a german mind

Theodor Morten (T.M.)
short story

„ A german mind“

prologue

The wind blows outside the window. You might think it is a storm as loud as this hissing sounds sometimes. It is the year of 2014, it’s december and tomorrow it’s Christmas Eve. Inside of me? There is very much, almost too much I would say. Thoughts and memories and a virgin hope, so fragile that I can hardly find a way to protect it. I can’t deny a dulled basic mood. This bold Christmas atmosphere in the shopping malls is the bare contrast to the actual mood here in Dresden. The ambiance I feel. I want to make a journey with you. Back to the time of my childhood to the years of 1979 /1980 when I was five years old.

beginning

Ice flowers decorate the old wooden windows at my grandfathers parlor. I love to blow my warm breath to it. This dalliance fascinates and distracts me. It is bitterly cold outside. The little furnace works ceaselessly. Again and again coals and wood pieces are are placed inside and it is forbidden to open the door unless there is a very good reason. We are all sitting together. I has been two days since electricity was cut off. The water for cooking is filled in old enamel buckets. It is the snow father brings in countless times. The well is frozen and of no more use. The wind sings its song to us. The cold makes sound louder than normal. A threatening atmosphere, no word of anticipation, we sit there silently. Deep snow covers the fields and meadows surrounding the remote house. The rave sit still on the leafless fruit trees. The snow is falling intensely and the size of the snow flakes changes every hour. The distanced houses are under the dense smoke of their chimneys. The winter of the century is our guest and everything is dominated by him. The small road that leads from Liegau-Augustusbad to Ullersdorf and on to Radeberg cannot be seen any longer. High snowdrifts stand there menacing in this white ocean as frozen waves.
As dusk is falling grandfather lights a new cigarre,

We sit there in the dense smoke at the table and listen to the grating voices out of the battery powered radio telling us about the disastrous conditions. Some christmas melodies. Our thoughts are at my mother in Radeberg, which is now so far, far away. It is a small town with a brewery, some schools and a big electronics company named Robotron. We cannot call her, even if we had electricity the next telephone is half a kilometer away. And even if we reached this, there s no telephone at home in Radeberg. Different days, different conditions. Unlike normal days heavy russian helicopters which usually secure the area at Tuesdays ans Thursdays fly over us every hour. They are big helicopters, with wings. They announce their selves from far away. Tomorrow will be the 24th of December, Christmas Eve. Rituals are being cherished. Everybody is a bit more friendly and sensitive and the television shows Winnetou. Fairytales you believe in and colorful entertainment shows with stars from both – east and west. This year everything is different, people are busy surviving a natural catastrophe. Everything that represents christmas is not important anymore and put aside for an unknown time. It is the time of solidarity, friendship, community and optimism. You feel people getting closer but though they are so distanced one becomes scared. The forces of nature has no boundaries and does not know neither religion nor idealism nor ideology. The fear something could have happened to my mother grows bigger, a strong emotion. Grandfather tells me about the straining times at war. It was cold in Russia, he was half a child. But grown enough to fight, to kill? I’m not sure anymore if it was that, but he was there indeed. Those many pictures describe the thing as such and transfigure the views. Grandfather had to experience it, he had to act and to decide. Everyday submission and drill. Hard, too hard, the feet frozen and half of the ear but though his adventurous way of telling clutches so this time cannot get out of my memories since these days. His stories fascinate me, he lives them again probably a thousand times. With every look out of the window, all that white, the same as anywhere else. Stalingrad. Father on the other side worries, he wants to go, immediately he would like best. He looks through the fog across the room to the noisily ticking clock. It is seven p.m. news time. Reports about harm from everywhere in the republic. Just in this moment it breaks out of him. He takes me in his arm and cries. A cordial crying. I hug him and cry as well. It is the first time I see him doing this. One of this rare touching moments that cannot be replaced by anything in the emotional growth of a child. It is a redeeming of all that frustration and sadness. Everything is very slow and tomorrow seems so far away and contains so many dangers. Longing for mother. Grandfather who has no sense for this kind of sentimentalism ( his words) leaves the parlor distinctively. He is very haggard and backs out, he never learned to show emotions, the soft, the important ones – especially in situations like this. Today I understand him very well I never asked but certainly his childhood was none. He missed so much and nobody taught or gave hm later. That cannot be done anyway.

Somewhen, it wasn’t too long grandfather and grandmother brought the dinner. We had hot tea and bread from some day before yesterday, butter, salt and a flour soup. We ate together and grandmother unfurled her worries about her daughter. Sure, we were at amore dangerous site than my mother in the old building in the center of the town. But it was about something different in this case. It was about emotions being alone and lonely and the uncertainty mother had to deal with. Grandfather had a proposal after dinner.

“ I think it’s a good idea if you try. Snow has stopped falling and if it doesn’t snow tomorrow, then go. Take the sledge and go across the fields and the corps route to Radeberg. This will be best. Tomorrow’s Christmas and if you leave early, you’ll be home by noon.

Father thought as I said quietly “Please father, let us go home. Mother is crying as we do, she worries. I miss her so much.”

“Okay, we’ll go tomorrow in the early morning. Grandmother will pack us some tea, bread and dry sausage. The storm has significantly weakened. Hope there will be no more snow. Let’s go to bed now.“

And so everybody went into his bed. Father and I slept in the smoky parlor as we did the last two days. We heard the helicopters again and again. The wind whispered and the crackling of the furnace sings along. Full of anticipation to be back home we fell asleep fast. No dream could be more beautiful than this secure feeling to be in a warm place.

Christmas

It is the 24th of december. Father is already outdoors and cleans the doorway. No flake of now far and wide, cold but no storm and no blizzard impeding our sight. A gift of heaven. Grandmother prepares the breakfast table, the furnace is filled once again and father comes in and is happy about the good weather. We eat rapidly and speak about our wishes. Now the Christmas spirit is there though the flour soup, the same one we had yesterday evening, is not very solemn. But maybe this is the reason why we are even more happy to be able to go home, see mother and be together as a family. After breakfast we packed everything we would need in grandfathers old backpack. It cannot be excluded that it is the one he had to carry in Russia. It was hardy and offered enough space for what we needed: two jugs of tea, some bacon and bread we kept from breakfast, a blanket and greasy cream for the skin that is not protected by clothes. The boots sand close to the furnace to fill up with warmth and are ready to go. Well selected clothes, thick but giving enough movability. Long johns, a little too big, three pairs of socks, thick pants, a pullover that was itchy the other days and a jacket. Now we had, no we wanted to go. Quick hugs, an almost menacing “Look after yourselves!” of my grandfather and tears of my grandmother. Both stood, which was very seldom, at the big window of the porch as father put the backpack on the sledge. As we went off not 20 meter away from the house they had already disappeared. Grandfather stood at the parlors window, smoking a cigar and waving faintly. I don’t want to know what happened inside of him, where on this earth his thoughts were and what he would do next. It was impossible to let them know if we arrived safely in Radeberg or if something happened on the way. There was no chance to do this and this expressed how many options we have nowadays to avoid the feeling of fear and helplessness or at least to lower it. We proceeded slowly, crossed what used to be the street in front of the house, orientating at trees afar and our memories, heading for the forest. After a kilometer we turned around, waving as if grandmother and grandfather were both watching us. We sunk into the snow almost up to our knees. The lathy skids did nothing helpful and so father put on the backpack and carried the sledge. Very cold, ice cold it was and the further we went the colder it got. A dry cold of about 20° Celsius minus. Sometimes I sunk into the snow u to my hip and father had to pull me out. You could hear the cracks when you stepped trough the snow and it got heavier with every step. After about an hour I was exhausted. We had only reached the corpse route, which is really called that, and we still saw grandfathers house. Father looked and got out the tea and gave a cup of it to me and I drank the hot infusion. I felt a little warmer again. The snow luckily did not stick to our clothes. Begging we would not get drenched. It was more straining than we thought but so as we probably assumed it. Father with a wise foresight or by instinct did not speak his usual keynote address and showed me an old sign about 200 m away from us.

“Over there, Theodor, that way is a little plainer I think. It is protected by trees. From there I’ll pull you. We have to walk on. Come on!”

Without saying a word I followed him he was very nervous, I felt it. Mutely we walked in tandem. After quarter an hour we reached the sign. Indeed the snow was less deep there and the sledge stood stable. Almost ashamed I sat down and my father pulled at the thin rope. Fitfully and getting stuck in smaller snowbanks we slowly proceeded. At the sky an army helicpopter announced himself with lashing noise. Soon it appeared, not very high rather threateningly low this giant flew across us. It started to snow again. Small flakes but very dense. It was hard to pull the sledge with which me and Grandfather sledded down the hills around Radeberg. It tumbled over with me several times and so it was carried by my father again. I walked constantly and a little absent-minded, out of myself and disbelieving trough the deep snow. It snowed and wind came up again as well. We walked close to each other and there was nobody wide and far. You could distinctly hear the breath, we went ways you only find in these moments. They form you for your whole life. Deer here and there at the edge of the wood, rabbits surrounding them, sinking in the snow and throwing it up. Some were lucky to be scraggy enough not to break the thin ice layer so they ran instead of leaping. Surely without an aim and surely not too long anymore. White, clear and without squiggles the landscape surrendered to winter and let all that happen. Radeberg is not far anymore. One can already see, guess, hope for the steeple at the center of the city. A well known silhouette. Greenish it shines, when the sight is better, across all the colors the roofs of the town offer. Today everything’s white you only see what you know unremarkable and diffuse. In the tight roundel of transmuted water drops. Most of the time we look at the two meters in front of our feet, only for orientation the view widens. Just as we reached the woods near the allotment garden area the singing of the church bells I just wrote about arose. Many people will gather there in these days and pray. It is the sense and the foundation of surviving in such desperate times. Unreal but so realistic, people now see what’s really important. The gardens are buried under the snow. Heavier than in the fields, deeper and overwhelming it rises here. “ We have to get through this” my father says and tries to climb a hill. Nothing helped, he sank so deep and had nothing solid beneath his feet. A diversion or better an exit had to be found. We knew where we were so we went through the woods, around the gardens. I do not remember the name anymore. It was rather known for the people who got a garden there. That doesn’t matter now, they weren’t there anyway. A forest with a lot of groves and undergrowth, up and down. It would take some time but the sight was clearer here. Almost no snowflake reached the ground. Climbing and sliding if one was not careful enough. My legs were heavy as stones and my nose was cold and even the warm tea did not hep anymore. After more than an hour we reached the town, Radeberg. Passing the ice stadium and the new built houses we finally can walk on cleared paths. It’s half past one already and I’m about to fall asleep. My Father keeps me awake pulling the sledge roughly. He is obviously reliefed that we reached civilization. Using the last of our strength we reach home at two pm. Nobody is outside, we are exhausted but happy we made it. The snowing intensifies and the cold gets wetter. Standing upright the sledge will have to bear this weather until tomorrow. Up to the third floor, stone stairs and then some wooden steps to our flats door. Father rings the bell. Mother opens from inside and starts crying as she sees us. Everybody is crying now, the clothes become more and more heavy, even the toughest snow cristal melts in front of the tiled stove.

“Undress. I’ll put on a pot of water so you can have a bath later. I’ll give you dry clothes. I’m so glad to see you. Christmas Eve, Thank god!!

Words of my mother that I never heard this way. I was not too old but to understand this it does not take a lot. There was no thinking about them or conscious placing, they were just honest and giving warmth like a stove. The titillation in my fingers and the drawing in the tip of my nose, all that strain made me sensitive to feel. Cuddled in blankets we sat at the table, all the family together. Bread rolls with butter and salt and a hot chocolate. An inherent part of our Christmas rites until today. We tell each other stories about what happened. Even the missing tree did not disturb the our Christmas spirit. Later we watched TV. The program was very good on Christmas days. It intensified these moments and left us alive. In the evening, the big kettle was boiling, my mother prepared the bath in the kitchen. Yes, father installed our bathtub with the help of some colleagues in our kitchen. When not being used, that means most o the time it was covered by a wooden plate and used as a stabling table for various things.

That’s the way it was back then and everybody who witnessed that will know the one or the other thing. That time shaped a lot, you learn to appreciate and to choose what is of value for yourself. Now as I write this Christmas time is over. Finally snow has fallen at Boxing day and we made a sledge tour as the little family we are. A reflective holiday with only a few people. I pass on the memories, they are mine and I love them. It is the life and the experience, the knowledge and the realising of the precious things.

Dresden, 23th of december 2014

“thank you”

 

translate by Tina B.