Paddling the ‘Broken Islands’

I have to share a very much appreciated review of my book “We Don’t Talk About That” from my good old friend, one who has written books and many essays himself, one who has started the first kayaking club in eastern Canada and tried to teach me to ski on Grouse Mountain on the west coast; one who has started and established architecture courses and taught at the university, involved in building an opera house and did all kinds of other incredible things. One thing we did together was a weeklong kayaking trip through the ‘Broken Islands’ starting in Ucluelet, B.C. on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Broken Islands - 1I will never forget how I carried all our supplies to the boat close to the ocean where we were to take off. Gerhard had left to find a parking place for his car. Returning on my second trip with another arm full of ‘stuff’ I saw hundreds of seagulls ripping into our food bags, nuts and dried fruit was all over the place. I had to fight them off while I saved what I could. When I finally had everything piled up next to the boat the ocean had left, – the ebb tide had set in and I stood next to the kayak on the sand watching the water retreat farther and farther. Quite a helpless feeling!

I will also not forget how we had a fishing line attached to the kayak and all of a sudden the paddling seemed harder. Wow! A good sized salmon was on the line and fighting to get off. As my friend started to reel it in it took just a moment and an eagle dove down and stole our supper. We had to cut the line, we had no choice. Camping on different small islands we harvested mussels and oysters, cooked them in ocean water and sometimes shared them with other campers.

Broken Islands - 2Paddling towards a huge big rock off the coast we heard the howling of sea lions. As we came close one giant stood up and apparently gave a loud order and at least a dozen of them dove into the ocean and stood like a wall in front of us, bobbing up and down in the waves but never taking their eyes off us. I was scared and wanted to paddle away but Gerhard kept his course and only just during the last moment steered away. I am sure those beasts would have capsized our kayak and we would have drowned.

Broken Islands - 3It was my most exhilarating and exciting kayak adventure in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we had to fight huge waves but we made a terrific team as we were both experienced paddlers. Gerhard, an Austrian by birth knew the ways of the ocean while I was used to paddling on the Baltic Sea even though my kayak competitions were mostly on lakes and rivers of Germany.

Memories. And now Gerhard read my book. I was anticipating some critique from this widely read and educated man. I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for what he had to say:


Finally I purchased your book. I started reading and couldn’t put it down. It isn’t just good it is very good. It is gripping, even though I have heard much of the story from you over the past twenty years. It is good to see the story did not change. It is well organized so that one knows who is who as we meet them over the years of age, old rural bliss, looming disaster, cataclysm and redemption.

You may have started a new genre with this book. It is not often we encounter a book showing fortitude and heroism amongst the despised losers of a bitter war, together with kernels of humanism remaining amongst the unspeakable brutality of vengeful victors when they encounter the only ones left: the innocent. Everyone should read it.

Gerhard S.

Learning to Kayak #Kayaking #EastGermany

Getting that balance right

Getting that balance right

It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me: Afred, a young man in charge of the kayak racing team, came to my office to get the permission stamps for the team to go to a regatta taking place in a different city. As I asked him questions he invited me to come to a training session and see if I would like to join the club. Well, I said ‘yes’ right away and his girlfriend Christa showed me how to get in and out of a kayak. Balancing wasn’t easy as I was trying to sit in that narrow nut shell. When I mastered it without tipping over I was in love, – in love with the novelty of it and in love with the water. Christa also let me try out the KII. I became obsessed with kayaking, I was determined to be in the top group and secretly even promised myself to become better than all the other girls. And, you know what?

image1It was only a year later that I won the District Championships in the KI over 500 and over 3.000 meters. Mind you, after the 3.000 meter race I fell out of the kayak as soon as I crossed the finishing line. Christa, my trainer and also my KII partner was disappointed because up to now she had won all the races. But we won the 500 and the 3000 meters in the KII, it made up for it.

image3We became very close friends. Even now, more than sixty years later we are still close but mostly in telephone contact since we live on different continents. She saved nearly forty five years of the letters I wrote to her from Canada after my emigration. She gave them to me last time I saw her. To read them again was quite a revelation for me. In my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” you’ll enjoy reading about my kayaking and the great love I had for my own paddle boat “Max”. The best years within my first 30 years I cover in that book have to do with the water, my boat and my desolation in leaving it behind when I had to escape from East to West Germany. As it happened, my racing abilities helped me to find a job in West Germany. I am sad to say that I never reached the top groups again. I just had to work too many hours and did not have as much time for the necessary training.

image2You might find it interesting that in East Germany every sport was very highly promoted and financially supported, it hardly cost anything for either memberships or competitions,– but in West Germany you were on your own. And as I made very little money I could not really afford to participate anymore either. When I was 5th once at a competition I dropped out. I thought it was better if people remembered me and said “oh, she was good” rather than “yaaah, she got too old and had to drop out”!


start 'em early

Start ’em early!

Did you know they now have real racing kayaks for kiddies? And train them very early? Just like Austrian kids start to ski as soon as they can walk, at the Baltic Sea where I lived the kids can start at two or three years old getting into a kayak. Amazing! Start to train early for future Olympics? Yes, the children are our future in more ways than one. Kayaking is healthy, you breath fresh air, develop muscles but mainly around the upper body. So training included running, all-body exercises and during the winters we went to gymnastics and played competitive table tennis. One more thing: The comradery. I give it ten points out of ten. It’s wonderful and becomes a big part of your life. I just LOVED it.



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.