THIS IS A REWORKING OF ONE OF MY OLDER BLOGS. GOING BACK AGAIN TO MY GROWING UP YEARS IN BERLIN.
I left high-school at intermediate level in the summer of 1951. Thereafter I lost contact with all my girl-friends, who went on to high-school to the end of year thirteen to get the ‘Abitur’, which would qualify them for university entrance. My choice was to continue higher education at a commercial school, which hopefully would qualify me for a secretarial position.
The best thing at that school was, that we read Goethe’s Faust. I was therefore able to get good marks in German. English was a good subject for me too. However in all the commercial subjects I was extremely unsatisfactory.
One day our class-teacher, Herr Gluschke, had had enough and talked to me under four eyes. “How come “, he said, “that you are good in all subjects, the other teachers teach, and in all the subjects that I teach, you’re far from good?”
What did I answer? Did I say, that the other subjects interested me more? Did I tell him, I found it hard to work anything out on a counting machine because I felt I needed a lot more practice on it? Or that I had problems remembering the required wording in answer to a set question, when we were not allowed to take notes in his classes and when we had no books whatsoever on the subjects he was teaching? I don’t know, what I answered him.
No wonder I was dead scared of the final exams. Rather than finish the second year of commercial schooling, I applied for a job which would enable me to get familiar with secretarial work. I looked up advertised jobs. In one of the ads they offered two beginners’ jobs for office work. Later I found out, that there were ninety-five applicants for these two very lowly paid jobs! And I was the extremely lucky person, who ended up with one of the two jobs!
Herr Gluschke, on hearing that I wanted to leave school and start working, happily wished me all the best for the future! I started work in the clearing house of FLEUROP/INTERFLORA on the second of January 1953 and stayed with that company for the best part of five years.
At commercial school my best and probably only friend was Eva Horn. Eva did not finish school either. Her father, who was an executive at TELEFUNKEN, had seen to it, that she could start work for TELEFUNKEN in Spain. Apparently Eva longed to experience a different country.
Apart from some commercial English, we had also learned a bit of commercial Spanish at school, which came in handy for Eva Of course in Spain it did not take her long to speak and write Spanish fluently. She became friends with a Spanish guy called Jesus. So Eva stayed on in Spain. I missed her very much. We kept writing each other for a while. I also saw her, when she came back to Berlin to visit her parents.
I had started selling Sunday night newspapers during the summer of 1950. I needed a special permission from the police to do it for I was not sixteen yet and therefore not supposed to work late at night. But since I was nearly sixteen and looked much older anyway, I had no problem in getting the permission.
I had to sell ‘Die Nachtausgabe des Montags-Echos’ (the night-edition of the Monday-Echo). It earned me a bit of pocket-money. Occasionally people would think I was a university student who was badly in need of money. These people would give me a generous tip, sometimes a five Mark note! Once a class-mate saw me selling papers in front of a cinema. I felt extremely embarrassed that my class-mate had seen me doing this. It was not the done thing for school-students to sell papers. University-students did it all the time, but not school-students.
Soon after Easter of 1952 (I was seventeen and a half) I met Wolfgang Steinberg. He was already nineteen and in his final year of schooling. I had gone to an evening class to catch up on a bit of Spanish. Wolfgang happened to be in this class. When he realized that I had already done a bit of Spanish at Commercial School, he approached me in a very friendly way asking me whether I would be willing to study some Spanish together with him.
So we did get together. When he was invited to our place on a Sunday, he met my mother. My mother had no objections to my seeing him again. At the time we still had a piano on loan in our home. Wolfgang came to visit several times, even when my mother was not at home. He would play wonderful tunes on the piano. Once Mum came home unexpectedly when we had done a bit of necking. Mum stormed into the living-room and straight away screamed at the top of her voice that Wolfgang had behaved improperly because he had caused her daughter to have a red face! Well, it was obvious, wasn’t it, that I had fallen in love with this guy.
This was not good enough for my mother, of course. She had to find out a bit more about his background. He had claimed that his mother was dead and that he lived with his aunt. Well, it was true, his mother had died when he was still very young. His father had married again and owned a small flower-shop.
In my mother’s eyes this made Wolfgang some-one of very low standing; definitely not suited for me as a companion! My mother decided, she wanted to see the father in his flower-shop and made me go along with her.
The flower-shop turned out to be very small indeed. The whole family was gathered in the shop, when we arrived. There was the congenial looking father, who was of small stature. The mother was a tallish woman. I imagined her to be very resolute and practical in every way. Wolfgang had shown me a picture of his mother who had died when he was still so young. But he did remember her and missed her very much. The photo showed a young, extremely friendly and beautiful looking woman. I could understand, how a boy would be fascinated by those soft features. The step-mother turned out to have rather harsh features. There was also a step-sister, a spindly looking girl of about ten. When she heard, what was going on, she said full of ‘Schadenfreude’: “Ah. so Wolfgang has been telling fibs again!”
Then Wolfgang was called out. When he appeared from behind the shop, he looked small and embarrassed, letting his head hang from having a bad conscience. I felt sorry for him. Talking to the father, my mother made sure, that we two young people were never allowed to see each other again. The father said a few soothing words to me, trying to comfort me. He urged me, that it was for the best, if I listened to my mother.
I trotted back home with Mum, feeling very, very sad indeed. For the next few months my only friend remained my school-friend Eva. She lived around the corner. I was allowed to visit her at night-time, whenever I felt like it. I also went on a few outings with her.
A few months later, aged eighteen, I started work. Then in the spring of 1953 I met another guy, who I thought was very likable indeed. During the summer of 1953 I met Wolfgang one more time. He had done his ‘Abitur’ in the meantime and found employment in some office near Kurfürstendamm. He was telling me about Fax- machines, which he had to use.
When I told him about my new friend, he must have sensed, that I was not really interested anymore in a friendship with him; that most likely I was feeling somewhat attached to the other guy. We parted as good friends. However we agreed, it would be interesting to see each other again at the same place, which was the Bayrischer Platz, exactly ten years later, on the 30th June 1963. But by that time I was already married with three children and living in Australia. Needless to say, I never saw him again.
But here are some more thoughts on Wolfgang. He had been telling me such wonderful stories! He also played songs on the piano. I loved it when he played the song about the lonely soldier at the river Wolga. He also knew some naughty songs. But I told him, I wasn’t so keen on these. He accepted that gracefully.
I called him ‘Wölfi’; he called me ‘Schäfchen’. Schäfchen means ‘little sheep’. Of course, he only called me that, when no-one else was around. ‘Schäfchen’, he said it lovingly and understandingly, and I didn’t object! I must say, as compared to him, I really felt like a ‘Schäfchen’. He told me, he earned some pocket money as a piano-player in night-bars. So he must have been well aware of what was going on at night-time in a big city.
Students in their final year of high-school, that is the thirteenth year of schooling (after having started at around six), those students in their final year were called ‘Abiturienten’. So Wolfgang was an ‘Abiturient’, when I met him at the Spanish evening class. I had joined that class of the Workers’ Education to catch up on Spanish, for I felt the few hours of schooling at my school were not sufficient to get a proper footing in the language. Come to think of it, there would not have been a reason for Wolfgang to join that class, for Spanish was not required at his school. He was interested in travel though. Maybe that is why he wanted to learn some Spanish.
Sunday nights I was supposed to sell news-papers. One Sunday night I skipped it, because I wanted to stay with Wolfgang. That was a mistake, because Mum found out about it. She was outraged about my behaviour. She started making inquiries about him. She had begun to smell a rat! And yes, she was right. Wolfgang had been telling me and Mum quite a lot of fibs. For one, he did not want to admit, that his father was only a small shopkeeper. He thought, if Frau Dr. Spickermann knew about that, she would never agree to her daughter going out with him! So he told us stories about a rich aunt, who was his patron and who took him on travels to Italy and America. It was of course all fantasy! Naturally Mum thought, he could not be trusted anymore. There was not a thing in the world I could have done to change her mind. I still had feelings for him, but I had to suppress them.
When I started office work I quit my paper job even though in the beginning I earned an extremely low salary at FLEUROP.
I guess a year later it would have been my choice to continue meeting Wolfgang in secret. We both had jobs by that time. Actually I forgot to mention that we kept up a secret correspondence for about a month (via Eva’s address). Wolfgang and I promised each other then to meet again one year later at Bayrischer Platz. This was the last I saw of him. I felt at the time that my friend, Karl-Heinz, was the better choice for me. I think this new guy never ever met my mother. Mum did not want to know of my friendship with him. She definitely did not approve of him. He was only 17 when I first met him (I was nine months his senior). In the end he preferred another girl. And she was a bit older than I was! In May 1955, when I was twenty and a half, I met my lovely husband. He’s still with me and keeps telling me every day that he loves me!