Vimy Ridge: The Battle defining Canada as a Nation

The 9th of April 2017 is an important date in the history of Canada. One-hundred years ago, four Canadian divisions, organised and trained as one fighting force, fought three divisions of Germans who had held the important Vimy Ridge line against the efforts of the French, who lost 150.000 lives in an earlier battle, and, when relieved by the British armies, the situation did not change. The Germans held the ridge. It took the Canadians three days of heavy fighting and a loss of nearly 3.600 lives and over 7.000 wounded until the enemy retreated. For about a week now, television and all social media have been rehashing the history of this battle. It was the biggest and most decisive battle waged by Canadians against the Germans in France.

Watching the news, I asked myself: What actually led to WWI? Was it the assassination of the Archduke of Austria and his wife in Sarajevo as most historians claim? It seems there was much more to it than that. The Emperor of Austria-Hungary had his eye on the Balkan states. He annexed Bosnia and Herzogewina in 1908. After the assassination in Sarajevo the Emperor wanted to annex Serbia but the ultimatum was rejected. It took several weeks before the, then almighty, Austria-Hungary Emperor decided to declare war on Serbia and Bosnia, two revolutionary and terroristic states of the Balkan. The Balkan war was supposed to be all there was, a “small” war about territory that led to the so-called “Great War”. Austria, which was not really prepared for war after a long period of peace, called on their German ally when Russia prepared for fighting on the Serbian side. Russia also allied with the French, and it didn’t take long before the whole world was on fire. Those are the underlying causes as I see it.

I read somewhere “WWI was a political misjudgement…” – a misjudgement that cost around 38 million lives. Does that shock us? For me, it is a much bigger shock to think about the 10.000 casualties of the Canadians fighting and winning the battle of Vimy Ridge in less than three days.

Now, one-hundred years later, we celebrate those brave men, some younger than eighteen and some lying about their older age just to go and fight. A forty-year old miner would have lived if he had not lied about his age and registered as a twenty-eight year old man. It is hard to imagine that in Canada, a country with a population of less than eight million in 1914, 619.000 men enlisted. 66.000 did not return and 172.000 were wounded. The stories we hear on the news are incredible. Many people have diaries written by their ancestors, letters and photos. Everything pulls at our heart strings. Thousands of Canadians have traveled overseas to be part of the 100-year celebration. Newest reports say between 25.000 and 30.000, including thousands of young high school students from all over Canada, attended the celebration at Vimy.

The impressive memorial at Vimy was built to honor around 11.000 dead Canadians with unknown resting places. A competition for the design was open to all Canadian architects, designers and sculptors after 1920. Of one-hundred and sixty designs, two were finally selected by a commission in 1921. William Lyon Mackenzie King, then Prime Minister of Canada, argued for the design by Walter Seymour Allard of Toronto and got unanimous support from parliament. The French donated 100 hectares of land where the battle was fought under the condition that Canada build and maintain a memorial park. Mr. Allard searched far and wide for the right stones and found them in Croatia. The construction of the monument began in 1925 and took eleven years to complete. His Majesty, King Edward VIII, also considered the King of the young Nation of Canada, unveiled the memorial on July 26th 1936 with 50.000 people in attendance.

During his speech regarding the memorial, His Majesty stated:

It is an inspired expression in stone, chiselled by a skilful Canadian hand, of Canada’s salute to her fallen sons.”

 

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!

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…

Thanksgiving

turkey1It wasn’t about food or a turkey feast! For us, living in a small German village, it was mainly a special day in the church calendar. Nobody ever ate turkey, not even at Christmas or New Year. It was carp (fish), duck or goose. A great part of the celebration were the children. With their parent’s help, they decorated a basket with all kind of fruits or veggies out of the  garden. I envied the children who instead of baskets carried huge bouquets made up of dried wheat, rye, barley and other grain stalks. Those were so much lighter than our baskets! The girls wore a flower wreath like a crown made up of the last of the blooms picked in field and garden. The boys had corsages pinned on the jacket or a hat. We all felt excited and very pretty!

wp_20161006_15_47_39_proThe Pastor’s wife was in charge of organizing us in front of the church while the hymn singing congregation waited inside. The smallest, youngest children, two abreast, came first and were followed by all the others according to size. With the organ playing, we would enter the church and slowly walk to the altar. The Pastor, waiting there, would receive our thanksgiving gifts and place everything on or around the altar. Relieved of our burden we could now go and find a seat with our parents in the pews. The Pastor would pray, thank God for a bountiful year and a good harvest. He always gave a rousing sermon and made everybody willing to donate even more. This ‘harvest’ was going to the poor in the village and the soldiers on the front.

grain-lady-3Yes, we surely felt very thankful for every potato and carrot. We were still safe and were not starving. I remember these years during WWII so well. Life has changed a lot after the war. The number of church-goers is down in the big cities but, I can imagine small villages may still be celebrating Thanksgiving this way. The church and the pub provided the social life during my childhood, and it may still be the same. Since I have been living in Canada for the last fifty-three years I have no idea if the Germans adopted the turkey eating tradition but I’ll find out! I used to believe it was a healthy tradition since turkey meat contains tryptophan, a relaxing amino acid which forms the base of serotonin and gets converted in the body into melatonin making you sleepy. I’m disappointed to learn now that it is a myth because chicken and cheese also contain the same amino acid. On Thanksgiving, it is the mass of turkey with all the trimmings (and alcohol) we consume that makes us lazy and sleepy. Personally, I like the dark turkey meat. Restaurants hardly ever serve it because of its high content of cholesterol. On Thanksgiving Day I couldn’t care less!

Feel grateful for the bounty we still enjoy. And share. So many have nothing; millions do not even have a home.

9/11 – Just an Infamous Number?

twin-towers-nycFifteen years ago the world stood still for not just moments. Nobody could understand what happened and why two planes would fly directly into the Twin Towers in New York. Many people, when watching it later on TV, thought it was a scene developed and shot for a movie. I had been in New York some years before and was taken into one of those towers. Today I want to write about what I felt at the time when they came crumbling down.

A small basement type bookshop in Dundarave (West Vancouver, Canada), loved by readers and writers alike, had a section with comfortable chairs where one could peruse the newest books and another section with small tables and chairs where herbal tea was served. This is where I was sitting, sipping my chamomile tea. I don’t remember if they served cookies or something to nibble on. Another reader joined me since there was no other empty table. It’s weird, but in Canada, everybody tries to sit at their “own” table. In Europe, people would ask to join someone to have and maybe also provide company. They relish meeting new people. We chatted away about the books we had just checked out when all of a sudden the clitter-clatter and the noise of the boiling water at the serving counter and even the soft background music stopped. It was eery, still, and the person at the kettle stood there, with a white face and wide open eyes, staring into nowhere. Just a few minutes ago she had gone to serve someone on the little outside terrace.

She half whispered, “Oh my God! They have bombed the Twin Towers in New York. Maybe Vancouver is next. The USA is at war.”

Everybody stared at her and it was me who finally broke the spell and asked: “How do you know?”

“The radio. Someone outside is listening to a radio and it was just announced. Both towers came down and thousands of people must be dead. There are so many offices…Some airplanes flew right into the buildings. Suicide bombers. They tried the Pentagon too but I don’t know more…” She changed the channel on her music system and turned up the volume and we all heard it announced. At first, we all sat there like deer caught in headlights and then all hell broke loose. People jumped up from the tea as well as the reading section and crowded the poor lady, we all wanted to pay as fast as we could to get home and watch the news on television. To make it faster some just threw dollar bills onto the counter, not waiting for change.

I ran out the back door to the Seawall, a wonderful walkway along the Pacific Ocean since it was faster and closest to my apartment building. I met my friend Inga on the way and she knew a bit more already. She had left her apartment after watching the news. She just couldn’t stand it indoors. She was more than excited and started talking about an interesting book she was in the process of reading. Apparently, Nostradamus had predicted this and other events back in the fifteenth century. I asked her if I could borrow the book when she was finished. She promised to lend it to me providing I gave it back after three days. Then we parted.

I sat glued to my couch for the rest of the day and watched the news over and over and over again. The announcer explained that a couple had taken a video while standing on the balcony of their hotel not far from the towers. By chance, they caught everything on their camera. They had handed the video over to the New York News team that soon turned up at the scene. They were interviewed and couldn’t even fathom what they had just photographed. And no, they didn’t want any money for the video. Those planes flying directly into the towers and the towers crumbling was hard to stomach. It really could have been a horror movie.

I remember how the news people tried to put a spin on the news about why, and who, and what, when they showed a clip of President Bush sitting on a small bench in a Kindergarten class in Florida, surrounded by kids. A man, maybe a bodyguard, came in and whispered something into his ear. President Bush’ face was uncomprehending, his mouth fell open, his eyes had an empty expression. It was not a picture anyone would want to see of their President. He seemed helpless, shocked, did not know what to say or do.

The World Towers prior to 2001

The World Towers prior to 2001

Now fifteen years have come and gone since this horrible happening. The place where those two towers, once so important for the New York skyline, stood is a wonderful rebuilt area with a Museum and other attractions. What shocked me today was the information that there are still people who maintain that it was all pre-planned and organized by the government with President Bush involved; even to the extent that the two “planes” were just holographic images.

Just recalling his expression in the Kindergarten when he first heard of it I feel strongly that this is absolute rubbish.

“Hoarding for WWIII” – What and Why?

19 Jul 1945, Berlin, Germany --- Berlin: Germany: German citizens can be seen walking over a bridge amid the ruins of buildings. Twisted metal frames are visible through the walls of bombed buildings along the streets of Berlin. A bus can also be seen crossing the bridge. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Please forgive me. I just couldn’t come up with a better title. I have been thinking about it for several days now and, you know, ‘thinking is bad for you, it bruises the brain.’ Remember, I used that title for one of my latest blogs. I must admit, all this thinking gave me quite a headache. We have lived such a peaceful life for over seventy years now, the younger generations have no idea what it is like if there are ration cards or how you sometimes have to go hungry. Yes, certain areas of the world have wars going on and it is bad. It’s very bad. Millions of people are fleeing their countries, risking their life in the process. Surrounding countries are ‘overloaded’ already, others try to take as many refugees as they can and some others say “go back where you came from”. The political threat to send people, who have lived, worked, raised families and paid taxes in other than their birth countries, back to their ancestral homelands is frightening.

No, the topic as mentioned in the heading surely wasn’t my idea. My thoughts are going back to the nineteen twenties and thirties when Hitler made his way into world politics and power. Lately, speeches with screaming and promises to clean up racial issues and make America great again reminded me of the opera “Tosca” by Puccini. In the first act, there is a lovely song: “Wie sich die Bilder gleichen“ – “How alike these pictures are…” This expression is now not used for pictures but especially for happenings of a similar nature.

Why do these kinds of thoughts trouble me? I started thinking even more about this scenario after I received an e-mail regarding predictions found in the Bible. Something is supposed to happen at the beginning of this September which, towards the end of the month, leads to WWIII. I do not know the Bible well and, despite having been told what to read or where to find these predictions I am inclined not to look for it. I just haven’t got or don’t want to spend the time. Maybe I don’t want to know. Apparently, there are also listings on Google. How could knowing about it change anything? My correspondent recommended stocking up on groceries as she has done, expecting to feed her neighbours as well. Buy shares in companies who deal in metal. Metal is needed in a war. If you can, emigrate to one of the advertised ten safest countries in the world.

I remember reading a book about Nostradamus’ predictions after 9/11. The author had tried to change the 15th-century language to a kind of picturesque ‘translation’ for the reader to understand what was meant. I skimmed over the last few hundred years to the 21st century. I must say that I was impressed because a number of things had already happened. Starting in 2012 there would be lots of unrest in the world and 2017 would see the start of a very devastating war that would turn Europe into ashes through powerful explosions. Nothing would grow for a hundred years etc. etc. It was quite unnerving. But at that time I didn’t think I would be alive in 2017. And my children and children’s children would have to deal with it like we did with the horror of WWII.

I lived through the devastation of Germany during WWII. I learned as a child what it was like to jump out of my warm bed when the air raid alarm was howling, hear the noise of the bombers, saw the ‘fire in the sky’- heard the constant rumbling of the canons, and the daily crack-crack of the shooting when the last few German soldiers were fighting the mighty Russian army in our neighbourhood. Yes, I also saw the dead and the body parts nobody was allowed to bury in the frozen earth of February 1945. Do I want to even think of all that again? I have written it all down in my memoir, “We Don’t Talk About That”. Maybe that book can become a kind of Bible on how to deal with, and survive, a war.

But, here is what I like to tell the people who are starting to hoard groceries. Did you think of how to cook when there is no electricity or gas supply? Do you plan to buy enough BBQ gas containers? If you have a wood stove, can you even get wood? Keep matches? What do you do when the supply runs out? What do you do if you have to leave your house and the enemy gets all your provisions? That happened to us. A new WW is not going to be a tame animal. Missiles reach across continents – nobody knows where they will land. What if some angry person in power presses a certain button? What if you make it to next spring but you have no food? How do you grow something? In my memoir I talk about how we found ourselves wishing for seeds to plant a garden, seed the strips of land along the road or balcony boxes or even plant in any pots. If it makes you feel better to prepare, (I am also thinking of the predicted “Big One” – an earthquake) make sure you add seeds to your supply, especially of plants that allow you to eat the tops as well as the roots. We survived on turnips and many people of my generation hate the very thought of them. Bread made out of turnips, soup made out of turnips, a stew made out of turnips. Sometimes we found tiny bones in our meals and were wondering if they were from birds or vermin. Every day we went looking for edible weeds, so learn to know what they look like and where they grow.

psst!

We also never saw any pets around and when my mother was given the great gift of a (slaughtered) rabbit I remember how she looked at it and said:

“It looks much more like a roof-rabbit to me.” Sadly, she meant a cat.

 

An unbelievable paranormal or psychic story

Imagine receiving an e-mail from a person you have never met who lives in another country about a thousand or more kilometers away from you. The e-mail starts with an apology and the suggestion that you may not believe what she is going to ask or tell you and, if it would be her, she would not believe it either.

“Is your aunt Johanna alright? You have to warn her as her life may be in danger. Her husband Robert is abusive and one day things may get out of hand. I know she is ashamed of the abuse and she hasn’t told anyone. Please don’t think I am crazy and do warn her.”

She went on to tell me that she has psychic abilities, works for a court in XYZ (I like to protect her identity) and has once been able to tell the police of the body of a child missing for three years. She has solved other cases and is not happy about this ability but if she can pass on a warning she feels she has to do it.

I was startled by the message, stared at it and thought how weird is this? My aunt Johanna is long gone. This must be a person who has read my book “We Don’t Talk About That”. Because her husband was abusive but he is also gone, having died in WWII. There is a chapter in my book when aunt Hanni, as we called her, had come running to my mother, who was her sister and I happened to witness her breakdown and heard her sorry tale.

After sleeping and mulling it over I decided to answer this strange e-mail and asked a few questions. I thanked her for the message and stated that she must have read my book “We Don’t Talk About That”. I could not imagine otherwise. I did tell her that I also had several unexplainable psychic experiences in my life and no, I did definitely not think she is crazy. But I am curious how she would know about Johanna and her husband Robert. I suggested she read my book – if she hadn’t done so already.

I received another e-mail, quite a lengthy one. And no, she had not read my book at all. It was a dream in which she was Johanna and experienced the abuse. That’s how these ‘experiences’ established themselves within her. She knew about a gorgeous wedding dress Robert had given her and explained it in detail. She also mentioned that Robert was somehow arrogant and felt he was better than the family Johanna came from. This was also true since at my parent’s wedding he had teased my father that he was able to give Johanna a horse if he wanted to and my father could only give his bride, Johanna’s sister, a horse whip. Johanna never got a horse but surely she experienced the whip. The dream had disturbed my correspondent a lot. She went on to Google with the two names she had, Johanna and Robert as a couple, and tried to guess the year of a wedding in Germany. She did not give up and finally her search brought her to my website and my picture gallery. She had found my e-mail address and the rest is history.

Recently I wrote to her again and inquired if, by now, she had read my book. I told her that I would like to keep in touch since I am fascinated with the topic of otherworldly experiences. She answered, No, she still hasn’t read my book for several reasons. She is very busy with work and she doesn’t want to invite other possible disturbing revelations. Life has a way of going on and hers is quite full.

I understand that. But in the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about paranormal and psychic happenings or abilities. I remember after my last experience years ago, this time in a hotel room in China, I begged God to please take this ‘gift’ from me. Apparently he did because I have never had another unbelievable thing happen to me. Now I wish I did have a “Crystal ball”.

Oh, you want to know what happened in China? Okay, I’ll tell you. It was the year of 9/11. I had a single room and was securely locked in. I woke up from a dream with a start and just knew there was someone in the room. I switched the light on and checked but all was quiet and I was alone. After my heartbeat had slowed down, I fell asleep again but the dream went on. The husband of a friend who was dying of cancer in Vancouver, Canada was in my room. I screamed at him “what are you doing here?”

He started to laugh and said quite clearly: “Don’t be afraid, I just came to say good bye.”

I woke up again, switched the light on – nothing. I came home to Canada a week later. I phoned my friend to tell her I was back and asked how her husband was doing. She was slow to answer.

“He died. He had a very tough time and I am glad he is at peace.”

I was almost afraid to ask her on what date he died. Yes, it was the date when I had that disturbing dream.

Diaries, Journals, And Letters

When I was a teenager I wanted to keep my private thoughts and experiences my own.Were they so special or interesting? No, not really, but important to me. I think it was an aunt who gave me my first diary with a little key to lock it for my birthday. It became my best friend, my confidante and I kept no secrets from it. I wrote about all that happened, my thoughts and my feelings. Especially all my thoughts and feelings! I trusted it with my first kiss and also the first names of the boys I allowed to kiss me after the first one. I even told my diary that I didn’t like  tongue kisses at all and always broke off a friendship before it could even develop.

DSC07693My diary was the only one who knew when and how I had fought off a boy who had tried to get more than just a kiss; everything he said, I said – well, you get the idea. No, I did not share my body with anyone during those years. I truly believed in ‘saving’ myself for the ONE that I would marry. The ones of you who read my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” know about that part anyway when it finally happened and not in the way I had hoped it would.  I filled that little diary within four years. I was close to twenty when I bought myself a new one. Number one was locked and under some underwear in ‘my drawer’ in a chest, which I shared with my sister. Sadly, I had to escape to another country and when I finally had a chance to come back many years later and looked through my drawer, everything was still there. But I was shocked to see my diary lock had been broken. When I confronted my mother she admitted that she had read it all. Why did she do that? I would not do that but then I am probably one of those rare creatures who is absolutely not curious. I do not have the diary anymore since I burned it back then. I was hurt and angry. It tainted the relationship with my mother for the rest of her life. Broken trust is not easy to fix.

Do I ever wish I could read it again, now in my advanced age… I still have diary number two. I very recently read it. Half of it is empty. I had stopped writing in it when my life fell apart after twenty years of raising a family. But the happy times are there for posterity. I also have a travel journal from a three week trip in 1973 with my two stepdaughters and my baby boy from Canada to Germany to visit the three sets of grandparents: My husbands, my own, and the girls mother’s parents. A very interesting trip and time in my life. I never saw the girls as my stepchildren, they were my own and this travel journal really proves it. Often I had to smile when one of them made some funny remarks: The older one spoke mainly English, the second one, just fifteen months younger, spoke and understood German quite well. She had been raised for three and a half years by a great aunt of her mother in Germany before she joined our family.

After my immigration to Canada in 1965, I wrote regularly to my kayak friend Christa in the former East Germany. She kept all my letters from 1955 to 1996 at which time I started to telephone her rather than write. By that time Germany was reunited. It was easy and nice to have a personal conversation. At a visit four years ago she handed me a big package – and to my surprise, she had saved forty-one years of my letters and gave them to me with the words:

“I hate to let go of your letters. I read them all again but I think they will help you when you start  writing the second part of your memoir.”

I just finished reading the letters up to 1961 when the Berlin Wall had been built overnight. What an emotional rollercoaster! Forty-five years came alive as if it all happened during the last few years and not half a lifetime ago.

Another journal I started in 2010 was an account of all my doctor visits and prescription medications as well as X-rays and other tests. This journal proved very important during the last couple of weeks. My doctor had prescribed a new medication and it did not sit well with me. Looking through my ‘Med-Journal’ I found that I had been taken the same pills a few years ago and also had to be taken off them. I can only urge you to write a ‘Med-Journal’. It may one day save your life!

And, if you don’t have a shoulder to cry on or a close friend you can share all your troubles with, get a diary. Or, start writing letters to an imaginary friend. You will be surprised how much more of yourself you will reveal because you are absolutely sure your most inner thoughts and secrets stay secret. Maybe until your heirs read them after  you have gone to the pearly gates. In my case – I think that would serve them right! They will finally know how much I loved them and how often they hurt my feelings, probably not even realizing it.

This Book Drives Me Crazy

Have you ever read a book that very “severely” took over your whole being? So much so that you were grieving for all the countries and all their people involved? That you were fighting a depression threatening to take you down, reducing you to tears at times knowing full well you are reading a history book. You lived during that time in history as a child and could not do or have done anything to change what was to become history. And worst of all, you feel you are part of that history and never knew what was going on behind the scenes.

How was it possible that the wool was so cleverly and cruelly pulled over the eyes of all the people? To only let you know what you were supposed to know? And what you heard on the ‘verboten’ radio stations was just “enemy propaganda”? And learning that for people who suspected something it was safer not to know? But, “they knew enough to know not to know”. (This is a quotation from one of Lynn Alexander’s Schellendorf- books) Ordinary people were trying to survive day by day. My memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” tells what it was like to live under the Nazis until 1945, then, after our eviction, for weeks on the “road to nowhere” with millions of other evicted people – next to the Russian war machinery on their way to victory – surviving rape, murder, starvation, and disease and leaving the sick or dead next to the road. After some kind of order was established during the following years and Germany carved up into four zones (Russian, English, American and French) I lived in the Russian part for ten years as a teenager, enjoying some kind of ‘peace’ until I was driven to escape as so many hundreds of thousands did. And life in the “Golden West” brought its own challenges, new beginnings and living as a second class citizen. And after it was all over I was thinking I had it bad and had nightmares for years.

But these last two weeks, reading the book I mentioned at the beginning gave me the feeling I was a victim. I had never thought of myself that way. Our life was living part of the war but now I see that we also were part of the extortions, concentration camps, evictions. How could a handful of men at the top wreak so much havoc? By reading this book it is hard to understand that nobody was ever able to kill Adolf Hitler, how the people around him were afraid of each other and conspired against each other to get closer to the ‘Führer’? And how Goering, who was considered the ‘second’ man in Germany, could give everything a self-effacing twist during his interrogation at the Nuremberg Trials that one almost felt for him? Gifted with an incredible memory he, for a time, dominated the proceedings and even joked about it. When admonished he burst out “Don’t you see that all this joking and horseplay is only comic relief? Do you think I enjoy sitting here and hearing accusations heaped on our heads from all sides? We’ve got to let off steam somehow.” The culmination of his extraordinary life was cheating the court and the judges by poisoning himself ten minutes before he was due to be hanged as the first of the remaining Nazi officers.

GoeringMillions of people like you and me, we are just “grains of sand” in the larger picture of the world and the people who rule it, no matter where we live. The title of the book I am talking about and that gave me high blood pressure and at times, Parkinson-like shaking that I almost gave up on it is “Goering – The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader”. The authors are Roger Manvel and Heinrich Fraenkel. The bibliography of the research done and the dozens and dozens of diaries, books by other writers and papers fill several pages at the end of this book. If you are a WWII history buff you ought to read it.