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I am so pleased you have found my web site where I want to welcome you and introduce you to my books. After my two health related books my most recent book “We Don’t Talk About That” is a memoir of my childhood from during and immediately following World War II. After my family’s eviction from our rural home in Pomerania we were obliged to build a new life in East Germany. My education was interrupted but I eventually qualified as a Phys Ed teacher before escaping to West Germany and having to start all over again.

I am sure you will find the reviews and other information here helpful but the primary purpose of this web site is to provide photos and background stories to augment the book. You will find my family tree in the photo gallery together with a number of old photos. Please feel free to comment or add to the growing number of reviews. To receive email notices of future posts as they are made click on the “FOLLOW” button which you will see just to the right of this message or you can find me on Amazon’s Author Central – amazon.com/author/giselleroeder

We Dont Talk about That - An Amazing Story of Survival

 

“Madame Pele – the Fire Goddess”

hawaii-volcano-1 The recent video of a tremendous fiery lava flow into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii was making the rounds on many social media sites. (also on my Facebook sites) It’s no secret the lava is flowing all the time anyway. Cruise ships, leaving from Kona, would make sure of sailing past at night to treat their guests to an unforgettable sight. At one time, I was on one of the ships. This new SUPER flow started just after New Year’s 2017. It went on for several weeks until a huge part of the cliff broke off and closed the exit. The massive flow of the boiling, liquid lava found a few new outlets – but nothing to compare with the fireworks of the previous weeks. I wonder what happened that made “Pele” so terribly angry!

You don’t know her? Pele’s mysterious story intrigues me. Naturally, there are several versions but I’ll tell you my take on it. Pele was born and grew up on Tahiti with brothers and sisters and parents who were “gods” of some kind. She had her share of family problems because of her fiery temperament. As a teenager, she seduced her older sister’s husband. Enough was enough and her father threw her out. Her brother gave her a canoe and she found a way to a small group of islands. With her “Pa’oa”, a divining rod, she tried but couldn’t make a “fire pit”. So she went on and lived on Kauai for a short time. Her furious sister, the ocean goddess Namakaokahai, had followed, found and attacked her, and left her for dead.

1024px-diamond_headPele recovered. She went on to Oahu. Here she dug several fire pits. The ocean goddess, her sister Namakaokahai, flooded them to drive Pele away. One of Peles Oahu craters is the well known “Diamond Head” in Honolulu. After a brief sojourn on Molokai, she fled to Maui. We are still in awe of the huge Haleakala crater she built on this island, extinct now for many years but famous for tourists who drive up in the middle of the night to experience an unforgettable sunrise. Tip: Dress warmly! Baby, it’s cold up there…

Namakaokahai, her sister, did not give up. She came to do battle. She killed Pele near Hana where a small hill is supposed to be her grave. Pele’s spirit, now a Goddess, made a home on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa had thirty-three eruptions since

Awesome! The Earth is boiling!

Awesome! The Earth is boiling!

1843, the last one in 1984, is quiet right now but not to be trusted, and Mauna Kea, measured from the ocean floor higher than Everest, often covered with snow, are distinctive volcanic mountains. Pele made Mauna Kea her home and built her final fire pit, high enough that no ocean waves could reach it: the Halema’uma’u crater on the summit of Kilauea mountain. Kilauea volcano is one of the most active volcanos in the world; millions of visitors visit Pele’s last home year after year. The area of many square miles with several calderas, containing boiling lava, occasionally unbelievable fireworks, and constant fumes of sulfurous smoke, is now a National Park.

The Hawaiians still believe in Pele. To show respect, they talk about her as “Madame Pele”. There are stories about how High Chieftess Kapi’o lani, converted to Christianity in the 18th century, tried to prove that her new God is stronger than Pele. She threw something into the caldera – and was not killed as everybody expected. Missionaries ate the red berries “kapu” (forbidden) for humans and nothing happened. They proved a point and slowly Christianity was accepted. But – Pele is still very much ‘alive’ in the minds of Hawaiians. Some claim they have seen her, either as a tall, beautiful woman or as an old lady with a white dog, begging. If you do not share with her, you are severely punished. For years and years, volcanic eruptions were common and since 1983 a never-ending flow of lava pours into the sea.So far, Pele has added 220 hectares of land to the Big Island of Hawaii. Not only that, a new island is growing under the ocean, and the scientists have revealed that it is already close to showing itself above the waves.

I am fascinated by the lava. There are two distinctive types: the a’a lava, dense, crusty, up to ten meters thick, slow-flowing and the pahoe-hoe lava, fast flowing over the a’a, winding, twisting and finally, when cooling, looking like ropes. Caves and tunnels are created and the most famous tunnel, one even tall people can walk through, is located hawaii-volcano-2on the Kilauea summit. People have built a small community on this mountain: you can stay in an hotel, spend hours in a museum, buy and write postcards and post them right there in a small post office to get the special stamp. Living in harmony with Madame Pele? Hmm, I don’t know.The Hawaiians warn you about ill health or other serious problems if you take any pieces of lava or even black sand from some beaches on the island. I talked to the lady in the post office about it. She got quite passionate and, to convince me, she opened a door to a room full of unopened parcels, shelves full of letters from all over the world. Tourists, who didn’t heed the warnings, had sent back what they took away. I was able to read some of the letters, letters from people who regained their health after having sent Pele’s goods back. A huge pile of lava pieces next to the post office was lava sent back in already unpacked parcels.

Jack's house was spared - he still lives there

Jack’s house was spared – he still lives there

There used to be a road to drive around the whole volcano area. We did that drive once – but a year later, when we came back, the road was gone and meters of lava covered it. A whole small village was covered with lava, but one stubborn man, Jack, refused to leave his house on the hill. Incredibly, the flow of lava divided, surrounded his house and the house remained untouched. A green spot on a mountain of black! The same happened to a kind of spiritual circle. No wonder that superstition is ripe. We used a narrow path from the summit to the crater and were warned not to step off to either side. Sulfuric little puffs came out of the earth and, being curious, touching the ground, noticed it was hot. At one time, a teen had tried to run and pass other walkers on the path, sank into the ground and nobody could help. Depending on the daily forecast, this path and the road to the crater is often closed.

The last time I visited Pele’s home was in 2011. This time, flying over it instead of driving up to it, gave me a new perspective. The Big Island is made up of hundreds of square kilometers of lava flows. It is incredible how people have built villages and even dsc01934cities on this volatile ground, created many farms, beautiful gardens, airports and many new roads. The lava provides a fertile ground once men with their big machines have a go at it. The birds do their thing with droppings containing seeds and one can only wonder about the power of nature: create, destroy, then recreate. But the might of the volcano can not be harnessed. Looking into the crater from above, it’s a boiling gray soup. And, when Pele gets mad, beware!

If you like to see more, click: http://www.picturesandplanetickets.com/2017/02/08/chasin-lavafalls-hawaiian-lava-boat-tours/

Our latest ‘Travel Story.’

Green Turtle

It’s almost funny. Maybe it is funny! Depending on how you look at it. Happy to be able to fly to Maui, our favorite Hawaiian island on short notice, we had a few hours to wait in Vancouver. We were at the right departure gate – but suddenly we heard an announcement the gate had been changed. The departure time was close, we had to hurry. When arriving at the new gate, quite a distance away from where we had waited, we noticed that it was the departure gate for a different airline going to the same place: Kahului Airport. Can you believe that we just made it back for boarding to our original gate? It really tickled my funny bone and I was in a good mood throughout the flight.

Lisa, one of our flight attendants, had a profile like an actress playing “Sarah” in the TV series “A Place called Home”, the Australian equivalent of “Downton Abby”. I couldn’t wait to talk to her. My chance came after I used the loo and stayed in the service area. I was surprised nobody else had ever mentioned this to her. She didn’t even know of the show. We chatted; I told her about being an author, naturally mentioned my books and when she heard of my genre she told me that her grandfather had written a similar book to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” – his about the history of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. I had seen the title online, “Prague Winter” by Nikolaus Martin. I found it on Amazon.com and read it. There is another book with the same title by Madeleine Albright. I’ll read that another time.

KBH groundsThe three weeks at our ‘home away from home’, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, were sunny and, like always, wonderful. I learned more of the Hawaiian mysterious stories of sudden winds lasting only seconds and wrote about it on my Author Facebook ‘We Don’t Talk About That’. The beach was very wide, and by the time we had to depart, only one-third of it was left. The ocean gives, the ocean takes… During our time there, three weddings were celebrated on our grounds. All were glamorous. The couple in one was absolutely beautiful with the Hawaiian flower leis and their gorgeous outfits. He in a white suit, she in a gown that would take half of my closet to store. I couldn’t understand that at neither one the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” was played. To me, that song touches not only the heart but reaches the soul.

2/3 of beach gone

2/3 of beach gone

All good things come to an end. We left our hotel at 7.30 PM and arrived at the Kahului Airport about an hour later. I had trouble walking, so at check-in, they waited with a wheelchair. The nice person pushing me brought us through security and into the departure lounge. It was a very long way but we were early for our departure at 11.35 PM.

The following announcement from the staff at the departure desk shocked us shortly past 10.30 PM: “A message just popped up on our screen that AC 1828 is not leaving until 3.00 AM. We cannot believe it ourselves but we’ll keep you informed.” Lots of people went to the desk but no news other than ‘we don’t know ourselves, we’ll keep you informed. Please be patient.’

Many people had tried to avoid the charge for check-in luggage, so everybody had lots of carry-on cases. A new announcement asked: “Please check in more of your carry-on luggage since the plane is fully booked. There is not enough storage space. We will not charge you, this service is FREE.”  Now people lined up and in a short time, they had piles of suitcases standing next to the gangway door. The plane arrived early, shortly past nine PM. Not long after 10.00 PM the new crew boarded. We hoped the 3.00 AM departure would not happen since the plane was early and the crew on board!

After about half an hour another announcement came: “The departure will be delayed because of a mechanical problem.”

Several more such announcements were made but they never told us what the problem was. At one point they said the needed piece for the repair was not found on Maui but in Honolulu. A plane to bring it to Maui was on the way. Impressive! It was after midnight and the departure lounge by this time looked like a refugee camp, people sleeping on the floor everywhere. One couldn’t buy any food because all the shops had closed at 12.00 AM. I was pretty hungry having relied on food in Premier Class. One kind lady gave me a cookie. Also, we had nothing to drink. When I was ready to faint I was guided to a water fountain, it helped, and at least I could take a painkiller pill for my troubled legs.

Around 2.00 AM they started bringing the collected suitcases down the gangway. It was like a shot in the arm. People woke up, they stirred and new hope was flooding our veins. The next announcement was “The mechanics were able to fix the problem. We’ll start boarding as soon as the tests are completed.”

We were among the first to be called for boarding. We asked the person checking our boarding cards and passports what the problem was. “Oh”, she said, “It was a split wheel. There was none on Maui but luckily in Honolulu. The AC flight from Honolulu to Toronto diverted their flight to bring us the wheel.”

Wow! How happy the people in THAT plane must have been! We got some water and/or orange juice once seated, and roasted almonds. Once airborne, they offered chips, more roasted almonds, and chocolate. That was all the food till breakfast 1 1/2 hour before landing in Vancouver about 10.00 AM. My stomach was in knots and I could not even eat, not the breakfast in the plane or the food in the Vancouver lounge.

Naturally, arriving three hours late in Vancouver, our plane to Nanaimo at 10.20 AM was gone. We were listed for one at 3.25 PM. Our neighbour, who was at the Nanaimo Airport at 11 AM to pick us up, had driven home again after being told we had arrived late in YVR. We had no way to contacting her until noon from the lounge. She was kind enough to drive all the way out again to pick us up around 4.30 PM. This trip lasted almost 24 hours from leaving the Maui hotel and arriving home.

my birthday flowers 2017

Glad to be home again, even sick with the flu that had been with me in Maui for 10 days already. The first thing I did, I phoned for a doctor appointment next morning, which was my 83. birthday.

Books published or read in 2016

Oct 28, 2016

Looking back on 2016 I am amazed how much I actually got done. I have been busy. My collection of short stories, “Forget Me Not – A Bouquet of Stories, Thoughts, and Memories” was published in January 2016. It is a memorial to special people who have crossed my path – either in person or through their achievements. I dare to say that every single story carries some kind of message to the reader. At the very least it will make the reader think and maybe he/she feels like sharing his/her thoughts about the story with family or friends. It is about aging, adoption, blended families, babies, changing seasons, superstition, cancer, dogs, horses and other critters, escape, earthquake, flying, internet dating, island living, love and rape, roses, travels, war, and many other topics. It finishes with a beautiful fairy tale “The Weeping Angel” – for which, at one point, I received the First Prize in the form of another book: “Computers for Dummies.” Throughout the book, you find poems and pictures. A delightful book – perfect to give as a gift to YOUR special people, reminding THEM not to forget YOU. The easiest way to obtain this book is Amazon.ca.

The books I chose to read during 2016 have added greatly to my knowledge about history. Some of them upset me, robbed me of sleep since it was hard to believe people can be so blinded by promises, ultimately leading to a horrible war. One recurring thought was ‘do people never learn from the past?’ At the same time, I was crying over the fate of some people and keeping my fingers crossed for others to survive. As you can see, I prefer to read mostly “true” stories or history based on truth since that is what I write as well. The following are the books I read and since there are so many I will refrain from telling you about them. All are worth reading.

“All The Light I Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. Pulitzer Prize, New York Bestseller list.
“The Witch of Napoli” by Michael Schmicker was a fun read.
“Goering” – The Rise and Fall of the notorious Nazi leader. By Roger Mansell. Incredible.
“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls. A classic I had never read, but it is a ‘must read’.
“Moonrise” by Ann Victoria Roberts. This author has touched my emotions in many ways.
“The Rise of Nazi Germany” by Charles River Editors. I wanted to know more history.
The GiftAwakening”, by J.P. McLean. Contemporary Fantasy, a new genre for me

  1. The Gift “Revelation”
  2. The Gift “Redemption”
  3. The Gift “Penance”
  4. The Gift “Betrayal

“POW # 74324” – Triumph through Adversity by Robert Stermscheg.
“Daffodils” by Alex Martin. An English love story set within WWI.
“The History of Germany From The Earliest Times by Bayard Taylor. Tough read!
“The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle” by Paul Pailole. The risks people took, unbelievable.
“Lunch with Charlotte” by Leon Berger. Unexpected happenings, finally talking WWII.
“How the (Bleep) Did I Get This Old” by Laverne H. Bardy. Need a good laugh? Get it!
“An Adventure on Two Continents” by Heinz H.G. Berger. A West Vancouver story.
“Journey of a Lifetime” by Trevor D. Cradduck. Not available for the general public.

There were a few other books. I remember the stories but I should have written down the titles. Plus, I read four substantial books in Germany in October (German language) and was fascinated by the content. I read several nights since I couldn’t sleep anyway. The time difference of nine hours is hard to overcome – your body is not fooled by the clock. The trouble is – when I got home to the North American Continent the same happened – in reverse! It’s said that for every ten years of your life it takes a day to re-adjust your body clock. C’est la vie!

New Year 2017

image4The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is always a time of reflection. We think back to what has been and what has happened during the last 365 days. What was good? What was bad? What did we achieve, if anything? Did we reach our goals or did we forget we even made a resolution at the beginning of the year? In most cases, we probably did forget or gave up. Why? Because life isn’t like that! You cannot rely on a blueprint, written in stone. You can’t wish for deviations and you can’t know about the things that might, or will, happen to throw you off course. Why did nobody ever think of selling us insurance for a good year? We try our best to make it so! More of us think of exercising more and eating less. Others have a bucket list with travel dreams and they vow to make at least one wish come true. Some even wish to be nicer to their parents, relatives, friends, or neighbours. This one only works if it comes from both sides – unless all is hunky-dory anyway – which, in most cases, is not so. Since I have listened to many people tell me their stories this topic has become quite disheartening for me.

However, we celebrate the beginning of a brand new year and hope for new beginnings. It’s like having a book with 365 empty pages. We intend to fill these pages with good stories and, before we know it, we write “The End” and look back on another year and wonder where the time has gone. I am reminded that life is like a toilet roll – it goes faster the close one comes to the end! So it goes, year after year.

I remember my teenage years when friends and I would peel an apple without breaking the peel. The peel had to be in one piece. We would close our eyes and throw the peel over our head. We looked for a letter in the way it fell. Rather like reading teacups that letter was the first initial of our future husband. The name of every boy we met meant a lot and we would always hope to find the one with that particular initial. Did it work out that way in my life? NO! If you dreamed you were dancing the waltz with someone, that someone would become your husband. When finally old enough to go to parties we would be dancing into the New Year. I usually went to the dance with a bunch of other girls and we all hoped for a good dance partner. If you didn’t like him you rushed to the bathroom shortly before midnight to avoid having to give him a kiss. Things were so different in my youth! There were lots of public balls and parties, now the celebration is mainly private.

When I was married and living in Canada I learned a new way of celebrating the New Year. It did not matter if you were at a dance in a club or at a basement party room in one of your friend’s houses. The midnight kissing was a big part of it. It wasn’t just your husband you kissed. Everybody kissed everybody and I hated it. It was so unhygienic and some men had so much saliva around their lips. Okay, go ahead and laugh, I don’t think I missed too much by avoiding it after the first year! I just couldn’t do it. I usually disappeared until it was over. I remember quite a few years when I shivered outside while looking for a falling star to make a wish. I wished to see a falling star and when it happened it was so fast that I forget to wish for something. Life can be so unfair!

image101I remember one New Year’s party in the exquisite Fort Gary Hotel in Winnipeg. I think it was the first time ever I was tipsy. I was coerced to drink too much champagne. I felt on top of the world in a wonderful ball gown and dancing every single dance. I was so happy, it must have been contagious because it seemed every man in the room wanted to have a dance with me. I didn’t feel tipsy at all, but when we went outside (it was -32° Celsius) and stood on the steep stairway waiting for a taxi, I had to hold onto my husband. I was terribly dizzy. I remember him laughing! He thought it was funny and found it even funnier during the night when I fought the effects of a horrible stomach flu! “Stomach flu?” He teased me and didn’t feel a bit compassionate – the miserable old bugger. I don’t like champagne anymore.

Waiting for the bubble to burst

Waiting for the bubble to burst

Another party, my best New Year’s party ever, was the Millennium Party of 2000! Friends, who are members of the prestigious Vancouver Club, had secured a table for twelve couples and we all had a whale of a time. I think we had to ‘endure’ a twelve-course dinner. The entertainment and the music were second to none and I tried to get as much dancing in as possible. I would rather dance than eat or drink champagne! When the band played a ‘Cha Cha Cha’ I was showing my partner the steps and in no time we were joined by eight or ten others who also wanted to learn this fun dance. The plan was to attend the next New Year’s Party in Vienna but it didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t in the ‘blueprint’ for 2001. That Millennium Party was the last real New Year’s party I attended.

image102The years have come and gone since that wonderful Millennium Party without making an impact or adding to unforgettable memories. Now, the New Year’s night is just another night and even trying to stay awake and watch the countdown in New York doesn’t always work. It’s part of aging. It must be. But the memories haven’t faded nor have the dreams of dancing into another New Year stopped.

Welcome and cheers to 2017!

Old-fashioned Christmas in Germany

The Christmas star

The Christmas star

Really? You want to know how Christmas was celebrated in the ‘good old days…’ in Germany? Let me go back about seventy-five years. And when I tell you how my family celebrated it, be assured it was the same way with all the families I knew. We lived in Pomerania and since Germany had many different parts or provinces it may have been a bit different in East Prussia, or Bavaria, or Holstein, or the Rhineland! Believe it or not, the people in Bavaria didn’t even think the northern Germans were Germans at all – and vice versa. The spoken dialect was (and still is) different and therefore the traditions with Christmas might also have been different. I wasn’t aware of it as a small child as my world was also small.

The exciting time started with an ‘Advents Kalender’ – a calendar with little windows for each day. Each window was marked with the date. We were allowed to open one window each morning and enjoyed looking at the picture behind the little window blind. It was hard not to open more windows to find the one gift we hoped to get at Christmas. You couldn’t open more windows because it was then damaged. On Santa’s list, it counted as being a ‘bad girl or boy’. We received this special calendar from one of our grandmas on the first Sunday of Advent.

Advent

Advent

The four Sundays before Christmas were special. Different Christmas cookies were baked each day and the house smelled wonderful. A few days before the First Advent, Grandma would take us to the forest. We would look for small pine branches to take home and make an ‘Advents Wreath’. The wreath was decorated with pine cones and four red candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas. The wreath would be hung with red ribbons over the main table or placed directly on the table. On the First Advent, only one candle would be lit, on the Second Advent, two, then three until, on the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles would be lit. By now, they were all a different length! Each Sunday we would sit around the warm tiled oven at dusk with our cats in our laps and listen to our grandma telling stories from her childhood or rekindling memories of our own Christmases past.

Shoe shineAnother part of the pre-Christmas time was St. Nicolas night celebrated with cleaning all our shoes, including Mom and Dad’s, on the evening of the 5th of December. St. Nicolas would come when we were sleeping, check the shoes and put some sweets into the shiniest pair. During the war we were told just to put one pair out to save St. Nicolas precious time. Most kids didn’t even have more than one pair of shoes anyway.

Christmas in the stores didn’t start before December. Christmas trees were sold just a week or so before Christmas. To look for and pick our perfect tree took some time. The tree was usually kept in a cold barn or shed. We children would never see it again until Christmas Eve. The parents (oh no, oops, I mean Santa!) would decorate it just the night before Christmas Eve. Even then, we still had to wait until late afternoon on Christmas Eve after the church service with the singing of the wonderful old songs, and the school children acting out the Nativity. The worst was that we also had to eat dinner with that, by now, knotted feeling in our stomach before we could even see our decorated Christmas tree. Dinner on Christmas Eve was always potato salad and wieners, or fried fish. Each family had their own special way of decorating their tree. Ours was always full of angel hair, tinsel, cookies with colorful sprinkles on them and twelve white candles. The tree was always placed on Dad’s desk. Our cousin’s tree also had tinsel but lots of colorful, different size shiny ornaments and different colour candles. No electrical lights – just real candles! They were lit with long matches and the parents always kept a close eye on the tree. There were times when Santa was too busy, so he had dropped off the gifts and they were all under the tree. Before we could touch anything we each had to sing a song or recite a poem we had learned for this occasion. It was so difficult for us children to finally arrive at the Christmas celebration.

Christmas Eve was the real Christmas for us and we could stay up past our bedtime. We would all sleep in on Christmas morning, even our dad. Poor Mother had to get up and look after the farm animals. She would also heat up the stove and the ovens to make sure it wasn’t so terribly cold when we got up. Pails full of water from the pump were kept in the kitchen and sometimes there were thin layers of ice on them. We were allowed to play with our new toys before we got dressed. We always received something for the body (socks or sweaters we needed anyway!) and something for the soul, toys or books.

On Christmas Day, we would either have relatives visiting for a noon dinner consisting of either carp with white parsley gravy or goose and red cabbage. If the relatives didn’t come to us, we would go to their house. Either the visitors or we would stay for coffee and cake, munch on home baked special Christmas cookies or crack nuts. Each child also received a “Bunter Teller” for Christmas. That was a colourful plate with cookies, candies, nuts, apples and oranges which we could eat without asking if we could.

My signature tree

My signature tree

Boxing Day was what we would now call “open house”. It was a day when friends and relatives just dropped in for afternoon coffee. Since all our Christmases were white, we children would be out with the sleighs to pull them up the mill hill to race down screaming “Bahn frei” – warning kids coming uphill to keep clear.

I don’t think kids nowadays would be happy with this kind of life. Do you blame me if I kept to some of the traditions during my adult life and am still dreaming of ‘my kind of a white Christmas?’.

 

A Brand New Life in Canada

My 'Max"

My ‘Max”

It was the 5th of October 1955. My father had helped me to make an irreversible decision. Without even saying ‘goodbye’ to my mother after our last meal I left what had been my home for the last ten of my twenty-one years. My heart was filled with anxiety but also sadness for all I was leaving behind – my parents, my sisters, my friends at my kayak club, my boat “Max” (the great love of my life), and my new sky-blue bike. All I took along was a very small suitcase containing one set of bedding sheets; a couple of towels and an evening gown a friend had just made for me. This was very unlikely luggage for someone escaping from a politically oppressive life into a totally unknown new one – and that was just from one Germany into another Germany. That ‘other’ Germany was known as “The Golden West”. Freedom! Chocolate and bananas and oranges and nice clothing were available if you worked hard and earned money. And I planned to do just that. I won’t even go into the “trials and tribulations” I had to endure. (Most of you read about them in my memoir anyway.) Those troubles finally drove me over the edge and I wanted to “escape” once again. This time, my luggage was a shipping container full of my accumulated goods of almost ten years, except for furniture and my beloved car. It all went across the ocean to another continent. The container later became part of a Volkswagen garage for a neighbour in Canada.

Every year, when the 14th of December comes around, I remember that day in 1963. I remember my feelings. I can see myself, see the way my hair was, the way I was dressed. I was floating in a vacuum. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t laugh. I can still see my new in-laws and their faces as we said goodbye. Was it forever? I emigrated because of image1-002the little Canadian girl I had fallen in love with and right now she was tightly holding onto my hand. She was shaking. She was leaving her grandparents after a couple of months she had spent with them. I was taking her home to her daddy in Vancouver, Canada. I had married him after five months of lovely correspondence and hoped I would learn to love him after I had my heart set to be a mother to his little girl. She had picked my picture out of about three hundred replies to an ad he had placed in the German magazine “Constance”, and declared: “I want her to be my new mommy.”

image9

Language did not matter between us.

This year on December 14th it will be fifty-three years since I set foot on Canadian soil. I hardly spoke any English; the little girl became my first teacher. The YWCA in Vancouver offered language courses for newcomers; I booked and paid for several courses in a row. Did we receive help in any way from anybody? No. Immigrants were on their own. If you had a job, you might make about $50.00 a week. My husband had started with ‘White Spot’ in 1956 and had not even earned $20.00. When he ended up in the hospital needing a stomach operation, the doctor, who discharged him, had asked:

“What’s your address?” Since he didn’t have one, the doctor invited him to live in a cottage on his property. In payment, he did handyman’s work. But that is another story.

You worked hard, you did not care what the work was, and you just did what was needed to make ends meet. There was a time when I worked in an office, did bookkeeping at night and cleaned toilets on that business property on Sundays. Those were the tough years.  Now, fifty-three years since I first came to Canada and comfortable after a successful business life, I think back and try to figure out “What am I?” Am I still considered an immigrant (Which most Canadians are anyway unless they are indigenous) or am I really the Canadian woman I think I am? I have written four books in English, one of them is translated into three other languages.  I have now lived in Canada for two-thirds of my life. It’s a very long time, but looking back, the fifty-three years passed one another like sand running through my fingers. Life is like a toilet roll – it goes faster the closer you come to the end!

As I am writing the sequel to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That”, more and more memories are flooding my head about my life in Canada, this enormous and beautiful country. One day, in about a year (?), you will be able to read about the new and different “trials and tribulations” I faced on this continent during those fifty-three years. While writing some of the chapters I can’t help but smile – while others give me writer’s block. Ce’st la vie!

How Hard Is It To Get Rid of Eggs?

anne-of-green-gablesLast night we watched “Anne of Green Gables” – the ‘must see’ delightful television movie, always shown around Christmas time. The scene of Marilla taking Anne (with an ‘e’!) into the chicken pen to collect the eggs, put a big grin on my face. Anne hesitated to touch the freshly laid but slightly dirty eggs with even little feathers on them. Why did this scene remind me of a recent visit with my friend Jane?

Let me tell you. We were traversing the ups and downs in a park along the ocean shore. Our conversation, the way it’s always among women, covered a lot of problems, from global warming to gardening, composting, and, from there, quite naturally to reducing our ecological footprint. Jane reminisced about her experiences while in Germany. She had been posted close to Baden Baden with the Canadian army.

“Giselle, believe it or not, it was 1971 and the Germans were sorting their garbage already then! I had been allowed to rent a small apartment in a house and did not have to stay in the barracks. The landlady showed me where to put my garbage in the basement, sorted by glass, metal, and paper. The rest I was to leave in the bag and just put it next to the container. For some reason, I had to ring her doorbell one day. I was shocked when I saw my garbage bags in her entrance hall. She was in the process of sorting through it. It had been the “time of the month” for me and you can’t imagine how embarrassed I felt for some of my garbage contents. She was quite nonchalant about it. She explained her brother had pigs and there is a lot of stuff in the garbage that can be added to their feed. A few days later she gave me a little package of pork meat…”

I told Jane of my upbringing on a small country farm. I can’t remember if we ever had any garbage that wasn’t used for something. My mother had a basket for shopping, small bags made out of old pillow cases for sugar, flour, salt with those names stitched onto them. Most of all the other food grew in our gardens or fields. We had a horse, a few cows, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens and my father had quite a number of pigeons. Jane continued her story, almost unbelievable for me, the country girl.

dirty-eggs“Oh my God, Giselle, I can’t believe I have to tell you this. With a proud gesture, my landlady handed me a brown bag with half a dozen eggs in it. This was quite a gift! When I looked at them in my kitchen, my stomach turned. There were little feathers on them and some spots of chicken sh#t. No way would I eat those eggs! How could I dispose of them? I didn’t even want to touch them. I couldn’t put them in my garbage because she would find them. The thought of washing them never even occurred to me. But never mind, I found a way. I jumped into my car and drove to a rest stop on the autobahn. The garbage cans were often quite full. I stopped next to one and put the bag with the eggs in it and drove away, relieved. It didn’t take long and there was a siren howling behind me. My goodness, ‘Polizei!’ I quickly checked my speedometer but I was well under the speed limit. I didn’t feel guilty at all and kept on driving. My thought was he surely must mean someone else…The police car sidled up to me and the officer waved me to the side to stop. When he approached me, he made a motion for me to roll my window down, which I obligingly did. He handed me the brown bag with my eggs and said sternly:

“Those garbage cans are for people resting and eating at the rest stop. The garbage cans are for them and not for people to drop off their garbage.”

Even now, with a lost expression, Jane said, “He didn’t give me a ticket when he realized I did not speak German. Apparently, he hadn’t even looked into the bag. For me, it was an embarrassing moment and terrible to have those eggs back. Now what? Then it came to me. I had to go to a meeting, held in a rather large hall. I took the eggs into the restroom there, cracked them over the toilet and flushed them down. I also crushed the egg shells and they followed the egg yolks. Aaah, problem solved.”

I looked at Jane and was wondering – but before I could even ask, she explained,

“Giselle, I was twenty-five years old. I was born and raised in a city and had never seen a chicken or knew or even thought about where the eggs we bought and ate came from…”

chickensWatching ‘Anne of Green Gables’, who was only eleven years old but apparently felt the same way my friend Jane felt, it occurred to me that there might still be lots of city folks who have no idea of what they eat or where it came from. But then – with the enlightening of the 20th and 21st century social media, television, picture books and Farmer’s Markets it’s hard to imagine that children only see the headless chicken carcass wrapped in clear plastic on the supermarket shelves. Seeing those it’s hard to imagine that they were once the creatures responsible for the existence of the eggs down the aisle, neatly and cleanly packaged in recyclable soft cardboard cartons.

Walls and Walls and more Walls?

 

Gate to Dionkelbuehl

Walls can surround you anywhere. You can build a wall around your heart. People build emotional walls around themselves. Your garden may have a wall for privacy. We had a wall built to shore up our garden against landslip. My favourite city of West Vancouver has a Seawall, the most wonderful place for walking or jogging. I have visited a great number of cities surrounded by walls, mostly built during the last two thousand years to keep out enemies or marauders. Surprisingly, many are still in good shape. And last but not least, I have lived and worked in the beautiful harbour city of newest part of wallStralsund at the Baltic Sea with a city wall which was rebuilt after heavy bombardments during WWII. Lest we forget! This wall is not for protection anymore – but primarily for its beauty, history, and tourism. (My guess!) Stralsund is now listed with UNESCO. You find other places with walls surrounding them along the Romantic Road and many other places in Germany. Some even have moats with drawbridges in front of the wall.

Some medieval cities have a small little door next to the big gate which was closed at dusk. A resident, coming home too late to enter through the big gate, had to make himself known to the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper usually lived in a small room above the gate. Giving the right name or password the small door would be opened. During a conversation about religion my old friend Fred had asked me:

“Giselle, do you know how a camel gets through the eye of a needle?”

Fred was a Sunday school teacher. When he asked me he was referring to the Bible, Matthew 19:24. I knew the term but I had no answer. That’s when he explained that the little door next to the gate in the city wall of Jerusalem was called “Eye of the Needle”. During a late arrival with a camel, both man and beast had to crouch and it was very difficult for the animal to get through. Jesus compared it to the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven.

The most famous and longest wall in the world is the ‘Great Wall of China’. I have climbed this wall to the highest point as the only woman of my China Tour group a few weeks after the horrific happenings in the year of 9/11. The trip to China was the most interesting trip I ever did. Climbing the wall started out easy enough but got harder as the stairs got steeper and narrower. With my western shoe size, I had been walking sideways. At one point – by just inches – I almost got the boot of the man in front of me in my face. Respectfully, I put a few more steps between us.

2-image1The part of the ‘Great Wall’ my group traversed starts not far from Beijing and was built to keep invading armies out. It runs on top of a steep mountainous landscape. Invaders would be seen early and would hardly have a chance before being destroyed from above. Needless to say, the views are stupendous. The ‘Great Wall of China’ is supposedly one of the very few constructions on earth seen from space. It took many Emperors, soldiers, and criminals over 2000 years to build it. Most of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and, naturally, it has been repaired constantly ever since. It measures 8,851 km (or 5,500 miles) but in ancient times, all the different sections together stretched over 21,000 kilometers.

Another well-known wall to most of us is the infamous “Berlin Wall”. It was built by the German Democratic Republic (DDR) during the night of August 13th, 1961. To this day it is a puzzle how nobody had known and nobody ever saw or heard the trucks bringing masses of rocks, blocks, barbed wire and fence materials to the different locations. To build this wall was the only way to stop people from fleeing to the west. Parts of the wall ran along the middle of city streets dividing neighbours, families or friends living in houses on either side. Imagine a wall with glass pieces and barbed wire on top where we have a yellow line to divide the traffic. Thousands had fled the DDR every single day (I was one of them) and more were trying to escape after the wall was built by digging tunnels, even constructing a balloon, swimming across lakes and needless to say, many lost their life trying. The East German police had strict orders to shoot to kill.

image2-002-1The Berlin Wall was just one part of what became known as the “Cold War”. After the Berlin Wall had closed the biggest ‘hole’ to stop the escapes, construction of a wall with mine fields, and guard towers was built around the entire communist controlled part of Germany. It was probably the only wall ever built to keep people “in” and not to keep the enemy “out”. Just as nobody knew that this wall was going to be built so nobody expected it to come crumbling down during anyone’s lifetime. Incredibly, during a huge mass demonstration on the eastern side of the wall when everyone expected the Russian tanks to crush them, nothing happened and the East German police, guarding the wall, put their guns down. The people stormed the wall, started hacking away at it and once a section broke down, the rush to get through before all hell would break loose, filled the night with screams. Screams turned to laughter as people were met by the waiting crowd on the western side with hugs and tears. With music and song punctuated by champagne corks popping, they started dancing on the wall. The night turned into the party of all parties, never experienced or dared to hope for, uniting people and families after nearly thirty years of being kept apart.

Brandenberg Gate

Brandenberg Gate

On June 12th, 1987, at a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, President Ronald Reagan had called out to Mikhail Gorbachev,

“Tear down this Wall!”

It happened unexpectedly on the 9th of November 1989. It was the end of the Cold War, the unification of the two Germanys and it started the break-up of the mighty Soviet Union. Twenty-seven years of friendship, rebuilding and a never experienced quality of life for many countries followed. Today, we ask ourselves what may lie in our future now.

Donald Trump promised during the American election campaign to build a wall along the Mexican border. Would it become the most infamous wall of all the walls in the world? From the English songstress ‘Adele’ to Pope Francis and many others, cries like “Don’t build walls, build bridges” are heard. According to Donald Trump, his will be the highest, the meanest, and the longest wall ever. Will it rival the Great Wall of China and will it be seen not just from the ‘Moon’ but from ‘Mars’ as well!? Just kidding…

Oh no, it will ruin my holiday!

Hotel Cebulj Oct. 2016

Hotel Cebulj Oct. 2016

I packed my suitcase on Oct. 2nd and looked forward to a great holiday. I was heading to the spa city of Bad Woerishofen in Bavaria, a place I had visited more than thirty times in the past. Over the years, I always stayed in the same lovely family hotel, even in the same room. It became my ‘home away from home’. A short 17 minute flight brought me from Nanaimo to the International Airport in Vancouver B.C. on the third of October. When I boarded the Lufthansa flight 477 to Munich and settled into my seat 2D, my anticipation of a wonderful three weeks rose by several degrees. A gentleman sat next to me in the aisle seat. Since I had the window seat I didn’t need to be concerned of being disturbed. I leaned back and with a smile on my face I closed my eyes and thought of the wonderful time awaiting me. When I woke up we were already flying into the clouds… We had an award winning Lufthansa dinner (no, I didn’t want any wine) and it didn’t take long before the window blinds were closed. Some folks settled down for the coming night.

a toilet trained pussy cat

a toilet trained pussy cat

One couple had a bag with a beautiful cat between them. I had met them earlier in the Air Canada Lounge ladies room. The cat was trained to do her business on the toilet. Incredible! I started reading a book I had downloaded onto my i-Pad. I was unable to concentrate. I soon took my glasses off, put them into their case and into the pouch on the seat in front of me. The man next to me was already sleeping; we never exchanged a single word during the whole trip.

I pressed some buttons and my seat extended to full length and I had a flat bed with pillow and blanket. Several times I had to climb over the legs of my neighbour – he never noticed. After a hot cloth to wake up and a breakfast in the middle of the night (my time), we touched down in Munich ten-and-a-half hours later. It was already October the 4th. My pick-up was arranged. My driver did not take the autobahn but beautiful country roads. Too much construction, he told me. The Munich Airport now has three terminals with a train running between them. I remember when there was only one terminal. Those were the times when everything was easy.

I was greeted with welcoming hugs at my hotel. My suitcase disappeared and I took the stairs up to my usual room. Unpacking didn’t take too long. I was anxious to send a message home and looked for my glasses. My glasses? Where were my glasses…Oh, dear God, I left them in the pouch in front of my airplane seat. I installed the hotel ‘Wi-Fi’ password and used my i-Pad to send a message to my husband. I asked him to get in touch with my travel agent. I figured they have a better chance to contact Lufthansa and their ‘Lost & Found’ than I did. I phoned my husband five times before I gave up. I went to the hotel office and the hostess spent the next three hours following the prompts “click this, click that” on the Lufthansa website until she finally was able to send an e-mail to the right place.

“Passenger G.R. in seat 2 D of flight # 477 Vancouver-Munich arriving Oct. 4th left a pair of glasses with a gold frame in a black leather cover and a purple cleaning cloth in the pouch in front of her seat. Please contact… or mail to…”

When I tried to use my i-Pad again a message in a little window told me that it was locked for my own protection. I couldn’t be in two countries on two different continents at the same time. My husband had needed to access my e-mail account in Canada! ‘We suspect a hacker. Once you are back in Canada you can re-set etc. etc.’ I was devastated. No chance to delete all the hundreds of e-mails I would receive? No chance to send any? No chance to read my e-books? According to “Murphy’s Law”, what else would happen? It’s always three things, right? Well, the third thing was my blood pressure monitor. Despite the fact that it was working at home, it did not work in Germany. So much for that! Now, what else could go wrong? The first week was alright.

Breakfast Buffet & Hotel Cebulj

Breakfast Buffet & Hotel Cebulj

I decided to enjoy the rich buffet and not eat just bran and soaked linseed with yogurt as I did at home. Cold cuts, eggs, wonderful cheeses and all those different types of bread and buns on the buffet and the creamy cottage cheese and the jams and fruits and and… Every day was a feast! My youngest sister and her husband stopped by with their RV on their way to Italy, my two cousins from Cologne came for four days – needless to say that we regularly visited one of the many cafés. We had coffee and sampled a piece of wonderful cake every day. Cheese cake, poppy seed cake, plum cake, you name it.

Lufthansa sent an e-mail to my hotel with a number to claim my missing glasses. When my cousins flew back to Cologne on the 9th they were able to pick them up at the Munich airport “Lost & found”. They took them to Cologne and mailed them to me from there. I had used a pair of magnifying glasses up to now, and my eyes had always hurt. Once my visitors were all gone I felt lost and lonely. I even cried a little. Will I ever be able to come back or see them again? I checked the hotel library and found some interesting German books. I read a lot! I also found a music channel on the TV and sometimes watched the international news about the upcoming US election. One morning, I got up and almost fell on my face. I couldn’t use my left foot, the big toe hurt something awful and the pain was ten out of ten. In the doctor’s office, I was told I have a gout attack. Gout? Isn’t that something old people get? The nurse said, “you are kinda old, aren’t you?” I got pills and a cream to rub my toe with. The pills made me double over, my stomach didn’t like them.

“What did you eat this morning? Cereal with milk or yogurt? You cannot have any milk products, no yogurt, no red meat, no coffee, no alcohol, no…”

“But what can I eat?”

I was advised to eat a piece of dry bread before taking the pill. After that nothing for a few hours. Apparently, I had enjoyed the buffet and the cafés too much and I now had to pay for my sins. The pounds I might have gained during the first week disappeared during the last two weeks of my holiday. I was mainly lying on my bed reading, afraid to eat anything. I was living on dry bread, horsetail- and stinging nettle tea to help my body to get rid of extra uric acid. This was not what I came for. I could hardly wait to go home. The Lufthansa service with wheel-chair assistance was second to none on my flight back. My doctor in Canada prescribed different pills which are not attacking my stomach. I still am on a restricted diet and the pain is less – but not gone. How long does it take to get rid of a gout attack? And how do you really know it is gout? What is the proper procedure to diagnose it?

I had 1458 e-mails on my computer when I came home. As I started ‘deleting’ more rolled in. One of them was dated October 5th from Lufthansa:

This is to inform you about a found property at our office for cabin lost and found items, which is probably yours: A pair of glasses in a black softshell pouch together with a purple cleaning cloth of the West Vancouver Optometry Clinic was found on board of flight LH435 from Chicago today. Your business card was inside the pouch.”

Kurpark Bad Woerishofen 2016

Kurpark Bad Woerishofen 2016

If I had received that on October 5th a lot of anxiety on my part would have been avoided. I couldn’t do without glasses but I discovered there is a life without the Internet. But gout is something else I would rather manage without.

Halloween – Ghosts and Goblins

Pirate Day

I couldn’t believe it! It was only the middle of September when I saw the first Halloween costumes for sale. Placed close to the entrance the sales rack had stopped a number of children in their tracks. Excitedly they checked the costumes and called:

“Mom, this is exactly what I want! Come, take a look. Isn’t this cool?”

I couldn’t help watching them. With rosy cheeks they would touch this one and pull out another; they started begging their parent to buy the one they liked best. They didn’t listen to Mom saying,

“Let’s go to other stores too, you might even find something better.”

No, it had to be right now! Many little boys want to be pirates and most little girls want to be princesses. Just a few years older and they want to be witches or devils or scary ghosts and even appear to be skeletons. It is amazing how many choices there were. What I couldn’t believe were the prices. They were rather high. When my kids were small we made the costumes at home since we couldn’t afford to buy any. I don’t even know if one could buy ready-made ones in the olden days because we never checked. Times surely are different.

dsc03802Next to Christmas, Halloween is big business with the highest turnover during the year. I read that in the USA alone people spend over six billion dollars for candies, decorations, and costumes. There is also the pumpkin business, fields of large and small pumpkins by the thousands and huge cases full of pumpkins in all the food shops. When I was a kid my mother would make a desert out of the flesh and if we were very good she would allow us to carve one for a candle. We collected and dried the seeds and ate them. We did not know then but I now know that pumpkin seeds are very good for your health because of the high content of protein, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. They make the best snack and are ‘antioxidant scavengers’ – busy to improve your immune system. A little-known secret is the enhancement of men’s sexual health.

Have you ever ask yourself what are the roots for this festivity? The history goes back about 2.000 years to the ancient Celtic festivities called “Samhain “. The Celts believed the ghosts of the dead came back on the evening before November 1st, their New Year’s Day, to haunt and scare them. They would light bonfires, wear costumes to fool the ghosts into mistaking them for their own kind and, to prevent the ghosts from entering their house placed food on the steps. In the 9th century, Christianity had created an ‘All Souls Day’ and the evening before was  ‘All-Hallows Eve’ and  eventually became Halloween or Hallowe’en.

Halloween came to America through the Irish immigrants and evolved during the last few hundred years to what it is today. It is big business for costumes, candy, pumpkins and all kind of decorative ghost items. A time for scary ghosts and superstition, apple bobbing (which goes back to the Roman times) and a much anticipated day for all the children, young and old. Don’t break a mirror on Halloween, don’t step on cracks in the sidewalk and don’t meet a black cat! I remember that I would not cross the road if a black cat had crossed it from left to right. It is bad luck! I would rather wait for another person to cross before I dared to do it. If the cat crossed from right to left you were not just alright but would be lucky!

halloween-costumesHave fun but be wary on Halloween! Make sure your children are safe and check their  harvest from trick-or-treating for needles in apples and tampered chocolates. It is sad but a fact that some bad ‘witches’ are still around. They are full of hate and resentment of  all the fun and don’t mind hurting innocent children.