Books & Paintings
Memories of post World War II Berlin
After The Bombs
After The Bombs - My Berlin
Was originally published under my maiden name, Heidemarie Sieg, in 2011.
It was recently re-issued under the Orchard Books umbrella, joining the cookbook and the memoir sequel to After The Bombs.
Published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of German Life magazine
By DON HEINRICH TOLZMANN
After the Bombs:My Berlin: Memories of Post World War II Berlin, by Heidemarie Sieg (ABQPress, 2011) is the memoir of a German immigrant who came to the United States in 1963. She tells the story of her family, her life during and after the war, and decision to immigrate to America, concluding with a postscript on the Fall of the Wall in Berlin. Her account draws the reader into experiencing postwar Berlin through her eyes.
She describes the Fall of Berlin in 1945 as “one of the bloodiest battles in history.” In its aftermath, Russian troops “looted stores, and banks, shot innocent civilians and raped countless numbers of women. Casualties were high. The Russians did not take prisoners, people were shot instead. Official conservative estimates state that twenty-two thousand civilians and thirty thousand troops perished during the Fall of Berlin.” Her father, a soldier, was among those killed.
After the war, the most pressing thought was hunger: “Food was scarce during the war. Once the war was over it was even more difficult...From daily routines to special events, everything was dominated by the thought of food.” Then came the Russian Blockade of Berlin in 1948 to 1949: “Life did not seem different to me during the Blockade of Berlin. Food was already scarce, we did not have money and Mutti was often lamenting that she didn’t know how she could make it through another day.”
However, her family and Berlin did survive thanks to the American, French and British planes that flew in supplies and in time the availability of food changes for the better, except in the Russian Zone: “Life in the Eastern sector seemed to stand still.” However, food remained an ongoing issue: “Breakfast was always the same: a soft-boiled egg and some rye bread with butter...Rarely did we have jam. In the early years I would have a glass of water with breakfast and later a cup of coffee. I did not drink milk.”
And of mid-day meals she writes: “In the early years, Mittagessen could be a variation of potato dishes: mashed potatoes with flour gravy, maybe spiced with mustard, sometimes with a little bacon added for flavor; refried potatoes with onions and a bit of bacon finished with freshly chopped parsley; boiled potatoes with butter and lots of chopped parsley.” Hand-me down clothes were important, but by means of babysitting Sieg could buy new shoes as well. Listening to the radio (the American Forces Network) introduced her to rock and roll and dances like “The Twist.” By 1961, three and a half million Germans had escaped to the West before the wall came up that year.
By the time Sieg reached age twenty-one, she had decided on immigrating to the United States. After the war, many talked about America, “the land where everything seemed easy and plentiful.” Departing form Bremerhaven in 1963 on the M.S. Berlin, she sailed to New York, with the ticket costing 850 German Marks. In a final postscript “Tearing Down the Wall” Sieg writes of a post-Fall of the Wall visit to Berlin: “I attacked the Wall with great satisfaction, equipped with a mason’s chisel and hammer. I pounded until I got my chunk of the Wall to take home and remember.”
What makes Sieg’s work highly readable are her descriptions of everyday life in postwar Berlin, such as her first day of school, cooking, grocery shopping, her first job, and family customs and traditions. She writes of Christmas Eve: “Oma would usually arrive just before six and shortly thereafter Mutti called us into the living room. The first sighting of the tree in the far corner of the living room with our silver, gold, red and blue glass ornaments and tinsel all over was especially exciting year after year. All lights were off; the candles on the tree were lit and cast their warm glow about the room.” Such descriptions become a portrait of family life in postwar Berlin.
The author has a website (www.afterthebombs.com) with further information about herself and how to order the book. Here she also comments: “Writing a book was the furthest thing from my mind when I first started to make notes about conversations that I’d heard about World War II and the years before...Years went by, I was asking follow-up questions and my notebook started to bulge. I began turning my notes into essays. Being immersed in the past also brought forth many of my own memories of growing up in Berlin and about events that I had not paid attention to for a while.”
The number of memoirs written by postwar immigrants is steadily increasing and this work is a welcome addition to this body of historical literature, an important chapter in the cross-cultural relations between Germany and America.