Chapter 3 Germany
The car was to be left in Milan, and we were to continue by train to Zurich.
Uncle Willi had found us a flat in Bonndorf for Christmas, and he agreed to meet us in Zurich with his car, this being the only practical way to cover that thirty or forty miles. There were many aspects of the undertaking, which caused me apprehension, this meeting in Zurich being the main one. Not that I thought him unreliable. Rather it was the thought of missing him, maybe not recognizing him if he had changed, being delayed somewhere, catching the wrong train in Italy...
The next morning found the trains extraordinarily crowded.
"We can't possibly get on with all our luggage," said Peter.
"I'm afraid we'll have to. Uncle Willi will wait for this train in Zurick. There isn't any train to Bonndorf, so we mustn't miss him."
"It's like a cattle truck."
The boys and some of the luggage were at one end of the carriage, Jacqueline and I and the rest of the luggage at the other end. We stood for five hours, bumped and jostled by other passengers enduring the same ordeal, gradually growing colder, more hungry and miserable and worried because the train was later and later.
"Would you like something to eat?" a student offered Jacqueline a piece of bun.
She gladly accepted. I put some of what was offered me into my pocket to give the boys, should we get an opportunity. Among our luggage was our picnic case, which I had used during our travels in Italy, but it was now inaccessible and contained only dry rolls, cheese, sugar and coffee powder. The pension did not supply hot water, so I had not been able to make coffee, which I had imagined I could buy on the train. That seemed almost ludicrous now.
Uncle Willi waited until four o'clock, although we had said mid-day and then went home. We were in the last carriage of an exceptionally long train, and with thirteen pieces of luggage between four of us, missed him by minutes.
At the exit I went in search of him. An hour later, I conceded that he was not there. The information office had no message from him.
"How can I get to Bonndorf?" I asked.
"Train to Koblenz, train to Basle, train to Frieburg, train to Neustadt, and from there... maybe a bus to Bonndorf"
This would take all night. I decided to stay overnight in Zurich and try to contact Uncle Willi. In the phone book there was a name I recognized, but did not know to whom it belonged. However I rang and explained who I was, and did they know Uncle Willi, and could they get a message to him?
Meantime I had trouble getting Swiss money. The banks were closed and the man at the railway did not like Australian Travellers Cheques.
"It takes too long before we get the money," he explained.
Tears came to my eyes. He was not interested in my plight. What now? I went to the police and while trying to explain, this time in English, to a sympathetic, civilized officer, the tears would not be held back. He came with me to the Railway Exchange.
"The woman must have money," he said in a tone not to be ignored.
We got our money, found a hotel nearby, ate a dubious meal, and fell into bed.
Half and hour later the phone in the room rang.
"Someone is down here for you."
Gathering our things together and hurriedly wrapping up the children in coats and rugs, I wondered whether I'd perhaps undertaken too much with this trip. With misgiving I stuffed my pyjamas into my bag, and put on my coat. I had to pay bed and breakfast although we'd had hardly time to ruffle the sheets.
Uncle Willi had just arrived back in Bonndorf when a message was relayed to him that we were in Zurich, waiting.
A neighbour offered to make the journey to collect us.
Another hour and a half, and we were in Auntie Gret's cosy kitchen, Uncle Willi shaking us all by the hand, Auntie Gret making us some supper, and also admiring noises when she looked at the children. Peter had been two and David a small baby when we had last been in Germany. She shook her head and said SHE could never do it, come all that way with three children. She and Uncle Willi led such uncomplicated lives.
I forgot my fatigue and my apprehension. They were confident that I could achieve my objective, and once again, so was I.
* * *
"It should be called the 'White Forest', not the 'Black Forest'," said David, when Uncle Willi took us for a drive the next day. Every tree was heavily laden with snow; the ground underneath lay below inches of undisturbed whiteness.
We emerged from the timbered slopes.
"Look there," said Uncle Willi.
Above the clouds, as if floating in the air, the Alps could be seen, if you knew where to look. I pointed out the disembodied peaks to the children.
Bonndorf in winter
"Do you remember," I asked Uncle Willi, "that the doctor told me to get up soon after David was born, because the Alps were clearly visible?"
"What are you talking about?" asked David who had recognized his name amid the German.
"When you were born in the hospital in Bonndorf, the doctor made me get up to see the Alps. They looked as if they had been painted on the window overnight. I saw them only twice during the year we were in Germany, although they are only about forty miles away."
Uncle Willi stopped at an old mill, which had been converted into a restaurant.
"Let's go in here," he said.
"What would the children like? Apple cider?"
"Ask Uncle Willi if he has a toboggan," asked the children as we refreshed ourselves. 'Toboggan' was beyond my German, but with a dramatic explanation, I managed to convey what they had asked.
"I'll see what I can do," he promised, and the next day took them to a nearby slope where they succeeded in getting completely wet and blue except for their cheeks, which glowed with excitement. The Alps had faded into oblivion again; it was hard to believe they existed. Visibility was decreasing as we drove back through the pine-clad hills.
Hellmutt, my ex-husband's half brother, arrived to take us to Frieburg to see his mother, and the rest of the family.
"You will find Mutti much changed," he warned me.
"Does she know we are coming?"
"Oh yes. She is very pleased. But she can't say what she wants to. Sometimes she says nothing for hours."
"When I saw Bill at the divorce, I told him about Mutti. Has he written?"
"We haven't had a word from him since you parted. Mutti thinks he is dead. We've tried to explain."
Mutti and Sabine 1971
We had little presents for them, which helped to break the ice. A koala for three years old Sabine, Hellmutt's daughter, a necklace for Mutti. Mutti sat plump and smiling, patting the children and saying "Lovely, lovely" or "Yes, yes," at other times staring vacantly into space.
Uschi and her husband Armin were also there for Christmas and we all went to a restaurant for dinner. This was Vati's Christmas present for us. Quite a treat for my children who had never been to a good restaurant before.
Uschi, tall fair and clothes conscious, gave me a warm coat which she no longer wore, but which was just the thing for me, arriving in Europe as I had with only a light coat. The children had warm parkas, and Auntie Gret had got some pre-owned long underwear for them from a friend with older children.
Peter made origami frogs and birds for Sabine and the children played with their paper zoo, until it was time for us to leave for Bonndorf.
"We will see you when we are on our way to England," we said as we said goodbye.
"Come and see us if you come to Munich," said Uschi and Armin.
"Thank you for the koala," said Sabine
"Lovely, lovely," said Mutti.
Fog was lifting a little, but visibility was only a few miles, as Uncle Willi took us to a nearby town to buy the children their Christmas presents. We had decided to do this rather than bring things from Australia, but this had meant a belated Christmas for them. Uncle Willi and Auntie Gret had given them games and pencil cases, and me a necklace, Vati and Mutti had taken us to dinner. Now Uncle Willi was taking us to do the promised shopping. Peter needed a new parka, David a belt and Jacqueline warm shoes. Then they each chose a watch.
"Now we'll go to the source of the Danube River," said our guide. "That is what the name of the town means... Donaueschingen."
In a little park in the centre of the town, was a pond from which flowed a stream. Opposite the outlet was a statue of a woman, pointing out to her children the way to the Black Sea, as the inscription told us was 2400 kms away. It represents Mother Nature pointing the way for the Danube to follow.
Peter, David, Gretel, Willi, Jacqueline
Early in the New Year we took photos of Bonndorf, Uncle Willi and Auntie Gret, and set out for Freiburg, to spend the evening with Vati and Mutti, and catch the first of the trains which were to take us to Britain. Having bought tickets for the complete journey we were now able to book through half of the luggage.
Vati had stamps for the boys, and they mutely showed him their albums. Mutti smiled at us and tried to say she was pleased we had come, but faded into an absent silence. At nine o'clock she went to bed, so we decided to wait for our train in the waiting room of the railway. Upon arrival we discovered that the only heated area was the toilet block which lacked and comfortable seating arrangements. We huddled together in a corner of the unheated waiting room for three hours, and tried to wrap a single rug around the lot of us. I had forgotten how painful cold can be.