Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Karin's Childhood in Königsberg (in former East Prussia)

The following blog is a copy of Chapter 5  of my published book:  
My Childhood Memories....surviving WWII    ( http://karinbartsch.weebly.com/karin-the-author.html
By clicking on that link you will find all info about ordering.... thanks!  
Enjoy reading about this chapter of my life.
 I was born in Berlin because my father studied in Spandau to be a graduated machine engineer within the German Army ( Title:  technical  inspector). When I had been 2 1/2 years old, the family moved back to Königsberg, the hometown of both of my parents and both of my grandparents. That was in spring 1938.
Since then I can recall everything. My mother tested my memory in later years by asking me to sketch our apartment, which has been one of four within an old castle-like building, sitting on a huge barrack-square in Königsberg-Ponarth. It was a nice living there, everything of upped standards to acomodate officers and their families. I could even describe to my mother, how the furniture looked to the detail, how many drawers were in them, including describing the contents. The entire property to the street side was adorned by wonderful smelling white blooming bushes in summer. The high wrought-iron fence was hidden by the bushes and its opening was a double door of the same material, closing the property to the street side, to the Palvestrasse No. 20. Broad steps were leading to the big entrance door. To the right-hand side of the entrance way one was greeted by colorful flowerbeds and a big park-like garden. A natural growing lawn was the center, never mowed, with flowers so beautiful in the summertime, bees feeding on them and butterflies sailing through the air. The lawn was surrounded by a sandy path, leading to the path around the house. I cannot remember how long that path actually was, but I think it took me 4 full minutes to run around it. On the outskirts of that path were fruit trees, apples of different kinds, cherry- and pear trees. And a huge sandbox invited to play. Each of our three neighbors had a couple of children. Our plays together were mainly chasing each other and climbing trees. On the backside of the building the vegetable yards had so many beds, that by looking at them one would have thought that it was growing a crop for the entire barracks. And the big strawberry field was the center of attraction for the visitors, which in the summertime were many. We had a wooden round table with round benches, seating about 10 people, with an open entrance in a high wall composed out of lilac bushes. You can imagine that birthdays in the summertime were always scheduled to be celebrated in our garden. A hedgehog family made their home in our yard, too. It was fun to watch them, sniffing around for worms with their cute little pink noses.
In the wintertime the fun continued in the yard, but we children were dressed in warm clothing.  Snow had been plentiful in that corner of the world. We kids let ourselves drop to the snow and made snow angels. Every kid in the snow belts of the world loves this activity, some might call it snow eagle.
Being inside in the winter and playing with my doll Elly killed time, I would have rather liked being outside all the time. 

I remember one incident, which shows that I also was very creative. My mother was out of the house only shortly, and when she came back, I had 2 big green leaves cut out of our dining room curtain with scissors. Two big holes were very prominent were the leaves once  were. My mother was a good seamstress and fit the leaves back in, thanks to my accurate cutting.

My doll Elly was dressed by newest fashion standards by my aunt Else, my fathers sister. So was I. She put all her pride into dressing me in finest and very modern garb. But my most beloved toys were coloring pencils and paper. When we were visiting my grandparents, I never left home without it.

There was one element missing in my world of happiness, and that had been my father. He was home for
2 weeks, maybe twice per year. I received letters from him, Feldpostbriefe. Two letters survived my ordeal, and it is filed away in my documents. Once in a while I look at it, read it. He must have missed me terribly, not only his wife.

On February 15., 1940 my sister Doris was born. She was so beautiful and looked like a little angel, when she was over one year old. Her head was full of yellow-blond curls, and when she moved, they all bounced in springlike fashion. She was complemented on those, of course, and she must have been very proud of it. My mother and I could not figure out for a long time, why she cried all the time while being in the bathtub. One day Doris made it clear to us why. She pointed to her hair and mumbled "Locketopp, locketopp" ( curly-head). She had felt that the water straightened out her curls for a short time. We were relieved that she cried for beauty reasons only.

I liked also visiting the zoo. The lions and tigers have been my favorites and the apes with all their funny antics had been of the biggest attractions also.
When we were visiting my grandparents we had to pass a big ice cream parlor. Of course, a little portion of that cold delicacy was always in order. My grandparents Rudolf and Gertrud Herrmann ( my father's parents ) were always the hosts of big dinners, like Christmas and Easter. They both had a lot of siblings, my grandma less than my grandpa, he was one of eleven.
My mother's mother, Johanna Kaiser, died, when my mother was 18 years old. She had been bedridden for two years.  Mom's dear aunt Auguste Neumann, her mother's sister, was her vice-mother from then on, her best friend and adviser.  And my mother took over in being a mother for her only brother Bruno, who was 8 years at that time.
My widowed grandfather married again, a very excentric and selfish woman, Elisabeth Kaspereit. She never had any motherly feelings for her new daughter and she acted accordingly.

A big part of my childhood fun, of the good years, had been our visits to the shores of the Baltic Sea, the
Samland Kueste ( Sambia Coast) , called Bernsteinkueste ( Amber Coast).
Those visits to the sea were so wonderful for me, I cannot even describe it.
From what I remember, Königsberg had 2 main train stations, the Hauptbahnof and the Nordbahnhof. The latter included the Samland Bahnhof next to the Cranzer Bahnhof. Must have been similar to modern platforms, I assume.

I beg for understanding, when the facts I state in this
book turn out to be not 100 % accurate. I have to depend on my memories. I cannot ask anybody. Still living relatives were too young at that time. I should have taken notes when my parents were still alive, but I didn't.

So, we left the Samland Bahnhof in Königsberg for Rauschen Duene ( translated: noise in the dunes), which was a short distance from the station Rauschen  ( Svetlogorsk ), an overall distance of about 60 kilometers from Königsberg. Rauschen Duene was wearing its name for the right reason. The nearer we came to the coast, the more prominent the noise of the water had been. At first like a "white noise", then the distinguished rythmic noise of rolling waves reaching the shore. The train station was embedded in a dark pine forest with very high trees. I could see the water deep, deep down, so high was the coastline. The coast was called Steilkueste ( translated: steep coast ). Visitors had to use the cable train to the beach. There was also a path going down in serpentine - like fashion. I learned that the Russians now have an elevator in place, where the old cable train station once operated. The beach had a long wonderful broad wooden walkway with plenty of benches lining both sides. It was part of a spa town, and ladies were eager to show off their newest dresses, hats or sun umbrellas.
My great-aunt Auguste was renting a cabin there in the summer, so she was the host of many of her loved
It had been fun! We swam ( I only pretended) and were strolling the beach and found countless pieces of
Bernstein (amber ). The Samland coast had and has still the biggest amber deposits in the world.

What I have not mentioned so far is going to school. I just loved it! Learning to write and to read was fun! I had to visit the "Schule Heinrich-Fichte-Strasse" in Ponarth. I went there by foot, it was not too far. Instead of toting the daily needed books and material by one hand, we had to have a backpack tote. It was made from leather and had a big rounded flap on top to close it. It was worn by shoulder straps.
When we had entered the classroom and class started, we had to show the teacher that we have clean hands. We had to stretch out both of our hands flat on the desk to be inspected by her, whether the nails were
cut and the hands were clean. The government made it also mandatory that every school child had to bring 2 pieces of raw vegetables for break time, which had to be verified by the teacher, who had also to make sure it was eaten. For health reasons mothers were also advised to administer to the children one tablespoon of Lebertran ( fish oil ) every morning and one tablet of Calcium Lactose. It was handed out for free.

After living a carefree childhood for 6 years in Königsberg ( that includes living shortly in Breslau, where my father was stationed ) there was trouble brewing. World War II was getting closer to our city.
Bombs were falling and defense systems were making mighty noises.
A part of our basement was dedicated as Luftschutzbunker ( air-raid secured emergency bunker ) for 2 families on our wing of the house. The ceiling was supported by heavy wooden beams, bunk beds were built in, storage shelves installed and a porta-potty system was in place. A heavy iron door closed the shelter. Those were the times already, that no lights were allowed in the house during the night hours, not to be a target for bombing. We had a candle in use, here and there when dawn fell, but when the sirens went off, we had to cloth ourselves very, very quickly in the dark. In order to do so, we had to lay our clothes onto a designated chair for each person very neatly, backside up, in the order we undressed. So we had just to feel our way to the clothes pieces and dress in the reversed order in the case of an alarm. Some nights we had to do that task two or three times per night. Our mother shook us awake, put us half sleeping in front of our chair. Very so often we heard already planes approaching and grabbed our clothing to stumble down the stairs into the bunker. My sister was 4 years at the time and I remember her crying, protesting to be robbed of her sleep, not understanding what the hell was going on. She had to throw up often during that ordeal.

One night the bombing was heavy, we were very frightened. At one point we thought that was our end. We heard the noise of an approaching bomb, that terrible sing from higher pitched to lower pitched. We all fell into each other, hugging. The house shook - then silence. One of the adults took a peak out of the door, expecting fire or flames. Nothing. The alarm ended the other morning. By inspecting our yard carefully we found a crater made by a bomb about 10 yards from the entrance door to the cellar.
It had not exploded. It was a Blindgaenger.

Post scriptum:

At the time I published my book I could not spend more money than I did to publish it online, which meant no pictures.  I wrote the book by using Microsoft Wordpad and let lulu.com do the formatting for a fee. 

By now many internet friends looked at the pictures I posted via facebook and other outlets.  I will re-post them here now. We saved only a handful of pictures when we had to flee the area.  Thanks to Scanning I am able to work with those via computer.

Karin is dressed to play outside...

Going to school now. Picture taken at the Lilac Arbor in  summer.

Lilac Arbor in winter - Karin the wild one.....

Karin admires wild flowers

Playing with Elly

Karin as Little Red Riding Hood 

Entrance Gate to our yard. Enjoying the snow with sister Doris


  1. Hi Karin,

    I found out that I do have Blogger but NEVER blog there for some reason. I registered but since I already have a blog on Wordpress, I didn't pursue Bloggers. Plus, I also have the Goggle+ guess it was too many, too much to handle for me. Anyway, I love all of your photos. I love old photos in black & white specially. It's something very SPECIAL about it.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend.


  2. Thanks so much, Angela, I am looking forward to read your blog and go to your website.
    This afternoon my hubby and I sat outside, enjoying the warmer Florida weather, drinking coffee, sipping a vodka and closing with a red wine. Right now we had our evening meal, will switch on the TV for News and Public Television series. I simply cannot just ignore my husband sitting outside, having nothing else to do than expecting me to join him. He never learned to type and stays away from computers. He does not really understand all the implications of it, what I learn, how I use my brain and keep that one young...So I really have to steal the time I need to blog or write something else, sometimes I wonder how I can do this at all, next to cooking everything myself from scratch.....You just learned how to keep married to the same man for 56 years...by multi-tasking and loving him more than the Internet and all friends in it..Smiling...

  3. Hi Karin,

    Wow - what a story of your childhood in East Prussia, I love how you take us on a walk down memory lane. Growing up in Switzerland next to the German border I am familiar with Germany's history but seeing it though your eyes adds a new dimension. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    I hope your husband Dieter is doing fine, what a courageous man but so are you, lovely to get to know you.

  4. Thanks so much for your comment, Late Bloomers,I am so glad I started to work with Google+, this way I meet new people like you, which inspire me by their work - by writing, by photographing, by artwork, or just by writing in German.....I might find out later what your first name is...
    I visited your blog and read about your dog. This inspired me to write about our cat Susi - as soon as I find the time....

    Dieter is fine, we just had our yearly check-ups.

  5. A wonderful childhood (except for those bombs). But i can't help feeling sad given what's to come, as all this wonder and fun will be followed by fleeing and barely scraping by.

    I guess it's better to have had the fun early on, so there's at least the memory of things being better to help push you forward.

    1. Thanks, Henrik. During my teenage years I suffered the most. Our only entertainment have been movies, and at that time it was all about homeland, lost love etc. Movies like "Heimatland" made me almost depressed, I couldn't sleep right for some days....but later on I saw my entire experience in a positive light, it made me the person I am, always content, positive thinking, forgiving...Don't ask me Why...it is just the experience to survive and being glad about survival......

    2. Hi Karin Bartsch, My name is Maxim. I'm from Russia, Kaliningrad (Königsberg), liked your photos, I live on your street, please send the photos, very interesting as it was before

  6. Oh my, dear Maxim, I looked just now into this blog and noticed your nice comment. I was diagnosed with a bad illness at that time last year and had no time to care for my blogs. I am fine now - and I thank you soooo much for posting here. Yes, it looks much different now. I virtually visited our former Palvestrasse on Google Earth last year and noticed that. Times change and everything with it. Greetings to Kaliningrad and to you from the sunny and warm Florida in the USA, where we now live.