In January 1956 I left Berlin to stay with my father. I stayed with him in Düsseldorf for three months only.
In April I returned to Berlin. Peter was unemployed at the time. I went to see the boss at FLEUROP to ask him for my job back. I felt great relief when he agreed to employ me once more.
From then on Peter and I saw each other on a daily basis. He usually waited for me outside FLEUROP at a quarter to five when my working day finished. Then we walked together all the way to where he lived, which took the best part of an hour. We had worked out, that we could have a meal together for five Marks and a bit. People told us a meal for two cost much more than this. We proved them wrong. We ate well and stayed within our budget. Amazing!
It did not take us long to come up with the idea to live together. We thought it would be terrific, if we could rent a room for the two of us. So we looked at rooms for rent. Disaster! Whatever made us think, anybody would take us in as a couple unless we were married? Like it or not, I had to stay at my Mum’s place in that tiny room which used to be the maid’s room; and Peter had to stay on his mother’s sofa.
In the summer of 1956 I looked for a place of my own again. Peter had gone to West-Germany to take up work in a coalmine. The previous year, when I had left home for the first time, I had rented a very tiny room. I had been nearly twenty-one then A year later, I ventured into the suburbs close to where my place of work was. The room for rent was a very large one in a single story house. The land-lady was very welcoming. She asked me, would I mind if her other lodger, who was a music student, was practicing her singing. I said, I wouldn’t mind that at all. This made the landlady happy, because she sponsored this student girl, who was only about seventeen and was happy to sleep on a small sofa in the kitchen. However, in the large living-rooms there was a grand piano which the girl could make use of. The landlady said to me, that there was a garden with a gazebo at the back and I could reach it from my room since my room had French doors to the garden. I said I liked this very much. Soon I felt quite at home in my new surroundings. But I missed Peter. Sometimes I sat in the gazebo reading his letters. He still worked in the coalmines of Meiderich, from where he wrote me daily . I tried to answer his letters promptly for I knew he was always waiting for an answer.
Peter returned to Berlin in November and we got married in December. Eight months later Gabriele was born. When she was born, we lived at Tante Ilse’s place. I got several weeks paid maternity leave. When I had to go back to work, Tante Ilse looked after our baby girl. Tante Ilse called her ‘Princess’ and looked after her as a mother would. When the sun was out, she liked to push Gaby’s cot out onto the balcony. She found it hard, to let me and Peter take over when we came home from work. To her Gaby must have been the baby she was never able to have herself. I remembered, how she loved to spend time with me when I was little. She tought me how to tie my shoe-laces. A lot of my toys were gifts from her. She felt like a mother to me.
Since the day we were married, Peter had employment in the dispatching department of a magazine. When it got very busy and certain deadlines were approaching, he was required to stay longer, sometimes even right through the night. I think, Peter did not mind that very much because he found the job interesting and challenging. Once he had to work continuously for twenty-four hours! That was at a time, when we had just been married and I had no idea, he might have to work longer. When he did not come home, I got very worried. I waited and waited. After a few hours I went down to a phone-booth and rang the office. I think the boss himself answered the phone. He told me about the overtime. Later on the whole office kept joking about it, how Peter’s newly married wife had to ring to find out about the overtime. Peter did then get explicit instructions to always ring me when he had to work longer. And the boss then got into the habit of asking him: ‘Did you ring your wife? Sorry, just wanted to make sure!’ Actually Peter had to remember to ring me at FLEUROP during office hours. There was no phone where we lived.
On the day we married we had moved to a room which was just a bedroom and extremely cold. There was a tall ‘Kachelofen” (tiled stove), which could be heated with wood and coal. The problem for us was, to buy coal you had to be registered, and we had not been registered long enough! For buying wood, you didn’t have to be registered. So we bought some of that. And the very kind store-owner, who sensed our plight, let us have a few ‘Briquettes’ of coal.
That winter the outside temperature dropped to minus fourteen Celsius or thereabouts. In our bedroom it must often have been close to freezing point. It was really, really cold! No wonder we longed to go to a warmer country such as Australia!
In Februar 1957 Tante Ilse became aware of our plight and invited us to stay with her in her apartment. Onkel Peter had left for the USA to get some military training in Florida. Tante Ilse said, she would be glad of our company and we would be very welcome to stay with her. I think, Tante Ilse was the first person, apart from Peter, who suspected that I might be pregnant. My father inquired about a possible pregnancy when we visited him over Easter.
After his training in Florida, Onkel Peter was received into the German Bundeswehr. He had to move to a Northern town of Western Germany. By the end of the year, Tante Ilse wanted to move there as well. Unfortunately we could not afford to take over her apartment in Berlin: It was too expensive for us! If you wanted to take over an apartment, you had to show, that you could afford the rent. Once you have won the rights to rent a certain place, you were allowed to sublet. It was such a pity that we could not afford the apartment!
My father wrote us, we could all stay with him, because his lodger was about to move out anyway, which made a room free for us. We were grateful for my father’s offer. In November, Peter left for Düsseldorf, where he found himself a job, which he started in January the following year.
Beginning of December 1957
Moving from Berlin to Düsseldorf
and sixteen months later to Australia
The train took us through the German Democratic Republic and then all the way to Düsseldorf. At the border our passports were inspected by the Volks-Polizei (People’s police). There were a lot of East-German people on board, because the train was an East-German ‘Interzonenzug’.
We were able to buy food and drinks in the dining-car. However we had to pay with West-Marks. If you were able to proof, that you were a GDR citizen, they let you do purchases with East-Marks. There was an East-German family in the compartment with us. The husband went to buy beer with East-Marks. When he came back, he offered to buy beer for us with his East-Marks. He said, he was willing to sell it to us for half the price of West-Marks that we would otherwise have to pay for it. Peter took up the offer. Luckily the VOPOs did not catch up on to that, otherwise we could have ended up in jail!
Peter had come back to Berlin to say goodbye to the family and to take me and Gaby to Düsseldorf. We boarded the overnight train. As far as I remember, Gaby was a very good baby and settled in well for the night. We even coped with the nappy business rather well. In those days disposible nappies were unheard of.
When, sixteen months later, we were on the boat to Australia with twenty months old Gaby and five months old Monika, we gave all the cotton nappies to our steward to take them to the laundry service. We were barely able to afford this nappy service. Yet we were not allowed to wash the nappies ourselves, even though there was a laundry provided for general use. Anyhow, the nappy service worked well for us. Luckily everything else on the voyage was free for us!
Our Life in Düsseldorf
In Düsseldorf Peter worked in a dispatching job once more. As a dispatcher he was on a monthly salary. The government provided two different medical insurances: One was for people on monthly salaries, the other one for people on weekly wages. Since Peter belonged to the insurance for salaried people, I, as his wife, could see with my second pregnancy a gynocologist, wo would not have accepted me as a patient, had I been in the other insurance. This gynocologist had very posh offices and I never had to pay for anything. Everything was paid for by the insurance. After the delivery they made me stay in hospital for nearly a week. This did not cost anything either.
For the time I was in hospital some very kind nuns looked after Gaby. They charged very little for that. When the weekend came and Peter was off work, he took Gaby home. I think he took a few days off after the weekend, so he could help me with the babies when I came home from hospital. I did not stay in hospital for a whole week. I insisted they let me go home early, since I felt all right to do so. The previous year, when I had Gaby, the policy of the hospital in Berlin had been to let mothers stay in hospital for ten days after a delivery.
Peter’s work was extremely low paid work. But we did not mind that. We lived rentfree and did not need to spend much on clothes. Food we could buy at a discount price just around the corner. My father loved to spend time with Gaby who became a very lively little girl. On Saturdays, when the babies were already asleep, Peter and I would go to a movie session. And Vati (my father) stayed behind, wishing us a good night. When we were very careful with the grocery purchases, we usually had enough money left for the movies, also to buy films for our camera, get them developed and pictures printed.