“We’re going home. Oma and Opa, here we come.” Well, actually, home is this other town, not Oma and Opa’s place. It’s where they moved to when she was five years old, just after her first brother was born. Her parents always talked about the house they had moved to as their real home, but deep down, she felt that mum and dad’s hearts were elsewhere, in the villages and homes where they grew up. Mum rang Oma regularly and family visits there and back were their main way of socializing, as mum had few – actually no – real friends in their new home town. In fact, mum had very few friends period, but that was something the little girl did not find strange at the time.
In any case, the little girl loved visiting Oma and Opa. They had a house with a large garden, where she could roam freely with her cousin. Together, they played lots of hide-and-seek. Or they made up home in the old garden hut.
Going to Oma and Opa’s was always a special occasion, something she looked forward to greatly, though she also missed her mum, dad, and brothers sorely when she was left there alone. Her parents actually rarely stayed there for more than two or three days, so usually, they would all go together and she would then be left at the grandparents for one or two weeks. Her parents then came back to pick her up or her grandparents took her back.
Travelling by car was something she always enjoyed, but the journey to Oma and Opa’s was the longest they ever made, nearly an hour, and so it gave her the most time to tuck herself into the corner on the backseat, look out of the window, daydream, and disappear into her own imaginary world. Unless mum was upset. Which happened a lot. In that case, her shouting at dad or crying or saying mean things to all of them made the journey intolerable. Mum always got especially tense before long journeys. She would always be the last one to get in the car and then spend the next few minutes going through all the things they should have turned off and packed before leaving. One of the most important things to take were the “Passierscheine” – permits to allow people to enter the cordoned off border zone in which her grandparents’ villages were located. At five or six years old, the little girl did not understand about the border zone, but she quickly learnt that the “Passierscheine” were a great source of stress to her parents and that, without them, you could not go and see Oma and Opa. She also knew that, after a lovely car journey through the Thuringian countryside, which more often than not was interrupted by a stop for an ice-cream at the best bakery serving ice-cream in the world, they would get to a roadblock that could only be passed with a “Passierschein.” The roadblock was guarded and a barrier blocked the way. There were armed police officers stationed in a little bungalow. Getting close to the barrier, her parents always got nervous. There was a great commotion as they looked for the papers, examined them closely once more to make sure that they had the right stamp and date on them.
They stopped the car in front of the barrier and looked towards the hut. How long would it be this time, before the armed officer took it upon himself to come outside and check the papers? How long would he take after collecting them? He used to take a long hard look into the back of the car too, making a stern face, whilst seemingly counting the number of children in the back. The boot also had to be opened – probably to check whether anyone was being hidden in there. The armed officer always seemed to take forever after taking the papers back into the bungalow. When he came out again, the atmosphere in the car was tense. Dad pulled down the car window again and took a deep breath. Phhhhhew. The officer gave them one last stern look, then handed over the papers. This was not always the case. Once the papers were out of date and the new papers had not arrived early enough, so her parents were turned back and told that they could only return after they had received the new papers. Today, however, all was good. They headed off, once the barrier was lifted, not taking the right turn to her dad’s village but going straight ahead to mum’s village. The final highlight of the journey awaited them: the bumpy tarmacked road, built under Hitler and now serving few motorists but being repurposed into a funfair ride of sorts, as they jumped into the air at the three bumps that they always waited for. “Is it coming up now? No. Maybe after the next turn? No. Must be after the bridge, ooooh, ahhh, yes, look, there they are! Come on now, daddy, push the gas pedal, let’s jump as high as we can. Bump!”