Week Three of Sunday’s Scraps brings me to a subject matter that absolutely fascinates me – WWII
Let me clarify …
Most people who know me will think of me as a Hispanophile, totally obsessed with all things Spanish. Which , of course, is true. However, it’s not my only obsession – I’m a huge history buff, and became fascinated by WWII as a student. You see, Spanish was not my first love (as a language, I mean) … it was French, and then German … I was that kid at school soaking up all the new vocabulary, lapping up the grammar rules and revelling in the literature of Maupassant and Brecht. Yes, I admit it – I was a geek from an early age.
I went on to study German and Spanish at Uni, later living in both countries only to be won over by the Spanish sunshine 😉 Studying German and Spanish political history at that time meant looking back at the effect on war – both WWI & WWII and the Spanish Civil War. It was such a fascinating period to be studying, and despite the atrocities it opened my eyes to how life must have been for the ordinary man, woman and child of that era.
The story of Monika and Georg is set at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As always, this is just a snippet, and is unedited …although I will admit to having finished this one, so who knows what will happen to it now I’ve delved back into the story?
Enjoy! Let me know your thoughts … and your obsessions, if you care to share 😉
#sundayscraps #histfic #familylife #Germany
“What I wouldn’t give to be that happy again,” Monika whispered, listening to the ripples of laughter coming from the staff room as her colleagues began their annual plans for their New Year’s Eve celebrations. Just thinking about it made her want to cry, even though they were on the cusp of a supposedly exciting, new decade. Life in Friedrichshain had been tough for the nineteen-year-old, made tougher still since her father’s escape.
Following her mother’s death two years ago, her father had rediscovered his revolutionary zeal, spouting his opinions of the regime with an all too frequent regularity. He’d always been hotheaded, but had mellowed for her mother’s sake. With Mutti gone, he no longer tolerated the rules and the oppression, and spoke of escape whenever they met. Last year, he and her younger sister, Lisabet, had finally got out. It was meant to be a family mission but, at the last minute, her brother Georg fell ill with a nasty bronchial infection, making such a daunting journey impossible. Monika’s nursing – and sisterly – instincts kicked in and she agreed to stay with Georg until he was well, promising to join Vati and Lisabet at the earliest opportunity.
Twelve long, lonely months had passed since then, and Monika and Georg had borne the consequences of that departure, facing extra financial pressure that meant working all hours, and being blacklisted from most social activities. Her life had become one long, monotonous routine of work, sleep and work again.
Her shift had just ended and she was eager to leave. So, declining the company of the other nurses, she took the stairs two at a time, her footsteps echoing on the cold, concrete steps. Raised voices from the foyer drifted up to meet her, stopping her in her stride. What’s going on? The hospital building, sterile and grey in every direction, had a solemnity about it that didn’t welcome disturbance or discord. Curious as to the reason behind such an aberration, she bounded down the stairway to see a frenzied horde of would-be patients, cheering and jumping for joy. Exuberance invaded the vast, clinical-looking space, speckling it with colour and emotion as tear-stained faces smiled at her. Some punched the air while others roared with delight and madly waved faded, frayed flags as young, half-smiling children gawked at the excessive high-spirits of their elders.
Monica watched on, open-mouthed, from the bottom step.
“Great news, isn’t it?” her colleague, Andreas, shouted to her over the hubbub.
“What is? I’ve just finished my shift to find everyone has gone crazy. What’s happened?”
“The border … it’s to be opened.”
“What? When? For how long?” The words tumbled from her lips, each question drenched in uncertainty.
“Immediately and for good, it seems. They just announced it on the radio.” Wrinkles formed at the corners of his eyes.
Monika hesitated as the sentence registered, then with a bold tugging of her belt, she fastened her raincoat and raced through the doors, all signs of fatigue and sorrow now gone as adrenalin pumped through her veins. “Goodbye Andreas. Goodbye job. Goodbye hospital.”
Outside, throngs of revellers filled the streets, pouring from the side alleys onto the main street, all heading in the same direction: Checkpoint Charlie. The noise was ear-splitting and the mood infectious. Monika, forcing her way through the ant-like procession, couldn’t contain her excitement and joined in with the rambunctious shouts of ‘Tor Auf!’ When a young, blond man, with the trademark moustache of his countrymen, picked her up and swung her around, she laughed loudly before he placed her carefully back on the ground and engulfed her slim body in a tight squeeze. Twinkling eyes, partially obscured by an unruly fringe, and a humongous grin, together with raised, almost apologetic hands, made their impression on her long before his words did. “Sorry, Miss, but it’s such a wonderful time to be alive.”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry.” She yelled to be heard over the torrent of calls to ‘open the gate’. Even from this distance, some 200 metres from the checkpoint, the tidal wave of voices would be heard. The young man extended his hand in the form of an invitation.
“Sorry, but I have other plans.” She gave a throaty chuckle. Indeed I do.
With a shrug and a wave, he continued on his path, immediately caught up in the celebrations.
She slipped through the crowd, her focus restored, and headed in the opposite direction. The side streets emptied as she took a brief detour and returned to the flat she shared with Georg.
In her bedroom, she reached for the tattered shoebox atop her wardrobe and placed it with great care onto her dressing table. Her fingers trembled as she removed the string-wrapped lid and pulled out her treasured stash of family photographs and letters, clasping the bundle to her heart with a sigh. Vati, We’re coming.
From Georg’s room, she fetched a black, chunky-knit sweater, a grey woollen scarf and matching gloves and shoved them into a leather holdall, on top of her own garments, her prized letter collection and a small bottle of her late mother’s Eau de Cologne, from which she’d already sprayed a light mist onto her wrists. Loosening her long, black hair from its restrictive, hospital-regulation bun, she finger-combed the thick tresses before gathering them loosely into a chic French plait. “Hm, that’s better. Paris, here I come,” she giggled at her reflection then tied a chequered, silk scarf around her neck, tucking the loose ends underneath her collar and exited the building. “Goodbye apartment.”
On the street, the clamouring continued to echo, saturating the vacant buildings in a newfound hope. Her head high, and with a definite spring in her step, she wove her way to the Oberbaumbrücke, where Georg, a customs guard, was on duty. Softly humming to herself, she hoped he would appreciate the warm clothing for their imminent journey.
At the checkpoint, a ruckus had developed among the guards and a handful of angry civilians, demanding to be allowed across the border. Georg had never seen so many of his fellow countrymen on the bridge before, pedestrian access was confined to only West German travellers. Hostilities intensified at an alarming rate, yet despite fearing the consequences, Georg stepped forward to intervene. His attempts to ease the tension were ignored, as the argument exploded into a riot of fierce attacks, knocking him to the ground several times before he dashed for the safety of the guardhouse.
“It was on the radio that the borders would be open immediately,” said a tall, middle-aged man dodging the fracas to confront the officer-in-charge.
“We wait,” barked the officer. “WE WAIT!”
The crowd quietened awhile. Hushed voices collaborated only a few feet away from the guards, then the crowd dispersed allowing their spokesman through. The same lofty gentleman, dressed in a business-like suit in contrast to his fellow dissidents in their heavy, winter coats, cleared his throat and directed his statement once more to the officer-in-charge. “You have no right to stop us any longer. Open the gate. Tor Auf! Tor Auf!” The people followed his example and the chanting increased in volume and speed until its short, sharp sound mirrored a military drumbeat, drowning out all other voices and calls for calm. The officer-in-charge dashed to the guardhouse, yanked the telephone from the wall and jabbed at it, muttering something to Georg who fled the hut and joined his colleagues, now linking arms to prevent people from getting through until the order was made official. Bearing hammers and pickaxes, some men broke through to strike at the wall, knocking huge chunks out of the graffiti-covered concrete. Shards splattered around, one hit Georg just above his left eye, causing a trickle of blood to stain his cheek.
Monika had spotted her brother running back to the guards and forced her way through the swarm of bodies, ducking beneath flailing arms of the red-faced, raging masses, their number multiplying by the minute. She saw Georg in the line up and ran to him, dismayed at his bloodied face.
Georg struggled to free himself from the man-made barrier. “It’s my sister, let me talk to her,” he shrieked, but his colleagues held him firm.
The officer-in-charge returned, his demeanour that of a defeated man now questioning his own place in this new regime. “Open the gate!” he ordered, resulting in cheers aplenty from the crowd who coaxed the bewildered guards towards the gate. Amid the now good-natured jostling and clapping, the barrier rose and eager bodies rushed forward.
Monika ran to Georg, her hand raised to wipe away the blood. “Come, Georg, we can leave now. We can join Vati, at last,” she said, blinking rapidly.
Georg stared at her, his expression pained. “I can’t go, Monika. My place is here.”
“B-b-but, we’ve been waiting for this day. We promised them. We said … when the time came, we’d join them, Georg! You know we did!”
Georg looked away.
Monika reached for his chin, and turned his face to hers. “Why, Georg? Why?” Tears welled in her eyes and she gulped back the sobs forming in her throat.
“I never thought this would happen, Monika. I thought we’d be happy here, forever, just us.”
“But you knew how I always wanted to visit Paris with Lisabet, to sample a Berliner Weisse mit Waldmeister and taste exotic foods, to attend a live Madonna concert and dance until dawn. Come on, Georg.” Monika bounced on her toes as the details of her memorised wish-list rushed from her mouth.
“I’m sorry, Monika, I can’t come with you. But you can stay here.” His eyes pleaded with her, “You have me and your job. You love being a nurse. Don’t believe all they say about the West. We can be happy here. You and I”
to be continued …
Thanks for reading 🙂
Next week’s scraps come from They call me Susan – a drama about child trafficking told from a child’s perspective.