#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.

This Happens When You Talk About It! #Winnipeg #BestSeller

I was on a book promotion in the prairie city of Winnipeg which owns the reputation of being one of the coldest cities in Canada. Can you believe it was 15°C above on March 13th when I arrived, 18°C two days later and reasonably warm during the whole week I was in “Friendly Manitoba”. No snow in sight but lots of sand used to sprinkle the slippery streets earlier and now the wind blew it around. Everything was muddy and grey and holy. Sorry, I mean to say “pot-hole-y”! The day after I left it snowed again. The snow makes everything look so clean. It makes a beautiful cover-up – at least for a while.

One thing the Winnipeggers still do is read a lot of books: real books, not e-books. Many told me “I like to feel a book, look at a book, leaf through it, put it down and pick it up again. I like to have it on my book shelf or on my night table.” I hardly ever saw one person walking out of one of the three enormous book stores where I was autographing my book with fewer than two, three or more books. The stores where open ‘til 10.00 PM and people walked in as late as two minutes to ten and shopped. Does the climate have something to do with this? Do the prairie people still know how to relax at home with a glass of wine and a good book? You tell me!

I was interviewed on CJOB Radio and had a lively conversation with the charming host, Greg Mackling. An hour long TV interview was taped by the Shaw crew of “go! Winnipeg” and it will soon be available on YouTube. Book readings, autographing and lots of discussions about my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That”, the story of ordinary German families before, during and after WWII filled my time. The members of a Rotary Club where I was the luncheon speaker were very attentive and another Rotary Club wanted me at their meeting as well, but my time was already totally booked.

Best sellerWhen I came home I had lost my voice. But I had lots of fun. In one of the biggest and architecturally most beautiful and largest book stores, McNally Robinson’s my book became a “Bestseller” and I hope it will remain so and be displayed on the bestseller table for a while longer. In both the very large Chapter Book stores, people were already waiting for me despite the fact that I always come half an hour earlier than expected. And they stuck around, wanting to catch every word of every discussion I had with one of them. Amazing! For seventy years I “Didn’t talk about it” and now I can hardly “shut up” with people around me.

Everybody wanted to know more. Did I open a can of worms? Is it based on real interest or is it rather the sensation “Thank God it didn’t happen to me”? After reading my book they write to me. “It reads like a Spielberg movie” said one. Another said “I look at my eleven year old granddaughter and just shiver to think…what, if, when, how can I protect her?” Still another sent me an e-mail “Are you alright? I just need to know…”

And dozens of readers of “We Don’t Talk About That” are telling me their own or their parents’ or grandparents’ stories of their life during WWII – how little they were told and now they can relate and want to hear more. “I wasn’t interested when I was younger and THEY wanted to talk about it, and now they are gone and I have nobody to ask anymore. Your book is a huge eye opener. While reading it I was with you every step of the way.” Still another says “When they talk about the probability of WWIII on the News I switch the TV off. I don’t want to hear or think about it.”

The last comment came from one of those Europeans who had experienced ‘close encounters’. To stick one’s head in the sand like an ostrich will not help to avoid or protect any one. It’s like the few of the leading Germans who knew how futile World War II was likely to be, knew what was happening all around them and still did not believe it. To save their life they did not talk about it. One of their mottos was something like “I know it’s better not to know what I think I know or might not even know.” I found this phrase in one of Lyn Alexander’s books “The Schellendorf Series,” – four books spanning the time from before WWI to the Nueremberg Trials after WWII. For us today it is not healthy to be ignorant or pretend not to know.

A WWIII with sophisticated weaponry will not be happening in just certain areas of the globe, – all continents will be affected. Don’t say “what can we do about it?” – think! You have voting power; but I’m with you. I also think that we, the ordinary people, will be caught in the middle as always, will not be able to stop the politicians if they put their minds to it. After all, we don’t go around shooting the people whom we don’t like or with whom we do not agree. Like the Texan in the bar pointing to three others and saying “I don’t like that guy.” When asked “which one” he shot two and said “See the one sitting there? That’s the one I don’t like”. Sorry. Just a joke I heard. Life isn’t like that.

 

Book Launch – #Winnipeg

Book Promotion in Winnipeg for “We Don’t Talk About That”

March 13. to March 20, 2015

will find me negotiating the frozen, hopefully not too snowy streets, in my old hometown, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

McNallyBook reading/signing – McNally Robinson, March 15th from 2:00 p.m.

I look forward to meeting a number of you when I visit the McNally Bookstore on Sunday, March 15th to read selections from my book and sign copies. – http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/event-14067/Giselle-Roeder—-Book-Launch/#.VOyrCi4eorg

CJOB Radio, Dahlia Kurtz will interview me on March 16th from 2.00 to 3.00

Dahlia Kurts is scheduled to interview me on her afternoon radio program “The Show With No Name” on CJOB Radio 680 AM

Dahlia KurtzShe will remind you that I was the founder of ‘Giselle’s Professional Skin Care’ years ago and also the host of the Cable TV Show “Giselle’s for Skin & Health’ which run for 9 ½ years! CJOB was also the station where I was interviewed after my “Health Books” were published.

 Chapters Polo Festival in Polo Park – hosting the book launch/signing March 19th 6-9 PM

Cahpters logo“We Don’t Talk About That” has made quite a splash internationally and dozens of readers have told me “I couldn’t put it down.”. I would like to see many of you come and help Chapters and me make this event festive and exciting.


 

Do you belong to a group who might need a speaker for a meeting during the above mentioned dates? Any other bright ideas to make my week in Winnipeg successful? Please contact me by e-mail: giselleroeder@hotmail.com  I appreciate your input.

Updates to this announcement will be posted here. Please click on “Follow” to receive updates by email.

Winnipeg

Winnipeg – Photo Credit: AJ Batac via Compfight cc

Paradise… #PearlHarbour #WWII

Sunset from our balkonyWhere is YOUR paradise? Try imagery; – when they tell you in a relaxation class or even for pain relief that you should imagine a beautiful place, let your thoughts fly there, remain, feel the sunshine, see the flowers, hear the waves – where are your thoughts going? Do they go to the mountains, to the sea, or to deep forests? Mine always go to the Hawaiian Islands. For me Hawaii offers ALL facets of beauty, it’s not just a feast for the eyes, the scent of the flowers please my nose, freshly cut pineapples make my mouth water, the warm sand under my bare feet and the sun on my back make me feel good but it is the serenity, tranquility and the sense of the “Aloha” that encompasses all of this in its people in the parts of the Islands that are still truly “Hawaiian”. To truly soak in the “aloha” don’t go where the action is, – look and find the quiet areas. Once, I was under a black velvet night sky with trillions of diamond stars close over my head that I thought I could touch them. It was so endlessly dark and sparkling but it was the unearthly stillness that got to me. I couldn’t help it but I wanted to kneel down and melt and become part of it all.

Does this make sense? It’s hard to explain. I went back to the same spot on the Big Island several years in a row but I have never seen the sky so near and never again had this almost out of body experience. It left a longing in me and I wonder if it will ever be fulfilled.

Ka'anapali - one of the 10 most beautiful Hawaiian beachesI love old movies. Purely coincidence: I happened to come across the movie “From here to Eternity”. A happy lighthearted soldier’s tale – until, – did you guess it? No, I don’t think so. ‘We Don’t Talk About That’ anymore. Until the Japanese planes appeared like a swarm of hornets and disrupted breakfast on a Sunday morning with many of the soldiers not even up or still in underpants. The scenes of the filming brought back memories of my first visit to Pearl Harbour many years ago. Taken totally by surprise thousands of young men were killed by an attack from a country with whom the US was not even at war. Most of the US Naval ships were destroyed on this fateful Sunday, December 7th 1941. And the USA who had diplomatically tried not to get involved in WWII was drawn into it and the rest is history.

By writing my memories of WWII down in the book published in April 2014 “We Don’t Talk About That” my friends always comment what a relief it must have been for me to “get it all off my chest”. I must admit that the opposite has happened. I have never thought about it as much as I do now and I have never been more interested and involved in war history as I am now. The more I think and read and follow the news and see the larger picture I do see many seemingly small incidents that have had large consequences. It’s almost like a network of roots branching out in every direction. I can’t help asking myself “what would have happened if …?” How would our world look today?

If you have not read my book yet, – do yourself a favour, click on Bookstore above and order it NOW! It will make you think and see how the past plays “catch-up” if we don’t become more alert. Besides, – “We Don’t Talk About That” makes a terrific gift for many readers who appreciate a book “that you just can’t put down…”

Angela Merkel- most powerful woman? #Merkel #Germany

Angela Merkel through the years

Angela Merkel through the years

Reading this article gave me a whole new perspective looking at or listening to what this woman who doesn’t care for the “lime light” has to say on the world stage. I knew that her father was a pastor and that they lived in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I didn’t know that they actually lived in Hamburg when her father decided to take over a post in East Germany where the churches were not favored by the Politicians. I didn’t know that her mother was an English teacher and I had forgotten that Angela graduated in Quantum Chemistry and even has a doctorate. I also didn’t know that she had something with me in common: she was bullied and teased in her young years. I remember my feelings of disbelieve when I heard years ago that she had been elected German Chancellor. She had the guts to say “no” to Obama when he requested something she felt was not appropriate and I admired her for saying the things she did to Putin and his admiration for her: “The first head of State that I can converse with in my mother tongue!” And I was surprised to learn that Putin even speaks better German than Angela Merkel speaks Russian.

The article is not just of her even if she is in the center of it. The writer provides a really good overview of the development of and Germany’s effect on Europe and how she dealt with the problems and leaders of all the powerful states. I am tempted to tell you more – but read it for yourself! It’s lengthy but incredibly interesting. I want to read it again.

George Packer, the writer did more than his homework – thank you so much. Your write-up is better than a history book – because it puts your reader directly into the story.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/01/quiet-german

 

J.F.Kennedy Assassination #JFK #Kennedy

November 22nd 1963 12.30 PM:

J F K with Haile Selassie in Washington DC, 1st Oct, 1963

J F K with Haile Selassie in Washington DC, 1st Oct, 1963

It is almost impossible to believe that 51 years have gone by since the world was rocked by the assassination of the 35th President of the United States. J.F.Kennedy was smiling at the people lined up along the road. He was riding in an open car with his beautiful wife Jackie beside him passing through the Dealey Plaza in Dallas and hundreds of onlookers saw him collapse suddenly after a couple of shots were fired. Hundreds of theories and many inquiries into his death were never resolved; the why and by whom. Was it the lone shooter Harvey Lee Oswald who was originally arrested for shooting the officer J.D. Tippit and then was, himself, shot within two days, or was it an international plot, or a group of people? There are no final answers to the question to this very day.

Four other Presidents have been shot before J.F. Kennedy:

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901 and Warren G. Harding in 1923. Did you know that shooting an American President was not a Federal Offence until 1965?

Do you remember where you were when J.F.K. was shot? Do you remember what and how you felt when you heard the news? I do: I was having breakfast in a small restaurant in Saarbruecken/Germany and the next bite literally got stuck in my throat. I never finished my meal. An unreal silence enveloped everybody with only the news reporter’s announcements on the radio searing through to our brains. We could not understand or accept what was being said. What? Why? For heaven’s sake, why? Many people in the restaurant started crying. It was as if everybody’s best friend had suddenly been killed. Nobody left, everybody was sitting as if nailed to their chairs for hours.

I remember JFK’s famous exclamation during a speech in Berlin: “Ich bin ein Berliner!” It wasn’t just the Berliners who loved him for it, – the Berliners who suffered under tight restrictions living in a divided city, the Berliners who remembered the blockade of their city by the Eastern block and Western planes landing every few minutes at the inner city Airport Tempelhof to bring not only food but fuel and everything else the city needed to function. It was the Americans who kept the western “sectors” of Berlin alive. Otherwise they would have had no choice but to succumb to the Communist pressure and become part of the Eastern Block. After all, Berlin was an “Island” within East Germany. J.F.Kennedy stood for the dream that was ‘America’ – and that word and everything associated with it spelled “Freedom”.

And now this man, the President of America, had been shot. This man was no more. The western world had lost a great man, loved and admired and now mourned by millions…Who would forget the photograph of the small little son who stood at attention and paid his respect to his dad when the coffin was carried by?

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened? Please add your remarks and/or comments.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall #BerlinWall

Berlin WallIt was in 1968 that my father and I had a chance to talk about his last will and testament. He lived in East Germany, I lived in Canada. East Germany was a communist country with strongly fortified borders, rows of barbed wire fences, mine fields in front of those and guard towers with sharp shooters present around the clock. Within the country you could move freely as long as you always registered with the police after arrival when visiting relatives in a different city for more than a few days. You also had to de-register when you left and register again when you came back to your permanent home. It was practically impossible to get a visa to visit relatives in West Germany – unless you were a 65 year old male, or 60 if you were female. Younger people were kept “in” since too many had escaped before the Berlin Wall had been built. Now, at the end of the sixties older people had a chance; – if they didn’t come back, no loss and one person less to pay a pension to.

Father would never get a visa for Canada but he got one to visit his second daughter, my sister in Hamburg, West Germany. I sent a flight ticket to her, she got him a West German passport in exchange for his East German one and he came to Winnipeg for three glorious weeks. He asked “Wouldn’t it be better to take the train from Hamburg to Frankfurt instead of flying? I am afraid I’ll be late and then I’ll have to hang on to the straps and stand all the way to Canada.”

We talked about a will. He did not have one since he did not know how to do it. His youngest daughter stull lived in East Germany close to them, one daughter lived in Hamburg and I, his oldest, lived in Canada. I tried to convince him to leave everything to the youngest since she would be the one to look after my parents when they were getting on and needed help. He thought it not fair and thought we, the two in the “West”, should have something as well.

“Dad, we don’t need it. We are both established and we couldn’t spend it anyway.”

Eastern money had to stay in East Germany. Even if we came to visit we had to exchange West money one to one for each day we stayed there, so any inheritance would be useless.

With a guileful expression he looked at me and whispered ironically: “My girl, you will see, it will change one day. The way things are going at home can’t go on. Sooner or later the wall will come down.”

“Dream on, Dad that will never happen.” I did not believe him. But I did convince him to make a will leaving me out and my sister in Hamburg agreed to it as well. He never felt comfortable about it but eventually he did leave us out of his will.

On the evening of November 9th I was resting on my couch in my cozy home in Vancouver reading and listening to a Mozart concert when my phone rang. It was my son:

“Mom, do you have the TV on? They are dancing on the Berlin Wall! Mom, hurry – switch your TV on, this is history in the making. You ought to see this! The East German Police have put their guns down, hundreds of thousands are streaming through Check Point Charley into West Berlin, people are hugging and kissing, dancing and singing and drinking champagne, they are hacking away at the wall, Mom, you ought to see this!”

My son in Winnipeg and I in Vancouver, connected by the telephone, sat up long into the night, ran up a huge phone bill, but it did not matter. The wall was coming down! The wall that had divided thousands of families for nearly thirty years, ours included. We shared these first hours and laughed and cried. I had taken him to Berlin when he was about twelve years old and we had looked over the wall from a platform built on the west side, almost twenty years hence.

My father had been right. Oh, how I wish he could have lived to see the day, I know that his tears would not have stopped running down his beloved face. He died in 1983, six years too soon.

Now we are close to November 9th, 2014 celebrating:

“Twenty-five year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

 

 

 

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…

Book Reading – Parksville #WeDontTalkAboutThat

Book reading ParksvilleDespite the very rainy weather we had a good gathering in the Council Chambers at Parksville Library today. One lady who came to hear what I had to say remembered my home town, Stresow, where I spent my childhood and, in further discussion, it became evident that she came from the very same town where my father was born. What a small world it is. She confided that she had escaped rape by having short hair and dressing as a boy.