As for my Berlin connection, my daughter and grandson and I visited Berlin in 2008 during Octoberfest. We stayed at The Upstalsbloom Hotel in East Germany close to the rail lines that took us to Alexanderplatz and access to all points in Berlin. We took the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus around the city and saw the best of Berlin. It is the easiest way to independently tour the city highlights.
Berlin is such a beautiful city that has been reenergized in the best architectural way. They even have left a few WWII buildings in their bombed condition for remembrance of what humanity can do to one another. The Holocaust Museum is free to all visitors and is a moving testament to the past history of what can easily happen in a society driven by a mad man.
So I leave my memories of Ursula with this posting and have to move on to today. But I will never again forget and set aside my letters from Ursula. Back in the Balfour box they go again, but this time not forgotten. I promise.
Ursula and I continued to write back and forth until right before I went to college. Through the years we exchanged gifts of a small nature, birthday cards, scarves, cedar boxes and her things from Germany, chocolates and flower pressings.
In 1955 she wrote:
In the last war by the bomben are falling our Opera, Unter den Linden. Now it is standing up. A wonderful house with the best orchester and the best singers and musicers from Germany. Unter den Linden is the name for this great street, what is a sign of Berlin.
Now dear Sandy I have a great request. Upi know I live in east berlin, where we have the russians. All textiles and clothes have many high prices. When you can send me some or a winter clothes, what you have worn and have not your great now, or have other therefore, then I were very gratefully. When you not can that, please are not evil and excuse me.
Your german friend,
I remember I sent her some warm things, after all in Ohio we did have strong winters and I could manage with less in spite of that fact. I guess it was the beginning of how deprived the East Berliners were going to be before and after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, about four years after we stopped communicating.
As I read her letters now I can see that she is less cheerful and it is though the heart and lightness that came through her writing as her inner voice had gone out of her.
Then her letters came to me with segments cut out of them. The Soviets must have been editing all mail that went from their sector to the other side, and especially to the United States. Big patches of her letters had been carefully sliced out.
That fact made me wonder if my letters also were opened, read and edited. I became a bit paranoid that I was going to say something that I shouldn’t, either for her sake or for the sake of my country. The summer of 1956 was the last I heard from her.
Evidently Ursula and her family lived behind that wall until it was torn down in November of 1989. By my count she would have been 53 years old. She spend her youth behind that wall. She probably got married and had babies behind that wall.
There probably will never be closure with my friendship with Ursula. I have tried to find her via the internet, but the one that I found had her father die in 1965. Facts don’t match. I just have to believe that she is still alive and living a contented life without a wall separating her from her extended family.
It was summer. It was hot. It was Friday night in 1953. My friends and I boarded the bus downtown to our local YMCA and scampered down the outside stairs to the basement Swing Haven. It was the place to be. The rainbow-lit juke box would be blaring and swinging with Dean Martin, Perry Como, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Eddy Fisher and Hank Williams. We could count on it. Our teenage hearts were pounding with excitement as we entered the darkened abyss.
Duck-tailed boys on one side and poodle skirts and pony tails on the other. The biggest worry for us girls was that we would be left standing alone and not get picked to dance.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that, other than being rejected by the opposite sex, we had so few fears in those days. We rode the bus alone at night and walked home on dimly lit streets and came home to unlocked doors. No cell phones or alarms. My parents never worried that I would be anything but safe in Steubenville in 1953.
At the same time a world away in Berlin, my pen pal Ursula, was living an entirely different life.
Dear Sandra, Berlin, 7th Juli 1953
I have the letter from June 18th not can send to you. Here in the sovjet-sector from Berlin we had a big demonstration of all people here. I send now the letter from the west-sector (american-sector). I hope very, that you now became it. Escuse me, that is so a long time continues.
Please write me directly, therewith I wait that the post goes. The next letter send me please to my aunt in the west-sector of Berlin.
Sincerely yours, from Ursula Thie
On June 16, 1953 construction workers on Stalinallee in East Berlin downed their tools and went on strike. The initial strike spread quickly: by the morning of June 17th 40,000 demonstrators were marching in East Berlin, with a wave of similar strikes and protests recorded in numerous cities.
By the afternoon, the situation had escalated to such an extent that Soviet tanks had rolled out onto the streets of Berlin, the conflict leaving more than 40 dead and 400 injured. By the evening it was over. Seven hundred protestors were arrested for their involvement. The level of discontent took both the East German authorities and the Soviets by surprise. And people like Ursula were caught in the middle just because she lived in a sector given to the Soviets.
Ursula lived through the violent fall of Berlin in 1945, loosing her father. The Soviet Army held little interest in taking prisoners, which seemingly played well into the German mentality of “fighting to the last”.For her hard times were a well-etched part of her 17 year old life so far. She seemed to take it strangely in stride.
The letter I received from her written during the uprising talks matter-of-factly about the mini-opera houses, cinemas and her life living in the heart of ‘the chief city’ of Germany. In closing, she notes that in Germany the modern music of bogies, bops, and other dances grows. Jazz has only found ‘some friends’. They like waltzes, fox trots, polkas and tangos.
Little did we both know that the world would in time become smaller and smaller with an internet click melding each civilization and one another.
It has always been my rule that if something has been hanging in my closet for a year or two and I haven’t worn it more than once, it goes to our local thrift shop. Clothes have always been easy to not become an attachment for me. But anything with memories, not so easy to toss.
Having lived in the same house for forty years one can just imagine how many memory-attached things I have. And bizarre as it may seem to you, I even have my mother’s purse I brought home from the hospital when she died with all her precious personal items still tucked inside. A real Grandma purse, a piece of her and who she was, with short handles and a snap closure that is still tucked away on my closet shelf. I even wrote a whole essay about that purse in Read Between My Lines.
All of this brings me to my efforts today to finally begin eliminating some ‘stuff’ among my personal things my mother, the guardian of her children’s memories, had saved for me.
In an old Balfour box (from my college jewelry days) I found a group of long-forgotten time weathered envelops addressed to me in Ohio and posted from Berlin, Germany. Letters that took me back into a world that was about to change, way beyond the innocent exchanges of my new pen pal, Ursula Thie and I. We became pen pals through a program at our Methodist Church.
The beginning year of our childhood correspondence was 1953. I had just turned 14 and was enjoying the freedoms of Junior High and life in a thriving Ohio Valley Steel town.
Berlin, den 27.2.1953
I thank you for your letter. You have it write in the december and I have became it now in february. With your letter together I have become three table of chocolate, about these I was very glad. My name is Ursula Thie.
We girls here in Germany are not how you Y-tem. Our name is young community of evangelist church. In our group we are girls between 14th and 20 years. I self am 17 years old…..
I live in Berlin with my mother and my brother. My father was falling in the contention 1945.
I am 1,70m great, have blond hairs and blue eyes. When you have a photo from you please send it me.
In the winter I am going several times into a teatre, In the summer I travel out of Berlin.
Please write me in your next letter many things from you and your live. I please you, to excuse my base english. The name of the flower at this letter is bell-flower-glickenblume.
In my world, we had just elected a new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower and my family in January was glued to our television set watching I Love Lucy give birth. In February our president refuses clemency for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and Walt Disney’s 14th animated film, Peter Pan, arrived at our local movie theater.
In Ursula’s world, she was learning English, going to festivals where she was singing jolly songs and eating pancake, enjoying her girl’s group where they visited various denominational churches including the Russian Orthodox and the Naumburger Dom and planning ahead for a summer away from Berlin.
Little did we both know that on June 17 of that year things would change for her in East Germany.
Blogs and my correspondence with Ursula to be continued……
Ok. I think I am really loosing it. At least that is what my 18 year old grandson chided when I told him of my latest animal- bonding adventure. You see, we have a frog in our pond. Just one. Where he came from beats me. He just is . Maybe came in with the plants or maybe some kind of amphibian immaculate conception. Anyway he is. He just is. Every day and night this guitar plunk of a sound, (if guitar strings were made of rubber bands), emits from our fish pond. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.
For weeks now I have tried to find him without success. Looking under ledges. lifting vining plants, poking everywhere. No luck. Then yesterday I heard him as I was limping past the pond. Heard him inside the lavender flowering pond plant.
His croak is loud and I was amazed that he was so small, this tiny green pond frog with such a strong sound.
Immediately, upon seeing his tiny form and sweet face, I felt his loneliness inside that big plant. Calling day after day into emptiness.
I quickly put my iPhone and Google to work, found a good green pond frog sound bite and held it up to the lavender pond plant. The rest is history.
We now have a happier frog who believes there is someone out there just like him to talk to. At least until I can find him a friend. Other than Sofi.
In this presidential election I am so finished with the mean political attacks and mud-slinging by those leaders that should know better. Why can’t we just focus on the issues? The economy. Poverty. Jobs. Immigration. Or whatever ligitimate concerns we have as voters.
During my career as I was climbing up the other side of the mountain, I have been privileged to interview many presidential candidates. (I once had to meet Hubert Humphrey in a small airport far away from my home base at an ungodly hour just to get an interview about his presidential hopes). But the closest and most intimate presidential encounter was with President Gerald Ford in 1980. (I know. I AM that old!)
I used to be so conscious of ‘doing the right thing’. Afraid not to follow protocol and, in doing so, putting others needs and wants before mine. It took dinner with a president to set me straight.
My husband and I hosted a financial seminar at the Greenbrier, the famous West Virginia resort within the rolling hills of that bucolic area.
Not only is the Greenbrier famous for its elegance, exquisite accommodations and cuisine, but built in the bowels of this grand hotel was a secret bunker for emergency cold wartime use.
While dining with President Ford on the last
evening of our conference we spoke of things politic and personal. President Ford was handsome and quite knowledgeable on world affairs and the current state of our union. He was so charming and interesting and made me feel so comfortable that I began to think of him as I would a nice next door neighbor and momentarily almost forgot his credentials and powerful position.
In the meantime, the Secret Service who had been hovering in the background with their earpieces and lapel pins, began to nervously look at their watches and finally came and whispered in my ear that Mr. President had his plane waiting for him and it was time for him to leave.
Having my “obey” antennas well extended, I turned to President Ford and politely relayed the Secret Service’s message.
He abruptly turned toward me, looked me firmly in the eyes, then turned toward the Secret Service standing behind us and snapped in a voice of complete power, “I am the President and I haven’t had my desert yet!”
That embarrassing moment in time taught me a valuable lesson about Presidential Power. No matter how much they want you to think you are one of them, you are not! Even if they are considered a ‘good guy’. Presidential power is quite heady and, as we are experiencing today, all gloves are off when that office is up for grabs. What you see is not always what you get. Promises made are not always what will happen when in power. The candidate who takes the moral high ground, in my opinion, is the one I can trust to work for my best interests and be respected by world leaders. A great lesson I have always remembered when I go into the voting booth.
Great news this past week. Last season of the awful Jersey Shore series. I have never met anyone like them in the 40 years I have lived here. Nor The Jersey Housewives. Have I been living under a rock?
New Jersey has miles and miles of beautiful beaches, more horses here in Monmouth County than Texas with miles of great riding trails, farms and the best tomatoes in the world (after all we ARE the Garden State), and beautiful mountains for skiing in the winter. And the best of all we are 14 miles by water to New York City.
In addition Red Bank is the birthplace of Count Basie and this state has given us Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Emerson Hart, Tom Cruise, Queen Latifah, Susan Sarandon and the great genius Thomas Edison just to name a few. Not bad for a state the size of Israel. We hold our own. Just saying! Things To Do In NJ