Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch5 Part 21

First Impressions of the Golden West

Biene wrote this post

My sister’s friends,  who hosted us while my parents were in the refugee camp in Berlin to ask for asylum, were very kind.  Their two young sons became our friends, and especially my brother loved their toys.  The Meccano set was his favourite.  He would amaze us with his elaborate constructions.

For a while, we were distracted by our exciting new experiences.  But as time dragged on without any contact with our parents, I started getting very homesick. I missed my parents, who had vanished so unexpectedly.  I also missed my loving sister and my two little nephews. I missed school and our friends.  (Except for a short visit to see what a West German school looked like, we were not allowed  to attend class with our host children.) I missed our beautiful, spacious home in Gotha with the large windows letting the light shine in.  I missed the comfort and warmth of sitting with our dad on the bench of our tile stove, listening to his stories.  I missed exploring the world on the big map covering the wall in his study. I missed playing with our friends on our quiet street flanked by old linden trees leading to our beloved castle park. I missed our family bike or tram excursions into the vast forests…   I forgot my mom’s cooking since I was a picky eater.   I even missed my teacher Mrs. Goose, whom my father did not like.

Cramped Apartments

 Before going to sleep, I dreamed about what I would tell my best friend Anneliese about the Golden West. I would say to her that our home in Gotha was a much better place.  In Dortmund, people lived in small cramped apartments on busy streets where it was not safe to play or even walk alone. On weekends instead of going to the park or hiking in the forests, people would visit the graveyards that looked like parks.  But you could not freely run or roam about or play and explore.  You had to walk respectfully and quietly like adults and sit on stone benches near the graves to pray or meditate silently.

Castle Friedenstein, Gotha

I would tell my friend that the Golden West was not golden.   It was a figment of the mind like the story of Santa Claus or the Easter bunny.  As for the big allure of freedom, it was overrated.   Although  I could have chocolate and even bubble gum,  I felt more restricted here than home. My sister’s friends did not let their boys and us go anywhere without supervision except the nearby fenced-in playground.  They would drop us off and pick us up; In Gotha, we were allowed to play for hours in our neighbourhood.  Once my brother and I decided to visit the castle Friedenstein on our own.  A  friendly castle guard noticing our curious glances at the open castle portal, invited us in and gave us a tour telling us some of the historical highlights. Thus, we learned that the great Emperor Napoleon had slept in the pompous, canopied bed that looked like a sailing ship.  Since our dad was a history buff,  he had told us about Napoleon, who fascinated him. Suddenly I longed for all the familiar things of home.  Every night I prayed that we would return to Gotha soon. But day after day, my brother and I were told to wait a bit longer for our parents to get us.