I remember vaguely a conversation which took place on our balcony in Berlin soon after Easter 1946. I know for certain that at the time Dad was still with us and that Mum had made friends with a lady from the neighbourhood who had established herself as a manicurist. The name ‘Julia Gratz’ is my invention.
The following conversation is more or less made up by me. I only remember for sure that this lady talked to Mum about ‘Gone with the Wind’. I am also pretty sure that this lady was very courteous to Dad and treated him with much respect. It is also true that I had just returned from Leipzig and was about to start school in Berlin. It is also true that I had to catch up in English and that an older school-girl volunteered to give me private lessons. I also distinctly remember that all of us were sitting on the balcony and that it was balmy spring weather.
As a writing exercise I tried to write the following in the third person.
BERLIN, SPRING 1946
Eleven year old Uta has just returned from her grandmother’s place in Leipzig. Her parents, Charlotte and Alexander, sit with her on the sunlit balcony.
Also on the balcony is a voluptuous blond woman. Her permed hair is well set. Her fingernails are excellently shaped. Her nail polish is of a pink colour. Her name is Julia Gratz. She has just finished doing Charlotte’s fingernails. This is how she earns a living in this black-market time. She is well spoken. She likes to talk to Alexander, trying to flatter him with ‘intelligent’ questions.
Julia: ‘What do you think, Herr Doctor, is there any chance at all that we get our proper jobs back? How long is it going to take before we recover from Germany’s disastrous downfall?’
Alexander: ‘I am sure it is going to take several years. I only hope that Germany is not going to be made to pay enormous amounts in reparation as was the case after World War I. But since we have been totally defeated, we basically have to accept, that the other countries can do with us as they like.’
Julia (turning to Charlotte): ‘I’ve just been reading GONE WITH THE WIND. I have enormous admiration for Scarlet O’Hara, how in the midst of having lost everything due to the war, she shows courage by sewing herself a dress out of some curtains. She does not want to look poor, when she goes to see Rhet Butler, who profited from the war and is very well of.’
Charlotte: ‘Yes indeed, this shows enormous courage. It reminds me, that I dismantled our old flag and used the material for sewing a colourful blouse. In times like this, you have to use whatever you can, to get by.’
Julia (talks to Uta, who had been listening intensely):
‘Uta, how do you like it to be back in Berlin? You must have missed your mum, when your mum was already in Berlin while you were still staying with your grandmother in Leipzig. Tell me, for how long did you go to school in Leipzig?’
Uta: ‘Actually between January and October schools had been closed in Leipzig, which means I’ve been in high-school since October last year. Cousin Renate gave me and Bob a few lessons at home while the schools were still closed. In October I was then straight away admitted to second year of high-school.’
Julia: ‘So now that you’re back in Berlin you start school here after the Easter break?
Uta: ‘That’s right. However I found out that I’ll have to catch up in English. It seems, here in Berlin they are much further ahead in English. I have been enrolled for the second year of high-school. They said, they want to give me a try and see whether I can keep up with that year.’
Julia: ‘I’m sure you’ll be able to make it. Maybe some-one can give you some private lessons to catch up in English?’
Uta: ‘Yes, I was told, that a girl, who is three years ahead of me, is willing to give me some lessons at her home.’
Julia: ‘It sounds like this may be the perfect solution for you. I wish you good luck!
Uta: ‘Thank you very much, Frau Gratz.’