OUR LUCKY ESCAPE

Today I remembered again how we escaped all these bomb raids during World War Two. and how we escaped the bombing of grandmother’s place in Leipzig in April 1945. Here I wrote about it:

https://auntyuta.com/2011/12/08/our-lucky-escape/

Some of my children know a bit about our lucky escape in 1945. In case they want to find out a bit more about it, I am now trying to write down whatever I do remember.

During the last war years we had stayed away from Berlin, living east of Berlin in a desolate country area. With the Russians fast approaching at the beginning of 1945, my mother decided, we would move to grandmother’s place in Leipzig, rather than go back to Berlin to our apartment which we still rented. We children were never allowed to visit Berlin during the years of the bomb raids.

From the beginning of February 1945 my mother, my two brothers and I stayed in Leipzig with grandmother and cousin Renata. As I remember it, there were frequent bomb raids. We were used to the sound of the sirens and having to stay in the cellar for hours at a time.

After Christmas, schools had not opened any more. We played a lot in the surrounding streets with other children. But we were never allowed to stroll very far. In case of an alarm , we had to be within the vicinity of our cellar. For us children this was just part of every day life. My brothers were three and six years, I was ten years old. The winter was very cold, but we still had enough to eat, were dressed warmly. In the kitchen there was always a fire going in the oven for cooking and for hot water. In the bedrooms we had enormous feather-beds to keep us warm.

There was talking about that this bloody war was soon to end. We sure were looking forward to this! I cannot remember ever having been scared or thinking that anything bad could happen to me. Or to my family. To us children it seemed rather entertaining to be sitting in the air-raid shelter. Many people congregating as soon as the sirens went off, was extremely exciting! We did get to know everyone, who lived in that tall five story building. The adults would talk to us children, asking us questions, just being friendly.

And we would listen to the adults talking to each other. I remember that I always found it interesting to listen to adult conversations. And sometimes all of us would sing a few songs. I loved the singing of songs! When we could hear bombs hitting somewhere in the neighbourhood, it never seemed very close to us. This meant we were all right. Often my three year old brother entertained everyone by singing solo. They were cute little children’s songs. People always encouraged him to sing more songs because they loved his singing.

In April there was another bomb-raid. We had a relaxing time with everybody in the cellar. It was a long lasting alarm, went on for hours. Since it was in the middle of the night, mum wanted us to go to sleep. We were able to stretch out a bit on our makeshift beds. But I don’t think we were able to go to sleep that night. My brother Peter was still singing his songs when several bombs hit us. This time there could be no doubt that the bombs had fallen right on top of us since the noise was absolutely deafening! My six year old brother Bodo started crying. I felt so sorry for him. It was terrible seeing him being so horribly scared. I said to him he needn’t be afraid. Soon everything would be over.

I was right. It did not take long at all. All of a sudden, it was very quiet. Then some people started moving, investigating, whether we could still get out. Our main exit was full of debris. Impossible to get out there. There was a bricked-in escape to the cellar of the next door building. To make use of this escape, quite a few bricks would have to be dislodged. Then someone shouted that the window, that led from the cellar to the footpath in one of the adjoining cellar-rooms, was not blocked. It was easy, to get out through there!

A sigh of relief went through the crowd. My brother Bodo was not scared any more either. My brother Peter had never been scared at all. People said, this was because he had still been too little to understand. Later on, we found, that the building had been hit by up to five bombs. Right to the ground-floor,  everything had been torn away. Miraculously, a lot of the ground-floor was still standing. This was my grandmother’s apartment! My grandmother was able to save some of her furniture together with all our belongings. A lucky escape indeed.

I published the above in December 2011 and here are some comments to this post:

  1. What a harrowing experience! I hope people are not so quick to forget. There are no real winners in war. There are only casualties. European countries are wise to tread carefully not to disentangle their alliances. No one wants to Europe ripped apart by some lunatic or some crazy ideology.

    1. There have been a lot of changes since the end of World War II. Has the world become more peaceful? Do we all work for peace? When we say we want peace on earth, do we really mean it?
      Let’s count our blessings and be thankful for what has been given to us. But let’s not forget that a lot of people still suffer enormous hardship.
      Thanks for visiting, dear Mary-Ann. Your comments show that you care a lot. Have a very beautiful Advent Season. Best wishes, Uta.

    1. I cannot remember ever having been very scared as a child. But writing about it now makes me shake a bit. After more than 66 years I find it hard to believe that we could have been so lucky to escape unhurt!
      Thanks for your comment, dear Munira.

  2. Oh my goodness. What a vivid account. I know what you mean about being fascinated by adult conversation. I was the same way as a young child. Perhaps that is part of the reason that you had a bit of an adult-like perspective on the events at the time and yet saw it through the eyes of a child as an adventure of sorts. But my goodness–to have experienced so very much so very young. I am grateful that you and your family survived.

    1. You’re spot on with your comments, dear Kate! As you say as children we could see it as an adventure of sorts. Mum was always quick too to make the best of a given situation. We lived in one of the cellar-rooms for the first few days after our building had been destroyed. It was spring already. During the day we had lovely sunshine. Mum and Renata acually anjoyed sitting in the sunshine on mats on the big heap of rubble in front of what used to be our house. They were happily remarking that they had a lovely time sitting there! I am not sure what day the Americans arrived in Leipzig, but I am certain it was while we still lived in the cellar. I was close to Mum and Renata when we noticed some planes flying above us in the clear sky. It happened to be the 20th of April. Mum as well as Renata very happily joked that the planes might be on their way to Berlin to give Hitler a birthday present!.

    1. After the end of W W II we were under the delusion that wars could be prevented forever. We were so much longing for a peaceful world! We were dreaming that peace could last forever. My family was lucky that now for more than 65 years we could live in peace. I wished everyone had the chance to live in peace like this.

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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!

Die Trümmerfrau

 http://www.laenvie.com/2007/05/helene_lohe_my_.html

This is a link to a story about a Trümmerfrau, a woman  in Berlin who during and after the war started working as a ‘rubble’ woman. She did this for ten years. This woman, who apparently had come from a well to do family,  lost everything during World War II: Her husband, her seven room apartment, everything.

A ‘rubble’ woman worked to clear the rubble away that was left after all the bomb raids. Peter’s mother became one at the end of the war until she could go back to her post-office position.

 

In Love with Leipzig

This is a copy of one of my earlier blogs!

“I found an interesting contribution about the German city of Leipzig.

http://blog.goethe.de/meet-the-germans/archives/179-In-Love-with-Leipzig.html

As a ten and eleven year old in 1945/46 I did get to know a bit about this city. Sure, when we first moved there to stay at grandmother’s place, the war hadn’t finished yet and we experienced quite a few bomb raids.

As I told in another blog, one bomb raid in April 1945 turned out to be disastrous for us. This was probably the very last bomb raid that Leipzig had to endure, because soon after the American troops together with some Canadians occupied the city. When the Canadians moved through neighbouring streets to lay out some cables, we kids were watching them. We were impressed by their appearance. They were all very young looking, tall and lean in immaculate uniforms. We welcomed the foreign troops.Them being with us meant, we wouldn’t be bombed any more. From now on we could sleep in peace!

We were a family of six. Having lost our home in the bomb raid, we applied for accommodation for our family. We were given a flat in an area where the buildings weren’t damaged at all. We were assigned an apartment that had  three rooms plus kitchen and bathroom. Had grandmother been just with Renate she would not have been able to get an apartment  of this size. Only families of five or more were assigned accommodation with that many rooms! So we were lucky again. Grandmother stayed in this apartment in Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse for many more years. She died in 1957.

About Leipzig I remember the ‘Ratskeller’, where we had a few times a lovely meal. I always thought it was something special to eat out somewhere. But I loved Grandma’s cooking too. Like magic she always produced excellent meals even when there was not much food available. She was a great one for improvising. And never ever was any bit of food thrown out. She always pointed out to us, to throw away good food, was a sin. This kind of thinking still sticks with me today!

I also  remember the Thomaner Church in Leipzig and the Thomaner Choir. I believe the journalist who wrote the blog about present day Leipzig is from England and lives in Berlin now. He went for a visit to Leipzig and ended up loving this city. If ever I have a chance to visit Germany again, I plan on paying Leipzig a visit together with Peter, my husband, and Peter, my brother. If you are interested in finding out more about Leipzig, please look up the above link.”

Last year during our visit to Germany we did not forget that we had wanted to visit the city of Leipzig. We  actually went there for a day visit. We had in our minds to search for  the grave of my paternal grandfather who had died in 1947. After a lot of searching we were able to locate his grave site. We made some pictures which I published in a blog. Leipzig seems to be a thriving city these days. We would have liked to stay there a bit longer. But we had to go back to Berlin the same day.  The Main Leipzig Railway Station (Hauptbahnhof) has been very modernised. A huge modern shopping center is located within its premises.

Leipziger Schauspielhaus

Leipziger Schauspielhaus Sophienbstrasse 17 - 19

Sophienstrasse 20

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leipziger_Schauspielhaus

 

The “Leipziger Schauspielhaus”  was a private theater in the southern part of Leipzig, Germany. This theater was situated in Sophienstrasse 17 – 19.  Sophienstrasse is now named Shakespearestrasse. During a bomb raid on 4th December 1943 the theater building was totally destroyed and has never been rebuilt.

For me it was interesting to find in the Wikipedia the above pictures and information about this particular theater. The house adjoining the theater is of special interest to me. This was  Sophienstrasse  20. It was the house my mother grew up in. This house was completely destroyed in a bomb raid in April 1945 while we, that is Mum, my two brothers and I, were there staying with my grandmother and cousin Renate.

Mum told us again and again that at the age of fourteen she did get a part as an extra. She played a page boy in a production of the famous Leipziger Schauspielhaus.. Being part of a theater production she found immensely exciting.

The above pictures are from 1906.  Mum’s sister Ilse was born in 1907 and Mum was born in 1911. Mum had another older sister and an older brother.

“Am 11. Oktober 1874 fand die Eröffnung unter dem Namen Carl-Theater statt. Hartmann nannte die Spielstätte Leipziger Schauspielhaus und eröffnete es am 10. September 1902.”

The theater was opened on 11th October 1874 under the name ‘Carl Theater’.  A bit later it was called ‘Carola Theater’. Around the turn of the century it was closed for a while. It was named ‘Leipziger Schauspielhaus’ by Anton Hartmann when he opened it on 10th September 1902.

The End of War

As I said before Mum enjoyed going to Berlin once a week. She was able to stay in our city apartment, which we were still renting. Of course, most of our furniture was in that country place where we were all staying. Mum had to take in several ‘Untermieter’ (sub-tenants). That is some rooms had to be sublet to people who had lost their homes during 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 Ilse going to Berlin on a regular basis during our stay in the country. Come to think of it 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. I cannot recall the exact date when this happened but I think it was probably soon after we had moved away from Berlin.

Mum had to walk for about half an hour to the next village to catch the bus which took her to the next train station. Going to the center of Berlin she then had to change trains a few times. All in all it was quite a long trip. But even in the fifth and sixth year of war buses and trains were still going pretty much on time.

As I mentioned before, Tante Ilse married Helmut L aka Onkel Peter on the 20th of July 1944. The wedding took place in Merane at the place of Onkel Peter’s parents. This is also the place where Tante Ilse went to towards the end of the war. Had she married Werner M. and possibly stayed at his place, she would have been in the midst of the Russian advances to Berlin in early 1945.

At the end of January 1945 Mum caught a train from Berlin to Leipzig with us three children to stay with Grandma and cousin Renate in Leipzig. Maria, who had been with us for more than three years, stayed with her fiancee in Berlin. I think the T. family, who had stayed with us in the ‘Ausbau’, moved to a town a bit further south of Berlin.

In Leipzig we were occupied by American and Canadian troops a few days before the end of the war. In what must have been the last bomb raid over Leipzig the house where we stayed was bombed. But we all survived in the very solidly built cellar under the apartment building. Grandma, having lived on the ground floor, was lucky that she could even save most of her furniture whereas the four stories above the ground floor were completely destroyed by bombs!

The area surrounding Berlin became the Russian zone at the finishing of the war. Property owners in the Russian zone had to give up their property. They were ‘enteignet’, meaning Werner M., the very wealthy man, lost everything in this ‘workers’ and ‘peasants’ state. Grandma had always wished for her daughter Ilse to marry this rich man. Just as well she didn’t! Anyhow Ilse had been very much in love with her Peter. She never seriously contemplated marrying Werner M. This is the way I see it.

What happened to Werner M. after the Russians occupied the country? Well, we do not know this. The Russian occupied zone became of course the GDR (German Democratic Republic) until the wall between East and West came down in 1989.

Childhood Memories 1943/44

Towards the end of September 1943 we left Berlin to live in the country. We moved to a place called the ‘Ausbau’, which meant that eventually ‘more’ was to be added to the building.. It was a simple rectangular red brick complex with several entrances around the building. There was no plumbing or electricity. The entrance for us ‘Berliners’ was on the left side at the front of the building. We had a cellar, a ground floor and two upper floors.

Mum, my two younger brothers and I, shared a bedroom on the first upper floor. We also had a small kitchen and a living-room. I would sleep in the living-room when my dad came home on leave. Two maids, one Polish, the other Russian, shared two rooms on the top floor. All the rooms on the top floor had sloping ceilings. Our Polish maid was in her early twenties. Her name was Maria. She was very efficient and always rather serious.. The T. Family, who lived on the ground floor, employed Katja, the Russian maid, who was only eighteen and extremely fun loving.

My mum’s sister, Tante Ilse, also had her rooms on the first upper floor. She had a bedroom and a living-room. On the ground floor, right underneath her upper rooms, she had a kitchen and a dining-room. She hardly ever used those downstairs rooms. Our friends from Berlin, the T. Family, occupied three rooms downstairs, namely a kitchen, a living-room and a bedroom, the same arrangement of rooms that we had on the upper floor.

There was an additional larger room for storage under the sloping roof. T. Family and my Family stored in that room additional larger furniture which we wanted to save from the bombs in Berlin. — In that room Mum stored a lot of Boskop-apples during the cold season. They were neatly spread out on some straw. Come Christmas-time, other delicious food was also hidden somewhere among our stored furniture. It was very tempting for me to go exploring in that room! Mum noticed sometimes, that some food was missing. And I admitted, when questioned, that I had helped myself to some of the goodies. However I was never punished for doing such a thing. That shows, that Mum must have been quite tolerant. —

On the same upper floor right under the roof was a playroom, which my brothers and I shared with eight year old Edith T. There was another room next to the playroom where Mrs. T.’s parents had stored some bedroom furniture. The parents were Mr. and Mrs. B. and had a business in Berlin. They sometimes stayed at the ‘Ausbau’ in that bedroom in order to be with their family away from the bombs in Berlin.

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 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 M., the owner of all those fields that went on for miles and miles, was an acquaintance of Aunty Elsa. He was apparently quite rich an d also owned extensive brick-works (Ziegeleien). It was said of him that he was a millionaire. He was our landlord and he liked to spoil us. With no strings attached! Tante Ilse only had to voice a wish and Werner M. immediately did whatever he could to fulfill her wish. He spoiled us by constantly getting produce delivered to us: 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 M. 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 M. 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 M. 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 so very large.

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

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It was a big thrill for me to go exploring among the furniture in that big storage-room, especially in the weeks before Christmas! Mum used to store lot of goodies during the Christmas season. 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! 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 those things from? It was war-time, wasn’t it? We were in the midst of war! I knew very well where all this 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.T. and Mrs.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 daughterEva 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!

Mr.T. always stayed in Berlin during the week, where he worked in the business of his parents-in-law. Being over forty, he was not required to join the German army. Mr.T. always brought some sweet goodies along when he came home from Berlin for the weekend.

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, to be happy that we did not have to live among the bomb raids in Berlin. 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, I went with my family to have a look at the area where we used to be hidden away from the bomb-raids. 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, when we had lived at he ‘Ausbau’ only for a couple of months, 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 Grandmother’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 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 M.  He is here in this picture which was taken by Mrs. T. on Christmas Eve 1943.

Werner M. is on the left, on the right is Mr. T.

Tante Ilse is next to Werner M. together with cousin Renate. I am in the back with my doll.

The children in front are Eva T. and my brother Bodo.

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

Christmas Eve 1943