On the blog before last, I promised that I would introduce more of my German relatives. I promised that this blog would be about Great-aunt Truda and her son, Horst. However, since they were the most colorful (okay . . . the most odd) of my relatives, it is best that I leave them for last. This blog, then, will be about Great-aunt Martha.
Aunt Martha was married to my grandmother’s only brother, Rudi. Rudi died two years before my trip, so I never got to meet him. I heard that he was the quintessential fairytale German uncle – round, twinkling, and short, with a shiny-little-happy-head and gold wire-rimmed glasses. He’d owned a shoe store when my mother was a little girl . . . not quite the cobbler of fairy tales, but close enough.
On our day to visit Aunt Martha we had to orchestrate a complicated string of buses and bus stops to get to her house. The last bus in the string dropped us off several blocks from her home, which was as close as we could get. Unfortunately, we arrived in her neighborhood nearly an hour earlier than anticipated, so we waited at a nearby cafe’ and had coffee.
Aunt Martha was a sweet, ball-shaped woman in orthopedic shoes that looked like rubber bricks. After we arrived, she hired a taxi and took us out to eat lunch in one of Berlin’s fanciest restaurants. Incidentally, that restaurant had so many plate combinations on the menu, you had to order by number. The menu went into the triple digits. There were at least 50 ice cream dishes alone.
“Eat! Eat!” Aunt Martha kept exhorting. “Eat! Eat some more!”
When I demurred, my Mom whispered very emphatically, “Eat! It will make her happy!” . . . So I ate.
I had something pork (I don’t know exactly what) and something sauer, the inevitable potato, and a salad . . . along with the biggest dish of ice cream I had ever seen. It had huge pieces of liquor chocolate studded throughout, along with fruit and cookies swimming in a lake of Schnapps. It came served in a vat with an oar for a spoon.
I was urged – exhorted – threatened – to match Aunt Martha bite for bite. By the time I was (thankfully) done, I so full, it was the first time in my life that the thought of spontaneous vomiting seemed attractive.
We got in the taxi and headed back to her house. Once we arrived, she waddled into her kitchen and started making clinking noises with cutlery and pans. I asked Mom what she was doing.
“Making us dinner,” she answered. “Hot dogs and cake.” (I threw up in my mouth a little.) Mom continued, “I can’t eat anymore, so YOU will have to eat it. She saves her money all year just to feed us special meals. If you don’t eat it, it will break her heart. She’s in her eighties. This might be the very last time we see her.”
Aunt Martha came waddling out with foot-long hot dogs in bun ‘roach-clips’, potato salad, and monstrous wedges of white cake.
“Eat! Eat!” she said in German. “I bought hot dogs especially for you.” (German hot dogs do not taste like American hot dogs. German hot dogs come in jars.)
I ate a hot dog, sweating profusely for some reason, while Mom and Aunt Martha watched a Chris Rae concert on TV. Then Aunt Martha forced another hot dog on me. I went to the bathroom and for the first and last time in my life, tried to throw up. I was unsuccessful. I came back and took this picture of Aunt Martha just as she was begging me to eat another hot dog.
Then it came time to leave. We said our farewells and stepped out into the night. As soon as I was out of sight of her house, I unbuttoned my jeans. The zipper parted of its own accord, making an explosive whizzing sound as if someone had just swooped past us on a zipline. My jeans stayed up, however, defying gravity, welded tightly to my body by the extra food, so I left them undone, pulling my long shirt free from the waistband to cover it all.
On our long trek back to the bus stop, I stopped several times along the way for several unsuccessful hot dog purges. After about the fifth time, I actually crawled for a few hundred feet, simultaneously laughing and wishing for death. My mom thought it was enormously funny.
And on that disturbing confession (and mental image), I will exit, leaving you with a few pictures of Berlin’s East Zone . . .
. . . Until next time, when I will tell you about the little village of Lubben and the relatives who had been left behind the Iron Curtain.