy yeast cake topped with delicious butter-crumbs and filled with a thick custard. Hmm, yummy!

During the summer of 1944 Mr.T. and Mum liked to go on their bikes to a neighbouring nursery where they were able to trade sweets for fresh produce. Eva and I were often allowed to go along with them on our bikes. The sweets were traded for strawberries or cherries or gooseberries as well as peaches and apricots, and later on in the year for pears and apples. I remember the Boskop apples were still in season in late autumn. The owner of the nursery was a well-off looking middle-aged woman who was very fond of sweets and loved to trade her produce. At one time we found out that she thought Mr.T. and Mum were a couple and we girls were sisters. Laughing joyfully, Mum and Mr.T. explained, that this was not so.

Only once, as far as I remember, were we shown into the lady’s home. Mr.T. made complimentary remarks about the interior of the house. He said it showed off the owner’s good taste. I liked the lady’s house a real lot too. Our families used to have well furnished apartments in Berlin. But this modern looking villa in the midst of the nursery really was something else. My feelings were I would very much like to live in a place like that! However we had to be happy with our accommodation in the Ausbau. To us children it was always pointed out, that we should be happy that we did not have to live in Berlin where all these bomb raids occured. I’m pretty sure that by myself I felt that I’d rather live in Berlin, bomb-raids or not. I think to children bomb-raids usually didn’t seem as scary as to the adults. At the time we children had had no experience yet how absolutely horrible these bomb-raids could become.

In 1990, soon after the Fall of the Wall, we went for a visit to Germany and had a look at this area east of Berlin where we used to be hidden away. We discovered that the nursery as well as the lady’s house had completely vanished. There was nothing left of the ‘Ausbau’ either!

In 1943, after we had lived at he ‘Ausbau’ for a couple of months only, Mrs. T. delivered a healthy daughter in a regional hospital. The day after the baby was born, it may perhaps have been a Saturday or Sunday, Mr. T. and Eva went for the forty-five minute bike-ride to the Hospital. I was thrilled that I was allowed to go with them! The baby was rather tiny. I think this is why she was soon called Krümel (tiny crumb). Her given name was Ruth. Eva had a pet-name too. She was often called Honkepong.

As soon as Mrs.T. came home from hospital, there was a nurse waiting for her to take charge of the baby. Mr.T. said something like: “Katja is a very nice girl, but I would not trust her with our new born baby. I am glad that Nurse is here to help my wife to look after our Krümel.”

Nurse used for herself the bedroom next to our playroom. Sometimes she sat with us children in the playroom. Since Christmas was approaching, she taught us how to make some Christmas decorations. I was very impressed, because I was nine years old and nobody had ever taught me anything like it! Nurse also made sure, we learned our Christmas poems. We had to be prepared to recite them to Santa on Christmas Eve!

Maria, our Polish maid, had been with us since before my little brother was born. He regarded Maria as his ‘Dah-dah’, that is he always called her ‘Dah-dah’. By the end of January 1945 we had to flee from the ‘Ausbau’ as the Russians were approaching fast. We went to Berlin first and then by train to Leipzig to stay at Grandma Olga’s place. Maria remained in Berlin with her Polish fiancee, who was a butcher.

When we parted from Maria, little brother Peter had just turned three. Yet he must have missed her for quite a while since she had always looked after him and I am sure, he loved her very much and she loved him. Mum always trusted Maria, who was in every way caring and efficient at the same time. Mum was always impressed how quickly Maria worked. Any dirty dishes were washed immediately. She was indeed capable of doing all the housework. Mum was happy to let her do just about everything. An exception was the baking of a large cake on Saturdays, which Mum loved to do herself.

Maria always made some potato-salad for the weekend. I watched how she did it. To the cooked, peeled and sliced potatoes she added finely cut onion, some oil, pepper and salt. Then she poured hot vinegar-water over the potatoes as a finishing touch. The huge salad-bowl was placed outside on a shelf near the stairway so the salad could cool down. I often helped myself to some of the warm salad when nobody was looking, because I loved to eat the salad when it was still a little bit warm. It was the same every Saturday. I watched Maria preparing the salad and placing it on the shelf outside. Then it did not take long before I had a good taste of it!

Friday night was the night for our bath. Maria placed a small tin-tub on the kitchen-floor. She carried several buckets of water from the outside pump to the kitchen. Some of the water she heated on the kitchen-stove in an especially huge pot. I was always the first one to use the bath-water, then it was brother Bodo’s turn. Little brother Peter was always the last one. Some hot water was added for everyone, but still the water must have been quite dirty for little Peter after Bodo and I had had our baths!

When Maria first came to live with us, she knew very little German. However she was determined to learn German quickly. She liked to ask Bodo and me how to pronounce certain words. She also asked me how to write these words in German. Mum often praised Maria, that she was willing and able to learn quickly. This applied to everything she did. She was an amazingly efficient person. A ‘pearl of a maid’ people would say of her. Maria was a city girl. She came from Lodz, which was called ‘Litzmannstadt’ at the time. We had spent the summer-months of 1941 at Zokolniki (near Lodz) and that was when Maria was assigned to us as a help. Mum liked Maria and wanted her to come with us when we went back to Berlin. Maria told me later that she did not want to leave Poland. But she had not been given the choice to stay in her own country.

When Katja arrived, we could see that she was very different from Maria. She was a country-girl from Russia. She never learned German as well as Maria did. She could never be trusted to do all the house-work by herself. Mrs.T. always had to supervise her and do certain things herself because Katja took too long to learn to do it properly. But we all loved Katja. She was always cheerful and full of beans. As a country-girl she did not know certain things that a city-girl had been brought up with. Maria took to instructing Katja about certain things. I think they communicated in German. After they finished work in the evening, they had plenty of time to stay in their rooms together and keep each other company. Both girls always had to get up early. During summer, school-classes in the village started as early as seven o’clock. That meant, I had to get up at six o’clock to get ready for school. Mum never got up that early. But Maria always came down at six o’clock to start working for us. She often had to do Peter’s linen early in the morning, which I am sure was not one of her favourite tasks.

I mentioned in this post our landlord, Werner Mann. He is here in this picture which was taken by Mrs. T. on Christmas Eve 1943.

Werner Mann is on the left, on the right is Mr. Fritz T.

Tante Ilse is next to Werner Mann. together with cousin Renate. I am in the back with my doll. You can see me holding up one of my Käthe-Kruse-Dolls. Mum had knitted a lovely new dress for this doll.

The children in front are eight year old Eva T. and my five year old brother Bodo.

Next to Mr. T. is Mum and Grandma Olga (Mum’s mum) is on the left next to Werner Mann.

Christmas Eve 1943

This photo was taken in Tante Ilse’s livingroom. We were all sitting together for Christmas Eve celebrations. The photo is proof that my grandmother from Leipzig and cousin Renate were with us for Christmas 1943.

In the weeks before Christmas Mum loved to do some sewing of clothes as well as a lot of knitting for us children. When she did this we were not allowed in the living-room because she wanted the gifts to be a surprise for Christmas Eve. That meant of course that we had to be very, very patient. Naturally we thought Christmas Eve would never come!

10 thoughts on “Our Landlord in 1943/1945

  1. Those memories are so well told and with the photo gives us insight in how it must have been from a young girl’s perspective. I can relate to the bath in the tub. Fortunately I was number 2 in line so the water was still reasonably clean and warm.

  2. I loved treading these memories, Uta. You have such a vivid way of writing your memories down in story form that would also be a movie treatment! I think it’s wonderful you were able to return to the spot of your old home after the Wall came down. It must have been a little disappointing that more of it did not withstand time, but just to be on the spot after so long would be meaningful. Your memories of your aunt and Werner Mann were very interesting. Don’t you wonder what extra treats there might have been for you children if he and Ilse had married! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Debra. Well, I believe Tante Ilse really loved Onkel Peter very much.
      She was always friendly and polite towards W.M. but it would not have been a love match.
      We were very fortunate that W.M. was such a generous person who did a lot for all of us during this trying period of World War Two. As far as I know he ended up losing everything after the war.
      Come to think of it, Werner Mann’s friendliness towards all of us never changed. He probably understood that Tante Ilse was happy with Onkel Peter. I think he must have loved all of us unconditionally. Maybe you do not find many people like this, especially not people that are this rich. I see him as a person who did like a simple life despite his riches. 🙂

  3. You paint such a vivid picture, Uta, of a world and way of life that has disappeared completely, and although it was such a difficult time in so many ways, especially for the adults, you evoke a very beautiful child’s world with warmth and love and happiness. Thank you for these memories and the photograph. We had a bathroom, but the only heating was from the coal fire in the living room, so as a child I too had a tin bath on the hearth because the bathroom was freezing in winter!

    1. Freezing temperatures in winter, oh yes, Cat, they were a problem in times gone by. The way we are going we cannot take it for granted that in future sufficient heating is always going to be available.

  4. I love these memories of a time so far, and yet not so far away. You describe them with such clarity, its as if I’m watching a film. And of course, I’m afraid, I’m imagining my own German relatives in the stories of your family, Auntyuta. They were in Berlin during that time also.

    1. ” . . . . a time so far, and yet not so far away.” Yes, Linda, this would describe our feelings thinking back to it now. It is strange how some memories just stick with you.
      At the time Berlin suffered greatly under bomb raids that just did get worse and worse. All children had left Berlin by then. We all had to adjust to a life away from Berlin.
      Peter for instance was sent to a children’s home in Silesia in January 1944. His two sisters had already been evacuated to East Prussia in 1943. Peter wrote about his experiences here:

  5. I so enjoyed reading your memories of this time. My favourite book as a child was When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (who wrote several volumes) and my interest in the period continued, mainly because my grandparents’ (and GPs’-in-law!) stories always fascinated me, too.
    Your story reminds me a lot of some I have read by Lise Gast, who wrote pony and stories for children/teens which include a lot of autobiographical detail very like this; she was widowed just after the birth of her 8th child in 1945 and they were living on a Gut, in 2 rooms above a stable, having fled their home in Silesia; they had an “Onkel” who looked after them and helped Lise (a pseudonym for Elisabeth Richter, s. Wiki) to buy and house their first Shetland pony, delivered in a crate… the family went on to become pony pioneers in Germany in the 50s. Unsere Ponies und wir was one book and her daughter later published a biography called So war es, gut, dass es so war; there are also some lovely Christmas stories but they all have a lot of detail about daily life at this time before the Wirtschaftswunder.
    I wondered if you’d ever read any of these?

    1. Thank you, dear Swiss Rose, for telling me about these interesting stories that you have read. No, I am not familiar with these particular stories. Since 1959 I have lived in Australia with my husband and children. This is why I blog usually in English. But we still have family in Germany and are always interested to hear more about Germany. We have also been visiting Germany a number of times.
      I am happy that you enjoyed reading my post about some of my childhood memories. Thank you very much for commenting. I appreciate this. 🙂
      Aunty Uta

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