This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 1393 words.
For Christmas that year, Mama gave me six large journals, and some more ink for my pen. She said I could use them to take notes for my homework, but I decided to write down the story of my life so far instead.
That is how what you are now reading came to pass. If anyone should ever read it, of course. I have no way of knowing if that will happen.
Long hours in my room, or at the dining table, remembering the events at the end of the war, and what happened after that.
We got big news too. In the new year, Inge would depart for Russia, where she was to receive a scholarship to continue her schooling whilst perfecting her gymnastic skills with the best teachers in the world. Her new home would be in Moscow, where she would live with other students from around eastern Europe, all selected for their academic or sporting prowess. I felt sad to hear this, and was sure Mama would object. But she thought it was a wonderful thing, and so did Inge.
I seemed to be the only one who didn’t want my sister to go.
There was to be a small farewell party, before the chaperone arrived to escort Inge on the long train journey. Mama managed to get some tasty treats, and Greta arrived with Ernst. She brought Inge a vanity case, which seemed a silly present for such a young girl. I also received a gift. A metal ruler, and a set of hard pencils. Perhaps she thought I was studying Technical Drawing instead of Languages, I wasn’t sure. Ernst announced that they were moving to Dresden. The city was being slowly rebuilt after the wartime devastation, and they needed skilled draughtsmen like him. Greta would transfer with her job at the Office of Pensions. When I heard what he did for a living, I realised why I had been given such an inappropriate gift.
It was dark by the time the car arrived to take Inge. I expected tearful farewells, and her to change her mind at the last minute.
But I was the only one who cried. Alone in my room.
The apartment seemed very quiet without Inge, and I took to spending a lot of time alone in my room. One evening, Mama arrived home from work in a state of excitement, flinging open the door to my room. “Come outside and hear the news, Manfred. Quickly”. When I was sitting at the table, she reached over and grasped both my hands. “We are to be new country, officially. The German Democratic Republic will come into being this October. What do you think about that? No more Russian control, and our own country, governed by a German political party. The others will have their American puppet state in the west, controlled by the allies”. I thought for a moment. After all, Berlin would be deep inside this new territory, more than one hundred and fifty kilometres from what was to become the Federal Republic of Germany in the west.
“And what of Berlin, Mama. Will it be part of this new country?” She beamed. “Of course, it will be the capital city”. Her smile faded slightly. “But they have to let the British and Americans remain, the French too. So it will still be divided. That can’t last for long though, so let’s be positive. And to celebrate, the Socialist Party are arranging a summer camp for their loyal members. I am invited of course, so are you. We will have a holiday, Manfred. our first since you were a toddler”. I didn’t really remember that last holiday. I had only been three years old, so my only memory of it was of my father carrying me on his shoulders, on a hot day. Mama had told me the details, relishing every moment as if it had been the most fantastic holiday any family had ever taken.
Mama’s official job got her heavily involved in the preparations for the birth of our new Germany. She was on more committees than I could take in, everything from the flag-design committee, to the relocation of orphans organisation. That meant she was always home late, and sometimes stayed out overnight. I would be fourteen soon, so was expected to take care of myself. I heated up stew for my dinner, or ate bread and cheese when I couldn’t be bothered to cook. The radio broadcasts were more boring than ever, with constant interviews about how we would soon have our own powerful country, and take our rightful place on the world stage. That meant more time spent studying, and I became something of a swot.
Despite Mama’s enthusiasm, and all the excitement, I could see with my own eyes. The Russians were still everywhere, and at school we constantly learned about how they had saved us, even though we had been told this one hundred times before. By the time my birthday arrived, Mama looked exhausted with all the extra work. But she made sure to be home for dinner that night, and presented me with a book. “For your studies, darling Manfred”. My excitement at unwrapping it fell flat when I saw the title. It was a copy of ‘Das Kapital’, by Karl Marx, an edition printed in English. She looked so pleased, I tried to be enthusiastic, but I’m not at all sure I carried it off.
She had more news of the holiday to come. “It will be a camp near Altendorf, so not far. The Party has arranged coaches to take us, and we will stay in tents. It will be such fun, with organised events for both adults and children. Food is provided, and we will cook and eat communally. Open fires, singing, sports, and games. Even swimming in the lake. Perhaps you could learn to swim this year, son?” I did like the sound of getting away after so long stuck in the city. But I would have preferred to go back to the seaside; just me and Mama, with Inge too. I managed to look a little excited. “Sounds great, Mama”.
The reality of the holiday was very different from the picture painted by Mama’s words. It turned out to be full of children, most much younger than me. The adults like Mama were mainly there to supervise, and to do jobs like cooking, or organising sports. I had to share a big tent with five other boys, and I was the oldest. Washing was done in a communal tent, with boys and girls separated, naturally. The toilet facilities were horrible, just planks stretched across a big ditch inside a huge tent. All the boys had to use one, and the girls another at the other end of camp. But there was one thing that kept me from wanting to run screaming into the woods.
And her name was Hannelore.
On the second morning she came looking for me early, calling my name from the entrance to the tent. I pulled on my shorts and went through the flap, wondering who it was. It was a young woman, and I hadn’t noticed her the day before. The first day had been spent getting used to the place, and we had eaten late. I had to tell the young ones sharing my tent to stop giggling, so I could get to sleep. By the time I heard her calling my name, I wasn’t in the best of moods. But the sight of her wiped all that annoyance from my mind.
Perhaps four inches taller than me, with light brown hair tied in a pony-tail, I guessed she must be at least eighteen, maybe even twenty. She was wearing a tight white vest and equally tight shorts, both leaving little to the imagination. Her tone was businesslike. “I need you to help me organise some things for the little ones. I was supposed to have another helper, but she didn’t show up. You’re the oldest boy around, so you will have to do. You can forget messing around with the others, as you will be helping me every day, from breakfast to bedtime. Okay? My name is Hannelore. Get your shirt on and follow me”.
I would have followed her over the edge of a cliff.