LETTERS & DOCUMENTS: Berlin 1936-40
Christiane's Childhood Story
Berlin, 1939 | Bavaria, 1939 | Köpenick, 1940 | Berlin (w grandparents), 1940 | Neuruppin, 1940 | Tyrol, 1941
LETTERS & DOCUMENTS
An Autobiographical Statement 1967
"Drawing and painting were what I
mostly did after my early years of childhood. I grew
up in a world of adults..." more
The first thing I remember is our apartment in Berlin.
Through a long corridor one went into the kitchen with a tiled floor.
On the left were the bedrooms. My cot was made of dark wood with
side rails which could be pushed down. In the morning the light
fell through the closed shutters. I waited for somebody to come
and dress me. I was still wearing the nightgowns from the childhood
of my mother, made out of white material with wide lace collar and
cuffs They fit me until I was eight years old, but then they only
reached my knees.
xxxMy mother worked as a nurse in a military hospital.
A friend of hers lived with us with her son and looked after me.
xxxHe was a boy my age. In the morning we sat together
at the large dining room table, each of us at his end eating our
porridge. It took so long until we saw the figures on the bottom
of the plate. Usually we stirred around so long until the porridge
was cold and his mother dressed us and took us to the Kindergarten.
Most children there were older than we and played together, usually
Father, Mother and Child. They said when I wanted to play with them:
xxx"Go away, you are too little!"
xxxThere was a large room for games with high windows
and a climbing tree and a smaller room where the woman director
played with the older children. We cut out figures from coloured
paper and pasted them on cardboard and folded paper boats which
I liked to float on water in a large plate.
xxxMost of the time I sat on the climbing tree
and looked out the windows. Then it was noon. We were picked up
and could go home. During the afternoon I waited for the evening
for my mother to come home. She was wearing a blue white dress,
a white apron and a white nurse's cap. When she came home she changed.
xxxOnce she took me with her to the military hospital.
I walked through the rooms with white beds and the sick men. One
of them gave me some chocolate and another an apple. I could not
bite into it and asked for a knife. He only had a pocket knife.
I wanted a real knife and said my mother should bring one.
xxx"Who is your mother?" he asked.
xxx"Sister Regine," I said.
xxxThey all laughed. My mother brought me a knife
and a plate and the soldiers peeled the apple. Then they had supper.
I was allowed to help hand out soup. Then my mother picked me up
and we went home together.
xxxIn summer the mother of the little boy took
me to Glienicke. We lived in a large white house with green shutters.
One could see it from far away. During the day we played in the
garden. It was surrounded by a hedge of green bushes with funny
pink lilac blossoms. Behind it was the wide and grey country road.
One could look down on it until it disappeared behind the bend.
It was very hot. We stood outside at the hedge and looked down the
road to a forest across from us. Sometimes a motorcyclist passed
with much noise, raising clouds of white dust. It stayed light late.
We never wanted to go to bed at night. They told us stories of the
Nightkrepp, who walks through the streets and gardens. Where he
finds a child he will put it into a large sack. During the day he
leaves it among the dark trees in the forest and brings it home
only on the following evening. However, where he finds children
in bed on time and asleep he will sometimes put something beside
their pillow. They will find it in the morning when they wake up.
In the morning we often really found chocolate or a little marzipan
beside our pillows. We were surprised that we had not noticed the
Nightkrepp come into our room. Each Saturday we were bathed. The
bathroom was very warm. It was laid out in white tiles. The hot
water shimmered in a light green. We were put into the tub together
with celluloid animals, ducks, fishes and frogs. We were allowed
to play after we had been washed. To dry us there were large white
bath towels hanging beside the stove. They were quite warm. The
water ran slowly out of the tub. At the end there was a little eddy
and the water made a gurgling sound.
xxx"What is that?" we asked.
xxxThose were the ducks which were left behind
the little girl in the bathtub and if you do not get out of the
water in time they will bite you. For many years afterwards I had
to think of the ducks under the water when the water was running
out of the tub.
xxxOnce the father of the little boy came home
on leave. He had a lot of time. We visited the neighbourhood together.
Close by there was a small house, more isolated than ours. An old
woman lived there with two sheep, which she tied to a stick on the
meadow during the day. While we walked in the forest I saw our large
white house with the green shutters from far away through the trees.
xxxIn the neighbourhood there was a bigger boy
who occasionally took us out. We walked along the hot dusty road,
passing the flowering hedges until we came to houses and a large
plaza. There was a merry-go-round and a puppet theatre and sheds
painted in many colours. The nicest was the music of the merry-go-round
and the horses and swans which always turned in one direction. The
theatre was funny. Punch had a long, ugly nose. Crocodile and devil
were terrible monsters. All figures had jerky movements. It bothered
me the most with the King and the Queen. I can only remember the
play of a Princess who had been walled in. She sits in a tower,
imprisoned by a bad witch. The door is barred by three stones. The
Princess sits and waits arrogantly for her saviour, who has to be
Prince or a Nobleman. She doesn't want to know anything of Punch.
He goes to his mother, an old woman who sits in her garden under
the sunflowers and tells her that the Princess is so arrogant. In
the end he hears from the witch the magic word to open the door.
First stone, second stone, third stone, there is an enormous thunderbolt
and the Princess comes down and throws her arms around him. The
dark forest has disappeared and instead there is a meadow, a fence
with some flowers and the old mother with her cane. That was a nice
story, the first that I understood halfway. There was no devil and
no crocodile in it.
xxxWe were never quite sure whether these excursions
were allowed or not. Sometimes in the middle of the crowd, the noise
and the music, I thought I heard a voice calling us home. As soon
as it became dark we went home quickly. In the dark the hedges looked
like walls. The houses stood quiet and dark. Only the road looked
lighter. Sometimes there was a car or motorcycle. One saw the headlights
xxxWe thought of the Nightkrepp who might catch
us and leave us the next day in the thick underbrush in the forest.
We were happy when we reached the garden gate and were back home.
xxxI remember holidays with my mother. The trains
were half empty and we often had a compartment for ourselves. We
sat across from each other at the window. Outside the telephone
poles and trees flew past. We saw small houses and small cars and
small peasant women with white kerchiefs on the fields, like toys
or pictures in my books. I could not believe that these were real
cars, houses and real people. In the evening we turned up the table.
We put our painted bowls and plates on it. We ate bread and boiled
eggs and a lot of fruit. It always tasted so wonderful and quite
different from home. At night we turned the lights off and both
laid on a bench. I never slept well. The rattle of the wheels kept
me awake, the blanket slipped down and so
xxxI waited patiently until it was morning. Then
one could recognize the telephone poles, lakes and rivers in the
blue dawn. The lakes were curiously pale and silvery. The forest
was still dark as a wall. I preferred to sleep during the day, around
noon, when it was hottest and the air in the train heavy and dusty.
Once we went to Kaernten to the Ossiacher Lake and another time
to Meersburg. We arrived there in the evening. I waited at the station
beside our luggage until my mother came back to fetch me. It took
very long and I was already worried. Then we walked up a steep long
road. Even the fences were built like stairs. We turned into a small
path. There was a small white house in the garden and there we stayed.
Our room was bright with white beds and white curtains. I don't
recall that it rained even once. White daisies bloomed in the garden
and dandelions on the meadow. Later they turned to seeds, which
stood like white balls in the grass. At lunch we were eating in
the Schuetzen. In the corner there was a picture of a rooster and
many small chicks on the threshing floor of a barn. The window was
open. One looked out onto the street where the farmers with their
ox-drawn wagons came back from the fields. Later we lived in the
Oxenstein, a large yellow house with green shutters and yellow plum
trees on the south side. It was built up on a hill above the lake.
The garden had two terraces and vineyards on both sides. The lower
terrace was the most beautiful, bedded in green grass surrounded
by flowers and bushes. There were colourful butterflies and humming
bees. My mother was lying on a deck chair. She drew the house and
trees or read out of the Bee Maja and told me stories. It was marvellous
to be the whole day with her, no kindergarten, no hospital, no people
I did not know. Never had the days been so long and so nice, every
morning new expectations and always the garden, the butterflies
and the sun. In the evening we walked up the mountain to the orchards
and saw the blooming cherry trees and the sun go down like a red
ball behind the lake. She took me in her arms. I noticed that she
xxxOf course we were also in the Chateau. We walked
around with many people. A strange lady talked. The Chateau was
strange and huge. We walked through the gate with the colourful
coats of arms. I saw the dark room of the Guards with its heavy
table and pewter jugs and the iron lances against the wall. The
corridors were long and the rooms were funny with high windows and
heavy tables. Strange things hung on the walls or were lying around.
Over the doors there were carved and painted coats of arms and on
the walls hung paintings with gentlemen and ladies who stood stiffly
with silent faces and looked down on us. They had marvellous clothes
made of materials that nobody wears today. From the garden one could
look out over a stone balustrade, across the lake. On the roof some
pigeons were fluttering around. In the corner stood a small statue
of the Madonna with her child in her arms. The nicest were the rooms
of Droste not as dark as the guard room and the long corridors,
not as solemn as the rooms with the high windows, much smaller and
quite different. One could imagine that someone had lived there.
There were books, a desk, bowls and glasses. Against the faded red
wallpaper I saw the head of a figure with long locks.
xxx"Who is that" I asked, "Is that
xxx"No" said my mother, "That is
the poetess who lived here."
xxx"Has she died?"
"Yes, over a hundred years ago."
xxx"Longer than the Knights?"
A hundred years, that seemed unendingly long, while every day was
so long until the night came. The yellow lamps lit up and outside
the moon and the stars were visible in the sky.
xxxWhen we went home a small carved angel from
the Erzgebirge stood at the head of my bed and kept guard over me
during the night after my prayers when my mother had turned off
xxxThe house belonged to a white haired old man.
Sometimes he sat down with us and told us stories. He had been in
Africa. On the walls and the staircase hung funny shoes made of
bark, arrows, bows, shields and calabashes right up to the roof.
In the corridor outside the kitchen hung a stuffed crocodile. Mama
Thea was the housekeeper. Sometimes I dried the dishes in the evening
with her. I liked nothing better.
xxxI do not recall our return trip. Surely Berlin
was grey and stony as ever, kindergarten, hospital and in the morning
the porridge plate in which I stirred so long until it was cold
when it was taken away, and the cold eyes of the mother of the little
boy who was still looking after me.
Soon things changed again. I was to go to Southern
Germany near Regensburg to visit a friend of my mother. A soldier
who went on leave to Regensburg was to take me. We were standing
on the platform. The train had not arrived and we walked back and
forth on the grey pavement. Then the train arrived and we entered
it. Somebody opened the window and I could hold my mother's hand.
I did not want to release it. I will not let go, I will hold it
as fast as I can. The train started to roll and I held onto her
xxxFor a while it went all right. Then the train
moved faster and we had to let go. I cried for so long that the
soldier told me I should stop now because it would not make it any
better. The voyage was long and I quieted down. Outside the sun
shone on the little villages, the bright country roads with the
little houses of the railroad guards and the red and white barriers.
There were onion-roofed towers and farm houses and brown and white
cows. Only the mountains I do not recall. We arrived in Regensburg
and I was picked up by a tall, blond lady who seemed quite cordial,
but also very cool and so one could not tell her everything. We
went in the car. She had to do some errands. She stopped in the
village to which her estate belonged. The people knew her and asked
whether I was her daughter.
xxx"No", she said, "A war child."
xxxI wanted to say that I could have stayed in
Berlin and that I was only visiting and what was a war child? I
preferred to stay quiet. We went out of the village to her chateau.
It was at one end of a large courtyard. Right and left were low
white buildings, barns and wagon sheds with dark doors. It was noon
and very bright and warm. The sun was shining on the paved courtyard
and through the open doors one looked into dark rooms. The Chateau
was, I think, not old and rather a large estate house with towers
and little cupolas. In the sun it looked bright yellow with many
windows and window shutters and very large. I was brought into the
children's room. Her daughter Marion was a little older than me,
seven years old, with long blond hair. She had just been given her
first suit. She tried it on in front of the mirror and said:
xxxxxx"You can't have a suit
yet, you are still too small."
xxxThe nanny unpacked my things. We were taken
down for lunch. The dining room was very large. I never had seen
such a big table. It was oval shaped and everybody was sitting on
one end. There were many people around the table. We were put on
the other end on two high chairs and were served lunch. It was an
exception for us to eat downstairs. On the following day and later
on we ate in our room, the nanny, Marion and I on a small table,
the "cats table", because allegedly there was no
room on the larger table. Marion had a nice playroom. It was in
one of the towers and round with many windows. She
had ten dolls which were sitting around on chairs or lying in their
beds. On the wall stood a large cupboard with dresses. She preferred
to play with a little baby doll that could drink out of a bottle.
It had many jackets and diapers. Nobody but her was allowed to touch
it, least of all I, because I was too small and might drop it. I
had a doll myself, Rosemarie. She had a body of cloth and a head
of celluloid with real hair, brown locks and eyes with long lashes,
which closed when one laid her down. She had somewhat bent legs,
just like little children before they learn to walk. Usually she
was lying in her carton on green wood shavings. My mother had given
her to me before my departure. I had not really enjoyed her yet.
Now she was lying under my bed. Sometimes I pulled out the carton,
opened it and looked at the doll. I sat her up to see how she opened
her eyes or I carefully combed her hair. For some time nobody knew
about my doll.
xxxOutside it was very nice. We played with the
village children who wore pink, blue or checkered smocks. Near the
house was a large garden with flowers and bushes. Larkspur, Goldregen
and bushes of wild roses were so high that one could walk between
them as through a forest. The blossoms closed above our heads and
one saw only the blue sky, the blossoms and the butterflies. One
evening I was standing at dusk in front of a little pond in which
a dead mouse floated. The trees were already dark and the blossoms
closed. I ran quickly into the house.
xxxMarion and I slept in the same room, in white
beds with side rails. The large room in the tower opened to the
bedroom. In the morning the sun shone there first and the dolls
were sitting stiffly on their chairs.
xxxI woke up one night with a great brightness
in the room which quickly disappeared. I wanted to get up fast to
look from the foot end of my bed at the dolls, but it was dark already
again. After a while the brightness returned. Before I could get
up and go to the foot end of the bed it was dark again. I stood
up holding onto the side rails of the bed and waited until it would
get bright again. It did come back. For an instant I saw the dolls
in the bright yellow light. Then it turned blue and disappeared
again. Now I waited for the brightness to last longer, but the darkness
returned each time so quickly, that I could see the dolls only for
an instant. After a while the light became less frequent and I fell
asleep again. The next morning the air was clear and cool. The leaves
on the trees were moist and shiny and the sky blue with white clouds.
People said there had been a thunder storm during the night with
xxxThe next morning Marion was taken to town. I
stayed alone in our room and was allowed to play with the baby doll.
I took her carefully from her pillow and undressed her. She had
blue eyes, which closed when lying down, and a body of rubber which
felt nearly alive. Her arms and legs were bent with small hands
and feet. I looked again and again, touching them with my hand.
It was the most marvellous toy that I could imagine. I started to
dress the doll again when Marion returned. From the door she saw
that I had the doll. She tore it away from me and complained:
xxx"She is not allowed to play with my doll!"
One explained to her that I had been allowed to play with it. That
was the only time. The other dolls were not as nice. I wanted to
play with them anyhow and searched for new dresses out of the large
doll's cupboard. I started to dress the dolls and to place the chairs
around the table and put the dolls there in a different manner.
That did not last long either. Marion explained to me that the dolls
would have to stay in the same clothes and sit on their chairs along
the walls, as always. I should look at picture books instead. I
took my own doll from under the bed. She was ill and one had to
be very careful. It was best to let her lie quietly. For a few days
her hair had been coming loose and the eyes were falling out easily.
I looked at the picture books, went into the garden or downstairs
into the kitchen, where the labour service girls were sitting in
blue smocks, peeling potatoes and making fruit conserves. They offered
me food and cold milk or cold coffee. The kitchen was cool and half
dark. Outside it was so bright and hot that one could hardly see.
xxxWe played in the garden with the village children
or sometimes on the street and went past the small white houses
with their slate roofs. The windows were so low that one could look
into the rooms. At noon the shutters were closed and the shadows
were narrow alongside the walls. When the children were called in
for lunch it became very quiet. The wide, empty street went past
the quiet houses and in the gardens the light was shimmering on
the leaves and from far away one heard a cock crow. It was time
to go home. In the high rooms it was cool. We had to wash our hands
and comb our hair before lunch. The sun shone through the windows
into the room and one saw the blue sky outside. In the afternoon
we sometimes went for a walk with a friend of Marion's. They both
had dark blue pleated skirts, white blouses and straw hats and went
arm-in-arm. We visited the labour service girls who were harvesting
fruit and working on the fields. We visited the village school classes,
who were sitting during the afternoon in the warm schoolrooms. Through
the windows one saw the summer landscape and felt the heat. Once
we went farther across the land, past an old mill with grey walls,
that had been standing still for many years. On the outside wall
there was a wooden staircase. Fir trees stood close to the house.
The mill was close to the forest, then there were meadows and wheat
fields and a lonely, stony path leading to the next village. On
the entrance of that village stood a grey stone church with low
windows. The door was half open and we entered it. At first it was
so dark that one saw nothing. A little light entered through the
windows. It was cool and smelled of incense. After a while one could
see the benches and the dark altar paintings. That was the first
church that I can remember. When it was dark we went home. The chateau
and the courtyard looked quite different, much larger. The white
walls of the buildings were bright under the starlight and the doors
and open windows dark and black. We were tired and happy to be home.
The next day it rained and we had to stay in the house. I looked
at Marion's picture books and games. Sometimes we were taken down
to the kitchen, into the laundry room or up to the attic. There
was an old kerosene lamp with a glass cylinder. We were not allowed
to touch it because it was difficult to replace. I wanted to take
it into my hands and then put it back. It fell down and broke. The
governess returned and said nothing. I felt sorry and asked whether
it was so bad? She became pale and still said nothing. Marion enjoyed
my misfortune. She told me that a terrible punishment was waiting
for me when her mother would return. She had gone away for a few
days. That left me quite indifferent. I was angry about her Schadenfreude
and that she meddled with it at all.
xxxOn the next rainy afternoon her friend Trudi
returned. They were quite boisterous. They played for a long time
in the room until they did not know what to do anymore. They thought
of my doll under the bed and pulled out the carton. I was just about
to take it away from them and did not want to let go. The governess
came and said the two should play with Marion's dolls and put mine
back into its place and that I should come down to the kitchen.
The cook was not there and we prepared supper: currants with milk
and bread and butter. We brought the trays upstairs and ate.
xxxIt rained outside and the grey light of dusk
fell into the room. It darkened early. Somebody picked up Trudi
and after all the jumping and running it was quiet in the room.
I wanted to take another look at my doll, pulled out the carton
and opened it. There she lay without eyes and without hair. The
flowered dress was pulled off. She was wrapped in an old red dress
from one of Marion's dolls.
xxxHer face was painted red. Marion said matter-of-factly:
xxx"She is supposed to
be a witch!"
xxxI cleaned her face, put on her flowered dress
and put the wig on her head. She was lying still with closed eyes.
One could have thought that everything was unchanged but when one
lifted her up the wig fell from her head and one looked into the
black eye holes. Later I took her back to Berlin and we brought
her into a doll clinic, but the eyes and the hair would not stay
xxxThat evening we had to go to bed early. The next morning I thought everything
might have grown on again. I opened the box to have a look. The
doll was lying with its closed eyes and brown locks on the green
wood shavings. I looked at her for a long time. One did not really
xxx I was nearly certain that everything was all right again. I lifted
her up very carefully but everything was as before, the bald head
in which the eyelids opened and shut, and the empty eye holes appeared.
In spite of that I put her back carefully so that one could not
notice anything and waited that perhaps everything would grow on.
From time to time I looked carefully but it did not happen.
xxxAt noon Marion's mother came back. We were called to see her. The governess
told her what had happened in the house. I had to think of the cylinder.
I had forgotten it in the meantime. I heard the governess say:
xxx"Oh yes, and then something very unpleasant has happened to the cylinder...
xxx"It was not me!" I said very quickly and looked at both as the
governess grew pale and Marion's mother blushed.
xxxShe talked for a long time about truth and lies, and that one always
had to tell the truth, as unpleasant as it might be, and what would
my mother say. I listened to her but did not agree and said:
xxx"With Mammi I would never have lied because everything was different there
and besides that Marion threatened me that such terrible things
would happen! The cylinder cannot have been that valuable and my
doll is also broken!"
xxxThat was quite wrong! I was sent to our room and told to think about
myself, and pack my things for the voyage home.
xxxThe incident was not the reason. Time had passed. The family was going
to travel and I was to return to Berlin. And so I was sitting on
my bed, the doll in my arms and my things packed.
xxxThe next morning the train left. I was allowed to say goodbye to the
labour service girls, to take leave from the cook and from the village
children and finally from Marion. Neither of us was sorry and we
did not make any pretences. With the governess it was different.
She had been very kind and we had understood each other well. I
was brought to the station with my luggage. I held the box with
the doll in my hand and did not want to give it to anybody. I do
not recall who accompanied me. I cannot recall the voyage and hardly
the next period in Berlin.
In winter before Christmas I was to visit my aunt, the sister of
my father. She lived in Köpenick in a nice house with a garden.
I arrived there on a dull grey day. Behind the iron fence stood
leafless trees and bushes up to the house. I was brought into my
aunt's room. It had started to snow. The grey light fell softly
through the thin white curtains into the room. She was very friendly.
She took off my coat and cap and combed my hair. Then she showed
me the house. I said hello to my two year old cousin and Mrs. Baumann,
the cook and two maids. The name of one was Inge. It was cold and
grey outside and one could not go into the garden. I had to stay
inside walking around the house and was bored. My aunt was not always
there and Frau Baumann usually forbade me whatever I was about to
do. I liked to have lunch in the room with light blue walls, large
windows with white curtains and shiny brown furniture with metal
fittings and silken covers. The table was always nicely set and
the dim winter light fell on the glasses and silver cutlery. I ate
with my uncle and aunt at the table. The little cousin had eaten
before. Once on a Sunday we had chestnut cream, which I did not
like. It tasted bitter and I was surprised that everybody else liked
it. After the meal I had to go to rest.
xxxI had a room for myself with a lamp beside the bed which one could
switch on and off by pulling a cord. Most of the time I did not
sleep, but pulled on the cord and waited until somebody picked me
xxxIn the afternoon I tried to play with my little cousin. He never
understood what I wanted. I preferred to look at his toys. He had
a cupboard full of locomotives, picture books, tops, stuffed animals
and a small bright blue celluloid bear which I liked best.
xxxOnce when I held it in my hands he wanted to take it away. He pulled
on its leg. I did not let go. Something tore inside and arms and
legs came loose. I had only the trunk in my hands. The little boy
started to cry. Frau Baumann came to have a look. She became very
angry. My aunt gave me some handiwork: a piece of linen and blue
yarn. I was supposed to cross-stitch. I loved to do it. Sometimes
the thread became knotted and I had to sew it in and start anew.
I was not good at that yet.
xxxSometimes I visited my uncle who was ill and lay in his room, always with
a large stack of books and journals beside him. Above his night
table hung a small picture, so transparent in its colours that one
saw the paper through the colour and yet so even that one could
never do it with crayons. He explained to me that it was a watercolour.
Such pictures were painted by dissolving colour in water and putting
it on paper, which was then coloured. I wanted to try that in my
room. I put some of my crayons in the wash basin. However, they
did not dissolve. After a while I took them out and put them on
a piece of paper. Then they dried and one did not see anything.
Only the colour had become brittle. On the paper there were only
water spots and no colour. I went back to paint with crayons and
did not try anything else. Time passed slowly. One saw the leafless
trees in the garden and the grey sky. Black crows flew over the
house. Now and then it snowed. The snow did not stay for long but
melted in the street. It was wet, cold and grey outside and became
dark early. What I liked best was to be in the warm lit up room
with the heavy curtains, behind which the blackout paper was rolled
down. Christmas was coming soon. They were baking in the kitchen.
I was allowed to punch out cookies. There were many different forms,
hearts, stars, comets, birds, flowers and a fish which I liked best.
Then there was a cookie tray full of fishes! Sometimes my aunt rolled
up the dough and showed me how one could work with the least leftover
and how one coated the cookies with egg yolk, not too thick and
not too thin, and how to put them on the tray so that as many as
possible could fit and yet did not stick together during the baking.
She was not always home. Frau Baumann criticized everything I did.
It was better with Inge the younger maid. She had a nice soft face
and blond hair. Sometimes she talked about her family, mother, sister
and a small child who lived in one room. One Sunday afternoon she
took me to her home. They were sitting in a small, dark room full
of furniture. We had coffee and a little cake. In the grey winter
evening everything was dark and sad. From the window one looked
onto the roofs and factory chimneys. Dark columns of smoke were
rising and mixing with the clouds in the sky. In spite of that they
were sitting there so peacefully. The old mother had white hair
and the child sat on her lap. The sister beside her was knitting
to make a little extra money. In the evening Inge and I went home.
It was very dark and now and then there was a street lamp, its light
reflecting on the moist pavement. The wet leaves were still lying
under the trees. Here and there some light fell out of a half opened
door onto the street. Only a few people were outside. The moist
cold penetrated our clothes. We were happy when we reached home.
xxxThe next morning my aunt called me, asking whether my hair was itchy.
I had not noticed anything. She took a fine comb without a handle
and a double row of teeth and combed my hair very slowly with small
strokes. Inge wore a white kerchief around her head. Frau Baumann
stood at the stove with an angry face and did not let her touch
anything. In the evening I was combed again. In the evening uncle
and aunt went to Berlin. I had a book in my room. I turned the light
on to look at it, even though I was supposed to sleep. I liked the
book. I didn't listen for steps on the stairs. Only at the last
moment I turned off the light. Unfortunately I tore off the cord.
The door opened and Frau Baumann entered the room. She turned the
light on and on seeing the book and torn off cord was very angry.
She slapped me several times, took the book and went downstairs.
I was sad not to have a light anymore. Sometimes I lay awake, even
without the book and then it was nice to have the light on rather
than lie in the dark listening to a storm outside or the furniture
crack in the room.
xxxIn two days it was Christmas. My mother was to pick me up. The last
morning there was another mishap. In my room a mirror stood on the
table, with a covered frame on a stand, like a photo frame. I thought
it was standing too obliquely and wanted to put it upright. At first
it stood straight but when I took a few steps I heard it slide on
the table surface. Before I could turn around the mirror was lying
flat on the table broken into long fragments. When one looked into
it, one did not see one's entire face, but in each of the fragments
the same: many eyes, many noses, many fronts, some hair and many
ears when one turned a little. It was very funny and I forgot that
the mirror was broken. Then I remembered it and wanted to tell my
aunt. We were called to lunch and I wanted to wait until she was
alone. After lunch she took me into her room and combed me again
with the fine tooth comb. Then we went downstairs. She wanted to
clean up the toy cupboard. I was supposed to help. She looked at
the little bear without arms and legs. I threw it into the corner.
xxx"Why are you throwing it?" she asked.
xxx"Because it is broken anyway!"
xxx"So, who has broken it?"
xxx"And who has torn the cord from the lamp?"
xxx"And who has broken the mirror?"
xxxThat was a long register of sins and I was sad. She did not say
anything, only that I was going back to my mother and that I was
a good child overall. When we had cleared up the toy cupboard we
packed my things.
Berlin (with grandparents), 1940
Our apartment did not exist anymore. One evening my mother had invited
some friends who could not come. She went out herself. There was
an air raid. When she returned the house was in ruins and she had
nothing left except for a few things at the hospital and at her
xxxNow we moved in with the grandparents who lived in a large two storey
apartment on the Roseneck. We had the two upper rooms. We did not
xxxThere was always irritation in the air and one never knew what one had
done wrong. It was best to stay quietly in the room during the day
waiting for the evening, when my mother came back. The best days
were Sundays. I often asked in the morning:
xxx"Is today Sunday?"
xxxThat was rare and often I was already asleep when she had so much
to do in the hospital that she came home late.
xxxChristmas was different. Grandmother roasted a turkey in the kitchen. She
wore a white smock. In the kitchen everything was white and shiny
and she was in a good mood and quite friendly. My hair had to be
washed, an event I never liked, but not by my mother who was still
at the hospital. Grandmother used a strong shampoo. She said:
xxx"Why did this have to happen on Christmas day?"
xxxSince the afternoon at Inge's family I had lice and the combing
with the fine tooth comb had not helped. The shampoo irritated my
skin and ran into my eyes. The rinsing took so long I could hardly
breathe. My eyes were swollen from all the water. Finally it was
over. My hair was drying and I sat beside the stove looking at a
picture book. The evening came. My mother came home, we went down
to the kitchen with Grandmother. It was dark outside. The street
was empty. The street lamps were lit and there was some snow in
the front yards. The pavement was black and shiny. We went upstairs
into our rooms. My mother changed and I put on the pretty pink dress
with the smocked bodice and puffed sleeves. I knew that she had
sewn it because sometimes I had to try it on. Then there were only
pieces of cloth, many large stitches and fringed edges. One could
not imagine that it would really become a dress. Now it was finished:
made of very soft fine wool, with white buttons on the back which
I could not close myself. I sat on the bed and cried. She reassured
me. The bell rang with a high tone quite different from the usual
one. We went downstairs to the dining room. The door was wide open.
Inside stood a Christmas tree reaching from the floor to the ceiling.
It was bright from the many candles so that one was nearly blinded.
On the twigs hung many small birds with coloured tails, wax angels,
silver trumpets which hung on silver threads and coloured glass
balls reflecting the candlelight. From the highest branch to the
lowest ones one saw a silvery sheen, like water in which light is
reflected or like moonlight. That was lametta. On the lowest branches
there were red mushrooms with white dots, squirrels carved in wood
and all the other animals of the forest. Around the trunk there
was dark green, soft moss and the prettiest spring flowers planted
there: violets, tulips, narcissus and hyacinths. Their fragrance
mixed with the smell of the burning candles. On a stool beside the
Christmas tree stood a doll's house. I thought that it was for me.
I waited until my mother took me there to look at it. It had a painted
gable and three rooms, two were beside each other on the first floor
and the third with a French window was under the roof. There was
painted furniture and a garden. Small dolls stood around everywhere
or sat on chairs. The first room downstairs was the dining room.
The furniture was wood stained. One saw the pattern of the wood.
Small birds standing on flowers looking at each other were painted
on the chairs and on the doors of the cupboards. In the centre of
the room was a round table with a linen cover. Straight backed chairs
stood around it with little pillows tied to their legs. There was
a credenza, a cupboard and two low white chairs in the corners.
The window and a door led into the garden. On the shelves of the
credenza stood small plates with fruit. One could take them out
and put them on the table and place the dolls around for a meal.
The next room was the bedroom with blue lacquered furniture. The
third room under the roof had a balcony on the back wall of the
house, with a door and a window. The furniture was red. Against
the wall stood three little beds with red and white pillows and
in the centre a table with little chairs. It looked like a child's
room. The dolls had round painted wooden heads, bending arms and
legs and little hands and feet. The women wore long skirts, the
men wide pants tied at the ankle. The torsos were made out of wound
up wool. I tried to give them names. I called the parents Andreas
and Anna. There were several uncles and aunts and three little children.
The girl had a white skirt and a sky blue top. I called her Kathrienchen.
I liked her best. There weren't enough beds for all the dolls. At
night some had to sit on the dining room chairs. Kathrienchen always
had a bed.
xxxDuring the day the dolls sometimes sat in the garden on the soft green
silken paper grass under the trees with pink blossoms.
xxxThere was tiny gravel on the garden paths and large birds made of wood
with feathery tails stood on the grass. There was a little fountain
surrounded by grey stones. I liked the doll house so much that I
would hardly look at anything else: paint books, picture books,
crayons, a watercolour set and a funny book with white pages which
felt rough in certain spots. If one held them against the light
one saw figures and drawings, otherwise one could not see anything.
xxxLater we had dinner at a nicely set table on a white tablecloth with flowers
and ornaments. My mother told me how all the soldiers in the hospital,
especially those who were allowed to get up, had helped her with
the doll's house. The carpenters made furniture, the painters painted
and lacquered it and the glaziers put in the windows. She had painted
birds and vines on the gables and sewn the curtains and pillows.
Now it was finished and stood next to the Christmas tree. It was
the most beautiful toy I had ever had.
xxxThe next morning my mother woke me up. It was bright outside. I was
surprised that she was still home:
xxx"Is today Sunday?" I asked.
xxxYes, it was Sunday and tomorrow also and then another few days afterwards.
I did not really understand why the weekdays had been shuffled around
so much. Important was that she stayed home and that downstairs
in the Christmas room stood the doll house and she could play with
me for the whole day. Downstairs the thick curtains had been opened.
The sun shone into the room and onto the painting on the opposite
wall. It showed a blond child in a dark velvet dress on a dark background.
That was my grandfather as a little boy. He only had brothers and
his mother had always wanted a girl. When he was a child she let
his hair grow long and sometimes put a dress on him. Now grandfather
was sitting at the breakfast table, toasting bread. He asked whether
I would like to continue with that. It looked simple enough but
the first two slices of toast burned black. Then I looked too often
and they didn't turn brown. The next ones were a bit better. From
then on they were all evenly toasted golden brown, wrapped into
a napkin and put back into the silver bread basket. After breakfast
I turned to my toys. The crayons were nice, with different colours
in each box, so that I had quite different reds and blues. In some
boxes there were even light blues and a very light green. Then the
dolls were woken up, the curtains pulled back and the pillows aired.
The dolls were put in the large dining room in front of their white
plates with food. They could sit there until noon. Later my mother
came and we folded little baskets out of silver paper for the dolls
in the garden. They had four compartments and one could put four
different types of grain into them and if one turned the little
basket around it was Heaven and Hell.
xxxShe showed me what one could do with the book with white paper. One
had to go with a soft crayon across the pages. Shapes and lines
took colour and in the end there was a picture with many little
goats. On the next page there was a wolf and the story of the seven
xxxIn the evening after dinner the tree was lit up again and we sat for
a while looking into the candles. Later, my mother and I went upstairs.
She read a story and together we looked at my picture books. The
next day she had to go back to work at the hospital. I sat upstairs
in my room with my paint books and tried to paint with the watercolours.
My mother had given me a large apron and a cloth to wash out the
brushes and showed me how one had to treat the colours: first moisten
them with the brush then dry them lightly and never to put a wet
brush into the colours. One was not supposed to mix the colours
in the containers, but rather on the lid.
xxxI started to paint the dress of the girl. The brush was too thick
and went beyond the outline. I took a thinner brush which spread
out on the paper and painted over the contour. It took a long time
until one had covered the surface. I took a brush full of water
to spread the colour better. The colour wasn't even, but irregularly
lighter and thicker. I wanted to even that out and ran my brush
across the watercolour pools and then over the paper. It was too
wet and now there was a lake of colour on the paper that did not
want to dry up. Impatiently I dried it with the cloth. Now the contours
of my drawing weren't visible anymore. There were spots everywhere.
I turned it over quickly thinking the next one would turn out better.
Once my grandmother came up and painted the shoe of the little girl.
She led the brush across the paper, its pointed tip precisely along
the contour and never beyond it. She went downstairs and I got myself
fresh water and wanted to do it exactly as she had done. I did a
little better, but not as well as she. Sometimes the brush spread
out and went across the contours and sometimes I held it too obliquely
and it made spots.
xxxUnfortunately there was no white in the watercolour box. Otherwise one would have
been able to correct some of the mistakes. I liked to paint with
the watercolours. I preferred them now to the crayons. I found it
too boring to always take the colours indicated in the paint books.
Soon I did not follow them any longer. Then I didn't like the drawings,
always children with thick legs and large shoes and flowers, fruit
and butterflies and far too strong in outline. I started to draw
myself, figures for the stories my mother had read and told me or
I drew from the pictures in my picture books changing what I did
not like there. The heads were difficult, never turning out as I
wanted, as much as I tried. When my mother came home in the evening
I sometimes asked her to draw a few heads and faces. These turned
out to be the best pictures, since I was now better at handling
The next thing I recall is the time on an estate near Berlin which
belonged to the brother of my grandfather. I was to stay with his
son, daughter-in-law and my cousin Joachim who was my age. I do
not recall who brought me there. When we arrived we walked along
a lake close to which stood large, dark trees. A little dog came
towards us across a bridge and barked. Behind the trees one saw
the lights of the house. They all welcomed me. We had supper at
a large table. It was late and my cousin and I were allowed to eat
with the grownups. Later they served us our supper earlier. We had
a soft boiled egg with a brown shell, the first that I recall. That
was something rare during the war. We later had it once weekly.
xxxMy Aunt Leni brought me into the children's room. The next morning
when it was light outside I walked and looked around. The buildings
stood on an open square. Opposite our house was the home of my grandfather's
brother, uncle Konrad and his wife, aunt Kaethe. Between the houses
stood red brick farm buildings. Further back there were stables,
a chicken yard and aunt Kaethe's garden. Out front, close to the
lake stood large old trees. The branches of the willows were hanging
into the water. Sometimes the swans came close to the shore so one
could feed them. There was a boathouse close to the lake with rowboats
and paddles. Its wall was open to the water so that one could let
the boats down into the water. There were steps down to the water
level. Sometimes I sat there looking out onto the lake. In the boathouse
the water was dark. Outside it became lighter. The current and waves
shimmered in the light. Uncle Konrad's house was the most beautiful.
It was built of yellow stone, large with high windows. There was
a wide entrance hall downstairs with heavy old cupboards, armchairs,
antlers and stuffed birds on the walls. Below these trophies were
little plates with an inscription indicating place and date of the
hunt. There was a huge boar's head with glass eyes, large white
teeth and huge fangs in the corners of the mouth. It looked as if
the boar would come out of the wall at any moment. At dusk it looked
quite frightening. The squirrel and partridge sat on their branches
looking down with their glass eyes as if they were alive. One could
touch them and stroke their fur and feathers but they did not move.
It was difficult to touch them because they sat high on the wall
and Joachim and I had to step on chairs. Uncle Konrad became angry
when he noticed us. We were not allowed to touch the animals again.
He had a white, scruffy beard and a deep brash voice. We were afraid
xxxThe living room was set up similarly to the entrance hall with a large
heavy table in the centre and dark cupboards and armchairs. When
aunt Kaethe entered, it immediately seemed more friendly. She had
beautiful white hair and usually wore black dresses with lace collars.
She put her old doll house for us in the living room. Each time
we visited we were allowed to play with it. Nearly every morning
after Joachim and I had breakfast we went over there and played
with the doll house.
xxxSometimes Aunt Kaethe took us into her garden. Roses and bleeding hearts were
blooming everywhere. She walked up and down in her black dress between
the bushes cutting flowers for her room. The prettiest were the
bleeding hearts with their bent branches and the many bright red
xxxSometimes she took a walk with us in the afternoon along the lake, under the
trees where wolfsmilk grew and red Frenchmen bugs crawled between
the roots of the trees. If one poked around in the holes and nooks
they all came out, often so many that we became afraid and ran away.
Once we started to step on them and squash them. Many red wings
covered the ground. A few bugs were still moving slowly. It was
so awful that we never poked around it again and left the individual
bugs alone when we saw them. We picked wolfsmilk and broke the thick
stems with the sulphur yellow flowers off. The thick white milk
squirted out of the stems dropping on our hands spreading a funny
smell. They were nice flowers and we preferred to leave them alone.
We found copper gun shells from military manoeuvres in the area.
They were everywhere, between the trees and in the moss. They reflected
the light when they were lying in the sun. We collected them in
baskets. We knew that they were delivered somewhere but we did not
think much about it. I remembered the military hospital. We knew
that there was a war, but we did not connect it with the shells,
which were so smooth and shiny on the ground, not looking dangerous
at all, rather like a nice toy. It was different with the shooting
exercises. From far away we heard the low rumble. We were not allowed
out until the exercises were over towards the evening. On such days
we did not get along at all and quarrelled, especially when I wanted
to have Joachim's trumpet and he did not want to give it to me.
Once we tore at it so violently that the trumpet broke. We both
regretted that because it was such a nice big trumpet. From then
on we got along better when we had to stay home.
xxxIn the evening Joachim's uncle sometimes rowed out on the lake taking
us with him. We sat on the front bench in the wide boat. On the
floor was a basket with sandwiches, mineral water and glasses. My
uncle rowed out on the lake, then undressed and jumped into the
water. Each time he jumped the boat inclined and we had to balance
it. The mineral water inclined in the cups with the boat. We ate
our sandwiches and looked over the lake. The water shimmered in
the oblique light. Sometimes there was a little wind. The boat danced
quietly on the waves. At one spot water lilies grew in the lake.
We asked to be rowed over there. My uncle did not want to. He said
it was forbidden to pick them. We saw them from a distance, large
white flowers above green leaves. We thought how much nicer they
were than the small water lilies on the other side of the lake.
xxxLater the night came. Dusk set over the dark trees and lake and the first
stars appeared in the sky. Uncle Marte swam back to the boat. He
held onto the side climbing into it. It inclined even more and one
had to hold onto the basket and his clothes. He shook like a waterman,
dressed and rowed back to the shore. Across the lake where the sun
had gone down there was a bright streak and the lake was quiet.
The waves and current reflected the moonlight. In the boat house
the water was dark. Joachim and I sat on the bench looking out.
We waited until the boat had been brought in and then we all went
home. We often thought about the water lilies and how nice it would
be to see them from close up and to touch them.
xxxMeanwhile the leaves were turning yellow here and there on the trees. The
days were still quite warm. One noon after lunch Joachim and I walked
across the courtyard past the red brick buildings around aunt Kaethe's
house. Behind it was a terrace with wide, low steps leading onto
a gravel path. Uncle Konrad and aunt Kaethe were having their lunch.
The glass doors to the house were open. The white curtains floated
out in the wind and the white tablecloth fluttered. On the terrace
there were yellow leaves everywhere, tumbling down in the wind.
Some were like large yellow hands. We were asked what we were doing
in the afternoon. We were told we could go out onto the lake and
look at the water lilies. One couldn't have told us anything better.
At first one still heard the sounds from the courtyard. Then it
was calmer and we went out further.
xxxThe trees on the shore were only green strips. There were white clouds
in the blue sky above them. The boat slid quietly across the water.
Its swell spread out across the lake. Then we got to the water lilies.
The large white flowers stood above the water swaying with the waves.
They were surrounded by green leaves with shiny smooth surfaces.
The boat slid into place between the leaves. We let our arms dangle
over its edge. At first we picked a few leaves. They were difficult
to reach with their hard flexible stems which always seemed to slip
away when one wanted to grab them. One could hardly bend them. My
aunt Kaethe made me a hat from a large leaf with its stem as a hat
band. We picked two water lilies. We were not allowed more: a bud
and an open blossom. They were beautiful with white shiny petals
and yellow centres. I held them in my hands and could not believe
that we had really been to see the water lilies.
xxxAs we rowed back wild ducks landed on the water. We fed them with bread
crumbs. They circled around the boat a few times and swam on. Gradually
we approached the shore. Aunt Kaethe came with us into the house
to look after the water lilies. She looked for two shallow bowls
and put one water lily into each, with a long stem as a ring around
the rim of the plate. She put one into each of our rooms. That way
they would keep for a long time. We often looked at them. In the
evening we stood in front of the plates before going to bed. If
one stirred the water the lily inclined just as on the lake. The
next morning they were still there standing in the water, the white
petals shimmering in the morning light. The stem was under the clear
water and above it the smooth green leaves. We went out. It was
a nice day. We stayed out for most of the day. In the afternoon
we went up to the room to look at the water lilies. The place on
the dresser was empty. I looked around everywhere and also through
the house. I found the two plates washed up in the kitchen. Erne,
the maid, who had not liked me to start with, said that one should
not keep such dirty things in one's room and besides that, water
lilies were poisonous and ugly and one was not to pick up any water
xxxA few days later in the afternoon we went to swim in the lake. Uncle
Malte and Aunt Leni went out with the boat. They told us to be careful.
There were rusty wire baskets under the water. We stayed on the
shore with Erne. We then went into the water and started to splash
Erne. She became angry and put both our heads under the water. Joachim
could tear himself loose, but I could not. She put my head under
so often that I did not notice much anymore until one of the wire
baskets hooked onto my heel. Then she let me loose. I pulled off
the wire basket and went to the shore. My foot hurt me for a long
time. I did not like to stay in the house anymore. Early in the
morning I went to visit aunt Kaethe. Sometimes she was sitting in
front of the mirror and combing her hair. On the dresser stood a
small silver hedgehog with many holes in its back filled with cotton
and into these one stuck sewing needles. I would have preferred
nice pins with glass heads and said so. The next day there were
pins with coloured glass heads. I was allowed to put them into the
hedgehog until it was full of pins. We both thought that the hedgehog
looked better now.
xxxAunt Kaethe invited a few nieces who were already going to school,
to spend the last days of their vacation with us. They were older
than Joachim and I. We did not see much of them. The last evening
before they left we were invited over. We played lotto around a
large table. Each one received a farewell present: a sewing bag,
a jewellery box or a paint book with a watercolour box, which I
liked best. The next morning they took off on the steamer. We were
allowed to go to the dock and standing on the bridge, looked after
the steamer. One of them had a white cap that became smaller and
smaller until it was only a dot, and then one did not see it anymore.
xxxA few days later I was to return to Berlin. Aunt Kaethe gave me a
set of doll's porcelain made of yellow stoneware with red and blue
rims, soup bowls and flat plates, larger bowls, saucepans, a large
soup pot and small dessert plates, everything that belongs to a
complete set. It was wrapped in silk paper and put into a large
box. In the entrance hall, uncle Konrad lifted me up to stroke the
squirrel. Then he gave me a kiss. I felt his scruffy beard against
my cheek. I had always liked to visit aunt Kaethe. To take leave
from all the others was not difficult and so I returned to Berlin.
xxxI spent quite a long time with my grandparents. During the day I sat
in the living room and played with my doll house, drew or painted
in our rooms. On Sunday my mother was home and played with me or
we visited one of her friends. In the evening we ate together with
the grandparents and lit the Christmas tree once more. Once when
the tree was to be lit for the last time, I had been naughty and
had to stay up in my room. I do not recall what I had done. Everyone
was dissatisfied with me, even my mother who brought me my supper
and afterwards apricot compote which I loved. This time I sat in
front of it and swallowed. It did not taste good at all. Later they
picked me up and took me down to see the lit Christmas tree once
more. I was still crying and saw it only mistily through my tears.
I was happy to say goodnight to everybody and go to bed.
In the middle of February my mother gave up her position in the
hospital to work as an editor at Ullstein . First she wanted to
take a two month vacation for winter sports in St. Johann in Tyrol.
I do not recall the preparations. One evening we entered the crowded
train. It was dark in the compartments and very hot in my ski suit
made of uniform material and a pullover. My mother wore the same
pattern. My grandmother was at the train and waved. Our train moved
out of the dim, poorly lit station, a white cloud of steam at the
window. I thought of our former travels, when we often had a whole
compartment for ourselves. This time we had to be happy to have
a place to sit. The air was hot and stale in the compartment. On
the ceiling burned a dim, blue light bulb. People were sitting on
their seats looking in front of them or trying to sit as comfortably
as possible and to get their legs and feet into place. Gradually
the compartment emptied and I could lie down. I could not sleep.
I heard the rolling of the wheels and looked out into the darkness
through the window and waited until it was morning. Finally it was
brighter. One saw the telegraph poles and the violet sky. The earth
was still dark. The outline of the hills and house roofs were set
off against the horizon. I fell asleep and woke up only when it
was bright and late in the morning. There was snow on the fields
and white mountains with dark forests.
xxxWe were in Southern Germany. My mother had been awake for a long time
and was knitting. We lifted the window table again and had breakfast,
with hard boiled eggs, bread, cheese and jam. We did not have our
white celluloid plates or travel cutlery anymore.
xxxI do not recall anything else of this trip. It probably wasn't easy
to get to St. Johann in Tyrol with all the luggage. We had to change
xxxIn St. Johann we lived in the guest house Zur Post on the main street,
next to the bakery Dampfl. Even though it was probably quite nice
I do not like to recall this period. The guest house was empty and
desolate with old fashioned rooms, draughty corridors and staircases
with worn down bannisters and steps. In our room stood two dark
brown beds with turned legs, a dark brown mirror cupboard, a table
and chairs. There was a large sink on the rim of which we put our
snow stiffened socks and gloves to thaw. As much as I had liked
our rooms in Meersburg where the sun always shone and from where
one could see the flowerbeds and the butterflies, I disliked this
room where it was always cold and gloomy. Down in the house there
was a large, draughty and quiet guest room where the house guests
ate. It was just as cold and desolate as the rest of the house.
The ill humoured hostess complained in the first few days that I
made too much noise on the stairs. She did not like children. Greti,
a child of one of the waitresses, a small blond girl who lived in
the guest house with her mother, was timid and anxious.
xxxIn the morning after breakfast we went onto the ski slopes. My mother
took a ski course. She said I should not take part as I could not
yet ski. She helped me put my skis on making sure the ties were
firm and my pullover pulled down. I stood in the middle of the slope
on one of the less steep, nearly flat portions. I held my sticks
in my hands and did not know what to do. The sun shone on the snow
which scintillated in many crystals and the white surfaces set themselves
up sharply against the blue sky. I was not used to such bright light
and my eyes hurt. I lost my equilibrium and fell on my side with
my hands into the snow. It was very crusty that day and my hands
hurt. I turned around to look for my mother. I could not see her
anywhere. I began to call her. She did not hear me. The other people
on the slope did not bother with me. I started to cry and called
again. Then my skis slid away. I did not lose my balance again but
went down the slope smoothly. I could not brake at the bottom of
the hill. There was a small snowdrift of powdered snow. Of course
I fell again, this time into the soft powdered snow which flew up
around me as a cloud and fell off my clothes as I got up. I asked
the lady beside me how to brake. She had watched me and seemed friendly.
She showed me the snowplow and also the stair step to get back up
the hill. We spent the entire morning together. When my mother came
back the time had passed quite quickly.
xxxWe saw the lady at the restaurant sitting a few tables away from us.
Her husband was taking the same ski course as my mother. Now we
sometimes did things together. We went each day to the slopes. Slowly
I learned to ski better. I stayed around close to where the course
took place and watched while the others practised curves and half
curves. When the ski instructor had no time he was replaced by his
nine year old son. He skied in front of the group, showing everything
once and correcting each person individually just as his father
did. One could see that he was bored and would have preferred to
be with his friends on the higher and steeper part of the mountain.
At twelve o'clock when the course was finished he disappeared immediately
and sometimes one saw him on the higher area with his friends doing
the slalom. He never turned over a stick.
xxxSometimes it was too much for me to be on the ski slopes in the morning and
afternoon. Then I stayed in for the afternoon and drew. Among the
guests was a young draftsman from Berlin who did not go out much
either. In the afternoon he sat on the balcony which surrounded
the entire house. He painted watercolours: the main street of St.
Johann with its pointed, gabled houses, the church with its onion
tower and to the other side the gardens, meadows and the mountains
with their dark forests. I sat beside him without talking and looked
at his work so as not to disturb him. When the sun set it became
cold quickly and we went inside.
xxxMy Mother built me a bird's house because I did not have my doll's
house with me. In the evening I sat on the floor with my bird house
and my cards, because there was more room than anywhere else. I
put the letters together or built card houses, in which I put the
birds. My mother sat at the table writing letters or making a new
tulip stand and new birds.
xxxShe met an acquaintance from Berlin who was a Colonel with the ski troops.
He rode down the main street on a nice brown horse. Sometimes we
saved our breakfast for the horse. I was afraid to give it the sugar
cube on my flat hand as my mother had shown me. I would rather watch.
Later she told me that they might have married, but he did not like
me and so it was of no use. She was glad that it did not happen
because in the long run they wouldn't have gotten along. Sometimes
when I was home alone in the afternoon I went to the Bakery Dampfl
next door. There was a friendly woman with tresses around her head.
She gave me a glass of hot milk and a butter roll and sometimes
a sausage without taking any ration coupon for it. I sat at one
of the tables and ate. We talked about the weather, the street and
the guest house until I thanked her and went home.
xxxOnce we went to the Angerer Alm . We left in the morning and went past
the ski slopes and up the mountain to the forest, and then through
a hollow path in which one could walk only with difficulty because
it was full of frozen wagon tracks and footsteps. My mother and
I had not taken our skis because we did not dare go downhill on
the way back. The others had to carry their skis on their shoulders.
After a while the path was less steep and one could walk on the
side. The sun shone through the fir trees. The shadows between their
stems were blue and violet. There were small buttons on the bushes.
We saw a hazelnut bush in bloom. I went to pick a twig. My mother
said I would only throw it away or lose it and the twig would not
grow back in that spot. The blooming hazelnut bushes and willows
were the first that the bees could find in spring. I understood
that, but said one little twig would not matter.
"If everyone who passes thought like that" said my Mother,
"then the tree will soon have no twigs!" I understood
but would have liked a twig from the hazelnut bush.
xxxWhen we got out of the forest, the snow shimmered in the sun. The path
was firm and evenly trodden in the snow. It led obliquely up the
hill. From afar we could see the alm with its large terrace and
deck chairs. It was noon and quite warm. Most people had taken off
their windbreakers and pullovers. On the balustrade hung wet gloves
and socks to dry. They gave me ski water, an orange drink in a high
glass, then a large plate of Kaiserschmarren with apples. It tasted
so good that I continued to eat even though I could hardly swallow
anymore. In the end I had eaten the entire portion. Nobody thought
that was possible. My mother and Frau Schleich lay in the sun and
slept. I looked down into the valley and saw the small houses of
St. Johann surrounded by white fields. The roads wound through the
fields coming from all directions, converging towards the village.
The main street was lined by a board fence and trees, up to the
first houses. The village had been built along the road. Individual
houses and farms were scattered up the slopes and hills. The railway
passed outside the village and the river, the Ache, flowed in reflecting
bends through the lower portion of the village. Like most of the
mountain rivers it was not frozen over in winter. Along the shores
it was frozen in spots. I looked for the house of the ski instructor
and our guest house. I had not noticed that the sun was lower in
the sky and the valley dark. It was time to leave. I would have
liked to stay longer. The Schleichs put on their skis and went down
the hill. We had to walk.
xxxAt first the sun was still shining. The snow was soft and one could
walk easily but then came the forest. The sun had disappeared behind
the mountain and the path was frozen hard. Darkness came quickly
and one slid more than one could walk. The way back seemed much
longer than the way up. There was a very steep segment. The ground
was now so slippery that one could hardly take a step without sliding.
To add to this I had no ski boots, but rubber boots with smooth
soles. I stood on top on the steep path. The forest was dark and
terrifying. I did not know how I could ever get down. My mother
was also wearing a pair of old shoes and did not have a very firm
step. It was of no use to hold each others hand. She advanced and
waited for me. I stood up on the hill and cried and did not dare
go ahead. I do not know how I got down. We were both so exhausted
that the rest of the way home, especially the road, seemed like
xxxAt home we were nearly too tired to take our boots off. My mother was
so tired that for the first time since we were there she was impatient
and nervous. It was a terrible evening and I fell asleep exhausted
and crying. I did not like snow and winter as much as the summer
and grass and flowers. When one looked out onto the hills and barren
trees one could not imagine that it would ever be summer again.
xxxI stayed a few afternoons at home. I drew houses with chimneys and
green gardens and the sky and always a large radiating sun, or flowers
and leaves on a strip of paper. I liked to use my mother's crayons.
There were nice pinks, light blues and violets. Sometimes they dropped
down and I picked them up again and put them on the table. After
it had happened a few times my mother said they would break and
took them away. I could not imagine that and picked them up again.
Later she went away and put the box in the cupboard. I continued
to draw. I drew flowers on strips of paper and thought how beautiful
the pinks and violets were. Finally, I put the chair on the table
and pushed them against the cupboard. I picked up the crayons and
put them on the table carefully so that they could not fall down
again. I drew for a while and painted the flowers, until I remembered
that my mother would be back. I put the chair on the table, climbed
up and put the box in its place. However, I forgot to pull the table
away and only took the chair down and sat down. When my mother came
home, she looked around the room and said:
xxx"You have painted with my crayons!"
xxxI could not imagine how she knew ...
END OF CHRISTIANE'S CHILDHOOD STORY
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