Dutch Clogs and a Nazi Flag Dress

Several years after WWII ended life ever so slowly had returned back to a bit more normal and I had become a teenager. We lived in the eastern sector of Germany, a country without shops of any kind. I had outgrown the clothing my mother had made from rags and “one dress out of two”. Would it ever have been nice if jeans had been invented already because then all the kids would have looked more alike and there would not have been so much heartbreak with the teasing and bullying for the weird clothing I and my sisters had to wear to school. I will never forget the three winters I had to wear an old torn black form-fitted ladies coat with green patches and a huge big bust typical Dutch designline, stuffed with horse hair. I was only eleven, starved and thin as a stick. There was no choice: I was lucky to have found the coat under a bush where someone had discarded it. At least I had a coat at all during the winters 1945, 1946 and 1947. Uncle Fritz did a deal by exchanging fish for some Dutch clogs and those wooden shoes kept my feet very warm. But imagine the picture:

A small, starved thin eleven year old kid with a big busted fitted ladies coat and Dutch clogs! I wish I had a photograph! Today I can smile or laugh about it but back then it caused me many tears and I refused to go to high school when the time came. I had nothing to wear. The teasing was already bad enough in the small village where we lived, – but going to a city school? I’d have died…


Modelling my “Nazi flag” dress

I got a chance to learn to sew but I had to bring my own material. You couldn’t buy anything, but a kind neighbor gave me a big Nazi flag she had found in an old trunk in her basement or attic. Her family and mine would have been arrested if anybody would ever have found out about it. To own a Nazi flag was forbidden after WWII. I undid all the seams, took the white center and the black stitched on swastika apart and my seamstress teacher helped me to design a pretty kind of ‘country dress”. The body of the dress was fashioned out of the red material with a wide swinging skirt, a white insert around the neck and small strips out of the swastika around the skirt and the insert and a black belt. It wasn’t quite Bavarian style, but very similar. I was proud and wore that dress happily. When I grew out of it my third sister Ingrid wore it. Well, – look at the pictures taken a few years down the road with my first camera, a very simple box camera. To find out how I got such a treasure

Ingrid modelling her "hand-me-down" dress

Ingrid modelling her “hand-me-down” dress

you’d have to read my book “We Don’t Talk About It”. (Chapter: ‘Berlin – here I come’)

I wish I could share several letters from a lady who picked my book up on impulse at Chapters just a few days ago. She read several hours in her car in the parking lot, “I couldn’t put it down” she writes, – “went to the gym, read while doing a workout on the bike, drove home, read some more, couldn’t sleep, and finished it the next morning”. I know that she really read every word of it because she asks questions about different things she couldn’t have known had she just ‘skimmed’ through it. So, – click on the links to the bookstores and order it now! You will be looking at the present world problems a little differently and have hours of reading to keep those little “grey cells” (as Hercule Poirot says) very stimulated.

What happened to them? #camping #BalticSea #escape #kayaking

They were sleeping in four tents next to us. We were camping on the beautiful Isle of Hiddensee. Located between the mainland and the larger Isle of Rügen it was one of our favourite weekend and even holiday spots. Hiddensee was a narrow long island and you could walk from the high cliffs with the lighthouse at the Rügen side all the way down to the other end where it tapered out into sand banks. Starting to paddle or with a good breeze and able to hoist our five square meter sails it would only take us between three and four hours from Stralsund to Hiddensee. We would aim for about the middle of the island, a place called Neuendorf with the fishing harbour, surrounded by typical bright white romantic thatched island homes. These low houses with small windows were hunched down low to let the constant wind blow over them. We had to start walking on a sand bank for the last one or two kilometers and pull our boats until we hit deeper areas again. The island was quite narrow here and had dunes and a nice beach facing the open Baltic Sea.

May I see your ID

Show your ID

We were four girls in two boats and had two tents. We found a nice camping place adjacent to the nude beach. We were surprised to see fully uniformed policemen checking the passports of the nude people. Where do you carry a passport if you have no clothing on? While we were spending the rest of the day sun-tanning and swimming several other tents had gone up in a row next to us with five single kayaks placed upside down between them. Five very fit looking men in their twenties were organising their blankets and cook ware. When they noticed us next to them they called “Want to have dinner with us? Just soup, – but good company as a side dish and music for dessert. You’ll have to have your own bowls and spoons though.”

For several days they were busy exploring the island and the very few shops in Neuendorf and Kloster, the village closer to the high part of Hiddensee. They would sit on the dunes every night for hours and watch the military search light reaching out with bright long arms over the Baltic, starting at the lighthouse and coming back from the sandbanks.

Indians - 1

Tribal attack

Indians - 2

Dress rehearsal

We planned to attend a costume dance and were busy picking beach grass and making grass skirts. Intrigued they inquired what we were up to. “Can we join you?” We were delighted. Now we did not have to walk home in the dark on our own after the dance. We made more grass skirts and with lipstick painted Indian designs on our faces and bodies. The men had found some feathers to complete our costumes. We celebrated with a kind of dress rehearsal on the beach and a few drinks loosened our inhibitions. With lots of noise we entered the dance hall and celebrated with our own tribal dance. We scalped a few people, and at the end won first price for which we received a bottle of rum. The boys disappointed us by saying ‘good night’ when we suggested sitting on the dunes with them and let the bottle go around. “Tomorrow is another day” were their parting words.

We won first prize

We won first prize

When tomorrow came their camping places were empty. Tents gone, boats gone, not even a garbage bag left. It was as if they had never been there. Inquiring of other campers nobody had seen or heard anything.

What happened to them?

To find out order your copy of “We Don’t Talk About That” right now! Reading this book will make your head spin.


#Horses – and their shoes

Erich Fiting-Helmut & ?

Shoeing a horse at Father’s smithy.

Do kids nowadays have a chance to see how a horse gets new shoes? Or do they experience the special “smell” when the red-hot iron horseshoe is fitted onto the horse’s hooves? Or do they hear the “swish” when the blacksmith places the iron in cold water for a second or two before he places and fits it on onto the horse’s hoves, one at a time, lifted up sometimes by another man, usually an apprentice? Would they even know what a farrier is? Hardly. I remember it well. I know about the ‘swish’. I remember what it smelled like. I remember being afraid the horse would be hurt. How can the glowing iron not hurt? And the long nails with the almost square head that go into the horseshoe to hold it in place? How can the horse stand it? I didn’t realize then that the bottom of the horse’s hooves are something like a very thick callous, or a very thick toe or finger nail of ours, no nerve endings in it. Only once have I seen a horse bucking and I was afraid my dad would get hurt.

Our own horse Lotte was conscripted in 1939. My dad explained ‘the Führer needs her for the war.” I asked, “Can’t he use another horse? Why our Lotte?” Yes, why our Lotte. It wasn’t just our Lotte. There is a short chapter about it in my book “We Don’t Talk About That”.

Gila-First Scool Day

First day at school with a horn of plenty (not!).

Omi-Mutti m. Ingrid - Tuti-Manfred-Christel-Dieter-Gisela - Siegfried

A family outing to the lake. Omi-Mutti m. Ingrid – Tutti-Manfred-Christel-Dieter-Gisela – Siegfried

I could hardly wait to go to school to learn to read, to be independent from Granny reading to me. It was in spring 1940. It was exciting to look forward to the big “School cone” and all the goodies in it. How disappointing to find very little – but then, – even a six year old knew there was a war going on. Pretending to be happy I was fighting tears, – just look at the photo. But soon the summer holidays stretched out for two long months and our cousins from the Island of Rügen came. We played our usual games and were happy to go to the lake with Mom, Granny and Aunt Tutti. She plays a very important role in the book. You’ll meet her again…

The family is complete

A proud Gila next to the pram with Christel

A proud Gila next to the pram with Christel

Child # 2 again was to be a boy – but it wasn’t in the cards for my dad. Since it was December and not too far away from Christmas, the new baby was named “Christel”. Granny always said she looked exactly like her dearly departed husband and I could never see it because he had a moustache, she didn’t. Can YOU see it?

The three sisters Gila-Christel-Ingrid

The three sisters Gila-Christel-Ingrid

And then a few years later Ingrid joined the family, again a disappointment for Dad. Finally, in 1944 the last try and again a girl: Edith. She was the baby just by her very existence saved my mother’s life. Now the family was complete.

A last photo of the family – will we ever be together again?

A last photo of the family – will we ever be together again?

Weddings of Three Sisters

Erich and Elsbeth married in April 1932

My parents - Elsbeth and Erich

My parents – Elsbeth and Erich

It was a difficult courtship because Elsbeth was promised to another man by her father and Erich was simply not good enough. She did not give in to her parents and finally their wedding day came. Erich was teased about his inability to give his wife expensive gifts… and it came to the point when they got up and left the wedding party.

Johanna and Robert married in March 1933

Aunt Johanna and Robert S wedding

Aunt Johanna and Robert S wedding

Robert was welcomed into the family with open arms because, unlike Erich, he came from a wealthy family. He could give his wife a horse if he wanted too while Erich could only afford a whip.

Emmi and Erich L. married in 1929 (?)

Aunt Emmi and Erich L wedding

Aunt Emmi and Erich L wedding

Looking at this wedding photo one would think of rather a different party – certainly not a wedding. Notice the black dress of the bride? She was not allowed to wear “white” because she was pregnant. Her Erich was also “just a tradesman”, maybe pregnancy was her way of getting her own way.

Meet the Players

My Mother’s Family

Grandma and Grandpa

Grandma and Grandpa

Grandmother and Grandfather – my mother’s parents were a very unlikely couple. He was stern, introverted, always sat thinking in his beloved pergola, his chin on the cane he held in his hands. The pergola was attached to the very old city wall that ran through his gardens. Whenever we visited, always on Sundays, that’s where he could be found. Grandma would send us to say “hi” to him, but he never smiled, just looked at us. The pergola was totally covered with green climbers. I remember the sun shining through the leaves and as a child with an active imagination I often thought he was some kind of a saint because of the sun giving him a halo.

Grandmother on the other hand was outgoing. She cooked the best jam I ever tasted. I loved it with a passion. Black currants and plums cooked for a long time. She knew that it was the only thing I wanted when visiting. When the rest of the guests had coffee and cake I would get her home baked bread with this jam! My mouth would start to water before we even left home. She always served it with a big smile to me and stroked my hair. That was as far as expressions or gestures of love ever went.

Grandma with 3 of her daughters, Emmi, Johanna and Elsbeth

Grandma with 3 of her daughters, Emmi, Johanna and Elsbeth

I do not have a photo of all Grandma’s children, my aunts and the only uncle. In this photo taken sometime in the early 1940’s we have my mother Elsbeth (right) with her sisters Johanna (centre) and Emmi (left). The youngest sister Elisabeth (the princess) was always off somewhere and Carl made himself scarce by finding work in the barns.

Chapter 2 continued

Completing Father’s family

Great Grandmother and Fritze

Great Grandmother and Fritze

Great Grandmother had beautiful apples in a bowl. I was three years old and asked her if I could eat one. She smiled and said “Go right ahead my dear.” I couldn’t bite into one; it was hard and kind of slippery. Now she laughed and said “Oh Gila, you can’t eat those, they are not real, they are just for decoration.”

Fritze was born later in her life when no more children were expected. He was the baby brother to my Granny Martha, my dad’s mother. Technically an uncle to my dad he was, in reality, a year younger than his nephew. The boys grew up like brothers. Trouble started when both fell in love with the same girl. The problem caused the break-up of the boy’s relationship with each other. Not only that, it remained an open sore and became another problem for a member if the next generation, – me, – many years later.

Granny as I knew her

Granny as I knew her

Grandfather - Martha's husband

Grandfather – Martha’s husband

Chapter 2 continued

Paternal family continued

My father, Erich (left) with his younger brother Curt

My father, Erich (left) with his younger brother Curt

The first photo is of the two brothers, my father Erich and his younger brother Curt. I especially placed it because I wanted you to see it. It is one of the photos I rescued from the manure pile. The Russians had emptied our big silver bowl containing all the family photos on that unlikely place. It is one of the very few photos that exist of our family before the end of WWII. Of all the ones I rescued, this is in the worst shape. No, we did not have it restored for sentimental reasons.

Paternal Grandmother with her five children. Left to right in rear: Curt, Lisa and Erich. Irene on Granny's right and Gertrud (Tutti) on her left.

Paternal Grandmother with her five children. Left to right in rear: Curt, Lisa and Erich. Irene on Granny’s right and Gertrud (Tutti) on her left.

The second photo shows my Granny with all her living children – but taken about eight years after the war. I have none from the time before 1945.

Stay tuned for one more to complete my paternal family

Meet the Players – Chapter 2

My father’s family, starting with my grandparents:

Friedrich Wilhelm

Friedrich Wilhelm

My grandfather Friedrich Wilhelm married Martha. They had five living children: Gertrud – Erich – Irene – Curt and Lisa. These people play a huge part in my story and I think it is nice for you, my readers, to have a visual image of them. I will start with Grandpa Friedrich Wilhelm, whom I never knew personally. He



was only 54 when he died, a few years before I was born. I loved him, knew him through a very large photograph over Granny’s bed and the stories she told. This is an old photo I have of Grandma when she was a young woman and fell in love with a black smith and actually worked very hard all her life. Stay tuned…