A couple of blogs ago I promised to talk about the little German village of Lubben and my relatives who had been left behind the Iron Curtain.
We were to leave Berlin early in the morning and journey North by train, deep into the German Communist Zone. By ‘we’ I mean my mom, her cousin Uschi, and me. My mom informed us that it was to be a long and exhaustive trip, so we packed a tote full of snacks and drank very little coffee before leaving. We boarded the train and found seats. I kept our place on the train while Mom and Uschi searched through the train’s compartments, staking out the dining car and the bathroom for future needs.
And then suddenly we were there.
The trip took only about an hour. Apparently, the last time Mom took the trip she was 9 years old. Go figure. Now we were stuck having to haul about a huge tote full of unwrapped food.
We disembarked and stood in the middle of the station’s platform, looking about with befuddlement. We had no idea where to go to from there. Mom didn’t know what street her grandfather had lived on. She didn’t know where we were. All she knew was that my grandfather’s farm was back to back with the insane asylum. She remembered that because she and her brother used to stand at the back fence to watch the mentally ill cavort about in the windows.
So while she and Uschi plotted their next move, I wandered the platform taking pictures of the streets bordering the station. The village was quaint and interesting, but the streets were empty. Except for us, even the platform was empty.
Then something made me turn around to look back at the train station. I was startled to see what seemed to be the entire population of Lubben pasted to the picture window. Row upon row of heads grinned at me. I grinned back. Then I waved. Then I raised my camera to take a shot, and they all ducked. I waited a moment, but they didn’t reappear. I pictured them all hunkered down in a pile just below the sill, waiting until I left.
So I set my camera sights on an interesting looking wall that extended down the length of a tree-lined street. But before I could take the picture, what looked like an ambulance raced down the street toward me and stopped, blocking the shot.
I lowered the camera and waited for them to move. When they didn’t, I did, scooting down to another part of the platform to take an unimpeded shot. They backed up and moved with me. Still clueless, I moved back to my original position and aimed the camera again. They moved up back into place. I lowered the camera and looked at them.
The van seemed to be full of grinning soldiers with machine guns. I blinked. They smiled and waved like beauty contestants. I decided to try one more attempt at securing a photograph. They moved with me. Then one of them blew a kiss at me. I put the camera back into my bag, and went to stand by Mom and Uschi until they figured out our plan of action.
Their plan turned out to be: Just start walking. If we find a human, ask them where the “Idiot House is”. (Mom’s words – apparently this is the correct German term for it.)
We started walking. After awhile, Mom became impatient, stepped up to the door of a tiny cottage, and rapped on the panels. An elderly lady opened the door. Mom asked where the Jentsch family lived.
Ach, ja! She knew the Jentsch family. Apparently my mother’s second cousin, Fat Freida (She had a masectomy and one of her breasts weighed a whopping 15 pounds . . . picture a potato sack fresh from Idaho. . .) Apparently Fat Freida had healed the woman’s warts away with blackmagic. Ach, ja! She thinks she is related. I told my mom in English that she is probably one of my grandfather’s love children. She told me to shut up.
Ach, ja! The old ‘Idiot House’ is just down this way. Keep going. You can’t miss it.
Well, apparently we could. Still not knowing where we were, we just kept aimlessly walking, hoping to find something that looked familiar to my mom. It turned out to be a man who just walked out from his house to stop on the sidewalk and light a pipe.
Mom frowned. “He looks just like my father,” she said. We approached the man, and Mom asked him if he knew the Jentsch family. He did. He was my mother’s cousin, Hermann Jentsch, whom she hadn’t seen since WWII.
There was some dancing in the streets. He kept saying, “I knew you would come back to find us! I knew you would! We waited 50 years, but I knew someone would come!”
Meet my relatives Hermann, his wife Anita, and their daughter (my cousin) Ilona.
And Hermann’s younger brother, Helmut, his mother, his wife, his son Michael, and Michael’s girlfriend’s daughters, along with Ilona’s daughter.
Here is the farm.
And here is the “Idiot House”, as seen from the back fence where my mom spent so many wonderfully dysfunctional hours as a child.
And the van full of men and machine guns? It turns out I was trying to take a picture of a Russian Army Installation.
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