< Germany in the ‘70s by Bridget Smeall, continued – Mamie Martin Fund

Germany in the ‘70s by Bridget Smeall, continued

That night these very frightened young students boarded a bus which somehow got over the border. I can imagine that they will only have got back to their childhood homes after the Wall went down. Marianna was an extremely sad person.

My first temporary job, after becoming an Italian citizen and therefore allowed to live and work in the ECC countries, was with a wine firm packing Christmas gifts of wine.

My second temporary job in Hoccheim near Frankfurt was in the kitchen of the cottage hospital. I didn’t realise till later that those kind women who taught me my first German were “fluechtlinge” (refugees) from Eastern Germany, but mostly from the ex-Germany now part of Poland or Hungary. I’m not sure how they actually got out of those countries and into Western Germany, but they did. They were housed in barrack like blocks which consisted of flats with three or four rooms, kitchen and bathroom. Each family was given a room with bunk beds and they shared the kitchen and bathroom. Many of them worked at the Opel car factory nearby, so I presume that a workforce was needed because of expansion and these people were perfect for the job. They wanted to recreate a life for themselves having left everything behind in the countries they came from. They were open to doing long hours and never complained as they wanted to create their own homes, buy a car and improve their standard of living.

Here I should correct an earlier post, about the waiting time for a car in the GDR. We had remembered this incorrectly and would now like to put that right. The waiting time was ten years or more, so when your child was born, you would put them on a waiting list in the hope that they would be able to buy a car by the time they were old enough to drive!

When I was lucky enough to find a good job as “Auslandskorrispondentin” (foreign correspondent) in the wine firm I had worked in before Christmas, the firm helped me to find a flat because we were living in a rented room with one bathroom for 12 rooms, which housed people from all over the world. We moved to Felix and Charlotta Lippa’s attic flat which they had built for their daughter who in the end had gone elsewhere to live and work. Lippa, although he had received references concerning me from the wine firm, was still worried about renting to “Auslandsarbeiter” (foreign workers) but in the end accepted us, probably remembering his own recent past. He came from an area of Germany which after WWII became a part of Poland. During the War his father had helped several Jewish families to escape being captured by the Nazis. Unfortunately he was found out. I don’t know if he was betrayed by neighbours, or just found out because the authorities became suspicious. However, when he was in prison Felix (just a young boy) went to see him and I remember so clearly him saying that the Nazi officer made him kiss his boots before letting him see his father. His father was transferred to Auschwitz and was never seen again. Felix’s sister became a nun.

At the age of 18 Felix was conscripted and eventually taken prisoner by the Polish Liberation Forces who treated him, naturally, with a certain spite. He was tortured and his leg wound from shrapnel was never medicated so the long march and the interminable train journey the prisoners had to undertake to reach their destination in a POW camp was very difficult for him. After liberation Felix decided to go towards Berlin where he met Charlotte and they fell in love. They decided to try to reach the West and although he had no ID they managed to get through Checkpoint Charlie to start a new life.

Charlotte left her mother and brother in the GDR. Her mother lived in shared accommodation with bathroom facilities in the main corridor whch she shared with others. Charlotte, when I got to know her, told me that she often sent parcels with necessities to her mother as it was difficult to find clothing such as stockings to keep her warm. She was never allowed back over the border to see her mother. She told me that the bannister on the stairway from her mother’s room had fallen down and it was never repaired. When the Wall went down, the fronts of the buildings in East Berlin were painted up so that the tourists passing by on coach trips could see how everything had been well maintained under communist rule.

Charlotte’s brother was married to a woman who was well up in “The Party” and because of her services they were given permission to build themselves a house on the outskirts of East Berlin. They were allowed thirty square metres because there were three of them in the family.

When Felix and Charlotte were to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, her brother received a premium permission and a pass to visit them in the West for roughly a fortnight, if I remember correctly. When he got to the border his suitcase was confiscated and his pass reduced to just a few days. He was allowed to travel with only pyjamas and a toothbrush.

We were in the throws of building our house at San Giovanni and had samples of the tiles and marble flooring we had chosen. None of these were first class, but all of an affordable price within our budget. When we were introduced to Charlotte’s brother, we showed him everything and I remember him recoiling instead of admiring them, as if he was afraid of touching such “luxury”.

Later he divorced and married a much younger girl who after their baby was born relied totally for baby creams, nappies and soaps on the parcels Charlotte sent, as well as medication for herself. None of these were available in the GDR. She was very ill after having given birth and there was little or no medical help for her.

Many years later and after our return to Italy when the Wall had gone down and the first tourists arrived from the old GDR, they fell into two groups. Some had got rich quick and showed it travelling in their flashy new western cars. Others were less well off and came in bus loads on organised tours . One day a man came to reception in the hotel where I worked, looking left and right, asking me if I could help him. He pulled out a large envelope from his pocket and asked me what it was for. It was the envelope supplied to all guests in which you had to put your napkin.

The Eastern Germans took a long long time to westernize even though they had been a relatively short time under communist rule and beliefs.