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These notes and diary were written by Gisela Mendel (nee Heimbach), in Smithers BC, Canada. Gisela was born in Bonn, Germany on April 1922, and passed away on April 19, 2008 in Smithers, B.C. Canada. Her life came at the time of tremendous changes in our world, the advancement of medications and drugs, the financial problems of the 1920s and 1930s, advancements in transportation, Nazis ideology, WW II, homesteading in Western Canada with four children and development of digital cameras and computers, and the list continues. Gisela recorded these changes in her diaries and her pictures, and recorded these changes through troubling times. After moving to Kitimat in 1956, life improved; employment was secure, money was coming in and now owned a proper home. Time to explore! She retired as curator of the Kitimat Museum in 1982 and moved to Smithers. She enjoyed hiking and naturalizing in her favorite mountains with her many friends and the "Friday Girls". Her ashes were spread on Malko Lookout in Smithers, BC.

Her diary starts with a description of the people around her in Germany and gives insights and opinions as to their characters. Some good and some not so good.

Genealogy tree --> Family Tree


Diary from Fritz Heimbach, father of Gisela --> Diary of Fritz Heimbach From the First Six Months of WW I, 18 August to 18 December 1914

The Heimbach Family


My mother, (1896-1967)

My mother was born Helene Hubertine Maria Lohmann on November 5, 1896 in Bonn. Her very common name of "Maria" was changed into "Mareika" to make it more appealing. Both my father and my mother had the name "Hubert" or "Hubertine" added to their other names. As Roman Catholics this name would put them under the protection of St. Hubertus, a fellow able to protect children from the bite of rabid animals. It must have worked; neither was bitten! My mom came in a row of girls, as there were her sister Magda, Agnes and Friedel. My grandmother stopped the row of kids with a boy called Otto. Mother was fourteen when her father died of kidney cancer after a long period of illness at home. My mother had helped nursing him and he advised her to become a nurse since she had apparently done a good job. However, when she later asked to be put in training is not considered suitable for her social standing. Nurses were regarded as an in between of a cleaning woman and a waitress. As soon as the girls entered puberty and caused difficulties they were shipped off to Jupille, Belgium, to a Roman Catholic boarding school - a Pensionat - for girls. They were taught religion, embroidery, cooking, history of fine arts etc. They were not allowed to speak the language of ruffians; German. This attitude changed really only under Hitler! My mom was thus fluent in French and put it to good use after WW II when our house was occupied by French troops in 1945.

The Lohmann's household lived through WW I. There was hunger in Bonn. The organization to supply food to the civilian population was almost completely disrupted at the end of the war 1917 - 1919. My mother told of instances when all the Lohmann girls had met during the night at the food box to raid it. There were of course no refrigerators at that time but food was kept cold in food boxes with compartments for ice. The iceman in urban areas, with horse and buggy, delivered the ice twice a week. My mother had resented the early death of her father. My grandmother had very little education. She was not cleaver either and the girls got little guidance into modern times, which started with a bang after the war, 1919. Apparently my grandfather had been a very modern and far-sighted man but he was no more (died 1910). After my mother's education was finished at the Pensionat she waited at home to get married. During the war my father had been on furlough at the Moselle River. There they had met. The engagement had dragged on through the war years. My father took his time. He had a hard time adjusting to civil life after 1919. His nerves were shattered from living and fighting so long underneath the earth in the war of land mines and explosives. He took his time to commit himself. My mother got tired waiting as she told us often. She had pressured and threatened him, “she would quit.” She recalled the day quite vividly when she peeked out of the window and saw my father awkwardly surmounting a pile of coals that just had been delivered by the "coal man" at the door to formally ask my grandmother Lohmann for the hand of my mom. On the 4th day of May they were married in 1921 in Bonn. My father, a very dashing young man, my mom a good looking, charming, young woman, dark and a bit exotic. Since there was a severe housing shortage after the war they moved to the third floor of my grandmother's big and many-storied house in Bonn.

The flat had been converted into a self-contained suite. The room to serve as a kitchen got a sink and a water tap. My mother had a hard time to convince my grandmother to have a hand basin installed in the bedroom with running water. “What do you need that for?” My Granddad insisted. “If you want to take a sponge bath you can come down to my bathroom!” There was no bathroom in my parents flat.
However, a toilet was in the hall of every story. My mother first kept house on her own. She faced marital difficulties soon and was pregnant soon. She gave birth to me in the maternity hospital of the University of Bonn.

As custom demanded, she had to stay in bed 9 (magical) days. When she was released soon after, she collapsed in front of the door. She was so week from being in bed for so long. Both my parents were very fond of me. I dimly recall long bouts of ear infections since antibiotic of sulfonamides were not available. My father and my mother carried me for hours and putting opium drops into my ears. I remember many fights and the efforts of both to put things right again. We all hopped around, our arms entwined. I as a toddler in mid-air singing, “Alle drei vertragen. Alle drei vertragen” (All three of us want to get along)! I recall the feeling of relief at the peace movement.

Often when my parents fought I was delivered down one floor below to the bedroom of my grandmother and Aunt Attis (Agnes) and my mother retrieved me after the storm had settled. Before my sister Ingrid was born my parents had hired a maid to do the kitchen work. While I was born in a hospital my mother decided to give birth to her second child at home. The guest bedroom was prepared in my grandmother's living quarters. A midwife attended the birth. A doctor checked things over afterwards. A nurse for babies was hired for the first days to take care of the newborn. I never understood why so much ado was necessary for such a common event since my Aunt Attis and grandmother was there too. I had the feeling that my father had a hard time to hide his feelings of disgust. For her third delivery my Mon went back to a hospital at Bonn from Horchheim where we lived then, instead of giving birth to her son in a local hospital at Koblenz nearby. Mother kept her other children well away from me. I was barely allowed to touch my sister though I was five at that time. I was nine when my brother came but was not allowed to do anything for him except wheel him in his buggy. I accepted these things always afraid to get into trouble. Later as a teen when I attended home economics classes I was never encouraged to do things at home except drying dishes for the kitchen help. I knew that my mother was an industrious woman and full of good will but for some reason or other we were never close. She never read, she was poorly informed and gossip was the only form of conversation. She had learned to cook at the Pensionat but only the normal stuff as beef roast, cakes and potatoes. I remember her struggles to learn how to make jellies and jams. She disinfected each little jar with a burning sulphur thread (upside down) and then the funny smell in the kitchen. Soon this method was changed into a boiling water bath method for sterilization. She struggled to learn how to bake with yeast. We were not allowed to speak in the kitchen; the dough would fall!

With hindsight I thought that my parents should have had easier times once they had moved from Bonn to Horchheim when my dad started his job at Koblenz. Removed was then the constant influence of my grandmother and Aunt Attis. These two ceaselessly told my Mon that she did not have enough maids, that the holidays were not good enough, that one does not kayak, swim, hike or ski. Anyhow I hated the regular flare-ups when mom came home from a visit in Bonn. The hangover from Victorian times was still strong but the modern times were here nonetheless. My mom was fond of gardening. She had no experience but tried her hand in Horchheim and later in Blankenheim and Horrem. She must have had some success to keep her going. As typical in Germany, garden work was presented as hard work with a lot of complaints.

It was only in Kitimat that I was confronted with a different attitude: that of gardening as being fun. I love gardening! I never had heard that exclamation in Germany. In Horchheim we had allot of help. We had one full time, sleep-in maid. One maid came part time for morning hours, every working day. Every three weeks a “Waschfrau” would come to do the laundry and later the ironing.

Around 1930 we got a hand-operated washing machine with the gears on the lid. In intervals, a “Schneiderin” (seamstress) would come to do the necessary mending and to sew the necessary clothing for us kids, my mother and the little suits for my young brother. Since my mother had only learned how to embroider, she made an effort to learn how to knit and sew a bit. Dresses were not normally bought in a shop. My mother was always very happy when she had engaged a seamstress with some knowledge and know-how. Only then would our dresses show some “chic.” However, no doubt we all had many dresses. Coats were sometimes bought and a tailor made men’s suits. Once before the war in 1939, my Mon bought me a dress at the big department store Tietz or “Kaufhof” at Bonn but for me; shopping for clothing only came around 1958 in Kitimat! With so much help around at home I wondered sometimes what my mother did all day. She looked after the baby.
At the Bonner ski cabin near Hollerath, a friend, my mom, Aunt Attis with husband Hugo and son Werner, ca 1930
At the Bonner ski cabin near Hollerath, a friend, my mom, Aunt Attis with husband Hugo and son Werner, ca 1930

Shopping was done every day or every second day. All of my long sleeved dresses had white collars and white manchettes that were sewn on every day fresh of every second day but at that time this was already considered silly since Mon’s friends kidder her. “If Mareika has nothing to do, she sews on manchettes!” Even as a small child I would think about a way to do it with grips, small buttons or pins instead of hand sewing. In later years fashions became easier. My mom was neat and clean and every room was dusted and mopped every day (by the help)! She was ill organized. Soon as I had my own household I stopped the daily shopping that took so much time. During the war when everybody was in demand to work for the missing soldiers in the economy, the Nazis had made it quite clear that they did not approve of general domestic help. My Mon took it quite bravely but whenever in her later life she could lay hands on a willing girl, she was engaged soon.

My mother was, despite her crazy Victorian upbringing, a down-to-earth person, much more so than my dad. She knew that war did not always mean instant death but the complete collapse of civil order and organization. When the Second WW was finished and money had lost all value, we still bartered for food with stuff she had amassed at the beginning of the war. Most of the fights with my father were about money. Apparently he never gave her a regular amount at regular times. Fights flared up every week. I knew she often borrowed the pitiful wages back from her maid (thirty Marks per month).

My modern parents prided themselves how well they treated the servants! They being female, my father often chatted and joked with them. At our summer cottage they ate with us at the table. However, looking back at those times, I found the slavery unbelievable. The main girl who stayed with us had a bedroom in the attic with an old bed. She had no running water but a basin that was filled with a jug. The used water had to be carried down to the toilet in the stairway. She was allowed one bath per week in our nice and modern bathroom. We did not have more baths per week, though, either.

In Horrem I left for the train at five minutes to seven, quite early. The maid was in full go by that time. She fed me breakfast before school. She cleaned the house, mopping and dusting every day. My mom did the big cooking but the girl did potatoes, vegetables and the dishes. Later on when we had a motor-powered washing machine (the motor still on the lid) she did the washing and the ironing as well. She had her lonely meals in the kitchen. After the big noon hour meal when she was drowsy she was checked if she was mending socks, not sleeping! My mom napped. The girl helped with the kids. Evening meal was not before 8:00 pm. After she had done those dishes she peeled the potatoes for the next day. I do not think she had one single hour planned for her own all day. The Nazis insisted on regular free times per day, per week and per year. My mother granted those later reluctantly. She was upset when the girl asked for an annual week off to help with her own family for some reason or other. When were those girls supposed to do their dating? It was never given any thought. I gave the Nazis credit to put away with that institution. Our last regular maid, Barbara Esser, learned English and became a translator.

Menopause hit my mother during the last and most ugly time of the war. She had fled twice with my brother and sister from her home in Horrem. My father was in the army, I was in East Prussia. My father had helped her to escape from the constant air raids of the nearby front. Whenever German troops retreated the German water mains were destroyed to harm the enemy. The American troops came with big water tankers and water was for them no problem. The German civil population suffered. At Horrem we lived in urbanized country, no privies outside, no wells. My mom suffered long periods from irregular bleeding, yet there was often no water, no doctor, no drugs and no pads. She was discouraged often during those times but after a while, when she felt better, she got her old pep back. When my father died she took it hard. They had battled so long and she must have missed it. It took her a year and more to get over it. Then, I could not believe what I heard. She, who had lived for so long in a state of subordination, took to traveling and spent her winters with my brother's family in the Arabian desert where her arthritis responded well to the hot climate. My brother was a geologist and we got postcards from mother from Amman, Istanbul, Athens. She did not have the courage to visit us in Canada. Maybe it was good she never did. I was not all honey in my family either. She died while visiting her sister Agnes in Trier on February 22, 1967. She was 71. She had suffered from cancer of the bowel for 1/2 year. She was glad to die. Her pet sister Agnes was with her, so was her pet daughter Ingrid and an old friend Dr. Leo Kugelmeir. The death was hard on my sister. My mother had lived with her family in Dusseldorf for many years during the summer months.

Grandmother Lohmann (1869-1947)

She was born Maria Hubertine Margarethe Wolter on June 23, 1869 in Bonn. Similarly, my mom had spent her puberty years in Jupille, Belgium, a
Grandmother, my sister, my mother
boarding school or Pensionat for girls. Maria could speak French fluently; unfortunately she grew up in times when girls received little schooling. I do not think she was dumb. She did not read books. Gossip was her only form of conversation. She kept up with newspapers though and she managed her money. I remember that the tax advisor came every year and they sat together at her desk. I was named after her with my second name Margarethe but it was a misnomer since we did not get along very well.

On October 12, 1890 she married Franz Friedrich Lohmann. They had six children. Otto was the first boy and died shortly after birth. She told me that the child was enormous because she overate. She had eaten every day one dozen eggs for the baby. She had four girls after that Tante Magda, Tante Friedel, my mom Mareika and Tante Attis. Her last child was a boy and called again “Otto” nicknamed Onkel Oett. My father detested the small, fat mother-in-law and he never spoke a good word about her. This rubbed off on me. She was all what we did not like. She was not sports-minded and had no artistic taste.

When she visited her daughter, my mom, there was always strife between my father and my mother. Grandmother had a hard time with us and she repaid it with generosity and kindness. I must have behaved in a lousy way and yet she was always kind, had always presents, took me to the coffee shop to buy cake and every good report card in school
was rewarded with money. I often thought she was, for long stretches, the only source of money I had. When my mother did not know what to do with me while she waited at our cottage at Blankenheim and for the house to be built at Horrem, grandmother Lohmann took me in for a whole year 1934. Though I was not a child to bother anybody, I was by that time a loner and secretive. She certainly did not have the boarder, a granny would have liked. She must have sensed the antagonism my father had created. Funny, though I was old enough to understand those things, my mother never spoke to me about it. She should have.

Grandmother had a housekeeper and during the war when women replaced men everywhere, it became difficult to find one. Grandmother was handed over from one child to the other. With us it was a time of stress and I was happy when she left. It was sad, seeing that all her children had big houses with room to spare and none lacked money. After WW II when Bonn was occupied by American troops, she was run over by a motorbike from the forces. She was seventy-eight at that time and she spent a long time in the hospital. She died a result of this accident in 1947 in Bonn.

In contrast to grandmother Nettchen (my father's mother) she was a modern woman. She bought new things right away. Even before the war she had fed me the first frozen food at her house: mashed apricots. She had a big modern radio and a kitchen stove combining gas & coal. Her cooking pots were of the new metal aluminum. All her clothing was modern and she bought us modern dresses, too. Around 1938 she gave me, for my birthday, my first plastic cup with a plastic saucer.

Grandfather Lohmann (1863-1910)

He was born Franz Friedrich (“Fritz”) Lohmann] on May 19, 1863 at Rheinberg in Germany. In his younger years he started as a beer brewer to become part owner and director of the big brewery in Bonn “Bürgerliches Brauhaus Bonn,” BBB (Citizen's Brewery of Bonn). In Germany the later years of the 19th century are called “Gruender Jahre” (Founding Years) instead of “Victorian” since the industrialization had made so much progress. The family was always well to do and did not loose much during the inflation of 1922/23. Even when my mom died in 1967 I was given some shares of the BBB that had merged by that time - well after WW II - with the brewery of “Dortmunder Union Brewery.” Grandfather Lohmann was a hunter in opposition to my other grandfather Heimbach who was even during those early years a stout conservationist. Grandfather and grandmother Lohmann had a room called “Wintergarten” (the rage during these times) with one wall of glass, and along the other walls the antlers of deer were mounted and the stuffed bodies of pheasants and big grouse.

My father often told me how much he disapproved of showing off dead animals on the walls. Around the turn of the century grandfather Lohmann had bought a big row house in Bonn, new and modern at that time on Kronprinzenstrasse 15. The property joined in the back the railroad but was protected by a huge wall, which I liked to climb during my days. Being rich, water toilets had been installed on every floor and central heating (through hot water) was built in. The furnace in the basement was heated with coal. The “coal man” delivered the fuel to the front door, first by horse and buggy, later by truck. Someone had to be hired to shovel the coal into the basement by a small window. The coal had to be shoveled into the furnace as will and often a man came mornings and evenings to do that since the servant girls were not thought to be strong enough. Grandfather had installed gas light in every room when it became available. However, after only two years it became obsolete and electricity took over, safer and faster. I still remember at the ceilings the small obsolete gas pipes and the painted over electric corks in every room. Grandmother Lohmann told me, that when grandfather got up in the morning, he lit a match to comb his hair since it was a chore to light the gas and it was dangerous, too. I recall city streetlights being lit the same way, as well as the gaslights in the railroad coaches being lit by a man with “burning sticks.” Soon, in both instances, the men were replaced by pilot lights. The “Beer Man” came twice per week from the BBB to deliver a box of free beer in glass bottles with a rubber stopper all through my grandmother's lifetime.

On October 12, 1891 grandfather had married Maria, Hubertine, Margarethe Wolter in Bonn. Before my grandfather died, the development of the machine gun had worried him. He had predicted that with such a terrible weapon the next war would not last longer than two weeks. I am glad he did not live to witness the endless 4 years of the trench warfare of the First World War. I regret having never met the man. He died only 47 years old of Kidney cancer. The family suffered greatly (not financially). My grandmother was not able with her five kids to make the right decisions in a progressive age. My mom often mentioned how modern and far-sighted her dad had been. He died at home on August 5, 1910 at Bonn.

Lohmann - My mother’s sister Tante Magda and Onkel Karl Braunsteiner

She was
My cousis Juergen and Gerd, Sept. 1927, Ahlen, Germany
My cousis Juergen and Gerd, Sept. 1927, Ahlen, Germany
older than my mom and her full name was Magdalene. She was a tall, good-looking woman and married Onkel Karl Braunsteiner, a well-to-do man. He was employed in the mining hierarchy in the Ruhr district, the big industrial complex in Germany. He rose to good positions. They were both sophisticated people, so much so, that we had not much to do with them. Magda was always superbly dressed; she had expensive tastes and hobbies like horseback riding, which was at that time in a big city, very extravagant. Magda read, she had the time and many servants. Nonetheless, I liked her, since she had sound opinions and was well informed, Tante Magda’s marriage did not work from the beginning and none of us liked her husband, Onkel Karl. They had two boys, on May 11th, 1916 Cousin Juergen was born in Bonn and January 1st, 1918, Cousin Gerd was born in Hamm, Westfahlia. I was given an adorable Kaethe Kruse doll when I was about five and I called her after my Cousin “puppe Gerd.” I met Tante Magda during the second WW when she had nowhere to live and she stayed at my grandmother Lohmann's house. Sometimes she had cooked a bit and shared it with me; the constant hunger. We got along well. I do not know how she died or made out after the war. The Ruhr area was badly smitten during the air raids.

Lohmann - My mother's sister Aunt Friedel

I think Aunt Friedel (Elfriede) was older than my mom. She, too, was a dark beauty and a bit on the plumb side. She married young, a Jew Kurt Feldmann. Onkel Kurt was a widower or divorced man, I cannot recall. Anyhow he had a big family already and Friedel was only slightly older than his oldest daughters. Kurt was a rich businessman. My mom and I visited them when I was still a small child. They lived close to Bonn on a big estate with wonderful fruit trees, like peaches, apricots, almonds. The climate here is very mild.
Aunt Friedel (we called her mostly Aunt Fitti) was soon divorced from Uncle Kurt. Luckily for Fitti. It was only a few more years that the Nazis took over and she would have suffered even more than she did. I do not think, however, that political considerations had anything to do with the divorce. No one could have foreseen how things and attitudes would change. After the divorce Fitti had to support herself and attempted to do so. It was hard for girls of this generation since they never really learned anything. Not even something as proper as “hairdressing.” It was not considered good enough.

There were often disasters and grandmother Lohmann would pitch in often. Fitti being plump and exotic, while blond and blue eves were “in,” had a tough life ahead of her. Unfortunately she called herself “Friedel” while living in Berlin. In that city it was a common first name for Jewish males. Fitti sold beauty aids, perfumes and soaps in Berlin. She had a small shop where she administered face packs. She had connection with some Jews. Her last name was still the Jewish “Feldmann.” When the Nazis took over, all come together. She was subjected to programs in Berlin. People thought she was Jewish. Her little shop was bashed in. Things were smashed and stolen. She was physically attacked. She had to hide. There was no opportunity for redress. My mom invited her to stay with us when she was down and out. She had a hard time at our place. My father was the super-Nazi and the family tyrant. Fitti could not hold her tongue. She had by now deep inside views of the workings of the Nazi machine. She talked to my mom. Every evening my father raged. My mother believed her stories. We others put it under “bad rumours” and “anti-government propaganda” and did not believe a thing. After several weeks at our place the situation became impossible. She had to go. Her other sister, my Aunt Attis, took her in. She lived with my Uncle Hugo in Trier but there it was the same.

Fitti would talk to her sister. Hugo was a Nazi with a very old party-number.
Fitti on a holiday at a rural resort at Niederbreisig (on the Rhine River), 1934
Fitti on a holiday at a rural resort at Niederbreisig (on the Rhine River), 1934
There were fights and she left there, too. I guess Aunt Magda could not take her in because her husband Uncle Karl was against it. Women had not much to say in the family. Why did she not stay put with my grandmother Lohmann, her mother? I could not say. Grandmother Lohmann had enough space and money to keep a daughter. Onkel Oett was never considered. He had a self-centered wife. So Fitti would move. Three weeks at our place, at Attis', three at grandmother’s. Meanwhile Fitti got attached to another man, Frank Helmrich. He had the same dubious occupation as Fitti. He was a traveling “Kaufmann” (business man) in soaps, pretty purses, beauty aids, perfumes, mirrors. They lived together often at Berlin, then somewhere else, then he joined Fitti on her family rounds. He was small, obese and heartily detested by my dad and Uncle Hugo. Fitti and Frank were always short of money. Life was hard for both.

They had some connections with Jewish artists who had fled to the States. Fitti and Frank sold all their possessions and got tickets for the boat to immigrate to the USA. Air travel was not yet possible at that time 1938 or 1939. They boarded the boat. They were forced to leave the boat. The state police, Sicherheitsdienst, (SD - Security Service) were after them. Fitti and Frank were pronounced a security risk for the German state. It was tough on both of them. My mom and Aunt Attis had, out of pity, bought most of their bedding and things, and now they had to give it back without demanding the money back. My mom was always short of money. She really had none of her own. I remember fights between my mom and my dad because of Fitti’s blankets and pillows and the money involved. By 1939, at the start of the war Fitti and Frank were regarded as “middle aged,” moved from Berlin to Wiesbaden in Western Germany. Berlin, as the German capital was subjected to many air raids. Wiesbaden, at least in the beginning, was better and quieter to live in.

After I got married in Wiesbaden I met Aunt Fitti by accident on a street. I had lost contact with her; the postal services had almost ceased. She shouted, “Gisela” and invited me to her and Frank’s small apartment for tea. She offered Hans and me some herb tea and some cookies. When Hans and I left after some two hours of chatting Uncle Frank whispered his assessment of my new husband into my ears: “Das wird gut gehen” (this will work well; meaning: how could you)! A short time later an air mine (special bomb) destroyed their apartment block and both were no more (1945). Fitti had not been born under a lucky star!

Lohmann - My mother's sister Aunt Agnes and Uncle Hugo Reis

She was born 1894, two years older than my mom. She lived with my grandmother Lohmann until she married around 1926. She was like a second mother to me. Whenever my parents fought, and it happened often, I was taken downstairs and she took me into her bed for comfort. When her suitor, Uncle Hugo Reis showed up, I recalled enough to remember how jealous I was but I liked her husband too. He had been a prisoner-of-war with the English during WW I when it had just started.
My aunt and my mom
My aunt and my mom
During his four years of imprisonment he became a good cook in the war camp. When he was captured he was not yet finished with his medical studies and the services of a medical orderly were not required in camp since there had been enough fully-fledged medical doctors. After Agnes and Hugo were married he would always cook if they had a big a-do at their house! Aunt Attis and Uncle Hugo remained very generous to me. Seldom did I have a place to go for the holidays in summer and I was always welcome at their summer cottage in the Eifel hills as well. It was a big stone house called Wenzelhausen near a small settlement, Niersbach. Agnes lived there during summer with her two children Werner, Ute and a full maid. Cousin Ute was even younger than that. I did not play with them but I loved Wenzelhausen since it was located in the bush. Sometimes I visited them in Trier where Uncle Hugo had his medical practice. They had a very big house in Trier at the Moselle River. Hugo was a very successful general practitioner.

He worked practically all day. There stressful family situations, the soup too hot or too cold and Uncle would dash away. I loved Uncle Hugo but he had not the time to pay much attention to me except once. I had my birthday there during the Easter holidays. He had gotten two books for me and I had to choose one, either “Lawrence, the King of Arabia” or “Explorers.” I had a hard time deciding and in the end choose “Explorers” with the thought: you could have given both to me! Luckily my dad bought “Lawrence” later for me. When I was 11 years old Aunt Attis discussed politics with me. It was 1933. She told me how much I would like the Nazis. They would think the same as we did: to be healthy and physically active, to be tough and fit, to like the outdoors and eat vegetables from the gardens; to be strong, blond and tall etc. Despite Hugo's stressful practice as a doctor, the marriage worked well. Agnes was deeply in love with him and he gave her opportunity to prove it. Hugo was a dashing man and good with all nurses and office help. He slept around a lot but was always forgiven. He had inherited from his father a heart problem and he knew that he had to die early. He prepared his family well for his early death. The house was paid for and he took out a big life insurance. He was in his fifties when it happened, after WW II and Attis never got completely over it. Now when I write this, she is still alive and mentally well at 98 in an old folks home at Trier (1992). I know more about Uncle Hugo. He was a convinced Nazi since early manhood. When the Nazis took over in 1933 he joined the Schutzstaffel (SS or Protection Squadron) medical corps. The SS became a bad word since the holocaust. Some dark stories jokingly escaped his lips, so much so that I, not older than 11 or 12 fully understood. He was without doubt a very able physician, well liked by his patients. In his free time he worked for the SS.

At one
time he must have been detached to a mental hospital. He told of a bus ride for the mental patients, dressed up as for a picnic. He was in front with the bus driver. Some screaming and fighting occurred during the bus ride and then sudden stillness. At the destination the bus door was opened and the dead were falling out and about. They had been exterminated with carbon monoxide. He told the story well and with humour. All adults heard it; his wife, my mom and my dad. There was no adverse comment. I was not used to comment on anything. By that time we were already so indoctrinated that we thought: oh, good. We are rid of those useless sub humans. I do not think anybody thought anything else. What about Dr. Hugo Reis’ hippocratic oath as a physician? Hugo was too old for service at the front but he worked for the SS during the war. After the Germans had lost WW II the allied armies caught Hugo. I think the French occupation army put him into a punishment camp near the German border on a starvation diet, a death sentence. However, they had not counted on his wife Agnes. She was fiercely determined to save her husband. Son Werner was sent on a bike several times during a month to take food parcels and vitamins to his dad. Many of Hugo's patients took food to Agnes to support her husband. The camp guardians must have been lenient. Hugo got his wife's food. It saved his life. Later, when he was released, after a waiting period, he was permitted to practice medicine again. Many patients spoke for him. He got even his OKK (Medical Government Aid) privileges back. Without this his practice would have been impossible.

My mother's brother Uncle Otto Lohmann

Aunt Fitti, Aunt Attis, Uncle Ott, my mom, me (3.5 months) and my dad, August 1922
Aunt Fitti, Aunt Attis, Uncle Ott, my mom, me (3.5 months) and my dad, August 1922
He was my mother's younger brother, born after his father's death of kidney cancer in 1910. He followed his father in his career as a director of the BBB, Büergerliches Brauhaus Bonn (Citizens' Brewery of Bonn). I knew him only as being rich. None of his sisters were friendly with him. He had married a young widow, Tante Mia Koester, a small slim person who wore the pants. Her hair was tightly curled and she was mostly over dressed. My dad called her a doll that had not been taken out of the box yet! My mom, however, praised Aunt Mia for being able to cut onions well while holding them in her raised left hand. I wish to mention that. When I had in Kitimat opportunity to observe coastal Indians I noticed that every preparation of their food was almost ritual. This was the way to hold the knife, this was the way to cut, this was the angle to look at it. It was very similar in Germany, an industrial nation I had barely touched an onion when my mom spoke of Tante Mia’s nice job to encourage me to try to do the same. Whatever vegetable one was about to use, there was a right way and a wrong way to do it. All recognized and supported this. When my daughter Friederike visited Germany in the late 1960's she was barely accepted by my family because I had not taught her how to cut carrots the proper way!! Here was Aunt Mia who at least could cut onions well. Good for her. Uncle Oett and Mia had no children. My mother told me, however, that Oett had an affair with a sales girl of the big department store Tietz. She had produced a son for him. I never met this cousin. At that time it was a highly illegal affair. It was only whispered about at home. I am surprised that I even knew it. I do not know how Oett died.

Grandfather Heimbach (1860-1949)

Gottfried Heimbach,
Gottfried "Fritz" Heimbach   ca. 1880
Gottfried "Fritz" Heimbach ca. 1880
called "Fritz" was born on January 27, 1860 in Eschweiler near Aachen in West Germany. I was his pet grandchild and I regret having never asked him about anything. I was too self centered and immature when he was still around. The interest in history grows with old age. He had six siblings who survived as the true sign of his times. (Christain: September.8, 1858, Maria: July 3, 1861, Karl: November 21, 1862, Caecilie: January 30, 1864, Clara: May 28, 1966, Moritz: September 9, 1868) Food was plentiful, water was clean and certain hygiene was introduced to make it possible.

Grandfather's father was a pharmacist and all his boys were to become pharmacists. The training at this time was a six-year apprenticeship in a drugstore and after that some years at university finishing with the government exam. All of the prescription medications were done (fabricated) at the local drugstores. Even when I entered the trade I still made lots of prescriptions by hand myself though certainly the big drug companies were there and would take over soon. After WW II the big chemical concerns took over rapidly and completely. I do not think they played a role during my grandfather's time. My grandfather's brother Moritz, called Uncle Moer, had disliked the training at his dad's drugstore. He had run away to the big port city of Hamburg at a very tender age to sign on as an Schiff's Junge (cabin boy). He sailed to Mexico. At Mazatlan Uncle Moer fell into the hold and broke his leg. With that he was of no interest to his captain anymore and was lucky that a local bonesetter took him in and cared for him. Moer arrived a year later back in Eschweiler ready to start the apprenticeship for pharmacy. I visited old Uncle Moer when he was retired in Hamburg. He was the spitten image of his brother, my grandfather Heimbach. He was ailing and limping around on a crutch, the results of his adventures in Mexico.

Of my grandfathers
son Fritz, Gottfried Heimbach and August ca. 1901
son Fritz, Gottfried Heimbach and August ca. 1901
other siblings I met only Aunt Mie (Maria) a very tiny woman. It was said that in this family the tall kids alternated with small ones. Moer and Gottfried were both six footers. My grandfather married “Nettchen” (Katharina Ruesges) May 6th, 1888 but he often told me of a bigger event in his estimation in 1888. Fridtjof Nansen, the famous Norwegian explorer, had crossed Greenland on skis during that year. My grandfather was an ardent admirer of Nansen as were many in Europe. With this advent, skiing became "in" in the Alps and in Austria where it even developed soon into a folk sport. When my grandfather took over the pharmacy at St. Wendel in the Boguew Mountains west of the southern Rhein River, he borrowed skis from a local mailman. My grandfather persuaded his son, my dad, to take up skiing. My father belonged to the first ski club in southern Germany, Karlsruhe. I do not know why my grandfather took the position at St. Wendel. We were folks from the North Rhein and the Vogues were far to the south. Maybe it had something to do with politics. The Vogues had belonged to the French before the French-German War of 1870/71. When the Germans army was victorious, the Bogues had to be returned to Germany in 1871. The iron ore was so important to the big German industrial complex of the Ruhr area that had all the coal for iron melting and the steel industry. Maybe my grandfather had to take over to “re-Germanize” the country. I do not know. (His wife, Katharina Rüsges, was the daughter of Maria Rüsges (nee Thyssen) sister to August Thyssen, one of the richest industrialist/banker in the world at the time.)

Members of the pharmaceutical profession were called “ninety niners.” Of every mark of 100 pennies they earned 99 pennies, it was said. Grandfather Heimbach retired with the age of only 50, having made "enough" money. He bought a big house at Poppelsdorf that would soon belong to the outskirts of the growing city of Bonn. He did not take part in WW I since he was too old with 54 years of age in 1914. The inflation of 1923 hit my Grandparents very hard; grandfather was now 63. They lost everything except the house. I think my Uncle August, the Roman Catholic priest contributed to their upkeep. Maybe the other sons-in-law, Uncle Walter Ehrlenspiel who had married Aunt Aenne (in 1925), Uncle Albert Streibel who had married Aunt Muecki, helped. Certainly my dad never did. My grandfather was always very fond of me and treated me as a person, not a female. He never tired to take me for walks and hikes; he took me along on his jobs. I remember being taken to the pharmacy in Mehlem near Bonn where he worked intermittently despite his age. It must have been 1926 or 1927 when he was 66 years old. I do not think he earned that much but he was desperate. I was put into a corner of the waiting room with lots of tiny boxes and bottles to play with. I recall the penetrating good smell of jodoform, a disinfectant that had a special compartment. When I entered the same profession sixteen years later in 1942 I wondered if it was only because of the scientific smell of jodoform and the tiny containers I found cute! Sometimes on our way back to his house grandfather walked me past the Chemical Institute of the University of Bonn. I was not allowed to talk then out of reverence to the great Dutch Chemist August Kekule. Kekule had taught in Bonn and my grandfather had been his student. Kekule had dreamt up the cyclical connections of carbon atoms, which proved soon to be so fertile for the future of chemical development and thought. Kekule’s statue stood in the front yard of the Chemical Institute and the fence around was in form of hexagons symbolizing the carbon connections in the molecule. My grandfather in his younger years must have passed up some of Kekule’s questions in an exam when the great chemist asked him disapprovingly: What! How come you do not know that? You are not a medical student but a pharmaceutical one! So I was told at a very young age how much better pharmacists were than doctors - at least in chemistry!

I was told that my grandfather had terrible outbursts of temper in his younger years. He was said to have thrown a full dish through a closed window from the dinner table. I knew him only as a very gentle and patient man in his old age. My father told me that he was influenced to curb his own temper by the ugly example his father had given him. My father had never touched me physically. However, wrath and strong temper flare-ups were fully accepted for men in the German society at that time. Men were supposed to run the families and a show of force was thought now and then, to be necessary - or at least one had to put up with it. It was in no way thought sick or abnormal to be curbed by physical discipline.

When I was older my grandfather took me for lengthy outings when I visited him. I was sent there regularly every week and by five I could walk on my own. We took often the tram to the outskirts of Bonn especially to the mouth of the Sieg River that was still somewhat natural and “wild.” There were huge rhubarb fields but stretches, too, of willow shrubs and wonderful meadows. The climate of Bonn is very gentle; many different species of wild flowers grew. In the swamps of the Sieg my grandfather would look for different tiny water bugs of which he was fond and of which he had a great knowledge. At his house he would keep them in his many aquariums. At five or six I was not interested in tiny bugs but liked salamanders and newts, the bugs greatest enemies.

To accommodate me grandfather gave me a small outdoor pool in his garden as big as a dish to put my creatures in. We usually picked some wild flowers that would be arranged at home according to size and colour into the most delicate bouquets. He had his pet flowers and he had his great dislikes. Hydrangeas and dahlias were out, since they looked artificial and over-bred. He taught me many names of the flowers and tested me constantly. Sixteen years later as a pharmacy apprentice, on a botanical field trips with the University of Bonn, I realize how much I knew. My co-workers commented, “How come you know all this?" It had been my grandfather's tuition from so long ago. After that I started to like botany very much.
Fritz was 88 in 1948
Fritz was 88 in 1948
My grandfather was interested historically, too. He would point out to me the many-twisted beech trees near Bonn grown into such grotesque shapes. Long ago the branches had been cut to make stakes for vines, which grew near Bonn. The climate had now changed, the grape vines did not grow near Bonn anymore but the Romans had introduced them. He mentioned the Vikings, too, who had discovered a big island in the north and called it Greenland since it was much warmer there and greener then today.

After my grandmother Nettchen had died in 1940. Grandfather had a succession of more or less satisfying housekeepers. During his last years Uncle August, the priest, took him in. I visited him there with my small daughter Friederike before he died in 1949. He played with the child. When I told him that I intended to immigrate to Canada, he said that Canada had lots of blueberries and mosquitoes. In both instances he was right! Kitimat's clear cuts grew for years tons of blueberries. The old man was wise in his last years. He did not want to go to the air raid shelters in cellars during the war anymore, telling his housekeeper that his time was up anyway.

Grandfather told me once that he felt sorry for me. He had seen much progress and many inventions; nothing was left for me to experience!! I recall as a small child that he fiddled around with one of the first radios with a large tube loudspeaker. It had the picture of a dog on it, attentively listening to “die stimme seines herrn” (the voice of his master).

I think it was the radio's grand name. Grandfather had experienced the onrush of gas light, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, the ups and downs of dirigibles, the great advancements in medicine and pharmacy as sulpha drugs, the first help for infections, the drugs against malaria, syphilis, diabetes, the conquest of rabies, pox, diphtheria, tetanus, the Arctic and Antarctic. He was very aware of all and everything. He died of pneumonia, the friend of the old, on March 25, 1949 at Bad Godesberg at Uncle August's.

Heimbach - grandmother ‘Nettchen’ (Katharina Heimbach born Rüsges) (1865-1940)

Katharina Rüsges  ca 1905
Katharina Rüsges ca 1905
(a pet name for Katharina) was born July 11, 1865 in Burgwaldniel. She was related to the Thyssen Family, (her mom's maiden name was Thyssen) important German industrialists second only to the Krupps. My father was presented with a dish set for his wedding with gold rims and the emblem FHT, Fritz Hosemann Thyssen. When the invading American troops smashed the set to bits and pieces in 1945 my father was thankful to get rid of the tasteless “Kitsch” without upsetting the family. I never recall that my grandfather Heimbach ever addressed his wife, Grandma Nettchen. I guess it never had been a good match. They never spoke to each other. Due to her constantly being downgraded by my own father, her son, I do not know much about her either.
Katherina's mother Maria Thyssen
Katherina's mother Maria Thyssen
She was terrible old fashioned. Once I saw, with a friend, her underpants lying on the lawn to bleach (a normal German custom) and I noticed that her cotton pants were still split. We had a good laugh since my grandmother Lohmann was a very modern soul with acetated underwear in pink, pale blue with laces. Grandmother Nettchen suffered from asthma.

My father told me that she arrived always late in church to show off her new hats. Grandfather was well read, modern and well educated. Grandmother Nettchen was the very opposite due mainly to the times. I remember constant fights when grandfather Heimbach and I came home from our outings and hunts for water bugs and my grandfather's greatcoat pockets were dripping with wet pondweed he had just stuffed in. The bugs needed something to hide in and eat.

I do not recall the reason for her death on April 23, 1940 in Bonn.

Heimbach - Uncle August Heimbach (1890-1958)

August, Anne & Fritz Heimbach, 1925
August, Anne & Fritz Heimbach, 1925
was born December 10, 1890 I was told that even as a child he played priest and was given all the playthings to celebrate make-believe holy mass. He climbed well in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. I forgot what position he had. He went to Rome several times. He was short and fat guy, not at all outdoorsy. He was detested by his brother, my father. My father never forgave him that he did not enter military service for WW I in 1914. My dad forgot, that one could be a convinced pacifist. He lived at Bad Godesberg close to Bonn and since the two brothers had nothing in common, I barely ever saw him (Uncle August baptized Gisela on April 30th, 1922). When my grandfather Heimbach was getting old, he took him in. When my mother gave birth to my brother Wolfgang in Bonn my Uncle August visited her while she was still in hospital. He bestowed a special blessing on her to purify her after giving birth!! That settled the relationship with my mom!

After I had been married, according to the Lutheran rites bestowed by Hans’ father, and after I had bore three children, Uncle August inquired when I would stop living in my concubine and get married the Roman Catholic way! That did it for me! He died from a heart attack, being so fat, on January 19, 1958.

Heimbach - My father's sister Aunt Aenne (1896-1981) and Uncle Walter Ehrlenspiel

My father was the oldest child (born February 13, 1889) in his immediate family.
Gottfried "Fritz" & Aenne, 1938
Gottfried "Fritz" & Aenne, 1938
Next oldest sibling was Aunt Aenne, born December 12, 1896. Her full name was Aenna Maria. She was a very tall woman who married a very small man, Uncle Walter Ehrlenspiel. It was said that the arrangement for the match was made through the confessional of the Roman Catholic Church. Apparently Roman Catholic girls did not associate very much. I still recall a photograph where Tante Aenne, the tall one, skated on Lake Constance with her very small husband and the good laughs we had. Uncle Walter was an engineer with the Dornier Works at Fridrichshafen at Lake Constance in southern Germany. Dornier made airplanes among other things. Even when I was very small say 1928, Walter worked already on automatic gearshifts for automobiles. He had close connections with the development of dirigibles, in vogue then. My grandfather Heimbach, Walter's father-in-law, always had the latest news of these dirigibles, the first “Graf Zeppelin.” The development found a quick end with the explosion of the “Hindenburg” in the States. Walter would always send my grandfather Heimbach 3 dimensional slides we looked at in a special viewer. I was always very impressed with the slides since we looked into the interior of the big air ships.

Aunt Aenne I remember as being a bit hysterical. She was such an ardent Roman Catholic that any conversation off the topic was impossible. She would fall on her knees in the living room; raise her hands to swear the truth of some dogma of the Church. We, as a family, avoided her. It was not hark since she lived so far away from Bonn. She did one good thing for me, however. It was around 1930 when I was about eight when she mentioned the institution of the “Koloniale Frausenschule Rendsburg” (Colonial School for Women at Rendsburg) in northern Germany to me. I caught on right away and made up my mind right then to save my money to attend this school. Which I did in 1940 ten years later. Anne and Walter had two children. Cousin Klaus (born 1929), studying Chemistry later and Ursula (born May 4, 1930). Ursula had a lot of mental problems or emotional irregularities. “With this mother, no wonder!” my mother would say. Aunt Aenne was very well read in other subjects I must say. It really showed that she had the guidance of a very interested father, which my own mother lacked.

Heimbach - My father's sister Aunt Muecki (1901-1982) and Uncle Albert Streibel

She was born Sept. 7, 1901 and called Maria Anna. We all thought it was a lack of fantasy to call one girl Maria Anna and the other Anna Maria just out of devotion to the mother of Christ and the grandmother. Aunt Muecki was tall as well but not as tall as her father, her brother or her sister.
"Muecki" 1980
"Muecki" 1980
She was an ardent Roman Catholic as well but not as crazy as her sister Aenne. She was levelheaded and a very kind person. After her education was finished, she persuaded her father, my grandfather (Gottfried) Heimbach, to send her to a “Gartenbauschule” (horticultural school) in near-by Godesberg.
Postcard of Gartenbauschule in Godesberg
Postcard of Gartenbauschule in Godesberg
This was entirely unusual for the times. Later she had little opportunity to use her knowledge but we consulted her in case of need and she always kept a warm heart for nature and the environment. After I had immigrated to Canada I got close to her, closer then with my own mom. We exchanged frequent letters. Muecki was well educated and very well read. She was a delight; she had a very lively mind. She had a hard life with Uncle Albert. Through the confessional she was married to a tall, stiff gynecological surgeon. Albert Streibel was from Silesia from East Germany. He practiced in the Ruhrgebiet (Area of the Ruhr River, Germany's industrial area). Tante Muecki bore several babies; some did not make it (Christoph). First there was Cousin Georg, January 15, 1927, then Barbara February 28, 1928, Hildegard ‘Hilde’ August 28, 1933, and Michael. Albert was for a long time a morphine addict. As a doctor he had easy access to the drug. He was sent to several institutions to be cured while Tante Muecki stayed with her kids at my Grandparents Heimbach. Albert was very odd and we disliked him but they lived far away.

We had little to do with them. Muecki never complained. Her life experiences never crossed her lips. I admired her. She was a great soul. Her kids we thought were sort of funny. Georg married late in life. Barbara and Hilde never risked it. Michael, though smitten with seizures, married young.

My father Laurenz Friedrich Hubert ‘Fritz’ Heimbach (1889-1956)

Fritz Heimbach
Fritz Heimbach
father was born February 13, 1889 in Eschweiler near Aachen. He was a tall, blond, athletic and good-looking man. He was shy but hid it with a sort of exuberance. He was the heart of parties and gatherings and told stories well. None of them were all true, however. They had been changed for effect! He was a “ladies’ man,” constantly on the prowl and apparently not bothered by his conscience. He was admired by all his subordinates but did not get along well with his bosses. He was uninterested in little fixing chores and was unskilled here. Yet, he painted well and turned out an enormous number of paintings with which he expressed himself. His paintings showed that he was an architect. He did not develop above that. We knew only two paintings that reached a higher standard. One was a still life, now lost in the family and the other a female lute player that I possess. He had started to paint very early in his life. My grandfather’s hallways were full of his early endeavors. When he did, he often sold paintings my mother had chosen since she knew the ones that would appeal.

When my grandfather Heimbach moved to St. Wendel in the Vogues Mountains my father stayed with his grandparents to continue his schooling. The grandparents did not get along well with the gifted and difficult child. I think my Great grandfather was paralyzed and in a wheelchair for most of his adult life. My father graduated from the High Technical School as an architect and was drafted into the army at the start of WW 1 in July 1914 or earlier.

Diary of Fritz Heimbach From the First Six Months of WW I, 18 August to 18 December 1914

He did well there. He was recommended for the “Iron Cross” before the first war year was over and the decoration still had its meaning for velour. His family was proud of him, this being the times of enthusiastic nationalism. Soon after, the hostilities entered the famous stalemate at the Western Front. My father was caught in it for the whole length. He belonged to the “Pioneers” due to his education. He was part of the Engineer Regiment No. 30 who laid the underground land mines near Verdun at Vauquois. Four years. He suffered a poison gas attack either chlorine or phosgene gas. As a young child I only knew my father with red watering eyes. A small vial with yellow mercury ointment was in constant use at our bathroom sink. When years went past, however, the condition healed.

At the end of the war the German troops had nothing to eat and my father lived on slugs and snails – “escargot” with Maggi. Maggi is a European type of soy sauce that was still available. The whole family remained
Mareika & Fritz 1921
Mareika & Fritz 1921
friends of “Maggi” for years to come. My mom did dutifully cook escargot during her first years of marriage. Finished with the war on Nov. 11, 1918, left my dad with shattered nerves. He had been a very sensitive person to start with.

When my father approached his forties I was grown enough to understand my parents' talk about the war. It had been their life experience. It seemed, though, that my father had learned very little from it. He was still the most ardent soldier. He had been devastated by the action of his supreme leader the German Kaiser, who abdicated. Despite his maturing years and his education he remained shortsighted and naive politically. Erich Maria Remarque's book on WW I “Nothing New at the Western Front” (a critique of the warfare) had caused a great upheaval in Germany. My dad had the book in his personal library. When I read the book secretly as a teenager it stirred me deeply. It had not affected my father. It was always impossible to converse with him in a quiet manner and talk things over. He was the undisputed tyrant of the family and only his thoughts were permitted! However, I remember one instant. A French veterans league had invited their German colleagues who had opposed them at Verdun. My father went. He returned deeply stirred. “My God,” he uttered several times “those were people!” He had met his engineer enemy from underneath Vauquois. My dad was almost in tears. This French book translated into German moved him; “Sturm auf den Huegel Vauquois (Storming of the Hill of Vauquois).” It does not seem possible that my father had not gained mature views through his war experience. Two million German men were dead.

Fritz 1939
Fritz 1939
indoctrination by Nazi ideologies sort of changed him back. In 1939 the French became the enemy Beast. I noticed vaguely a similar development in his artistic endeavours. As a child of six I was familiar with the expressions of “Cubism, Bauhaus, Oscar Kokoschka, Paul Klee and his blue Horses.” This type of lively table talk stopped completely with the advent of the Nazis. My dad, as an artist, was short-changed by the political development. The free exchange of artistic ideas was no more. My father kept his paintings to the Nazi approved line. With scenery and buildings, one could not go wrong.

My father had one bad vein. He always spoke despairingly about his own and my mothers relatives. The only exception was my grandfather Heimbach. We called his wife’s grandmother ‘Nettchen’ (Katherine). She was so ill spoken of that I barely ever served her with a glance. My dad had married May 4, 1921 in Bonn. Helene Hubertine Maria (Mareika) Lohmann and the mother-in-law did not fare better. I was as a child so preoccupied against these two women that it was made hard for them and me. With neither woman was anything wrong. They had received the typical education of better-class girls; which was very little! They were busy, industrious, superficial, well meaning, helpful and vain. My fathers two sisters were called Muecki (Maria Anna) and Aenne (Anna Maria), his younger brother August. August became a Roman Catholic priest. Due to the different outlook on life there was a constant battle raging between the two brothers, a silent war.

My father was a modern man. He was happy that the end of the War 1918 changed and shattered the Victorian Times. “Art Nouveau” had brought a new outlook on art and life, more functional. The movement fell into disrepute soon after, it is still being too “kitschy.” Even before the war, new and modern movements had started to revise the outlook on nutrition as it happened in Canada 65 or 70 years later. It was back to nature.

Bircher-Benner had started to cure tuberculosis with outdoor treatments, sanatoriums in the Alps and Muesli a sort of unbacked granola. Youth-movements preached physical fitness and nature appreciation during the first years of the New Century. “Frisch, Fromm, Froh, Frei” by Turnvater Jahn (Fresh, pious, happy, free by father of calisthenics Jahn). The “Wandervogel” movement (“Migratory Birds”) a boy scout-like affair without the military connection for the pursuit of hiking. My father was a member of the “clothing improvement for women.” No more corsets that would impede women's breathing. Secretly I had found a book with that title in his library (doors always locked!) that showed the bodies of deformed and naked women. I vowed to myself never to wear things like that. By the time I had grown, garments like this were outdated but some milder forms of elasticized garter belts were still forced on me now and then.

The custom to squeeze women into something like that dies hard, especially among women themselves. Even before the war there must have been a movement similar to the 1960's Hippie wave. I knew of a few tales when my father traveled with a co-student Werni Schuermann to sunny Italy. They had jumped with bathing trunks into public fountains and were returned to their native Germany by the Italian police.

My parents and me, as a young family, spend our holidays at the Skihuette Hollerath, a ski chalet. The Bonn Ski Club Cabin had been build just before WW I. The climate at that time was slightly cooler, there was frequently snow, even in Bonn. We would go there summer and winter and I just loved it. We would meet with all sorts of interesting folk; sleep in large dorms, got water from a spring, no electricity. Other young families were there who did not spent much money, so were many singles. The men would shoot with bow and arrows, fly kites, go swimming in a little dammed-up pool of the Preth Creek that was leased from a farmer. There were long hikes and cross country ski trips. From about 1926 on, other architects, artists, the first young female professionals such as female medical students, woman pharmacists, female photographers on the job, physiotherapists and one female sculptor also came to the "Bonner schihuette".

It was a happy lot. All were very active. However, when times passed, the lot dispersed. They found jobs elsewhere, had families, got older and unsuited for this youthful exuberance. In later years, my mom was often sent to the Hut with her children, for several weeks. Since she did not read much and was only slightly interested in nature, she often felt dumped and lonely in these primitive surroundings. I loved it and wished for nothing better. Influenced by his own father and by the lively and well educated company he kept, my father had formed very early a protective outlook on the environment. He firmly opposed cars as long as possible and voiced his opinion as to the utter detriment of the environment by the rapid progress of the automobile. In years to come, however, it was impossible for him to do his job without a car. He opposed the telephone, too, as an intruder of the family peace. We never had a phone but all our friends had. Only when I came to Canada 25 years later did I learn to use one! We were not allowed to kill animals, like small fish or spiders, not allowed to pick wild flowers as not to kill a species. Germany was already densely populated. The future progress of our civilization was of great concern to my father and grandfather.

In 1952 in Canada I was perplexed with the Canadian current outlook on environmental issues, practically not existent. I thought it was medieval! Always were we admonished, as children, not to do this or that, the world did not belong to us, we were guests. My dad was (as all of his family) Roman Catholic. He had a hard time dissolving all the obvious discrepancies. When I was small he went to church on Sundays. Arriving always late he wished for standing room only so that he could leave early. When I was about 7 he did not go to church anymore though my mother got us ready for it (What did she do, I wondered now?) By that time we lived near Koblenz and we went to truly “Matinees” on Sunday mornings to the newly opened movie houses “UFA Palast.” A good selection on nature shows was offered at 10:00 am. I still recall “boy Scouts in Tibet.” Though my father ventured off the church-path on his own, suddenly he received great support from the Nazi movement. Now it was not only permitted to discuss these things, but separation from church was government approved. He quit the church legally about 1936 and took his five-year-old son Wolfgang with him. I was fourteen; I joined out of my free will. We both, my dad and I went through this only after great struggles. I want to mention another instance to show how quickly sports, athletics and holidays penetrated the society after WW I in urban circles. Winter 1928/29 when my sister was a small baby my father went skiing without his family, to the Carpathian Mountains in Czechoslovakia, the Hight Tetra. They belong to the eastern most ranges of the Alps. We took him to the railroad station. He traveled with one of the family friends, Dr. Josef Schueller, called Uncle Pepi, and a young woman, Elfriede Frings who was a professional physiotherapist for small babies. The Hight Tetra Mountains were not so much subjected to the warm winds from the Golf Stream from the North Sea due to their location and the climate was much colder than the travelers were used to. My father later reported much colder temps for which they were not equipped and they had to stuff their ski pants and jackets with newspapers in order to go skiing and beat the cold.
Painting by Fritz, 1917
Painting by Fritz, 1917

My father could not deal well with stress. Psychology was at its infancy and no explanations were offered for this type of behaviour at that time. I was far too scared to ever voice an opinion in my life, even as an adult when I had fled on foot at the age of 23, from the Russian front. I led a secret life, doing all things silently somewhere in the background. Early had I learned that life is no path of roses. I tried not to oppose my father but got the things I wanted on the sly. My father was sure I was a gifted child. When I had completed the first grade he was shocked that I could not read fluently. He would sit down with me and test me and would flare into a terrible temper when I was unable to meet his high expectations. After a minute I was in tears. The sessions disturbed me so much that I had trouble sleeping. Mother was upset by this development and went dutifully to see the teacher to find out how dumb I was. The teacher told her that I was a normal student with normal progress. Lucky for me when we moved to Horchheim the sessions ended but the periods my father displayed his temper on his wife, did not. These types of negative qualities were approved by the German society as such at that time. My grandfather, as my father admitted, suffered from the same. My father tried to restrain himself. Maybe he did but the going-ons with my mother sent me often to bed with my head covered by the plumeau (big feather bed) when on the second floor in the house the lampshades were swinging. I was often sure that these outbursts had their source at work.

When I was married in 1944, father was very opposed to my husband and I thought it was my duty to stick to Hans. It led to a split with my father that was never resolved. I did not put enough effort into reconciliation. I was full of bad memories and immature. I had learned that things do not change in life and it is better not to tangle with anyone in possession of a crazy streak. I had been my father’s girl and he must have known that there had been things I was thankful for. Dad had been upset when my mother gave birth to me - a girl, instead of the much-wanted son. It was resolved that I should be treated like a boy: hard upbringing, no dolls. I had to thank him for that. I was allowed to read. He bought books we both read together. I was put on skis, learned to swim early. I was not treated as a secondary female. I was made an enduring early hiker. When I wanted to go to the “Colonial School for Women” in Rendsburg, he opposed it, but I knew deep down he was very proud of me. By fourteen I had learned to handle my own holidays and sneaking away from home, hitchhiking to the Alps. When I returned after one or two week I got a stiff talking to but I did not fear these lectures. I knew that my parent was proud of me. I never supported feminists in my life though I often had the advantage of their struggles. My dad and Granddad had regarded me as a person!

After WW I my father's first job was to rebuild or extend the university building in Bonn. By the time this job was finished, the depression had deepened, and he was out of work for 6 weeks. His brother, Uncle August with connections he had as a Roman Catholic priest, landed a job for my father through the “Zentrum Party” with the government as a Regierungsbaumeister at Koblenz. Either the fall, 1929 or 1930, we moved to Horchheim since my father wanted to live in the country instead of big Koblenz. He adhered to the Zentrum, a Christian Party. In 1933 big changes occurred. I was visiting with the Reises for the Easter Holidays and when I returned home the Zentrum Party had been forsaken and my dad was an enthused Nazi. The turn-about was never discussed. The new ideals and ideas fitted him and us well. Hitler put great stress on physical fitness. It was now government approved, instead to be just a quirk among a few. A healthy lifestyle to serve your fatherland! The works of hand labourers, kitchen maids, farmers, housewives - all were glorified. Germany would raise like phoenix from the ashes of WW I and Versailles. This treaty would be annulled. Everything would be better. My dad joined in 100%. He was jokingly called a “March Violet” since he had joined the Nazi party in March 1933 when the run of history had become obvious and in contrast to the “low numbers”, people like my Aunt Attis and Uncle Hugo who had joined much earlier.

In Koblenz my father was kept busy with designing and building housing. To help keep costs down only one house type was planned and a suburb was developed with dozens of small houses, alike. None the less for that time they were nice and modern. Slum people were forcefully removed from their miserable quarters and put into these houses. Each had a piece of garden and they could keep small animals like rabbits, chicks, goats and pigs. After a full year my father was to inspect the houses, if there were complaints and how the dwelling had withstood the first year. To his great surprise almost all families had moved to the lowest floor to the laundry room (Waschkueche). The upper rooms of which my dad had been so proud, the living room, the bath, kitchen, bedrooms had been rented out to other folks. It was back to slum conditions. He planned to force the inhabitants, with police help, to use the other rooms; luckily it never came about. As a person not belonging to the needy classes he had no idea that even the good needs time to adjust to. After the people had made enough money through renting, after all males had landed a secure job in the Nazi economy, after the standard of living rose rapidly after the mid 1930's, the residents all kicked out their renters and they easily occupied the upstairs rooms. In Kitimat we rented out a room to get financial security. The immigrant Portuguese were all piled up in their houses too. After a while we all learned to be affluent. It just needed time.

My dad was fifty when the Second World War began. Eagerly he volunteered despite his age. During the War he rose to major though it was not in the active forces. He belonged first to the occupation army of Poland and at some time he was in France. Never did he criticize the army or the government. He saw nothing illegal, immoral, irresponsible. He must have seen a lot since the German Army was at its worst behaviour in Poland. He swallowed everything. At home we were very happy to be rid of him. Life was now easy. My mother got his salary and she was very surprised how much she had, since she had been kept so short. Sometimes he came on vacation. Once he was sent home very sick. He had contracted a dysentery infection and due to his age he found it hard to shed without antibiotics. He was sick for months. When the air-war got nasty he was near us, stationed in Cologne. Twice, when we fled Horrem, he was able to get lodging for my mother, Ingrid and Wolfgang. He visited.
Fritz was 66 in 1955
Fritz was 66 in 1955
He still was the super-Nazi. When I returned - so to say - on foot from East Prussia, desperately sick with a throat infection, I found my father in Cologne. Cologne was devastated by air raids. He gave me his bed; he went for sulpha pills for my throat. He asked his superiors if I could eat at the officers' table for a few days. When it was denied, he went to the kitchen to ask for food for me but he never allowed me to talk of my experience. I do not think we saw him after that much more.

He was ordered, as an architect, to put the dynamite charges on one of the Rhein bridges in Cologne in spring 1945. He was by now very nervous and barely able to live under the stress. The punishment for not blowing up the bridge was the death of his whole family. His colleague of the Bridge in Remagen, up river a bit, had suffered this ultimate punishment. The bridge collapsed, we survived.

My father was made prisoner-of-war by the Americans (?) and put into a punishment camp in France without much food. When he was deteriorated fast and the Red Cross had him released since his death seemed imminent. In 1946 a ghost of his former self, knocked at my mom's door, bones and skin only. Mother bartered everything she could lay her hands on food to get my dad going again. At first he was forbidden to work. It did not last long. The economy was desperately short of professionals. He was a good architect and they could not find anybody better. Soon he was reinstated in his old job. The same happened to my Uncle Hugo. Dad was now a man hard to get along with. Hitler was forgotten. It all never happened. My family and I dwelled in his weekend cottage in Blankenheim. We shared it first with another couple. My dad was furious. It was supposed to be his retirement home but there was no room for us elsewhere. I had not invented the war. We needed time. I was preparing our immigration to Canada. My father constantly caused trouble. We moved to Canada in 1952 and, as I heard, my mom had an easier time then. He died May 3rd, 1956 in a hospital at Bonn. He suffered from February to May from a sort of liver cancer. He was kept under sedation and did not regain consciousness before the end. “He did not speak to me anymore,” my mother said, “he did not speak to me again.” My mother had wanted it so very much. Had he ever spoken to her in a friendly intimate way? “Yes,” she had mentioned an instance after she had given birth to the desired male child, my brother Wolfgang. He had thanked her in the most cordial way, she reported. He even asked her forgiveness for his nasty character but think this was the only red-letter day my Mon ever saw. When the son proved to be a slender kid not as robust as wanted, I doubt he ever was on friendly terms with him either, though my brother studied geology, as my father had wanted.

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


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