A Chance Encounter

Image may contain: flower, plant, sky, nature and outdoorIt was a bit cooler today, we had some rain last night. By far not enough here in Bavaria while they had heavy thunderstorms in other parts of Germany. During the morning, after my water treatment and massage, I packed up some clothing I don’t need anymore and went looking for a Salvation Army container to donate it. I saw a Red Cross shop, just looked in for curiosity sakes. I could not believe a) the quality of their donated offers, and b) the prices. 2.00-3.00-5.00 or 7.00€ for really GOOD stuff. If I ever come back, I’ll travel without a suitcase, get what I need, donate it at the end of my trip and be worry free on my way home.

But, now I need to tell you about that afternoon. After a healthy noon meal and a little nap I took my Nordic Poles and wandered off. I got myself a kilometer counter. I seemed the only person walking through still blooming meadows, quiet forest as the birds were resting during the midday heat. Coming by a Hunter’s restaurant I decided not to stop for their fantastic cheese or apple cake. I rested on a bench for a while, feasted my eyes on the beauty surrounding me and checked my km counter. It said 3.7 kilometers.

After another 3 km I arrived at the “Kurpark”. I was drawn to a bench in the sunshine, occupied by a big elderly gentleman with a bright red sweater, his pretty little brown dog next to him. For an unexplainable reason I stopped and commented on the dog. I am a bit of a dog nut, and this was one I could have fallen in love with. I heard a sad story about it, how it was born in Spain in a garbage pile with three others, the mom went out scavenging for food, came to nurse and went off again. The dog babies were very afraid and shy, but this man and his wife decided to rescue one. They picked a little boy and called him Carlos. Carlos liked me, sniffed my hand but did not lick it. We just sat there next to and looked at each other. Then Carlos decided he had enough sun, got down, the man let the leash out and Carlos settled in the shade of a nearby tree.

Now, as you can guess, the man asked me if I lived in this town. When I told him about my home in Canada, he was amazed that I still spoke perfect German without an accent. I mentioned that I have a book reading next week.
“Oh, on Tuesday in the Gugger Hause and you are Mrs. Roeder.”
I exclaimed, “How do you know that?”
“I happened to see a poster yesterday and decided to be there. My name is Roeder as well.”

Can you imagine that the next half hour was taken up with ‘what, where, when etc.’ – and how that little dog had made me stop to experience something so totally out of the ordinary.

I needed to share this with you!

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I’m Tickled Pink – I’m Pickled Tink

Wow! This blog post relates to a recent e-mail I received from Bob Pickles, the WW I history writer. But first our history:

On June 21, 2014, Bob Pickles wrote a review of my memoir ‘We Don’t Talk About That.’

“Giselle Roeder’s book is a vital piece of the jigsaw of suffering in World War II (& representative of civilian suffering in all conflicts). It could well have been a story of the tragedy endured by Jews, Gypsies or Polish intelligentsia perpetrated by the Nazis. If it  (the book) were not so harrowing, it should be desired reading in schools & given the same historical, literary importance as “The Diary of Anne Frank.” To be read alone with a strong drink perhaps. – (it is) A fine testament to the unquenchable spirit of survival & hope with the help of a few ‘angels’ along the way.”

This is just an excerpt from his review. Reading it gave me goose bumps. I thanked him with all my heart and this started an occasional e-mail exchange. He was not happy with the ending of my book – so he has been encouraging me to write a sequel. He is not the only one. Many of my readers keep asking.  A now ninety-year-old lady, who bought and gave away fifty-seven copies of my book, begs for the continuation to read before she dies.

A few months ago Bob Pickles asked me for help with translations of German expressions for the newest book in his series of WWI, “The Foster Family in the Great War.” I happily obliged. Since I didn’t know many of the profanities soldiers might have used I had asked several German-speaking writer friends. One was Elisabeth Marion, a WWII history writer.  Her most famous book is “The Night I danced with Rommel.” Bob Pickles was happy with my translations.  I thought nothing of it, I love helping someone. Anyone!

A few days ago I received a surprising e-mail from Bob:

Hi Giselle, just to let you know my latest (8th) WW1 novel is published on Amazon as both a paperback and as a Kindle edition. Entitled “Vimy” – a novel of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’s attack on Vimy Ridge 1917 – I have dedicated it inside to you.

If you “Look Inside” the book on the sample on Kindle, the parts you kindly translated into colloquial German are found in the first few chapters.

Wow! A book by Robert S. Pickles, a serious UK history writer, dedicated to meee? Never, ever did I think any book would ever be dedicated to me.

I’m tickled pink – I tink I’m pickled. Thank you, Bob Pickles. I will recommend your book to the Canadian Legion; I would think a number of the Canadian veterans will also be tickled pink to read about the Princess Pat’s Light Infantry role at Vimy Ridge.

 

 

Revelation of a Time Capsule and More

Stresow Church

Once upon a time, there was a small village in the eastern part of Germany called “Stresow.” A church with a cemetery surrounding it and a pub was built in the center. Those two places were also the centre of any social life of the hard-working farmers. Since women were not allowed in the pub, they would meet after church in the cemetery during their task of taking care of the graves to visit with each other and chat. To this day, the graves are planted with flowers in German cemeteries and each family tries to have the best-looking one.

Many years went by. After WWII in 1945, the states of East Prussia, Silesia, and Pomerania, about one-third of Germany were ceded to Poland. The German inhabitants had ten minutes to get out of their homes where they had lived for generations. My own family was amongst the millions evicted, and so was the family of my cousin Joachim. With only the clothing on our back and with what we could carry, we were three weeks on the road to nowhere, slept in barns when lucky or under the stars. (the full story in my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That”)

I have never been back to my birthplace but my cousin Joachim has. Poland belongs to the EU, and visits are possible. Joachim has been back several times. He only lives about seventy kilometers away while I live on another continent. Joachim made friends with the Polish family who now lives in his father’s house. He had the most incredible experience in 2006. A friend of his Polish friend is a teacher in the neighboring town of Bad Schoenfliess. He is in charge of a museum and was happy to show Joachim two rooms dedicated to the “German Time.” There are photographs of Joachim’s family and his ancestors as well as of my parents and other families we know. Joachim was amazed.

The most significant surprise was a folder he was given with old handwritten documents, letters, and newspapers of the years from 1871 to 1896. They had been contained in a ‘Time Capsule” buried when a new church tower was built in 1896 after the old church tower had collapsed. Nobody could read any of these documents since they were written using the German Süterlin letters.  Joachim was able to read them. There was a list of twenty-four farmers living in Stresow in 1871, including Joachim’s great-grandparents. Two pastors serving the small community between 1871 and 1896 had written an account of life during those years. Joachim was able to re-write the most critical documents. Photographs of the old and the new church tower were included in the time capsule.

What an exciting experience for my cousin Joachim!

The same year he had another surprise coming. In 1945, when the family was evicted and had to leave within ten minutes, his grandmother had stuffed one hundred-forty-five photos into his school satchel with a change of underwear. These photos had been picked up out of the mud after the Russian invasion. I had picked ours up from the pile of manure in the middle of our yeard. They represent the only memorabilia of our life from before 1945. During the long walk, Joachim, his grandparents, and his mother had a chance to stay in a house for two nights. Joachim and his two small sisters played with the six-year-old son Robert living there. They looked at the pictures. Joachim’s satchel was forgotten when they left, and his grandma always lamented as long as she lived about the loss of those treasured photos from home. She died and never got over the loss.

Almost sixty-one years later, the ITS, a search service connected to the Red Cross as well as churches,  found Joachim’s sister Marianne. She had looked for and listed their dad’s name many years ago. Now, with the Internet, it had been possible for the previous six-year-old Robert, at sixty-seven years old, to find the family who had stayed with them in 1945. Robert had kept the photos in a box in his attic all those years. During a project to add on to his house, he came across it and started searching for the kids he had played with in 1945.

Joachim phoned Robert and made a reservation to visit the next day. The newspaper in Joachim’s hometown got hold of the story, and I have in my hands a copy of the one-third page with a photo of my cousin holding a photograph of himself and his two sisters. A large one at the bottom is of ten men, the artistic biking club with Joachim’s father and uncle in their sports uniform. Needless to say, Joachim in his eighties and the former little Robert in his late sixties, are now close friends.

Former WWI Memorial

Joachim exclaimed when he first related this story to me:

“You cannot pay for something like this. To get your lost treasure back after sixty years is absolutely miraculous.”

Did Adolf Hitler Have a Love Life?

Eva Braun with Adolf Hitler

Could a man, hated as much as he is, have ever been a lover? Could he have been tender or passionate? Could there have been a time when he was just – shall we say, an ordinary man? How can someone, who was painting many beautiful pictures of flowers, landscapes, people, and architectural buildings, even caricatures, be such an evil person? Or is there an answer to the question how did he become one? I was curious, and so I started digging into his personal past.

He was born the son of the second wife of his father, a government employee in Austria. His mother was his idol and greatest love. To the end of his life, he never got over her passing. He never finished high school. For a time he was taught by nuns. He was absolutely fascinated by the topic of the Richard Wagner operas and the mystery of the Germanic sagas. He wished to be ‘Germanic’ when still a young teenager. There was a beautiful girl his age he admired, but she was not interested. He loved to paint and hoped to be admitted to the Art Academy in Vienna. When he applied, he was told that his paintings are not good enough. He lacked the necessary talent for art, but his architectural drawings were acceptable, and he should consider becoming an architect. He left Vienna, deeply disappointed. He also left Austria, moved to Munich and made a simple living by selling his art.

He joined the German army and fought in WWI. He was wounded, got decorated and came back to Munich as a Corporal after the war. A new party, the ‘Worker’s Party’ attracted many of the surviving soldiers, officers, and generals, who felt cheated by the loss of the war. They claimed the outcome had been ‘fixed’ by the socialists and communists and they declared the Treaty of Versailles as unfair, and would, in the long run, lead to another war. Ranting and raving in the beer halls they tried to find a way to fix the world problems. By chance, Hitler attended one of the meetings and knew that this was the platform for his ideas to make Germany great again.

It seems that up to this point women did not play a part in Hitler’s life. Within a year, he became the leader of the Workers Party, renamed it the NSDAP, the National Socialist Democratic Workers Party, attracting even more people, especially wealthier and aristocratic men. They started to invite him into their homes and the rumors of him having love affairs with older women, especially actresses, added to his allure. When he became daring and tried to overthrow the Bavarian Government, to put one of his new friends in charge, he was arrested and put in prison. He defended himself with speeches that became famous throughout Germany. He wrote his book “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle) while in custody, outlining his plan to rebuild Germany. Incredibly, that book is still in print and translated into several languages.

Years after his release, he moved into a place called “The Berghof” in the alpine mountains. He invited his half-sister to be his housekeeper. She had a daughter, Geli, a happy, outgoing teenage girl at seventeen years of age. Hitler was bewitched by his half-niece. He deeply loved her despite the fact that he was twenty years older. He spoiled her, he never left her side, even went window shopping in Munich with her or had bodyguards for her when he was not around. Geli liked the young chauffeur who was at her disposal and Hitler fired him. Geli felt imprisoned and begged to be allowed to go to Vienna to take up singing lessons. Hitler bought an apartment in Munich to spend more time with her and keep her under tight control. They had separate bedrooms with connecting doors. Hitler was obsessed with his niece. He later declared that she was the only woman he ever truly loved.

During this time at about age 40, he met the young assistant and model of the official photographer of his party. Eva Braun, who was 17, more worldly, wore makeup (which he hated) and smoked of which he did not approve. They went on walks together, and he was intrigued by their conversations. Eva started to frequent the small restaurants he went to, watched him and seems to have become a stalker without his knowledge.

One night Hitler had a terrible row with Geli. He went to a meeting in Nuremberg. Geli locked herself in her room and shot herself with his pistol, according to historians the same one he used in 1945 in the Führerbunker to shoot himself. Hitler was called back from Nuremberg and was devastated by Geli’s death. She was, by now, 23 years old. He fell into a deep depression; he was suicidal. Two party people stayed with him to prevent him from killing himself. He did not attend Geli’s funeral. But, after weeks, when he visited her grave, he had come back a changed man. He was brooding, dark, aggressive, and hateful. Meanwhile, his rise within the party continued. Many influential people supported him and his ideas.

When Hitler was 37 years old, he had met another young woman, Maria Reiter, who was only sixteen, and it was she who fell in love with him. When she realized it was a hopeless infatuation, she hanged herself but was cut down by a relative in time and lived. I think it was she who later married, and when her husband got killed in WWII, Hitler sent her 100 red roses.

There was another young woman, Unity Mitford, a member of the Fascist party of England. She came to Berlin, admired him greatly, tried to get close to him but also realized that he was only mildly interested in her because of her connections. She shot herself in the temple, survived but was brain damaged. Hitler paid her hospital bills and arranged her transport to Switzerland where she was picked up by her family and brought back to England where she later died of her injuries. Some historians claim that she had born him a son, but it has never been confirmed.

One of the most beautiful women in Germany, the actress Renate Müller caught his eye. She had a Jewish boyfriend and was asked to give him up. She refused. The boyfriend disappeared and she went into hiding in a mental care home. She jumped to her death from a window to escape SS men who came for her.

It seems to me, checking into his love life, that Hitler liked young women. He could mold them, control them, and keep them away from getting involved in his political life. He stated there were only two women he admired and respected: One was the pilot Hanna Reitsch, and the other was the Film Director Leni Riefenstahl. Women have no place in politics, he said. Loving this man proved fatal.

The German people had absolutely no idea that Hitler had a female companion living with him: Eva Braun. It was revealed after the war. Only the people in his inner circle knew her; she was hidden from any public appearances. Even she had tried twice to take her own life. Apparently, there are some heartwrenching letters in a museum somewhere, along with the pistol that Geli used to shoot herself, and Hitler used to end his own life after marrying Eva Braun when he realized that all was lost and the Russian army was closing in on the Bunker. Eva was his companion for thirteen years, she never left him, and as his wife took a cyanide capsule sitting next to him on a sofa.

Hitler had always claimed he could not enjoy the happiness of marriage since he was married to the German people and their welfare. He made sure he appeared to be a celibate man. He believed that all German women were in love with him and he could not disappoint any of them.

I discussed this side of Hitler’s life with Alison Donaghey of DominoThinking.com in a recent podcast which can be found here: https://dominothinking.com/radio/.

 

 

Budapest-Amsterdam River Cruise – Final Chapter

You may never have heard of the “Main River” in Germany.  Compared to the other large rivers like the Rhine, the Elbe and the Oder it does not flow the same way. Those start in the south of Germany and make their way towards the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. The 330 mile long Main River cuts across Germany through Franconia, a beautiful area with gems of cities not to be missed. Canals with almighty locks connect this hardly known river with the Danube. The last part of the impressive canal was only completed in 1992. It provides an international waterway connecting Rotterdam at the North Sea with Konstanca on the Black Sea.

We visited many of the pretty, fairy-tale towns along the Main. Since Scenic Cruise Lines has electrically assisted bikes for more adventurous guests, about thirty chose to ride next to the ship and meet up at the next stop. Arriving in the area of the modern metropole of Frankfurt we again had a choice of excursions. We elected Heidelberg, the oldest and most famous university town in Germany. At one time in my life I had to lecture there, needed to go to a hairdresser, they talked me into a color rinse, and my hair turned out red. RED! I hated it – but it couldn’t be changed until it washed out over the next four weeks. We had also read the fabulous ‘Schellendorf’ series of books by Lynn Alexander, set in Heidelberg. We tried to find the Schellendorf house, stable and other places but naturally did not miss walking up to the old castle ruin which provides an incredible view over the surrounding wine country with the Neckar river winding its way through it.

Mainz is the city where the Main River joins the waters of the Rhine. Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz; the man who invented the movable lettering for the printing process, enabling the mass production of books in 1440. His masterpiece was the first ever printed Bible still displayed in the Gutenberg Museum. Several places in Mainz warrant a visit; the cathedral which looks more like a fort, the medieval Iron Tower, and the art lover surely would not want to miss seeing the Chagall window in St. Stephen’s Church. The history of this city goes back more than two thousand years when the Romans realized the strategic importance of its location.

Another excursion in this area offered by Scenic was a visit to Wiesbaden, in the 19th century one of the most exclusive spa cities in Germany due to many hot springs. Once called ’Aquae Mattiacorum’ was a flourishing Roman city two millennia ago. It still retains the aura of its heyday in the Belle époque. Wiesbaden brings up another memory: I was married there. But that is another story, told in the sequel to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That.”

Father Rhine! We must have entered it during the night because I do not remember our ship slipping from the Main into the Rhine River. Many poets have written about the Rhine, many songs are sung about it, and many cruise companies offer tours up and down the Rhine River. It springs in Basel Switzerland and winds its way through vast valleys and narrow gaps between mountains all the way to Holland, picking up other, smaller rivers joining it along the way. The best-known one of such rivers is the Moselle. A dangerous turn to navigate the Rhine for any ship is the corner at the Lorelei. The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote a song of a beautiful siren sitting on top of the steep cliff, combing her golden hair, singing and causing many a ship crashing, the captains lured by her and not paying attention at the sharp narrow bend in the river.

On both sides of the Rhine remain old castles, most now in ruins with maybe a small part made livable for an owner. Once upon a time they were built by robber barons, catching boats coming up or down the river and collecting fees. We had a historian on board telling the stories of twenty-three such castles. It was funny to watch people’s heads on the top deck swivel from one side to another, trying not to miss anything. I did a bike tour in 1957, and several castles were youth hostels. In the late eighties, we toured the Rhine area in a car, and we stayed in one converted to part hotel and restaurant. The owner was a Swizz man, he invited us for an after-dinner cognac (brandy) drink to enjoy with him. He lived alone and asked us many questions about life in Canada. The next day we noticed he had charged us for the drinks. Some invitation!

Not to be missed along the Rhine is Rüdesheim. Make sure to try a “Rüdesheim Coffee” laced with Assbach Uralt Brandy and sign up for a tour of the unique “Museum of Mechanical Music Instruments.” Rüdesheim is a truly ‘happy place.’

Scenic Cruises has a contract with the “Mark Castle.” We enjoyed a medieval dinner and show as well as being horrified by the room full of torture instruments of the not so good old times.

We sailed by the modern, extensive cities of Boppard, Bonn, Cologne; we had almost a day to enjoy Cologne, and then into the widening waterways leaving Germany to Holland, all the way to Amsterdam. Also known as the Venice of the North because of its many bridges, I’d call it the city of bikes. Highrise parking garages for bikes, bikes, bikes and more bikes. Houseboats along the waterways are beautifully tended with lots of plants and flowers, five or more story buildings all joined along the water, and one wonders how they were built on this watery part of the Earth.

An excursion brought us to an area with windmills, typical for Holland. We had fun visiting a store where the Dutch clogs were made, watching the craft production from a piece of wood to the painting of this footwear. I was reminded of my teen years when a pair of those (unpainted!) clogs kept my always icy feet warm, the only shoes I owned for a couple of years, worn for school, church and elsewhere. Interesting was a place where they made cheese, big wagon wheels of cheese were displayed to age on many shelves. And before you ask, yes, we could watch the process in the making and taste the types of cheese.

Writing about the Budapest-Amsterdam cruise and, despite having done others since, I dream and hope we can do this particular cruise again. There was so much to see and enjoy, and there wasn’t time enough to take it all in the first time. I am sure I will enjoy it, even more, the second time.

Good news: My e-books will be available at 50% off from December 25th to January 2nd on Smashwords:

Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise Part 3

Good Bye Vienna, I don’t know if I will ever see you again. We entered a stretch of the Danube through the Wachau with some of the loveliest landscapes you can imagine. We were cruising through vine country. Several vines of this region and even the most famous one, the ‘Veltiner Smaragd’ were served with dinner. We admired ancient castles on mountain tops, and many historic old cities along the river bank kept us all on the top deck. We even passed our first lock. Sometimes the Danube was as wide as a small lake, then again it narrowed, and we could talk to the people walking or biking next to us. Once it went almost around itself, and we could see the same sights twice. We even encountered a cable ferry crossing the river. Several smaller rivers joined the Danube along the way.

Remember the story of Richard, the Lionheart? During the Third Crusade, he was captured by Duke Leopold V of Austria and interred in the castle above Dürnstein for three months until the sum of 150.000 silver marks were paid. There is a legend about his faithful Blondel who ‘rescued’ him. I would love to name and tell you about several of the beautiful towns we toured, but then these blogs would go on forever. The mighty Cloister Melk was overwhelming, the affluent Linz and the vast locks before we came to Passau, a city shared between Austria and Germany. The left bank is German, the right bank belongs to Austria. We had to do a self-guided tour in Passau. I attached myself to a German group since I could understand the language. Much better than that hand-held thing… but here I caught the flu, it was going around on the ship, and I was one of the last ones to get it. I stayed in bed for several days and watched a lot of great movies. Even ‘Schindler’s List.’

Luckily I was well enough not to miss Regensburg, one of the highlights of the cruise. There are lots of stories to talk about, but one occasion stays in my mind. We had to pass under a thousand-year-old Roman stone bridge. The wheelhouse was lowered and disappeared but not before the captain asked everybody to leave the top deck. A number of us stayed. Lying down on my back I could touch the underside of the bridge by just raising my hand. I felt the vibrations of the cars driving above me. Sometimes, when the water level is too high, Scenic Cruises has a bus waiting on one side and another cruise ship on the other. They make sure nobody misses anything because of Mother Nature. I could write pages about Regensburg. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is the most northern point of the Danube. Some great locks passed us into a canal, and this later released us into the Main River which flows towards the Rhine across Germany.

Nuremberg, another over the thousand-year-old city, is mostly remembered because of the infamous Nuremberg trials of the remaining Nazis. My first visit to Nuremberg was in the late 1950s when everything was still rubble due to the bombing during WWII. I was astounded how beautifully it had been rebuilt.

Aah, and we visited one of my favorite Places: Bamberg! Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bamberg is a fairytale town, built on seven hills and often compared to Rome. It rained cats and dogs. Everybody wanted to buy an umbrella, and the kind tour guide led us to a Euro-shop, but umbrellas were sold out. He raced us to another, they had stocked up, everybody got one. What a sight it was, seeing the bobbing umbrellas move up a steep street!

An unforgettable excursion was Rothenburg o.d.T., a town still surrounded by the medieval fortifications and four gates. Millions of visitors each year shoot millions of photos, every corner provides another picture worth taking. Don’t miss Rothenburg if you are ever in Germany. It’s the first stop when you are traveling the Romantic Road from Frankfurt after you pass Würzburg south to the two-thousand-year-old Augsburg with many unbelievably pretty old towns along the way and on to the Alps. One of my favorites is Dinkelsbühl with a moat and a high wall around it.

After we passed the Bishop’s seat Würzburg, we had a glassblower on board. He displayed some beautiful pieces.  His name was Karl, and he showed us his art by blowing liquid glass into some incredible forms. When he asked for a volunteer to try it, he had no offers. Karl revealed he takes a soothing drink before blowing, and whoever would give it a try will receive a whole bottle of it. Nobody? I dared and joined him. There was a round of applause, but he asked to wait until after I had blown something to bits. He started, and I took over. He warned me several times to blow slower and more carefully otherwise the bubble would burst. I was making a Christmas ornament. Wow, did I ever enjoy it! I wanted to make it bigger, but he stopped me when it had the ordinary size. He blew his and my name onto it, and then I could roll it in some glitter. And yes, I did receive a whole bottle of his special drink. It was a herbal liqueur in a small sample bottle! A one-time shot. This caused more laughter than applause as I played along and acted very disappointed.

The next day we were in Wertheim where he had a fairytale shop in a very narrow high house. Our tour guide had quite a time to get us to walk on through the pretty town as we had trouble to part with Karl and his sales staff. Lots of dollars flowed into his cash register.

Next time we will cruise from the Main River into what the Germans call “Father Rhine” all the way to Amsterdam.

River Cruising from Budapest to Vienna (part 2)

After checking in to our Scenic “Ruby” riverboat and getting settled in the cabin with the help of our own butler for the fifteen days of the cruise, we joined the other 167 travelers for a briefing. Before we knew it, we had cocktails in our hands, looking for a seat and munching on goodies placed on the tables. The cruise director welcomed everyone and caused a lot of laughter with his own brand of humor. He told us the do’s and don’ts while on the cruise. Lots of people were ecstatic about the fact that the drinks all day and evening were free. I would say, not really ‘free’ because we paid ahead of time, and drinks, excursions, and tips were advertised as included. For the next two weeks, we didn’t need any cash or credit card money. Most of the guests were from Australia (Scenic Cruises is an Australian company), the second largest group was from the UK, then Germany. We were about a dozen Canadians. Seating for meals was open, but the team of eight from our Probus Club in British Columbia stayed together for the dinners. I could tell you funny stories of our and other people – but this blog is not about people but the cruise.

Casting off before dusk, gliding along the (not blue!) Danube, passing under the magnificent bridge between Buda and Pest, by the incredibly beautiful and lit up Parliament Building and Margaret Island, we had a three-course Hungarian dinner, red and white Hungarian wine and musical entertainment with Hungarian folk dancers.

We arrived in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, the next morning. A fortress on a hill, castles, many other large buildings, and domed churches formed the magnificent skyline. At one time in history, it had been the Royal city of the King of Hungary. Almost a dozen queens and kings were crowned here. The Habsburg Emperor was also King of Hungary, though not at the same time. Bratislava was thriving during the 18. Century under the Empress Maria Theresia. More Austrians and Germans lived there than Slovakians. It became part of Czechoslovakia in 1919 after the great war and the fall of the Empires, and it got its independence in 1993.

At each stop on the way to Amsterdam, we had a choice of three excursions. Here, in Bratislava, we decided to join a trip to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. We enjoyed an impromptu concert at the cobblestone plaza, we wandered the alleys, stopped for an ice cream in a typical Czech restaurant, didn’t understand a word spoken, decided to do the strenuous hike up to the old castle, and we loved the view from up there. After an exciting evening on our floating hotel, we were on our way to Vienna to enjoy Austrian food and wine.

It was great to have two days in Vienna, this world-renowned city; the city of art, music and elegant living. The souls of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and many other famous musicians live on in Vienna; the first waltz, considered a sinful dance, composed by Johann Strauss was danced here. Many years ago, when I was visiting Vienna for the first time, I had met the Grandson of one of the Strauss composers in Grinzing, a romantic part of the city known for its wine drinking cozy establishments. He invited me into the Strauss home for Sunday afternoon coffee, and I touched the Grand piano that two Johann Strauss men had composed on. I was desperate to find my friends again, checked the Vienna telephone book, phoned several Strauss names, I asked many people who might know of them, but to no avail. A city tour is a must; lots of walking in the inner city with lots of pedestrian-only narrow streets, and visiting the famous coffee houses and sampling the many Vienna cake specialties will tire you out. I desperately wanted to see the Lipizzaner horses, possibly a show, but the building was closed. All I could see were posters with pictures to die for. Interesting was the evening concert and ballet offered by the count of Liechtenstein in his Vienna Palais. A champagne reception and little canapés preceded it. If you read my book ‘Forget Me Not’ you know I had met him once before in his castle garden in Liechtenstein. (page 99, story “I own this Joint.”)

 Our highlight on day two was the visit to the Schönbrunn Palace. Every person on our guided tour through the palace was overwhelmed by the art, the richness of the décor and the luxury the Habsburg Emperor family had enjoyed in Schönbrunn, it only being their summer retreat. The extensive gardens were fashioned after the ones in Versaille.  To my surprise, our tour guide pressed her ‘lollipop’ sign into my hands before hurrying off to get our tickets. While waiting for her return, many of the group turned to me with questions, even people from other groups. I tried as well as I could to pretend I was ‘cool’ with being a tour guide.

I would like to spend more time in Vienna, live their lifestyle for a few weeks or months, maybe even during a whole winter with a chance to visit the Burgtheater (castle theater) where many famous actors, conductors, and singers perform. I had met a new man-friend about fifteen years ago, who promised to take me to the Vienna New Year’s Ball. It was almost impossible to get tickets for the ball a year in advance, but he said: “I have my ways.” I bought a stunning evening gown, and it is still hanging in my closet. Sadly, our friendship didn’t develop into what he had hoped. One of Vienna’s winter highlights is the New Years Concert, broadcast from Vienna and now copied by Symphony Orchestra in many cities of North America.

Join me as we continue the cruise through romantic ancient towns of Austria towards Germany in Part three.

Stick your head in the sand – or lose it

A lot of boys had grown up since the last war. They grew up in a country in shambles, they had no jobs, they had nothing to do, and they were restless. And such men-boys get into trouble with street fights over almost nothing, because of hormones, anger, and boredom. Then they heard a new voice, a very loud voice, a voice promising bread and work for all. They listened because they were trying to find a reason to live. They had been like sheep without a shepherd. They had flocked to a new party, a party good for nationalists, socialist, and workers, even the ones without work. Within the new party, they found new hope to build a life for themselves.

“I will rebuild Germany! I will make Germany great again! Bread and work for all.”

Such was the promise. The leader of this party was an Austrian man called Adolf Hitler. A would-be artist or architect if WW I wouldn’t have taken him off his tracks. A disgruntled Corporal after the war; a Wagner opera lover, intrigued with the mysterious Germanic saga, he imagined building a new ‘thousand year Reich’ with proud, strong, blond, blue-eyed people. He saw himself as the architect of it. His incredible oratory talent, and his rousing speeches, assured him of more and more followers and the help of the rich and the aristocracy. It took him a mere ten years to break up the existing democracy of the ‘Weimar Republic’ Germany had become after the last Emperor had abdicated in 1918. The party of Adolf Hitler had an overwhelming vote in the early 1930s which brought him into the government. Through intrigue, he built up enough power to get the then aging Chancellor Paul von Hindenburg, who saw him for what he was, to retire in 1933 and promote him to be elected to run the country. It didn’t take long and the men heard the call to join a new army. Now there were hardly any unemployed men on the streets anymore. To get free clothing, satisfy their hunger or provide for their families, they had followed the call to join. By 1936 the new army counted already way over a hundred thousand well-trained men. Looting of Jewish owned stores began. Many Jews fled, seeing the writing on the wall, even more didn’t make it. Jews were accused of causing all of Germany’s problems. It was a hate propaganda the world had never seen.

Then came the 1st September 1939. Without warning or declaration of war, the Hitler army invaded Poland. England declared war 2 days later and WW II could not be stopped anymore.

Watching the “News” on television every night for these last years, especially the last several months, I can’t help thinking back to the first ten years of my life growing up with the Nazi propaganda. Now, the terror acts in Europe are frightening. The racial hatred on the North American continent between the blacks and the white suprematists and the emergence of the neo-Nazis is growing. The brawls and shootings in peaceful cities are scary. The Muslims seem to be targeted like the Jews were in Germany, so far not to the same extent. I am not the only one to notice the similarities to the happenings back then and now. When I see the incredibly well trained and disciplined North Korean army and the missiles they promise will be able to reach the USA, what am I to feel? I shake in my proverbial boots. The Germans apparently see it clearly. Why else would one of their most popular magazines, the “Stern”, have such a controversial cover page on one of their recent issues? Do they fear another WW with the number III attached? Do they try to send a warning to the world without many words? They had just changed the first letter of the title of Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” (my struggle, my fight) to “Sein Kampf”, (his struggle, his fight).

We are living in a dangerous world. We are experiencing history. We don’t know if we will survive a “next time”.

Review of my Memoir brings Tears to my Eyes

Nikki Landis, a Goodreads author, reviewed my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That: An Amazing Story of Survival
Her rating: 5 Stars.

Nikki Landis is an award winning author of about a dozen books. She is well known for her “Fight for Light Novels”, “The NightWatchers Saga” and the “Freedom Fighters Series”. In 2017 she was the proud recipient of the IPPY Gold Star for her latest book “Refugee Road”. I have just started to read it and am fascinated.

Nikki is not only a prolific writer, she also reads more than anyone I know, and reviews all the books on Goodreads. Plus, she is a wife and the mother of five boys (7 years to 18!)  and works full time. How does she do it? Do her days have more than 24 hours? Oh, I forgot – the night also has 12! Funny! Thank you, Nikki, from all my heart.

Read Nikki Landis’s review:
Read in Aug 2017

Some stories must be told, no matter how disturbing, horrible, or unbelievable they may seem. Some truths devastate because you can’t imagine how they are possibly true. You DON’T WANT them to be true. How can such brutality exist? How can one individual possibly survive after so much horror? How much can the human spirit endure and bounce back from the brink of destruction and continue on?

This book, I think, is probably one of the most emotional and life changing stories I have ever read. It truly touched my soul. I have the utmost respect for the author and her courage, bravery, and willingness to step forward and tell the truth about the shocking and brutal events of her life. She is, WAS, a victim. Her family were victims. Her friends and neighbors. In fact, many German women were and yet they survived. They pushed forward. They endured the despicable and impossible, and they persevered.

This book is not an easy read. I had to stop often, take a breath or break, and come back to the story. Over several days I read and witnessed the horrific events that changed a nation and destroyed a country. As an American woman in 2017, what do I truly know of suffering? What do I know of survival, fighting with everything I have in order to make it through each day? What do I know of living in fear for my life or waiting for the next man to knock on my door, ordering me to disrobe? What do I know of losing all that I own, of being displaced without a home or country, and losing everything, including the people I love? What do I know of starvation?

The answer is simple. I do not. But by reading this story, I have an idea. My heart just aches. I’m devastated. I cannot imagine enduring for even one day what the author and these other women endured for months, years of their lives. How did they go on? How did they later marry and have families? How did not lose their very soul to such inhumane acts?

The story does not end there. The author takes us on a journey of self-discovery and the search for freedom. I found myself cheering her on throughout the book, hoping that she would finally find peace, love, and happiness. I don’t think you can give away spoilers in a novel like this. It’s a true account of suffering and perseverance, of losing everything and finding what truly matters, and because of that, I am happy to say I think the author found what she was looking for in the end.

Chronicling the first thirty or so years of her life, the author lays out life in the 1940’s and 50’s and her youth, her family, and life before the war. Once the war starts, it’s a shocking read. Be warned, this novel tells the brutal truth and is in parts almost too much, but only because of content. The way in which the books is written, in a narrative that feels like you are listening to a close friend, is the only way to get through the stories.

There is a lot of wonderful historical detail from life back in that era, landmarks, cities, geography, and much information about the war and its effects on the German people. For me this is one of the most interesting parts of the book. You hear much growing up about World War II and its effects on the world, the atrocity of so many lives lost, the hatred of the Jewish people, but I don’t think I can recollect much learning in school about the German people and their struggles. It’s wrong. We can’t forget as a society what happened. We can’t condone what happened. We can’t let it happen again.

WE CAN’T FORGET.

Stories like this must be told and published. They must be shared. They need to be read. What hope do we have for humanity if we forget, if the dust covers the words of these atrocities and God forbid, history tries to repeat itself? No, we can’t let that happen. And the author is right to share this story, to talk about what happened, and to ensure her words are written down for all eternity. In her own words, no embellishment, she describes the gritty and grueling aspects of her life from start to finish. There’s no other way the story could be written.

I have a much better understanding of history now. Such experiences must mark a person for life. This is a memoir I would recommend to everyone, but especially I will recommend to the women I know. It’s an emotional, courageous, and extraordinary story that MUST BE READ. I highly recommend purchasing this book and owning a copy for yourself. “We Don’t Talk About That” is truly an amazing story of survival.

Grand Book Promotion

“Smashwords” – the largest distributor of e-books worldwide – is offering an annual huge promotion for the whole month of July. Thousands of e-books are deeply discounted at 25%/50%/75% to ‘FREE’. My books are available at 50% off – a terrific deal if you are still waiting to read about my incredibly interesting life in my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” and the companion book “Forget Me Not”.

   NOW is the time to take a look at my books again. I have published the Second Edition of my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” on Smashwords as an e-book. I have made slight changes within but especially with the ending, since so many of you were unhappy with the way I left it. After all the time I spent on it, I can now go back and continue writing the sequel. Actually, there will be two more books in my memoir series: This one, book I, “We Don’t Talk About That” covers my first thirty years in Germany; the second book will deal with the next thirty years in Canada, and then we’ll have to take a good look at my incredibly active ‘retirement years’ – I am not sure yet if I quite make it another thirty years! Close though…

You may even find a little ‘surprise’ when you peruse my titles! Should I tell you about it? Okay, why not! I have added a pretty little poetry book in German language. “Ein Mensch von Gestern … Heute”. A happy book! It was a reprise for me after the heavy duty topics I dealt with and it made me laugh, every time I re-read and edited it. Many of my older relatives and friends, who cannot read my English books, have been complaining. They have tried repeatedly to convince me to translate my books. That will not happen – friends, it is not a matter of translation, it will be a total re-writing. I don’t have enough years left in my life to tackle it. Therefore, this little book may be a “candy” – and I promise that many of the poems deal and tell a lot of my life! For those of you who have German friends or relatives, you couldn’t send them a better gift! However, I find a poetry book is something you have to hold in your hand, it does not read the same when it’s an e-book, so – I have another surprise:

Here is a link to my books on Amazon: Within the next three to five business days you will be able to order a printed version of “Ein Mensch von Gestern … Heute” – the Author listed is Gisela Fiting-Roeder. Since I was well known under my maiden name in Germany I decided I ought to use it. Naturally, Amazon also enrolled the book in their KDP (e-book). By the way, if you purchase the paperback copy you can obtain the e-book for free.

And now, my dear friends, happy reading!