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!

Advertisements

Life is interesting – on the ground or in the air

After flying for three hours, landing and walking out of the arrival airport you are surprised by the different type of air you breathe, and, looking around, by the totally different colours surrounding you. It’s March, and you have just left a green landscape, blooming cherry trees, daffodils and some tulips behind. Now, with a slight little shock, even if you knew about the possibility – you look at leftover snow at the edge of the roads, icy frozen heaps at corners where the snow has been piled up and lots of puddles hiding the potholes and nothing but grey cars. You ask me “Why grey cars?” I should have told you, nobody washes their car here during the winter months because of the chance of frozen door locks. In spring, they don’t because as soon as you enter the traffic it’s covered in mud again anyway. I couldn’t believe seeing part of the residential streets looking like rivers. Why is the water not draining away? Are all the drains plugged up with leftover leaves from last fall? Or is it all the sand washed towards the drains and forming little dikes? Only three hours away from almost ‘paradise’ I was still in the same country: Canada. Several time zones across this land and variations in weather make you feel you are somewhere totally different.

Boarding to fly home

I left Vancouver Island by Harbour Air flying with a float plane. With small suitcases and seated tightly together with only a few people you are flying over beautiful little islands and in just seventeen minutes you are landing on a river not too far from Vancouver International Airport. A shuttle bus brings you there and you are lucky not to get lost among thousands of people milling around you. After passing long lineups in the international terminal, I was actually surprised to see how few people were flying to other destinations at the domestic terminal. But don’t be fooled, the planes are full. It’s just that the check-in is very well organized and orderly. There were lots of self-check-in machines, different places for baggage drop-off and other counters for people who can’t make friends with any machine. I am one of the people who prefers a live person!

Checking into the Clarion Hotel in Winnipeg they were so welcoming as if I were the proverbial ‘lost son’, sorry, daughter. The car licence plates proclaim that you are in “Friendly Manitoba” – if you can read it because of the mud covering everything. The next day I got lost in the shopping center across from the hotel. I couldn’t find my way out. I asked an elderly lady for directions. She started to explain but then decided to accompany me as it was easier. We walked through the whole shopping center and all the way across the parking lot, crossed the muddy streets and jumping over puddles. On the way she told me about, and showed me, her beautiful daughter living and working in Hollywood. We stood outside the hotel door until we shivered and I asked her inside. We exchanged e-mail addresses. That is Winnipeg, Manitoba – were the most friendly and helpful people you might ever encounter live.

Intro Forget Me NotAt my book signing at Chapters Polo Park, lots of people were standing around my table. They listened to mine and told some of their own stories and, in two hours, I laughed more than I had laughed in two years! My shopping center rescue lady, Dorothy, was among them. And Audry was there, an e-mail friend, who had written to me after she had read and was impressed by my book. The thought that it might be “healthy” for me to move back to this fair city (Oh yes, thirty-two years ago I had lived there) went through my head. What is the weather, the mud, the puddles and the snow when you are laughing? But I realized that I was the cause for the laughter that evening. Why? Because I was happy. I picked funny stories to read. I am a people person, I like to share my stories and I love the people who listen and react to me by sharing their own stories. We all became part of an extended family. It felt good.

Title slideThe absolute highlight of my trip was meeting the charming and experienced interviewer Dahlia Kurtz at the CJOB Radio Station. She is a rather small and pretty person, but a force to be reckoned with. I would like you to meet her yourself, sit back and listen to our exchange on air. Dahlia has interviewed Nobel Prize winners, world leaders, inventors and many other dignitaries but she is herself, sensitive to the expression of feelings and has a knack of keeping, or getting you back on track.

Here is the link to the YouTube video of my interview:

Interview for VIU Elder College Lecture

EscapeI was interviewed by Gregor Craigie from the On The Island program on CBC Radio One this morning. The interview is reproduced in this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/ax9-0rcdSbk

The lecture takes place at 10:00 a.m. on Nov 7th at the Nanaimo campus of VIU.and is entitled “My Escape from Germany after WWII”.For details see: https://www2.viu.ca/eldercollege/courses.asp#sss

German Unification Day

Tree re-unitedThe People of Germany have a special cause for celebration today! It’s their “Unification Day”. East and West Germany were two countries since the close of WWII. They were united in 1989 and are happy to be “ONE COUNTRY” again. For me, having lived through WWII and seen the total devastation but emigrated to Canada in 1963, it is absolutely amazing what and how much the people of Germany have achieved. From saving and cleaning each brick from the rubble their cities were, rebuilding totally destroyed ones and now enjoying one of the highest living standards in the world. My sister tells me not to be blinded by the luxuries visible because despite all, there are many pensioners and  unemployed who have trouble making ends meet with the high cost of living and expensive rents. And still, the country is a strong pillar in the European Union, maybe even the strongest.

When I saw the photo of this tree this morning, placed by someone on Facebook, I couldn’t help but think of the divided Germany and the long years it took to grow together again. Just as the tree shows the healthy growth on top of the united two halves, so does Germany. Let’s hope the roots are strong enough to hold up the ever growing ‘crown’.  For me, – the 5th of October is also worthy of memory. It was the day I escaped East Germany. To this day my heart beats faster just thinking about it. Hundreds of thousands escaped to the ‘Golden West’ risking life and limb. Finally, they built “the wall” to keep their people ‘in’, not to keep unwanted people ‘out’.

For you, who want to know more about the history and rebuilding of Germany since WWI, through WWII and the after effects without reading large history books pick up my compelling book “We Don’t Talk About That” with the compressed political background easy to understand and, as some readers say “understand for the first time” why and how it all happened. The story you’ll read is one of an ordinary German family which stands for thousands of others who lived through the same trials and tribulations but to this day ‘don’t want to talk about that’.

German flagThe Germans have a very good reason to celebrate their special day. Nobody, absolutely nobody, ever expected it to happen; to be able to climb, dance on or hack at, scrape and tear down the Berlin Wall, without any shots fired, without another war happening.

TO BE UNITED AND BE ONE WONDERFUL COUNTRY AGAIN…

#Escape from your country? #BerlinWall #EastGermany

EscapeCan you think of any good reason to escape from your country? I am not talking about criminal acts causing you to hide from being caught or trying to avoid punishment. No, I am talking about not being able to breathe anymore, not being able to talk openly, always being afraid to say the wrong thing, even to your own family.

About 60.000 people escaped almost monthly from East Germany to the West for many years. A number of them lost their lives when shot by other East Germans, maybe their brothers, cousins, or friends, – boys who had grown up since the war ended in 1945 and became part of the East German Police Force.

The day I escaped, it was October 5th 1955, over 16.000 registered in the West. In my case, it was West Berlin. The two shots fired after me could very easily have hit me but I like to believe the young police man missed on purpose. Maybe he lost his life because of it. Their order was to “shoot to kill.” Maybe he was severely punished. Maybe he could prove that he did NOT do it on purpose. Two Berliner men pulled me into a moving train. Luckily the train was not stopped as a result of my escape.

image2-002-1To stop the exodus the “Berlin Wall” had been built over night August 13th 1961. Nobody, absolutely nobody, knew about it and people wonder to this day how the government could have organized it. The Wall went straight down the middle of streets for some kilometers. Families or friends were cut off from each other. If you had been visiting in either East or West Berlin, maybe just across the street, you were stuck, you could not return. Days later the people living in the houses along the wall on the eastern side were evacuated and all the windows bricked up. The rest of the country was fenced in with miles and miles of barbed wire and a wide strip of mined no-mans-land. In order to see footsteps another wide strip of raked sand was added later. Towers for sharp shooters were built. East Germany became a large prison with life going on as if everything was Berlin Wall-2all right. But nothing was all right. People risked their life by building tunnels, balloons, micro-aircraft, even shooting wires across a street and became escape artists above the search lights. One young police man even stole an armored police truck and made it across the border and, despite being wounded and finding himself in a hospital bed he was happy because he made it! According to reports thousands got shot, many were wounded but they just did not give up trying to reach what is not even fully appreciated by the populace of western countries: Freedom.

Have you ever thought of freedom? What freedom means, to you or your family, your friends? It is something we don’t think about because it is something we take for granted.

Escape to West Berlin #Escape #EastGermany

The 5th of October 19Escape55 changed my life forever. How? Let me tell you. I lived in East Germany.

I was a Phys Ed teacher. I loved my job and the school principal repeatedly reminded me to join the SED, the communist party. “How can you be a teacher if you are not able to pass on the ideology of communism to your students?” Without being a member you had no chance for advancement and risked your job security. But so far I had resisted the pressure.

On October 4th something drastic happened which drove me to the decision to leave East Germany like so many thousands of others were doing. Early the next morning I took the train to Berlin. Just outside Berlin proper, in Bernau, all the passengers had to leave the train, line up at a table to have passports checked by police and then continue on with the S-Bahn (city train) to the inner city. The “Wall” had not been built yet so the city train still stopped at some West Berlin stations. Waiting for my passport to be checked, the city train pulled in. When it started moving again I lost my nerve and started running towards it. The police had shooting orders for people trying to escape. Two shots were fired. They missed, either by accident or by design. We will never know. If witnesses claimed they missed on purpose the shooter would be severely punished, put in jail or even shot. Two Berliner men held the automatically closing train doors open and pulled me into the last wagon. I expected the train to be stopped…..

Those two Berliners told me to get out at the next station which happened to be in the “West Sector”. I had to wait for another train, one not going through the “East Sector”, to Marienfelde. This was the place where one had to register in West Germany. I was thunderstruck by the long line-up of people; everybody who had escaped this day was in line yet it was still only very early in the afternoon. Most had no luggage at all or only a small bag, some didn’t even have jackets or coats. I moved forward with a young dental assistant, a nice girl who hoped to be sent to the Black Forest since she had relatives there. I had no idea where I would end up. We stuck together and were given a bunk bed in a room with only five other bunk beds. I took the upper one and kept my coat on top of my blanket and my shoes close to the wall. We had been warned to look after our few belongings because things “disappeared”. Most other rooms had fifteen or more bunk beds. We felt so very lucky. But don’t even ask about bathrooms or showers, – it was all very well organised but very simple. There was an air of relief, but not much talking. After our experiences in East Germany nobody trusted anybody. We were afraid to say anything. What if the Russians were coming?

Most girls in our room were “processed” as it was called within a few days. Everyday new ones were occupying the beds. I was the only one kept there for three weeks. We had been told that on Oct. 5th over 16.000 people had escaped, not all through Berlin though. I was repeatedly interviewed by the Americans, the English and the French officers but in the end I could not tell them more than I already had. Actually, through their questions I learned about military installations on the Island of Ruegen I had not even imagined. Finally they decided to fly me out to Hannover while my final destination was supposed to be Dortmund. My first flight was not exactly a flight into the sunset but what all of us thought of as FREEDOM. New challenges were awaiting me in the “golden West” as we “easties” called it.

You want to know what happened on October 4th that drove me to leave my family, my hometown, the job I enjoyed, my beloved boat and all my kayaking buddies? For that, dear reader, you’ll have to read my book We Don’t Talk About That…