The Story Eliza told Otto on their wedding night.
You asked me to tell you how love came into being. Here it is, the little story. For a long time I have thought about it on long winter nights, how everything started and how everything unfolded. Isn’t it like a fairy tale?
But now you must close your eyes and I will tell you....
It is so frightening, when I think about it:
That I, so easily, could have never met you.
Surely we were meant for each other
Since the beginning of time.
How could be, otherwise, so harmonious the sound
Of both our heart beats?
And yet, how easily I would have missed you,
Out of millions of ways, just the one.
For seldom, on earth, we find one another
and together, completely, reach happiness.
It was on a happy Whitsunday morning, when I met you. You held out your hand and told me your name. I was still a child of 15 years, a girl with short dangling plaits.
Nearly every Sunday we met at church and my first glance was searching for you. After the service you always said hello and gave me a smile. That warmed my heart all Sunday long.
You often came to visit. You played and frolicked with us children in the garden. We both, still unaware, often teased each other and we always competed and argued. Sometimes you drove me really mad. I did not yet notice that you had great fun with it and on purpose were playing the clever and sophisticated one.
On a Wednesday, after choir practice, you accompanied me on the way back. To walk alone with you, I even made our maid sprain her ankle, so she had to drive home.
On the days dad and mum were out, the phone rang sharp at 5 o’clock and I knew that was precisely the time when you finished work. You called me then. What would you say to me, what excuse would you make this time? It made me happy.
One day, when your landlady was out, you called me late at night. For a full two hours I sat in my flimsy nightdress on top of my desk and was thinking, how great it was that the phone had no eyes.
One evening I really felt going out with you, and I was not shy telling you, even getting you out of your hot bath tub. How strange we must have felt, then, and how silently, we must have smiled, when we met up in front of the Ufa Palace in Berlin.
There you were, for the first time, with a hat (oh I know exactly, how much you hated hats!) I wore my hair in a bun which I cursed the whole evening, for the hairpins stuck in my skin and caused me a terrible head ache. When I secretly removed one after the other, my hair fell down in delight. Proudly I walked at your side, up and down the Kurfürstendamm.
One Sunday, arriving again to the youth meeting, I was disappointed. You were not there. You were ill. All afternoon I thought of you and did not rest until I borrowed an envelope. Out of my note book I ripped a page and hid in a place where no one would find me. I only wrote a very few lines and gave them to Hanns W. whom I could trust. How happy I felt when in return, I received a letter, which, as a matter of course, I accepted, when inside I was full of joy. Again and again I read the few lines and the two words underneath: Your Otto.
It was the end of the year and you had to go home, back to Frankfurt. On Easter Sunday we went for a last walk together to the Wann- See. It was freezing and you showed me your fingers blue with cold, but I was stupid, so inexperienced and did not think to hold and warm them.
You told me a lot about your life, your mother and the bookshop she worked at. We teased each other often and each time before I gave you an Easter egg, you had to say: pretty please.
The next day it was good bye. You asked me to come with you to the train and for some time we went up and down the platform. Then, for the first time, tentatively, you put your arm around me and I did not dare to look at you, but stared straight ahead and felt as if all eyes were upon us. Long after you were fully out of sight I stood and waved and held your letter tightly pressed against my heart, the letter which you gave to me before leaving. I sat on a sunny and lonely bench reading it, again and again, all the lines in your good-bye-letter in which you furtively already talked of our love blossoming and I did not understand...
We met again in Frankfurt. I was just passing through, but we spent a whole evening together crossing your home town until late at night waiting on a bench for my dad. We hardly spoke; each one was immersed in one’s own thoughts. I remembered how you reached out your hand to hold mine when we were crossing the road and how I felt too shy to take it. I thought how strange it felt to sit next to you late at night. I looked at you from the side and saw your short boyish hair move in the wind. There it came over me, this guessing and foreboding that I perhaps loved you very much. My dad arrived with an English man who thought you were his son and only I heard it, when dad answered him with a laugh: “No, but maybe he will become it.”
That evening you did not say good night to me, when we took you home in the car. That hurt a little.
Zellerfeld: how this word includes a wonderful and unforgettable time. But the best for me and the most poignant is the first Sunday we spent alone, just you and me. Longingly I was waiting for hours at the entry to the village, but no sign of you. I entered the little church and was not very interested in the sermon. Finally I met you by the youth hostel. Even today I see you, in your short grey suede trousers, the white slalom-blouse, carrying a cup of wild strawberries which you had picked for me in the woods. I quickly helped you to sort out your things before we explored the unknown country side. We rested on a bench and I read you a letter from home. Then, suddenly, while reading I felt how you, furtively, put your arm around my shoulder and I wanted you to stop, yet I continued calmly to read on. We had a lot to tell each other. Very, very secretely I felt, oh how nice it would be if you kissed me now. But you had other ideas. Only those of teasing me, tickling my nose with a blade of grass and never let me have some peace.
In the evening we walked across fields. There was an icy wind blowing. I took your arm for I was cold. In the Ratskeller we had fried potatoes with scrambled egg. Everything was lovely; only the waiter’s wicked and half-hidden smile upset us. Why would he make fun of young people, as he himself was hardly older than us?
When the sun set all glowingly and the whole sky turned rose, we sat on a bench by the lake. You held me in your arms, nestling your face close to mine and we dreamt. Couldn’t this moment last forever I thought. How lovely it was! The day before I had passed this bench, when someone asked me why I was alone, and this evening now I felt close to another human being as never before. I felt blessed. Arm in arm embracing each other we walked back along the path, until we saw people coming towards us. Then we had to let go.
Later we wanted to spend some time in the forest, but how disappointed we felt when the rain poured down, as hard as I had ever seen it before. So we sat in the dark room of the tavern and spent time playing chess and halma, although we could not concentrate. Again and again we used any opportunity to hold hands underneath the table, pressing them tightly and not wanting to let go of each other. This blissful love game of our hands spoke more than any words.
Next morning I arrived at the youth hostel, a stranger among strangers, and a stranger to you too. Nobody could have guessed, in the following days, what relationship we shared with each other. It should remain our secret.
Only once someone could have observed us, how in the cinema during a film when they talked about marriage, you stood behind my seat and I leant my head back tightly into your chest. But it was dark. That night you said good night to me very lovingly.
Finally I got you to travel with me to Berlin, even when you wanted to spend your holiday in the Harz Mountains. Do you remember that afternoon in Grunewald? Yes, I am sure you do. We met at the station and went to the Schlachtensee and into the woods, where we sat down in a quiet spot. You laid your jacket down for me as not to soil my white dress. Then you read me poems from a little book by Hermann Hesse, your favourite poet. Later you were tired and put your head on my lap looking at me all the time and I stroked your forehead and thought, that it was exactly how you had once dreamed it. Yet afterwards you wanted to have me on top of you too, but I did not want to, I lay beside you, before I realized you were on top of me. Your face was suddenly so near as never before. Your eyes were anxious, sparkling and hot and I suddenly knew you would kiss me now. I bent my head backwards, but could not resist you. You were stronger than me and I felt your lips pressing on mine. I couldn’t say more than “cheeky devil” and shyly was hiding my face in your arms. Nearly an hour we lay in that way, hardly saying a word but looking into each other’s eyes and kissing. I know, you asked me then and there just by looking. Your lips still did not allow you to ask, if I wanted to be yours forever and I understood you. After I combed my dishevelled hair and braided it into plaits, you pulled me up again and kissed me for a last time long and lovingly. Then we walked back, blissfully, hand in hand.
A short time later, when you were back in Frankfurt, I celebrated with my family the birthday of my little cousin. There was a call that told of the sudden death of your uncle. Believe me, never before was I so upset about the loss of a person. Not that I was especially close to him, for I had hardly known him. I knew that he had been like a father to you. That he, if often strict, only had wanted what was best for you. I suddenly knew of your sadness and guessed the pain in your heart. I fled into the darkness of the garden, crouched down between the protecting shrubs and let my tears flow, even though I normally was not that weepy.
Time passed. Christmas came. During these weeks we often had visits from Hans-Werner H. We sometimes went to the theatre. I liked him, but nothing more. How upset, however, I became when he wrote me a letter telling me of his serious intentions. Also Heinz K. told me how much he liked me. Suddenly everything caved in on me, but I was still a child, not even sixteen! I wrote to you, as a matter of course, for we were close then. We had never dared though mentioning the future. You felt responsible for not bringing this up because of my youth, but now you had to speak up. It was then that you asked me to marry you.
Ah, when I think how everything went round and round in my head. I was not capable of thinking properly and was asking myself why suddenly there was this big problem. Why was I forced to decide things just now? Men should leave me in peace. Wouldn’t I regret later what I had promised earlier? Couldn’t my taste change totally over time? To where my heart was pulling, I knew of course and yet something in me was frightened to commit myself firmly. You never knew of these battles within me. I wrote you a happy letter promising you faithfulness and one day would belong to you.
In the spring of the following year you went for work experience. For Whitsun you wanted to spend your holiday in Berlin. At six o’clock in the morning I met you at the station and I was so proud of my boyfriend, tanned and good looking in his new uniform when he walked beside me. However luck was not on my side, when I bumped into my class teacher as I, for the first time, had skived off school. I was so confused that I forgot to greet her, ran past her and hid around the next corner. Thankfully you had just walked behind me, so she did not notice that we were together. Who can describe my terror, when I spotted behind me in the bus another teacher! No way would I turn my head so she would recognize me. With great difficulty I managed to whisper to you to get off the bus a stop earlier. All went well, though never again, I promised myself.
We lived through happy sunny days. How lovely the Sunday in Mellensee. After lunch I could only beseech Dad tearfully not to involve you with card games. Oh fathers I thought had no idea about love and youth anymore and they don’t see into their children’s hearts. Card games! Today of all days! Mum was on my side and by talking to Dad she helped us to walk happily away towards the station. The others wanted to follow later.
We strolled hand in hand along the narrow path edged by birch trees in leaf. We reached the lake and walked faster intending to sit a while on the grass before the rest of the family would catch up with us. Suddenly we spotted from far our family car, the blue Stöwer, and my sisters running. We tried outrunning them like guilty children, hiding behind trees and hardly knew why.
By the side of the lake we had a picnic and afterwards we went for a cruise on a steamboat. The sky was of an intense brilliant blue, the sun smiled on us and underneath our coats we were holding hands.
On the way back we rested once more on the grass. The evening drew in, church bells rang from afar and you said some sweet things to me. Hearing the whistle of our train made us jump up and rush. We got to it just in time.
Summer went by and we wrote each other many letters. In the autumn you started military service and just six months later war broke out. How I feared for you, darling! You wrote me of your first encounter with the enemy at Westwall, but I always believed you to be protected.
We never had fancied a long engagement, but in wartime everything urged us to tell others of our feelings and commitment. At Christmas 1939 we celebrated our engagement: a special and beautiful day we shall never forget.
When on Christmas Eve the candles had burnt down and everyone had gone to bed, we still sat on the couch in the winter garden. There you put the ring on my finger and pressed your warm lips on it as a seal and I vowed always, always be faithful to you, support you in coming days, in hardship and danger. Who would know? There was a war. You were always going to be and remain for me the dearest man on earth and God would give a blessing to it. That I knew.
When I woke you next morning, you pulled me under the blanket in the darkness and we lay, for the first time close on a bed. So began a happy new day and many people wished us happiness and celebrated with us. Oh, my Ottschel, how proud I was of you! Proud at the time when you, unexpectedly, with the cheerful sound of glasses, got up and made a lovely speech in response thanking whoever had wished us well. The best time, however, came afterwards, very late. Those were the hours belonging only to us, after the celebrations had quietened down. You were different then, as loving and tender as never before. Your voice sounded so softly, while I was lying on your lap and you whispered all those dear words to me. We talked a lot. Your hand went underneath my dress resting on my breast and you thought only we women possessed such a delicate and soft thing. Oh, Ottschel, how happy we were in our love! Do you remember telling me that only now it all made sense to you, that, when totally possessed by love one could forget everything else. Even though we wanted to remain pure for each other, this was a silent vow between us. It was dawn and the first morning light broke through when we finally found rest.
The war took you away and in April you marched with one of the first armies into Luxembourg and Belgium. What long and anxious weeks that followed until France was defeated! With tears streaming down we listened to the bells ringing victory. They never became bells of peace as many had hoped for.
The war went on.
This year I came to you to Frankfurt to spend some lovely and quiet days in the Taunus with you and your mother. It was a wonderful time. The three of us walked for miles, exploring the woods and enjoying the warm autumn days. In the evening, just when darkness was about to fall, we went up the hills, sat in the high grass, dreamt of the future and listened to the wind in the trees. The moon looked down on us and watched us kissing and loving each other. My whole heart grew wide.
These days gave me strength during all of the coming year.
From the east rose the big monster Russia. Everyone could not believe it until our soldiers, and with them you too, had to march into that country. The war with this endlessly wide and great Russia had begun. It was to be one with the cruellest and most devastating battles ever fought. Unimaginable pain and suffering entered millions of hearts. My darling, still then you were protected by our Heavenly Father. How happy our joy when we received a telegram: you were coming home.
My Ottschel, I would see you again, healthy, and would be able to embrace you, kiss your lips. How happy I was after these long and anxious weeks!
We wanted to spend our holidays in Weinheim. You collected me from Berlin. The whole house was already in uproar about the early removal, the day we were leaving..
We travelled like a couple on honeymoon, towards joyful and happy days. It was a rare careless and blissful time that we spent in the little village. How kind our hosts! They spoiled us as much as they could.
We lived in paradise, walked for miles in rain or sunshine, climbed the vineyards, rested on their slopes and listened to the noise of the slow-flowing river. Sometimes you fell asleep in my arms.
Each evening you came to my bed bidding me good night, until I asked you not to leave and you stayed the whole night with me.
What could I tell you of those nights? Only we both know how unforgettable they were.
When I woke up in the night you were sleeping peacefully lit by soft moon shine. Only for a brief moment I saw this image and took it back with me deep into my dreams.
“If my mother knew
that I slept in your arms,
Would she not cry for a lost one?
Is she not right?
Lost I am forever, lost in you.
All became yours,
body, heart and soul
rest in your hands.”
My father Otto died in Russia aged 26. I was just 10 months old