Diary of Gisela Mendel (nee Heimbach) growing up in Germany, she was born in 1922

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I was born on the 9th of April, 1922

at the Maternity Hospital of the University of Bonn.
My dad had sent my mother to a prenatal course at the university to teach her what was front and rear of a baby, as he said. My Grandmother Lohmann and her daughter Aunt Attis were very happy to have me since we all lived in the same house. I think I was pampered from the beginning. I had an unusual mental development. When I was an adult I tried to read up on similar cases but I was unable to find anything. Apparently I was bright, able to say a small Christmas poem by one and half years and speaking well by two. All my children and grandchildren started to speak well after two. My parents were very proud and tried whenever possible to show me off.
Sentences were drilled in to me, which I had to recite. My mom told me that she walked with me in a buggy along the Rhein River when she rested on a public bench beside a university professor. He right away commented on my cleverness and the peculiar shape of my head, which would hold great promise. My parents liked hearing that. Then came a day when my mom came home with me from shopping and I remember it very well. Lots of family members had arrived as visitors and in the big hallway they were taking off their coats. I was shoved in and told right away to say all the cute things I had learned. Suddenly like a flash my mind cleared and I understood the sentences that had been drilled into me. It dawned on me that “I live with my grandmother Lohmann on Kronprinzenstrasse 15 in Bonn am Rhein” meant this very house we just had entered. After that incident I found it very hard to recite the silly sentences because I needed time to understand the meaning. It was almost painful for me and I objected to do to my parents bidding. I refused and finally my parents gave up. After that I developed into a normal kid, not bright at all and even a slow shallow thinker. What had caused this development? I do not know.
Kronprinzstrasse 15, Bonn, Germany.  We lived on the second floor in Grandmother Lohmann's house
Kronprinzstrasse 15, Bonn, Germany. We lived on the second floor in Grandmother Lohmann's house

During my very first two years there was a big inflation, the results of the lost World War I. The war had been paid by loans mainly from citizens as government bonds with the intention that the vanquished German army would pay. I cannot recall anything about it but my mom told me that my father, an architect, was “ coming home during noon hour, he flung the mornings earnings, the money bills, on the kitchen table. He would shout at my mom, "Run, run!" My mom would grasp the bills, heading for the next grocery store to see if any edibles were available. She recalled these times as being very hard.

  • December 1918 US $1.00 equaled Mark 4
  • June 1922 US $1.00 equaled Mark 400
  • June 1923 US $1.00 equaled Mark 1,000,000
  • June 1924 1 million Marks were set to be 1 Reich mark. Government bonds were declared worthless.


Mareika and Fritz Heimbach, 1921
Mareika and Fritz Heimbach, 1921
Since my dad was steadily employed, life improved afterwards. My Grandfather Gottfried ‘Fritz’ (Heimbach) was retired with the money he had made as a pharmacist and he was severely hit. He lost all his savings when old. Grandmother Lohmann did well. She still had income from connections with the BBB, Buergerliches Brauhaus Bonn (Citizens Brewery of Bonn) and beer was drunk even after the war! The Ruhr (the country of the heavy industry, coal deposits & ironworks area especially and Bonn was occupied by the French army. I recall one ride in my buggy when I held my backrest kneeling and swaying on my knees. I looked the same way as my mom pushed me and I shouted, “Boese Franzosen, boese Franzosen (bad French)!” My mom, terrified, clasped her hand over my mouth. I found it funny not to be allowed to shout on the street when one was praised for doing so at home. The occupation troops withdrew earlier from Bonn then they did from the Koblenz areas where we moved to in 1929. Later there was no more public marching. The French troops lived at Fort Ehrenbreitstein opposite Koblenz and towering over the Rhein River (see photo). The troops must have withdrawn from Bonn when I was able to walk with my Grandfather through Bonn. I remember telling me that the French did one good thing for Bonn. Everywhere around town they erected ugly big sheet metal screens with the big word “pissoire” on top. Though at home I was not allowed to use this word here it even was written! My Grandfather, getting older, found these comfort stations very handy. When nobody was around I was allowed to use them, too and he rushed me with, “Quick, quick!” They were dismantled later on!

It must have been 1924-1925 when my dad bought the first Klepper kayak, a collapsible boat with a rubber skin and well-made wooden staves. My mom, my dad and I would take the train up-river. I still have some hazy recollections. The boat would be assembled and put in. The Rhein had heavy barge and steamer traffic, which created difficult water disturbances. The Rhein is a wide river at Bonn with a good current. I know that my mom was often very frightened and touted not to go anymore. She worried, too about having a small child aboard. At that time Klepper did not have air tubes, as our Kitimat kayak was forty years later. I had to greet every boat and all laughed when I called out “ship ahoy!” All my grandparents were very upset with my dad and my mom was sort of caught in-between. My father sold the boat 1929-1930 when he considered himself too old for such sports. I asked him resentfully, “Why did you sell it?”

Summer 1924 I was taken first time to the Skihuette (ski hut) Hollerrath in the Eifel Hills not too far from Bonn. The Ski Chalet had been built just before WW 1 started, the climate being colder then with apparently a regular snow cover in Hollerrath during the winters of 1908-1928. Snowfall after that became very irregular; the elevation was around two thousand feet. I was first transported on my father's backpack sitting on a wooden cigar box and on a dark, heavy loaf of bread. My feet were always pressed
1927
1927
into a funny position and went to sleep. Soon this was not necessary anymore and I developed into a sturdy hiker, doing many hours per day. During our first sojourns to the Ski chalet we had to put with the many difficulties attributed to the French occupation army. First we took the main railway line for troop and material movement from Bonn to Euskirchen and waited long hours for the connection to Hollenthal, a small branch line. I guess the French army had made up their minds that no German civil traffic should succeed. My father regarded it all as a big adventure, a challenge and thought, “We will see to that!” From Hellenthal we would take a road leading to the vicinity of the Ski Hut before it branched off to Hollerrath, a farming village. From this fork we took a cattle track sort of thing, later a trail. From a point on the road we could see the Ski Hut and our expectations would mount. Were the windows shutters open, the flag up? Were there indeed some horrible other folks of the Bonn Ski Club who had the same idea as we had? As times progressed the road from Hellenthal to Hollerrath was improved and later paved and served by a postal bus to my dad’s regret. When everybody later owned a car the Chalet became obsolete. I visited the Ski Huette Hollerrath in 1964. I could not believe how small the area was; I was a Canadian with lots and lots of wild country. The hikes I recalled were small walks, the wild creeks, only trickles. My illusions were all shattered. However, the Ski Hut had developed my wild tastes.

Climbing up to the Ski Chalet we came past two houses of local farmers. They etched out a living from the poor soil and tough climate (in comparison with Bonn). These people were very poor and we bought butter and milk & eggs from them. They ate margarine instead. I do not recall horses; they would use oxen for fieldwork. The fields were very small, one here, one there. This rural development, the patchwork of fields was one reason for the poverty of the area. Children shared in the heritage and the property was subdivided the acreage was not big enough to support a family. May parents were upset that they poached the few deer that were around and that they occasionally broke into the Chalet.

We were rich city people; we did not understand their troubles. We were very friendly with them since that if they held a grudge, the Chalet would be doomed. In the strata of society we lived in it was normal to go in holidays once a year. Going to the Ski Hut was not considered good enough by the standards of my mom's folks. So my mom must have convinced my dad that she deserved a proper holiday at the Belgium North Sea resort Heyst in summer 1926, my dad did not go; I think he considered it too “bourgeois!” Our friends Frau “Mus” (Mary) Schueller and her two older girls, Marga (six) and Inge (nine) went with us to the ski hut. Aunt Mus was one of the first female pharmacists at the Bonn University. She had told us that once when she had entered the lecture hall of the university the professor left in protest since she was a woman. Dr. Schueller (her husband) had met her while studying pharmacy. He was Uncle Pepi to us. He did not come with us. He had to work. I recall that we visited Bruges in Belgium and I was told that it had been a very important medieval town. I was shown old buildings. In Heist we stayed in a hotel. For days we kids would build sand castles and there were contests every day.

Marga Schueller 9 (top), me 4 (middle) and Inge Schueller 6, Heist, Belgium
Marga Schueller 9 (top), me 4 (middle) and Inge Schueller 6, Heist, Belgium

My mom and Aunt Mus would try to go swimming, which was not that easy. Belgium was Roman Catholic and exposing one's body was a sin. The women had to go into a covered wagon to be moved up and down the beach with the tides. Here they would change and covered with their bathrobes they would approach the water. An old man in a uniform would accompany them and take the bathrobes while the women were splashing in the ocean. Bathing suits at that time were awful. They were made from cotton and just hang around down to the knees and modeled the anatomy for onlookers. When the ladies had done enough splashing the procedure was reversed. Nobody was allowed to laze around the beach in a bathing suit. We kids were accepted but I remember that the “bathing police” approached my mother to tell her to put more clothing on me. Bathing in Germany was less strict, especially at that little lake we had dammed up below the Ski Chalet in Hollerrath. Belgium at that time-needed tourists badly, even Germans, the previous enemy. Belgium had suffered a lot during the War and was building up its economy. We were everywhere called “boche” (German swine) since war was only a few years past, however, we took it in good spirits. My mom and Aunt Mus spoke French well and liked the language. They did not speak German to us to make us benefit from the holiday. When the three weeks were over we could chatter a bit in French. My mom would give me some money to buy paper flowers with which I would decorate my sand castle. I would sing out loudly, “Veney achetez au bon marcher! La boutique est ouverte!” (Veney to buy cheap! The store is open!) Children from other castles would then come to inspect my flowers and buy some. I kept memories of French until I was hand had the best mark in French class. After that, my memories faded and my marks dropped.

Back at Bonn

my mother came home one day without her bun and long braid of hair. I clearly remember the day since I was so shocked. I was still small enough to lie in my mom's bed, suck my thumb, and twirl with the other hand a strand of my mom's hair, which she must have loosened during bedtime. My Grandmother Lohmann gave her the money to have her first perm at a hairdresser's. It was a long many hour procedure.
At the ski hut in 1928
At the ski hut in 1928
My Grandmother had had already a perm and was all curled up. When my dad saw it, he was furious but the hair was gone. My mother told me later that in her years when she attend; the pensionat (girl's boarding school) in Belgium as a teenager bras were unknown. They would wear “Untertaillen,” a bodice made from cotton. Often they were more than one, to hide the breast's shape and especially the nipples. In the 1920's bras were firmly establish.

At times I crept into my dad's bed as well. We did not have double beds in Germany. My father used to tell me stories of all the books he read. He had invented two characters, two gnomes Tomba-tomba and his brother Wumba-wumba who had the most exciting adventures. It must have been during the 1920s that King Tut's grave in Egypt was discovered as well as Mayan ruins, in Yucatan and the script of the Epic of Gilgamesh was deciphered in the Near-East which shed a great light on the Bible. I went to all those places with Tomba-tomba! My tonsils were removed when I was four. My mom took me in a horse-drawn taxi. At the doctor's office my mom entreated me to be good when I was put on a strong nurse’s lap. She pinched my legs with a strong grip between her own and I became suspicious and struggled. The nurse then slapped a wad of cotton with ether upon my nose. I struggled for life until the fumes subdued me. After the procedure my mom took me home in a car-taxi. It was my first ride and I was aware that it had been something very special. I had no after effects from the operation. My sister Ingrid was born on April 5th, 1927. When I was allowed to view the happenings I was disappointed to see an ugly, rumpled red thing crying in a bassinet. I had been told I have a Sister but I had imagined a blond angel in pink. I was never encouraged to touch her. I held her only once when a photo was taken in the garden. My dad was disappointed, again no son but I guess by this time he had learned to take it more calmly. A baby-nurse had been hired in full uniform. Kitchen help had been employed and the midwife washed some baby clothing when I saw my mom in bed. Tante Mus died this year from an infection she got in a hospital. She had needed a caesarian for delivering her daughter Eva. The surgeon had invited his dentist friend to see an “interesting” operation. Onkel Pepi wanted to sue for neglect. He abandoned the thought later sure he would not get a fair trial among the medical profession. We visited Tante Mus before her death and saw the baby. I told the story to show how haphazardly things were handled in hospitals at that time. Tante Mus’ death was a catastrophe for the family. When my mom told me I cried on and off for several days, she had hope that I had not under stood. After the death we visited the baby in a home for babies, a “Saeuglingsheim.” I remember that she looked very healthy and that she was fed cream of wheat pudding with raw tomatoes.

Christmases we spent downstairs with my Grandmother Lohmann. My dad, ofcourse resented it. All available aunts and uncles would come.
Miss Ehrilich's grade 1 class in 1928, 43 students in the "Muenster Schule," a Catholic Volksschule or people's school at Bonn (Muenster = the famous medieval church)
Miss Ehrilich's grade 1 class in 1928, 43 students in the "Muenster Schule," a Catholic Volksschule or people's school at Bonn (Muenster = the famous medieval church)
My Grandmother had set one big room aside for preparations, as it is the custom in Germany. Nobody was allowed to enter it. All guests and participants had in that room a special table or chair with the gifts piled up on. My Grandmother would first go into the room and start playing hymns on the “Victorola,” a music machine with cylinders where the mu¬sic was imprinted on. We were then allowed to enter the room only lit by candles. We would sing all the Christmas carols we knew and children would recite poems before we were permitted to view our (unwrapped) presents. Besides gifts we each would get “einen teller voll” (one plate full), a plate full of goodies, oranges and cookies (the German tradition). Even the domestic servants were invited to take part. For once during the year, at least for one hour, discrimination was dropped until the big Christmas Eve meal was served. The standard meal was Rheinsalm (Rhine salmon). It must have been 1927 or 1928 that my Grandmother announced that salmon was no longer available and she would serve beef tongue instead. In Germany tongue is more expensive that muscle meat. This news must have been discussed otherwise I would not have recalled it.

The Rhein River was now too polluted, though we did not say it in that way. Most of us had no insight that this would be an on going evil, apart from my dad and my Granddad. During the winter of 1927/28 we went to Galtür in the Ötztal valley of Austria to ski. I was considered too small to ski, though I wanted to. It would have been quite an expense to outfit me with skis when the outcome was dubious. I was outfitted with a sleigh to my disgust. My baby sis stayed with a hired woman at Bonn. Later I was always amazed how much fuss was made of such ordinary things, all ideas left from Victorian Times (In German; “Gruenderzeit”). Couldn’t I have taken care of the kid? In Galtuer we were with a group of friends we knew from the Ski Chalet in Hollerrath. All our friends skied at the local hill - no tows at that time. After a few days the men were considered ski skilled enough to do big tours. The ski equipment was still primitive. I think Huitfeld binding was used that Amundsen conquered the South Pole with. The men used seals skins to climb with. They were attached to the wooden skis with klister wax. They had one major disadvantage. They had to be ripped off on the summit for descent when it was usually very windy and cold and when they were practically frozen to the skis. Buckled skins came l0 years later when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I had a good friend at Galtuer, a physician, Dr. Reisinger. He was about forty; he spoke to me and cracked jokes.

Often I sat on his knee. A year later he was dead. Tuberculosis. I found it hard to take. Only with the advent of penicillin, well after World War II, could the disease be controlled. It must have been around that year that tuberculosis was being treated with sanitariums in the Alps, fresh air, sunshine and healthy food like “muesli” (sort of unbaked granola). Both my siblings had tuberculosis of the neck lymph glands. My modern parents did all to prevent it. My sister Ingrid as a toddler run around with a scarf around her neck and ears. She outgrew it. My brother Wolfgang received x-ray treatment, which was in vogue at that time (1932-33). It cured the disease right away but many children died later of cancer of the neck organs because the area had just been burnt. Little was known of the danger of x-rays. Even ten years later in 1941 when I visited the German Museum at Munich, all visitors were allowed to play around with x-ray machines on display.

Easter 1928 I entered school, the Catholic Volksschool in Bonn. Most of my friends were put into private schools but my father was a strong believer in a classless society. We were only girls and the school was run by the City of Bonn. First day we arrived late at l0 am, when the class was almost over. I was humiliated! I knew that we had to be at school at 8 am but my mom had said, “Not possibly can they want small children that early.” I guess I liked school.

I sat like a small quiet mouse. We were given small wooden sticks in the loveliest colours and did counting and number work with them. Every day were we introduced to a new letter of the alphabet? When “H” came around I knew it had something to do with my name so I said it was called “Ha.” How disappointed was I when I was told that it was only an aspirated sound.

After the first day was over my mom got me from school and she held in her arms an Schultuete (a bag with goodies) as was the custom but instead of being happy with the unforeseen plenty all what we did was fight and compare sizes and contents!

Around this time it became apparent that my teeth were very irregular. Orthodontists were the invention of the times. I was led into the School of Dentists of the University of Bonn where this work was done on a trial basis free of charge. I hated the sessions but they did not hurt. My teeth were wired up very much in the same fashion of to day but the material was much poorer. Some years later I had for several days severe coughing fits, which were treated with steam, bed rest etc. When I finally expelled the bit of wire I was pronounced cured and the treatment of my teeth was discontinued. My mom must have realized that I was shaken up after every session since I was taken as a reward to a small yogurt kiosk. Yogurt was not available at grocery stores due to lack of refrigeration. In winter small stalls were opened on the streets of Bonn where chestnuts were roasted and sold.

My father had bought a photographic enlarger. My mom had been angry because he had spent so much money on "Bloedsinn" (nonsense). I think my father had a Leica camera at that time. With his artistic eye my dad was a good photographer. There was only black & white and enlarging was necessary. Often he pointed things out to me that made a good photo and I was allowed to help in the darkroom (our kitchen). I marveled that in a watery solution suddenly eyes, people, trees and mountains would appear on a plain paper. My dad constantly developed his methods with filters and such. He mounted his enlargements carefully and artistically and switched to slides around the 1930’s. I started to photograph in Canada 1952 in Penny, B.C. and despite the time lapse of at least twenty years, I was very much influenced by the things my dad had shown me.

My father being an architect and independent man was never entirely happy with the Ski Chalet at Hollerrath (the chalet is twenty-nine kilometers from Blankenheim). He planned to have a weekend cottage of his own and must have bought around 1928 a piece of property in the Eifel Hills as well but at Blankenheim, where he was buried later on.

As a small child what did I wear?

Elastic was almost unknown but developed soon and took over.
Until it did, kids wore cotton vests, later to be replaced by cotton knitwear. Over that went a bodice of flannelette. It was buttoned in the back and had a button in front and two on the sides, which held the only pieces of elastic band to secure out stockings. The cotton pants where held in place by the buttons and flapped open in the back. We wore hefty cotton stockings and often-woolen ones which scratched. On top of those went in winter "Gamaschen,” a sort of buttoned over-stocking. They became outdated as soon as tracksuits came on the market. Even in school we were allowed to wear tracksuit pants underneath our dresses in winter. When elastic took over the bodices were discarded and underpants had elasticized waistbands.
When I went for a walks with mom in 1929, I was always told this was "Papi's tower"
When I went for a walks with mom in 1929, I was always told this was "Papi's tower"
Bonn University stamp
Bonn University stamp

My dad had finished his job in Bonn replacing one of the turrets at the Bonn University (originally a castle). When the depression was at its height, he was out of a job. My dad landed a position at Koblenz as a Regierungsbaumeister (government building director), through his brother August, a fellow with a good position in the Catholic Church and the Centrum Party. We do not have a similar position in Canada. He was to design and supervise the necessary public buildings, offices, schools, pools and social housing in his capacity of an architect, engineer and building supervisor. He worked in Koblenz while we still lived at Bonn so I was only six (1928) I was put on the train to visit him, to make me somewhat self-reliant; and I think it did. On the train I was afraid that gypsies would kidnap me so I held the door locks of the train compartment tight with my foot.


We found a place at Horchheim near Koblenz to live and left Bonn but not before I had seen my first ski film in a restaurant, at Horchheim, I liked it. We had rented from the municipality, one part of a big mansion that had seen richer folks than us. A wonderful big park, where I played, and my mom started a vegetable and flower garden, surrounded the house. Later on it became obvious that my dad had not thought at all about transportation to the city. He had no hang-ups about such mundane matters and it developed into a problem. Must have been October 1929 that I entered the Catholic Volksschool at Horchheim. Our garden or park had huge old and wonderful trees big beeches and sycamores (Platanus). In the mild climate of the Rheinland almonds, jasmines, deutzias and snowballs were blooming. Under some of the established trees was a large patch of snowdrops mixed with scillas, which I especially liked. As soon as we owned a garden in Kitimat I tried to copy those flower fields. They did well but not in the thousands.

There was a big lawn, too, in our garden and my dad practiced throwing discus. One day the discus mowed down my mom’s tomato plants and it resulted into a big uproar. Horchheim (1929) was the centre of strawberry growing. The berries were picked very early in the morning and special trains took the fruit quickly to towns and cities to be sold. The marvelous smell of many flat cars loaded with strawberries hung in the trees of our yard the whole morning since the rails bordered the property.

In school we had two classes in one resided by a middle-aged woman, Fraeulein Vogel. Female teachers were at that time not allowed to continue in their profession when they got married. Miss Vogel lived in the local convent, run by nuns. She went to Holy Communion every morning before school.
Horchheim - 4th and 5th grade with Miss Vogel
Horchheim - 4th and 5th grade with Miss Vogel
When school started on the dot of 8 am of course, she was hungry - not being allowed to eat twelve hours before she received the Holy Host. The nuns provided well for her. Every morning while we were kept busy on our slates with some arithmetic, the good woman would open her satchel and bring out a thermos bottle with good coffee, a soft-boiled egg with a spoon and a “Broetchen” (bun) with jam. She feasted with visible relish. We had several kids in class not that well fed. Several orphans (Catholics did not readily adopt children) from the local orphanage run by the same nuns must have lusted for the, obviously good food. We took it all in being meek and shy. When my dad heard about it years later when I changed school he was very angry and asked me why did you not tell me? However, who was I to judge the world of adults? I think I had already then a clear understanding that this would have spelled disaster to my school days under Fraeulein Vogel. School curricula were free and different things were taught in Bonn and Horchheim. When I left Bonn as a second grader I could print and had just started cursive writing in the Latin script (as we do in English) but Horchheim started with the Gothic script called “German.” I did not find it too difficult and at the end of grade two I mastered three scripts all diligently practiced on the slate, lines and lines of it. It was a real disaster when a slate fell and broke, always with tears.

We had two types of slate pencils (“Griffel”), one more expensive one called “Milkgriffel” was white and wrote softer and was covered with wonderful and shiny foil. We had a wet sponge in a box and a piece of cloth attached with a string to our slate. All of it was carried in a leather satchel like a packsack on our back. Our readers would last a whole year because we would practice reading the same stories back and front. All stories were moralistic and religious but they were illustrated. When my own children were treated to "Dick and Jane" I thought it was such wonderful reading material and could not understand the critics. Since the other grade was ahead of us, we absorbed a lot without understanding it. When a shape on the big map appeared in form of a cat, we said, “Scandinavian,” a boot, “Italian.” etc. I had no idea what it meant though I had been with Tomba-tomba to Manaos (center of Brazil) at the Amazon River!!

We learned a lot of grammar early. I never knew what it was. I did grasp what “Furturum” (Latin; I undertake to do it) and “Plusquamperfect” (Latin; more than perfect) meant until years later in high school. I think I received a poor grounding from Miss Vogel. On special occasions we had to write with ink and a pen in a holder into a scribblers. Each scribbler had a blotter in it. I recall terrible disasters with ink running over our desks and big ink blots in our "holy" scribblers with outbursts of the teacher. Paper was expensive and we would use almost every line in them, for sure every page. During winters we often had 'coal holidays', the municipality had run out of money to pay for school fuel. We had a big heater in the classroom that would be lit by a custodian but Miss Vogel would regulate and refill it. Kids close to it fell often asleep and kids farther away were cold.

We had outhouses but my mom had trained me never to use them. Though the title of our school had “Catholic” in it, one class was set aside for the education of the offspring of the heretics, the Evangelicals or Lutherans. Mr. Gans, the teacher, had all grades in one class and the schoolyard was equipped with a huge wire fence to keep us children from the adverse influence. Another gentleman taught boys in a special class. To my big surprise did I see, one day, our Roman Catholic priest in conversation with Mr. Gans and the boy’s teacher. I was shocked and could not think of anything more sinful and wrong.

Politically Horchheim was communist with many unemployed and we often had riots.
Villa Markana, Horcheim, Koplenz. We lived here from October 1929 to November 1932. My brother, Wolfgang is in the buggy
Close to our dwelling was a huge ”Schrebergarten” (a special agricultural development for big cities and populated areas) fenced with high wire mesh were Tom Saunders worked his plot. He was unemployed communist; Horchheim had a very good and mild climate. His garden grew well and he often sold vegetables to my mom. He let me play in his garden and spoke to me. He had darling rabbits as well. It surprised me that ragged folks, communist and unemployed were friendly and likable but young as I was, I knew one did not really mix with them! Opposite of our dwelling across the yard were buildings where originally the servants of the masters of “Villa Markana” had lived. They were rented now cheaply by the municipality to plain working folk, second generations of Polish immigrants. I often visited one family named “Pavlec,” and sat on their wooden bench in their kitchen. Mr. Pavlec worked for the gas plant (out of coal) in the neighboring village of Pfaffendorf and Mrs. Pavlec would walk every day to take a warm lunch to her husband in a “Henkelmaennchen” a special lunch kit with two pot & lids to keep food warm. Lunch was the main meal in Germany.

Unfortunately their house and our house had yet no connection to the public sewage system, if one even existed at that time. Underneath the Pavlec house and the yard was a big concrete-lined sewage pit. This pit was emptied every year by a big pump wagon and the stuff was sucked up. On one day something was wrong with the pump head and people put a ladder into the pit to see what the problem was. Several men were overcome by the fumes, which would naturally develop in such a big pit. Mr. Pavlec had volunteered during his day-off and he plunged into the stuff. One guy was revived in a hospital. It was a terrible tragedy. I went to Pavlec's kitchen bench to cry.

We were sick often, mainly colds and pneumonia. My mom often sat for days at our beds. Not much could be done about it just hope that time would take care of it. As soon as we had a cough (with the threat of tuberculosis) we would be wrapped in a wet, cold bed sheet and a rubber-sheet and lots of plumeaux (featherbeds) were piled up on us. Our body-heat and fever was to dry the wet sheet. Later my mom relented and the sheet was wetted with warm water. It was an ordeal and we hated it. The doctor came and took our temp but that was about all that he could do.

Around 1930 we

experienced some economic improvement in Germany.
Alexander coin, of superior craftmanship, German and Roman.  The original was in bronze.  Found in Sayn, near Koplenz, in 1930 and was probably introduced to Germany around 300 AD.
Alexander coin, of superior craftmanship, German and Roman. The original was in bronze. Found in Sayn, near Koplenz, in 1930 and was probably introduced to Germany around 300 AD.
The Nazis later stoutly denied it. The District of Koblenz, for which my father worked, commissioned him to build an open-air public swimming pool in Sayn near Koblenz. It had been a depressed area. During the excavations for the pool Roman artifacts were found (as usual!) and they were given to my dad as the building inspector. Among those things was the Alexander coin, the replica I still wear. The original coin was bronze and well liked in Roman circles despite its age (Alexander lived around 333 B.C., the Romans were in Sayn around 300 AD). It had a diameter of four and one half centimeters. My dad of-course handed all over to the Provincial Museum (there were strict laws) but not before a cast of the coin was made for my mom. The original coin and the replica were both very well minted. Heading the Kitimat Museum in later years Alcan gave me aluminum coins to exhibit and I showed as well the Alexander coin. The Alcan aluminum stuff was so crude in comparison with the Alex coin that one had to assume the pieces were done by Freddie Flintstone.

The Village of Sayn had ancient iron works, probably the reason for Roman attention, that were not active in 1930. With his influence and artistic mind my dad tried to reactivate the mine as a make-work project. An artist was hired to cast works of art instead of uneconomical iron bars. It was successful at first but how it worked in the long run; I do not know. When my mother died I finally received the coin and have cherished it ever since, we went to Sayn swimming quite often though it was tough to reach without a car. I learned to swim there and my dad loved to show off his diving skills from the high board.


During the year 1930 my Sister Ingrid and I were sick with pneumonia. I must have lost a lot of weight.
My mom appealed to her brother-in-law Dr. Hugo Reis as a public health officer to get me into a sanitarium for recuperation near Karlsruhe in southern Germany. Uncle Hugo sent deserving welfare kids to this "Kinderheim.” My mother traveled with me to Karlsruhe to the Reis family and farther through the romantic and wild “Hellenthal” with a small railroad to Friedenweiler in the Black Forest. I was deposited in a big institution run by nuns. I was one of the few paying guests and received special treatment, which I hated. I shared a bedroom with another “private” girl and all the lucky “normal” kids were allowed to share the big dorms where they had lots of fun. Often I was given a cup of milk with a thick skin, which almost made me vomit. The nuns, I must say, were devoted hikers. Despite their uncomfortable living quarters, we were taken out mornings and afternoons. After I was through a period of homesickness, I adjusted well and loved the place. With the no-nonsense treatment I soon gained weight and colour but one thing I never forgave the good institution of Friedenweiler. Twice a week in the afternoon a story was read to us. I guess I was the only kid who took it very seriously. I had to hear how the story continued, what else happened, how it ended and all too often the story hours where just dropped and I suffered! My mother got me after several weeks, tanned and fat. After the first ski film I was taken to a second one The flute concert of San Souci. After that I dreamt of Frederic the Great and his impersonator, an old man and famous actor Otto Gebuehr. I was in love with Frederic or Otto and my mom resolved not to take me too often since I was so affected by it. During those years my dad brought a Hoehensonne, an ultra violet lamp. Instead of regarding UV as dangerous, it was considered the heal-all of the 1930's. We sat bare under the big sixty-inch lamp with thick sunglasses we would use later for skiing when the fad was over. We sat under it for a few minutes the first days and, later, up to one-half hour.

We would regard the practice now as very unhealthy or even dangerous but we survived it (several years of it!) It was supposed to activate vitamin D in our skin and stood for healthy outdoor living at high altitudes. Then I exposed my own children in later years to the natural stuff on Clague Mountain. I was surprised how negative the results were. After letting the kids ski half-naked at three thousand feet. I usually had to consent to let them stay out of school on Mondays, as they had to recover from the high-altitude radiation and snow reflection of the sun. I then thought how dangerous our sessions must have been under the UV lamp in Horchheim. In March of the year we went with the new Frau Schueller “Aunt Hete” to Soelden in the Valley of the Oetz in Austria for a ski holiday. The weather was poor; we had rain. Now I was eight years old, self-conscious and I did not like skiing that much. My father went on big alpine touring-trips. To get away from the rain we went higher in the Valley to Unter and Obergurgl (Otztal, Austria), where just a few weeks earlier the French scientist Piccard had landed with his stratospheric balloon and had made the spot very famous. We celebrated Easter in Untergurgl where we stayed at a farmer's house. I had looked into the stable where just a few days ago four baby goats had been born. Never had I seen such cute and wooly creatures. On Easter Sunday when I went out to ski I saw four little bodies, bloody, stretched out dead on the snow, in an awful row, for our Easter Sunday roast. That was the end of my enjoyment of the holiday. My mom tried to comfort me but I thought she was just a member of the plot. We had lots of snow in Gurgl, not even the sleighs made it through. In Obergurgl where we went skiing a few weeks earlier Auguste Piccard (French physicist and aeronaut) had landed with his stratospheric balloon in May 27, 1931.

When I mounted these old photos in 1989 I realized how rich we had became; these small contact-photos were acceptable at that time.

We ate a sandwich with salt and butter since the jam had given out. When we returned home over Soelden a narrow lane had been hand-shoveled through a huge avalanche. Because of a healthy ski holiday, my brother Wolfgang (after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), the German poet whose centennial we would celebrate next year, 1832-1932) was born November 20, 1931. I related that big event already in the chapter on my mother.

One week after Easter, Whitsunday, 1931, I went to my first communion. We had been carefully prepared to be the brides of Christ. Though, for brides, we were rather young, still being nine (almost l0) years of age but better early than never. I took it all very seriously and when my mother dressed me in her changed bridal gown and pressed a wreath of white, artificial roses on my hair and led me quietly into the dining room (the others were still in bed) to a commode which top was spread with presents for me. Instead of being happy, as every other kid would have been, I regarded it as a sacrilege of my great day. Hadn't I prepared my heart and soul for Jesus? What would I do in a pretty dress with a man who barely wore sandals? What would I do with presents as a bride of the man who had said, “Rather goes a camel through the Needle's Ear (a gate in Jerusalem) than a rich man goes to heaven?” I regarded my poor mom as not being serious enough, as not being a true Catholic. I still can sing some of the hymns we sang on that big Whitsunday when we stepped to the altar to receive the Holy Host. Today I am surprised how sexy these songs were. At that time, however, I had no idea of sex at all. I got my first watch. Soon after the Easter holidays, 1932, were finished I entered the high school at Koblenz, the Hilda Schule, a lyceum for girls.

German School Classes

  • 1. 4 years of elementary school, I was 6-7-8-9 years old
  • 2. 8 years of high school:
  • 3. Sexta, l0 yrs old, 1932
  • 4. Quinta, 11 ” 1933
  • 5. Quarta, 12 ” 1934
  • 6. Untertertia, 13 ” 1935
  • 7. Obertertia, 14 ” 1936
  • 8. Secunda, l5 ” 1937 not divided in “ober” and “unter” anymore, by Nazi decree, to hasten the time where we could work or fight
  • 9. Unterprima, 16 ” 1939
  • 10. 0berprima, 17 ” 1939, finished spring 1940
The important event of this year is when the Nazi came to power in 1933 as I said in my father's chapter. I was keen on the new movement since it stood for all what we cherished, physical fitness, self-denial for the good of the fatherland, German nationalism etc. In Horchheim I became a member of the newly founded JM (Jung Maedels or young girls) in the Hitler Youth. We looked
cute in our white blouses, dark pleated skirts and brown imitation leather jackets, black-green-red wool cardigans (from a south-German fashion of Berchtesgaden). In later years I gave it a lot of thought how the whole disaster could have happened. The very cause was the “Ermaechtigungsgesetz,” passed March 23, 1933. It was the Enabling Act, the legal basis for dictatorship through ruling by decree. It gave Hitler absolute freedom without the need to ask the parliament. Germany had very little experience in democracy 1919-1933, 14 years only. The German economy was in such a mess that everybody thought; let him (Hitler) do what he likes as long as things improve. I often had this German attitude also.

My preparation for the first class in high school called "Sexta" (1932) was poor due to Miss Vogel. Luckily for me the provincial school authorities had just abolished the entrance exam, which I would not have passed. Now I had time to adjust. The authorities had realized that it was wrong to judge a child for life at the tender age of l0. The next difficulty was the way to school. Electric trams were too time consuming, so I walked. Not many rural children attended high school, or so it seemed, that the public transport had not adjusted to it. It was a long way first to reach the railroad bridge, cross the Rhein to a part called Oberwerth and then into the city of Koblenz. I returned home only after many hours. I loved walking already and I did not mind but my parents should have realized that I was no scholar and that I must have arrived at school dead tired. I did not do well in school, except in French. I spent nights crying and worrying about it. My mom must have heard it and she went to school to talk to some of the teachers. After that it improved. The teachers were more helpful and friendly. I adjusted. I did do well in one subject, geography. The time I had spent in my father’s bed paid off. I remember the day when the map of South America was put up. Forgetting my usual shyness, I gave an inspired talk about the Amazon basin I had visited with Tomb-tomba, Manaos, the dangerous piranha fish, the sapping rubber trees in the jungle and Indians with curare blowguns. The teacher asked me amused where I knew it all from and I did not answer. Tomba-tomba was a special secret. My mom constantly helped us with our homework and sometimes the essays. The teachers noticed and made remarks. This practice was frowned upon in Canada later with my own kids and rightly so, but my mom stressed the importance of schooling, to us, to her and to the school.

Grade 6 (quinta) 1933
Grade 6 (quinta) 1933

In November 1933 we moved to Koblenz-Luetzel ("Little Koblenz") on the opposite site of the Rhein from Horchheim and on the other side of the Moselle River, which joins the Rhein at Koblenz. Now transportation was no more problem, neither for my dad nor for me. I had to cross the small Moselle on a bridge with other girls and could easily walk to school. We had a great view of old Koblenz and lived in a down-stairs apartment with the house owner living on top, an elderly widow. The road before the house paralleled the Moselle and from May on we could go swimming there.

Hilda School in Koblenz
Hilda School in Koblenz

Suddenly in grade five and six I realized that I had mastered the art of reading my language, German. It is a greater accomplishment than, say reading in English. Written German is so much more difficult that the spoken version. School introduced us to our poet Schiller and I lived in his poems or stories of them. I was angry with the teacher for not reading the poems earlier. In one way or the other I was soon introduced to a sort of junk literature, stories of Indians by Karl May. I was taken. I weaseled out every book he had written and read under my blanket during the night. I lived in his stories, though the tales were all make-believe, I soon mastered the geography of the USA. Reading too, gave me an escape from the very ugly home life I encountered. My father and my mother were fighting constantly; I meanwhile hunted buffalo with the Apaches and Winnetou the chief!

The summer holidays in 1934 we spent not yet in our new weekend cottage but in a special part of the Blankenheim Youth Hostel, the castle itself. They took paying guests and my mother could supervise the construction of the cottage, which took several years. My dad had designed the building and made a model. Summer holidays were never as long as the Canadian ones. Some years we had three weeks, other year we had four weeks but in fall we had additional week of “potato” holidays, a leftover from a more agricultural society.
Me, Kurda (our kitchen help) Wolfgang and Ingrid, 1934
Me, Kurda (our kitchen help) Wolfgang and Ingrid, 1934
My dad took me to the almost finished cottage where I was supposed to help. I did. Freed from my mother’s eyes I kept house, I cooked, though I had never made my bed at home. My parents judged me to be entirely impractical and my father was surprised, when at noontime, potatoes were cooked, meat fried and lettuce served. More often I would vanish into the bush with a blanket and an Indian book!
Construction of the summer cottage, 1934
Construction of the summer cottage, 1934
I do not see at all clear anymore as to the occupation armies in the Rhein country of Germany. French and Belgian troops had invaded the Rheinland in 1923, four years after the war, maybe, to guarantee the payment of reparations by Germany. Since it was so long after the war, the population was very upset. The occupation must have proven costly to the governments of the troops as well since French and Belgian economies were severely damaged by the war. In 1930 all allied troops withdrew from the Rhein and the French left but some others did not, Belgium ones (?) lingered and finally in 1934 all Allied Forces evacuated the Rheinland. We celebrated the big event ("Rheinlandbefreiung") with "Rhein in Flames" (Rhein in Flammen) fireworks on every mountain and hill and castle on the side of the big and famous river. Many people came to watch.
Kroenurg, Eifel, 1934
Kroenurg, Eifel, 1934

Hindenburg our old Reichs president came to Koblenz to visit the free Fort of Ehrenbreitstein on the opposite shore of the Rhein. A tiny bridge with many onlookers collapsed under the weight and many people drowned due to failure of the concrete abutment. The awful accident happened just a few yards away from the place where we lived at Luetzel (Brückeneinstürz of 1930).

My dad always got along well with his ”underlings” but there was often trouble with his superiors. It must have been the reason that he took a new job in Bergheim, near Cologne (1934). The job market was soon good under the Nazis. Since there was no adequate housing in Bergheim, his benefits allowed for a house to be built, with a mortgage. My dad started to commission house construction at Horrem near Bergheim. I never knew why he never wanted us to live close to his workplace. My mom was to live with my two siblings at the weekend cottage at Blankenheim and I was to live for a year with my Grandmother Lohmann at Bonn until the house at Horrem was finished.
Holidays in Hiederbreisig
Holidays in Hiederbreisig

I was still very religious and at one day I started to think about the Ten Commandments and was, curiously enough, bothered by the fourth one, “Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother so that you will live a long and happy life!” Was that not heavenly blackmail? Should one not honour one's parents because they are the parents and not honour them for egotistical reasons? On top of that the immaculate conception of Jesus bothered me and soon after I resolved to quit the Church. I had grained consciousness. It dawned upon me that I was responsible for myself. I disliked the idea of spending a full year with my Grandmother Lohmann at Bonn but I regarded the whole thing as a challenge of life, which I would try to bear gracefully.

Soon lacking the teachings of the Church for guidance, I searched for others. I read up on other religions and philosophers. Though we had no public libraries at all, we had something almost better, a very cheap source of paperbacks of modern and classic literature for only Pennies per volume. It was called Reclaim Library. They had an outlet on my way to school and soon I was bold enough to ask for a list of published books a to order them. I was always very happy when a book arrived though intellectually I was still unable to deal with them in detail. My first book was about the sayings of Buddha, then Confucius. Later I got hooked on Immanuel Kant though I could barely plough through a single page of his writings. The bookshop's sales clerk always said, “here comes the little philosopher and he put in another order for a few pennies.”
Me, Hilda Schule, On the Rhine River, Koblenz, 1935
Me, Hilda Schule, On the Rhine River, Koblenz, 1935
When the house in Horrem was being built,
Blankenheim, 1935
Blankenheim, 1935
I entered the Untertertia (13 years old, 1935) class at Queen Louise School at Bonn, a high school for girls run by the city. It was known to be a tough school and so it was. Again, coming from a different district, I was behind in all subjects. I had started English at the Hilda School at Koblenz and liked it very much. It was so much like German; Mutter is mother, Vater is father, Haus is house etc. Now at Queen Louise they were far advanced and I had to walk to English speaking friends to tutor me. I missed my mom and I had to make a long walk to get help but without realizing it I absorbed enough knowledge soon to keep up with my class. French was a tough year as well. The teacher was a WW I veteran, an old mili-tary horse with a lame leg, Dr. Heitken. The fourth-grade high school curriculum was, irregular Verbs, forward, backwards and sideways. I would sit in my grandmother’s room called “Wintergaten” (winter garden) and study. I was afraid of the teacher and bathed in cold sweat when we had the weekly two hours of French. However, low and behold after a full year under Dr. Heitken I had mastered all, subconsciously, whichever verbs whichever person. The Dr. Heitken’s military drills had done it.
My friend Hanni Schnacke, me, my dad, a relative ??, below: Ingrid Wolfgang and a young relative, Blankenheim 1935
My friend Hanni Schnacke, me, my dad, a relative ??, below: Ingrid Wolfgang and a young relative, Blankenheim 1935

At fourteen, in 1936, I entered the private school in Horrem. I was firm in French irregular verbs! In all my school days an enormous amount of work had to be memorized, in history, sciences, and especially in languages. After four years of instruction we could speak a foreign language. We could not speak it well, we had a terrible accent and a very limited vocabulary but we could rattle along. If a story was read to us in either French or English we could immediately retell or rewrite it. For one whole year we had to construct triangles in Math and, up to now, what for. Certainly it developed our logical thinking, but one-half year would have done it, too. Pythagoras and Euclid were our companions, and how great was my disappointment, when I had to learn later that all space was curved and those trustful guys, so-to–say, proven wrong! In each of the schools I went to, except later at Horrem, we had fantastic science labs but I could never recall that a single one had been used by us. I understood things I had seen, but all our science was memory work. Slowly I left my mental involvements with the more-or-less silly literature of fake Indian stories. I had gotten a book written by Grey Owl, from Canada, who proved to be a fake as well Ernest Thompson Seton's animal stories. All our friends had big bookshelves and I developed more factual ideas about America.

I was resolved to leave Germany and do all that was necessary to make it possible and prepare myself to enter the Colonial School for Women at Rendsburg later. However, due to good old Karl May, Indians remained first on my list during my whole life! In fall of 1986, fifty-two years later, it became possible for me to hop down with a water bottle into the Grand Canyon of Arizona; it was to crown the old dream I had as a girl; to see Indian country I had read about! In Bonn, too, I joined the JM of the Hitler Youth but it occurred to me that something funny was about it. Here we were young girls with lean bodies in white blouses and bobby sox and we would be singing war songs of the most grotesque kind. “The rotten bones are shivering!” “Today Germany belongs to us but tomorrow the whole world will be ours." I took it metaphorical in its meaning little did I realize how true it was meant! One day I was kneeling on a chair in my Grandmother's dining room to observe a big commotion outside on the Kronprinzen Street. Soldiers were marching in long columns with steel helmets and grave faces to music. My heart beat higher, those were German troops under our leader Adolph Hitler replacing the hated French army of a few years ago. The Rheinland was now truly free and the music truly enchanting. How proud I was! I still heard my Grandmothers disgruntled voice, “When they have soldiers, they will use them!” No matter how harshly I judged her that day I never forgot her mutterings; she had lived a life of experience. One day I was in town on my own I saw a lot of debris lying on Bonn's otherwise clean streets. Windows were smashed; merchandise was strewn over the asphalt, some smoke curled into the air. I asked some people, “What is that.” The answer was, “Don't you know that the Volk (German people) have risen against its Jewish oppressors?” During the night a synagogue had been burnt and the Jewish department store “Tietz” was severely damaged. A righteous pride rose in my heart that we got rid of our oppressors but I still found the mess unsightly and wasteful. Later during the day my Grandmother said, “Yeah, yeah, the SA (male para-military organization, storm troopers), and the Hitler Youth has been put up to do that by the government.” I thought that good woman is crazy!

During the year of 1935 the German government took over the district of the Saar, a much disputed region since generations. Attuned to physical fitness we went with the JM (Young Girls) for longer hikes. All was well organized. We slept in a youth hostel. We hiked along the Sieg River, which joins the Rhein North from Bonn. We did not have the extreme overpopulation yet and long stretches of the river were, may be not wild, but undisturbed. It was the beginning of summer; all sorts of trees were in bloom or leaf. It was hilly country with pleasant views and many colorful flowers in bloom. We just walked along, no heavy packs; most of us were twelve or thirteen years old. On this hike I became aware that this was the thing I liked. This was the thing I would pursue, to see the country on foot. The beauty of nature was firmly impressed on my heart and I consciously took it in. It was the start of my hiking career.

Several times my Grandfather Heimbach took me to the Rautenstrauch Joest Museum for Ethnology and the Natural Sciences in Bonn. In German, Ethnology, is the study of living man and the races, Anthropology is the study of prehistoric Man like the Neanderthaler. The museum was well known for its scientific panoramas on Wildlife, e.g. deer, moose, etc. Since the development of panoramic exhibits developed in Canada only in the 1970s, one must be amazed that the wheel - indeed - can be invented twice- so to say. Grandfather took me to the Botanical Garden where I was shown a Gingko biloba tree (is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives from China) that was growing really well and it was a big tree. I was told that it was a relic from very early times, the Jurassic. I never forgot it.

While in the Hitler Youth we had to sell items for the “Winterhilfe” (help during winter) once a month. It was similar the sale the red poppy for Remembrance Day. The unemployment numbers had risen to over six million in 1932 and were going down now rapidly. Soon everybody would be employed and people needing food, clothing would get it from the Winterhilfe. People in depressed districts were employed in making small and tasteful little figurines; well-made ornaments and we would sell them for twenty pennies each. The money collected would theoretically aid deserving folk.

Bigger projects were on going. Roads were paved. Soon all dusty side roads had a coat of asphalt, in the country, in the town. Big connecting highways were built, the first Autobahns, to accommodate the traffic between big cities and regions. These Autobahns were not only hard topped they had a concrete surface. It gave them a much longer lifetime but during the war with bombs and artillery they were hard to fix. A bucket of tar would not do. We thought this idea of equipping Germany with a decent modern road system was just fantastic. Little did I know, as a thirteen year old, these motorways were not meant to transport bread but troops! Most of us did not realize that a war economy was being set up. With more and more folks employed the crime rate dropped. We could enjoy public parks and walks. Germany was safe during nights; a quality of life we thought was just grand. My mother especially as a woman benefited from it. Suddenly she could leave her house for an evening walk, alone or with a female friend or daughter. The punishment for attacking people, mugging, robbing were now severely punished right away. When prisons were too small, prisoners were put into concentration camps and made to work. This did not all happen necessarily in 1935 but gradually. We all regarded it as a big relief to enjoy so much personal safety and were grateful to Hitler.

Another big national "works project" I witnessed was the Siegfried line (West wall) in the Eifel Hills close to Hollerrath. My parents took me to see the defiance walls of concrete and bunkers in the earth suitable for repulsion of modern weapons, tanks. Like huge dinosaur fins the concrete plates rose against the sky. My father saw with suppressed horror that the country's beauty was mutilated but he could not voice anything, since he was all for Hitler. The lonely hamlets up to now so far removed from modern progress got a hefty invasion of workers. Hospitals, businesses were established. The whole infrastructure of Germany was improved. Girls got pregnant, babies were born, schools were modernized, teachers were screened and updated. Kids were sent to high schools since the parents could pay for it (twenty marks per month). Youngsters were shipped to bigger places to learn a trade, public transport made it possible to go to places of education every day. The isolation, the backwardness came to a sudden end. With all the propaganda for the Hitler's government everybody had to read (and we became soon an almost one hundred percent literate society. Children had always gone to school for eight years in Germany and learned how to read but the acquired skills soon dried up in small communities and ended in signing one’s name. Now reading was a necessity. Newspapers were the organs of propaganda. They became big and flashy! Those were the times of the advent of the radio. Every new development was not as it is in the capitalist countries for the rich but for all the people. It was in 1935 or 1936 that the "Volksempfaenger" (People's Receiver or radio) hit the scene. My father was against radio. It would influence the peace of the family and tell people what to think. However, when the government urged people to buy Volksempfaengers, a very inexpensive but well-made radio, we bought one in Blankenheim for 40 marks.

Under Hitler every year was a big “Partei-Tag” (party day) and in 1935 the anti-Jewish racial laws were solidified. At that time we had no knowledge what they would lead to and we all approved. With the experience of a thirteen year old, I was always eager to give full consent to everything adults wanted in order to make my life easy. Never would I think. Jews had defiled the purity of our (non-existents) Nordic race! Did I ever think that the two Jewish girls in my class were indistinguishable from us? Anti-Semitism became the central part of the Nazi ideology. The churches spoke against the new laws but not loud enough for us to hear it well. Did the hated Jews not kill Jesus? We forgot that Jesus himself was a Jew. My husband Hans told me later that the anti-Semitism in Germany did not appall foreign countries -he spoke of Tanganyika in Africa. They “sort of” approved. The Arabs certainly approved of Hitler. I cannot remember when the anti-Jewish magazine, Der Stuermer, came out (NOTE: literally, “The Stormier” or more accurately, “The Attacker” was a weekly Nazi newspaper published by Julius Streicher from 1923 to the end of World War II in 1945, with brief suspensions in circulation due to legal difficulties). It was a significant part of the Nazi propaganda machinery and was vehemently anti-Semitic. It soon gained influence. It was a grotesquely plebeian paper in very bad taste. It did not take much brain to understand it. It was posted in every village. I read it in Blankenheim. My family viewed it with disgust. The most vile and untrue stories of Jews were published that common sense could discredit on the spot. Nevertheless, the dirt stuck. I try to recall how the Nazi ideology sucked us all in. In many ways it had great appeal to genuine idealism. My father and I would often volunteer for all sorts of things so would others. My mom was mostly too wise to do it, my siblings too small.
Propaganda flier, 1936
Propaganda flier, 1936
I was always ready for self-sacrifice. Christianity had demanded it, Kant, the philosopher I liked, had wanted it. The Nazis went into the same direction. When I entered Canada I remember the shock; democracies had nothing worth living for! The pursuit of happiness; surely that could not be the moral aim in life? In 1935 I did not see as many other adults as well, that the good feeling of self-sacrifice of us members of the Aryan race would lead to arrogance, self-pity (we suffer so much from the Jews!) and bestiality.
Propaganda flier, 1936
Propaganda flier, 1936

While my father was getting used to his new position, he was also a "Baurat" (builder, of a new house in Horrem), my mom, brother and sister lived in Blankenheim in our cottage (1936). The district of Bergheim for which my dad worked was smaller than the one of Koblenz, it was rural and it was very rich. It had a splendid economy due to the “Ville.” The Ville, a geological feature running from Northwest to Southeast, contained a bituminous coal seam. The coal was close to the surface where huge open pits of brown coal were mined and mostly pressed into “briquettes” as household fuel. “Fortuna” the biggest pit was producing electricity on a grand scale. On top of it the district had a very good climate, mild with early spring, due to the Golf Stream in the close-by North Sea. The country was very fertile from each garden plot we got four harvests per season. After the Ice Age persistent winds had taken soil from the northern part of Europe and blown this "Loess" toward the Cologne area. In the garden we started with radishes and spinach, that was quickly replaced by lettuce, which gave way to vegetables with longer maturing times as carrots, cabbages. When harvested in fall, we reseed with corn salad (Valerianella olitoria Moench) that was often harvested all through winter. Peas were often put in, in the end of February.

These were propaganda decals for Winterhilfswerk (WHW) (Winter Help Works). The Nazis once in power (1933) tried hard to solve Germany’s economical problems. After the First World War in the early 1920’s inflation struck following in the 1930’s with the great depression.

Building a house was much more frustrating than just employing a contractor. The owner dealt with endless difficulties and every house took many months until completion. E.g. not enough wages were paid, workers were drunk on the job, workers not willing to work, material had not arrived on time and faulty material. Therefore, my dad had a lot of trouble with the house construction. However, despite all, the house was finished in 1936 and I joined my family in Horrem near Cologne. I got a room of my own since I was always happy to be alone. Because of the year at Bonn I had lost contact with my sister and brother. I was five years older than my sister and lived in a different world. In Horchheim at least we had quarreled a lot and, to my mom's disgust, I now ignored her. We had little in common. She was a good-looking kid; I was plain. She had blond curls and a friendly disposition. I was withdrawn. My Grandmother Lohmann and everybody else loved her, she was less complicated. My brother was nine years younger and barely worth noticing!

In 1936 I was sent

to a private and the only high school in Horrem a few minutes by foot through the pretty woods. It was a Catholic school for girls called “Qui Si Sana.” An elderly, overweight and very cleaver woman was the principal. She taught German, French and History. Fraulein Zingsheim was an excellent teacher in German and French but due to her Catholic background history lessons were entirely out of touch with modern thought. My parents never paid any interest in things or philosophies we were to imbibe in schools. Fraulein Zingsheim, I felt was still uneasy to agree that Columbus had proven the earth round! The Bible seems to prefer a flat one. My dad had mentioned to me the present theories of the earth origin of Kant and La Place, which clashed with Fraulein Zingsheim’s Lord sitting on a cloud orchestrating the creation. Religion was taught twice a week by Pastor Keuchen, the local minister, a venerable, elderly and handicapped man. Every Monday we had to stand up in class if we had sinned during the weekend. I dutifully stood up and hated the ritual. Sinful it was to go swimming in the public pool during "family hour” when both sexes, including my father and my brother were allowed. Quietly did I suffer; never did it occur to me that I could have complained to my parents. With the school we would go swimming often but only during Women’s Hour.

I liked school at Quisisana. I was now in Obertertia and did well in all subjects. We spoke French well and liked it. Due to the improved economic conditions more parents sent offspring to high schools. They all spoke French with fourteen years of age and a new wave of friendship was wafting toward France. Germans, always active, would make holiday arrangements in France for their children. In return French children were invited to us. Distances were minimal. Hitler noticed it with disgust. All of a sudden French was not mandatory anymore in high school and we stupid kids - happy to be under less pressure - dropped it. Neither my mother more anyone of my teachers tried to persuade me to keep on going.

School life was happy in Quisisana. The climate in Horrem was so gentle. We often sat on a blanket outside to receive our lessons under the canopy of a wonder-full deciduous forest. Horrem in 1936 was not a big place and classes were small. We all got personal attention; I loved it and felt strong. I recall my guest for information, how hard it was to get a book on a specific subject. There were no libraries in schools. I was keen on arctic explorers; the Indians had been left behind. I had entries in a scribbler on lines I had found in a dictionary. It was uncommon to find an encyclopedia in a family. I longed to have more info. Horrem did not have a bookstore. I never stayed long enough in Cologne between trains. I was too shy to ask for anything, life between my parents was upsetting enough. My only thought was; do not rock the boat.

My father must have acquired a car in this year. He needed it for his job where he was on the go all the time. It was small, a DKW (Dampf Kraft Works).
Me at Qui Si Sana in Horrem, 1936-37
Me at Qui Si Sana in Horrem, 1936-37

On many weekends he went with one or the other of us to the cottage at Blankenheim. Being a kid of political developments, touched me only vaguely. We had lessons in school about “daily happenings” but mostly we were just kids growing up. Only later did I learn that Germany had taken part in the Spanish Civil War since Hitler wanted to test his war machine. With our new connection with Italy and Mussolini, the connection between Berlin and Rome were much touted about. Japan became an exotic and far away friend against the Communists in Russia.

Under the general keep fit I took up javelin throwing on an unused road early in the mornings. In spring the nightingales would sing with the orioles from the hardwood trees. Holidays were spent at Blankenheim. Instead of helping my mom, as a dutiful daughter should have done, I vanished with a book and a blanket into the woods. Hitler’s regime encouraged self-help in poor economic situations. My father volunteered to my mom's dismay to take in a “holiday-child.” These children were supposed to be from poor families and ill nourished. They were to be given a chance. I never knew if these kids were happy in our home. I had nothing to do with them since they were much younger. The children I saw were well dressed and well fed. Their parents thought a free holiday would be a good idea. I guess it was good for all of us. My mom did the complaining but the children were well looked after and a few years later I would visit one of the families near the Swiss border of Austria. Convinced that the RC Church upheld a bunch of unnecessary lies I quit church officially at the local chamber of justice at fourteen (1936).

In February - March of 1937 I was given the opportunity through the BDM (Association of German Girls in the Hitler Youth) to take part in an inexpensive ski camp in south Germany, in the Alps around Balderschwang. We were not allowed to stay away from school except when sick. After the camp my mother wrote a letter I had to take to school that I had had a vicious sore throat. The classroom teacher smiled, looked at me and said; for being so sick you rather look well!! My father could have never been persuaded to commit a crime like that but my mother had an understanding that not all life should be rules! I was the only girl from Northern Germany at the camp. Skiing was not popular in the north. Was I ever looking forward to the camp! The long over-night train ride I could handle by myself. The coaches were equipped with smooth wooden contoured benches where one could stretch out if alone. At camp - in the middle of the high Alps - we slept on hay and washed - if at all at the cow’s trough. The food was simple and good. I was always ravenously hungry not used to so much exercise in fresh air. Every morning there were instructions at the local ski hill and in the afternoon we went on short trips. A local fellow did the supervision and instructions. He was lean, agile, tanned and athletic. Most of us fell in love with him but our camp leader, a woman l0 years older than us, had first pick! After supper we danced to accordion music and red mulled wine. A new ski binding had been developed called “Kandahar”
Kandahar bindings ca 1920
Kandahar bindings ca 1920
with cables that pressed the boot tighter to the ski and gave more control. The locals skied well. They had all winter to practice to “wedel” (parallel ski). There were no tows; we had little opportunity to learn how to ski well in two weeks. The local girls wore skirts; we city slickers wore ski pants. Toward the end of the camp we were taken on day trips. It was the first time that endurance and stamina was demanded of me. I found it very hard.

I resolved to return next spring and to present myself in a fitter state. At home I would from now on jog, sleep with an open window and use less covers! During camp I had the opportunity to visit with the families of the local ski instructors. I was struck with the poverty of the population. A girl owned only two dresses, one on the body, and one at the foot of her bed. There were no stoves. They had elevated fireplaces with chains, hooks and stands to secure the pots and a big chimney hole to suck up the smoke. From home later I sent those people clothing but at the same time I was embarrassed. Hitler would solve this soon.

The next year Austria would be joined with Germany and the economy would bloom. By the time the summer holidays came along I was very lonesome for the Alps. To expect to see the high mountains again put me into a sort of frenzy. I had persuaded the sister of our domestic help to join me. She did not have my education and she did not really know what my excitement was all about. I lied my way through at home. Hitch hiking was a no-no but I was allowed to see my Aunt Attis who had a cottage in the southern Eifel Hills. Several days of walking would take us there. As soon as we left Blankenheim we hitchhiked and wrote a postcard from South-Germany, Lake Constance. We had almost no money and lived on rolled oats sweetened with “shoe polish” (a cheap, red gooey commercial jam) anything to get to the Alps. Sleeping arrangements, however, were no problem. Youth Hostels were every twenty-five kilometers of hiking. The hostels were cheap at twenty-five cent per night (twenty-five pennies). We got good beds with blankets and were under supervision. We could cook and eat in clean surroundings. Only hikers were allowed. This would soon change when schools were bused to these places. Still foot hikers had preference. From the back of the Black Forest I saw the first summits of the Alps and we hiked in Vorarlberg, a province of Austria. Hitchhiking was a dangerous thing. To us, never anything happened, but several times we came close. I was still very naive but sensed -sort of- the dangers.

Next page - At Easter 1937

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