The Hip Op (Part II)


The theatre nurse pushed my trolley along various corridors and eventually into the lift going down to the theatre where she parked me in the pre-op waiting area. I looked around, watched outpatients being seen to and tried to figure out what they were here for while trying to keep my thoughts away from my impending operation.

The anaesthetic Room

The anaesthetic Room (Image: Google)

After a short wait, a male nurse pushed me into the anaesthetic room. Here I met the anaesthetist again who I had spoken to in the morning and a colleague of his. The man who appeared to be a nurse also remained in the room. I started shaking like a leaf again, couldn’t stop my teeth rattling and I was terrified. The doctor explained that he was about to administer the spinal anaesthetic and that both my legs would go completely numb. I had to roll onto my side while he prepared the anaesthetic, but I was still panicking. The nurse engaged me in conversation to calm me down and the two doctors were making casual conversation and talked about funny things to put me at ease. When I still couldn’t relax, they suggested that I should hold hands with the man who had been talking to me throughout the prepping. I squeezed his hand really hard and remember smiling and saying that I hadn’t held another man’s hand since I got married many years ago.

Shortly afterwards, I was taken into the operating theatre. Overhead, I saw the theatre lights that looked like the lighting I’d seen in hospital TV programmes…and then I came to in the recovery room 2 hours later.

The early Stages of Recovery

I opened my eyes and realised that I couldn’t move my legs. This nearly sent me into a panic again, when a nurse came over and told me that I was in the post op recovery room and that I’d be taken back to my room shortly.

A short while later, I was taken back upstairs and was transferred to my hospital bed. I had a tearful reunion with my husband who had patiently awaited my return. I was then put on a drip containing antibiotics and a nurse put special green compression socks on both of my legs to lower the risk of thrombosis developing. My feet were also fitted to a compression foot pump that gently moved them to prevent blood clots from developing.

Not long after, one of the surgeons came into my room to inform me that the operation had been a success. The anaesthetist also popped in to let me know that everything appeared to be ok and that my operated side would hopefully be numb till the morning. I told him that I was amazed that I hadn’t witnessed any of the proceedings in the operating theatre and he admitted that it had taken him a while to sufficiently sedate me.

I felt grateful, tearful and exhausted and was immensely relieved that the operation was over and deemed to be a success. I was unable to move my legs, but over the next hour or so feeling was slowly returning to my left leg. The right one remained numb, just as the doctor had promised. I could feel a large dressing on my upper right thigh and hip but no pain at that moment in time.

Strangely enough, I was very hungry and wolfed down my hospital dinner before dozing for a while.

The first Night

After my husband left in the evening, I tried to sleep some more, but sleep wouldn’t come. My right leg was still partially numb but I could feel a little niggling pain. I had already taking some homoeopathic arnica tablets to assist the healing process and when the nurse came around to offer me painkillers, I advised her that I would only take ibuprofen. She was doubtful that a dose of 400mg of ibuprofen would be sufficient to deal with the pain, but I insisted on not taking anything stronger. Funnily enough, the nurse even allowed me to use my own supplies of ibuprofen which she afterwards locked away in my locker again.

Sadly, the night staff weren’t as nice as the day nurses. Unable to get out of the bed to go to the bathroom, I had to call the nurses who used a bedpan. Although the operation had only been performed a few hours ago and I had been told to lie only on my back, the nurses roughly rolled me onto my operated side to push the bedpan underneath me. This really hurt and I was concerned about any damage being done to my new hip.

When I needed to use the bedpan for a second time that night, the nurse didn’t put it properly underneath me and the sheets needed changing. Again, I was at the receiving end of some rough handling and one of the nurses treated me in a condescending manner. Under normal circumstances, I would have given her a piece of my mind, but I knew I depended on her and her colleagues and was too tired and exhausted to have an argument.

I made it through the night but only slept for an hour or so as the numbness in my right leg and hip was fading and I was in a certain amount of discomfort.

First Day with a new Hip

In the morning, I took another 400mg of ibuprofen and tucked into my breakfast. I was in some pain, but it was manageable.

Walking frame

Walking frame (Image:

Shortly afterwards, the occupational therapist came to my room and brought me a walking frame and a pair of walking sticks. She then assisted me in getting out of the bed for the first time since the operation. This was difficult and painful, but I got there eventually. Walking with the frame wasn’t easy, but I made it to the bathroom. Later on, I was encouraged to sit in a high back armchair rather than go back to bed.

When the physiotherapist arrived, we practised some walking with the frame which was slow and painful but I asked her for a second session that day. I also managed to walk to the bathroom myself and used the frame for a slow walk along the corridor of the ward I was staying in. All I could think about was getting better and going home.

I was exhausted but managed to sleep for a few hours during my second night in hospital.

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The Hip Op (Part I)

The Hospital

The Hospital (Image:

It’s been a while since my last post. The reason: I underwent a total hip replacement in July 2015 and haven’t been in the right frame of mind for blogging since. Actually, that is incorrect. On several occasions, I’ve tried to sit down and write about my experience before and after my hip operation, but each time I wanted to put hand to keyboard (rather than pen to paper), I started feeling uneasy and postponed the writing.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some gruesome review of my operation but rather a personal account of my experience. Hip replacements are commonplace in this day and age, but this doesn’t make the process any easier for the individual. Talking about my experience may help others to make up their minds about having such an operation.

The Background

The term “hip replacement” was first mentioned to me in the summer of 2014 by an orthopaedic specialist. I thought he was joking, only he wasn’t the joking kind. I felt far too young to even think about such drastic measures and his arrogant manner didn’t do anything to encourage me, so I parked the thought process of an operation for another few months.

I had been seeing an acupuncturist for a while whose treatment helped alleviate some of the pain in my right hip, but frequent visits became necessary. In the spring of 2015, I realised that acupuncture wasn’t cutting it anymore and visited my GP who made an appointment for me with a different orthopaedic surgeon. I saw the specialist about a month later and decided to go on the waiting list for a total hip replacement.

Having decided to go down that route made me feel nervous and I tried to push the thought of the operation out of my head. People kept telling me that I could still back out of the op, but I knew that there would be no going back. Walking and everyday activities were becoming difficult to manage and pain was never far away even when I was sleeping.

A couple of weeks later, I was required to go to the hospital for a pre-op assessment and to participate in a group meeting for hip replacement patients run by a physiotherapist and occupational therapist. The pre-op medical went well and the occupational therapist ordered special furniture for me, on loan from the health board for the time after my operation.

I realised that trying to wriggle out of the operation looked more and more unlikely and closing my eyes or pinching my arm wouldn’t make it all go away.

Shortly afterwards, I received a letter from the hospital with an appointment for 8th July 2015.

The Morning before the Hip Op

I arrived at the hospital just after 7am and was told that I’d be the first patient on the list for that day. I would merely have to talk to the orthopaedic surgeon and the anaesthetist and then I wouldn’t have to wait for too long.

I first met with the anaesthetist who was very friendly and empathetic. I told him that I was hoping for a general anaesthetic rather than a spinal anaesthetic as I was too afraid to witness any of the procedures during the operation. He convinced me that the latter option was preferable as I would wake up straight after the operation and would be able to start my recovery process straight away, without feeling sick. As to “witnessing” any procedures, he advised that he would sedate me before the operation. I still wasn’t convinced that this would be the best option for me, but I decided to trust the doctor and his expertise.

Next I met with the orthopaedic specialist again to discuss the operation. I advised him, as I had done at my previous appointment, that I was very nervous about taking any pharmaceutical painkillers because of a severe reaction I had in the past, but I said that ibuprofen was safe for me to use and that I didn’t want to be given anything else after the operation.

The surgeon advised that ibuprofen wouldn’t be a strong enough painkiller to deal with the post-op pain and discomfort and that I would need stronger drugs and possibly morphine. I became rather upset and told the surgeon that I was not prepared to go through with the operation under these conditions.

The surgeon realised that I was about to walk out and called in the anaesthetist. This doctor listened to my reasoning and suggested to the surgeon that he would try and numb my operated side for longer than the other side as this might take me through the best part of the day and night without too much discomfort and that I could then try and deal with the pain by using ibuprofen.

The Wait

I was then shown to my room which was a single room with a bed, chair, TV and on-suite bathroom.  My husband had taken two weeks off work to accompany me to the hospital and support me after the operation. He tried to keep me in good spirits while I was waiting to be called, but my mood deteriorated by the minute. I hadn’t eaten all day, a pre-op requirement, and wasn’t even allowed to drink water, so I started feeling dehydrated. Time moved on and nobody came to take me to the theatre although I’d been told that I was the first patient on the list.

Lunchtime came and went, I asked the nurses, but nobody knew when my operation would take place. Eventually, at 1.30pm, I’d had enough, packed my bag and went outside to see the head nurse. I explained that I had been in the hospital since 7am and was sick and tired of waiting, especially since I had been told that I was the first patient on the list. She explained that outpatients would go to the theatre first and then inpatients would be seen to. I told her that I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been told that in the morning and that I simply had enough. Would she please discharge me and let me go home?

I turned around to go back into my room and pick up my bag, when a nurse arrived with a hospital trolley to take me down to the theatre.

Was this divine intervention? Was I supposed to go through with the operation?

I burst out into tears and my teeth started chattering. I tried to get a grip on myself but to no avail. I was terrified and would have liked to be anywhere in the world but in the hospital at that moment in time. I was shaking, yet I climbed on the hospital trolley, hugged my husband and was then rolled down the corridor towards the lift to the operating theatre.

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The Sisters (Part II)

In the Black Forest

The beautiful landscapes of the Black Forest (Image:

The girl settled into the routine at the children’s home. She wasn’t too keen on the food, especially when the bread tasted just awful on some mornings. Some of the other kids were of the opinion that the bakers hadn’t put any salt in the bread dough before baking.

She finally saw her little brother again on the second day. He seemed to have a couple of new friends but told her that he really missed his teddy. The girl put her arm around his shoulders and reassured him, telling him that his teddy was waiting for him at home.

She loved the walks in the woods and the large forest playground with various types of wooden equipment and climbing frames, all made from the wood of Black Forest pines. Climbing was one of her favourite pastimes. She had been to the Alps with her parents on a few occasions and vowed that she’d be a great mountaineer when she was older.

Like many German towns and villages, even the nearby village had an open-air swimming pool. The girl didn’t know how to swim yet, but she loved going down the steep waterslide into the shallower end of the pool. Life was good!


Waterslide Villingen-Schwenningen (Image:

The children had a hot lunch every day unless they went on an excursion and this lunchtime they were served bratwurst, vegetables, potatoes and bean salad. The salad consisted of yellow wax beans in a vinaigrette. As soon as the food was put in front of her, the girl looked at the beans and was determined not to eat them. Her mother had given her the same type of beans before and she hadn’t liked them one little bit. So she didn’t touch them and slowly moved the salad bowl away from her plate into the middle of the table, hoping that none of the sisters would notice her manoeuvre.

Alas, one of the sisters spotted the deserted salad bowl and quickly established its owner. She told the girl to eat her salad.

The girl blushed and spoke up:

“I don’t want to eat those yellow beans”, she said. “I don’t like them!”

“Eat your beans”, the sister repeated and went on to explain about God again and the sin the girl was about to commit.

When she still refused to eat her beans, she was dragged to the dreaded solitary table in the sunken area of the hall and the bowl of beans was put in front of her.

“Now everybody is watching you, eat!” one of the sisters said.

The girl impaled one of the wax bean pieces on her fork and lifted it to her mouth. As soon as she smelled the beans, she started gagging, felt violently sick and spewed the contents of her stomach all over the table.

The sisters were horrified while some of the children smirked or giggled.

So the girl was handed a bucket and sponge to clean up the mess and was told that she would not be allowed out with the other kids that afternoon.

The Envelope

The Sick Room

The austere looking sick room (Image:

Time was flying. The girl enjoyed herself and had made some new friends. She also liked the singing in the evenings, although the songs were all about God and Jesus.

One afternoon, after coming back from the forest, the girl had a sore throat. One of the sisters gave her a lozenge and told her to gargle with the blue stuff her mother also used at home when someone had a sore throat. However, as the evening wore on, the girl started shivering and when her temperature was taken, it was established that she was ill.

She was transferred to the sick room on the top floor of the building. In the room was one other girl who was unwell too and who had been here on her own for a few days.

The girl’s whole body was aching, her throat was on fire and she missed her mother, but her parents didn’t have a telephone and the sisters didn’t want to worry them. The girl cried herself to sleep that night and hoped that she’d be able to get up again in the morning and join the other kids. However, when morning came, she still had a temperature and was told to stay in bed.

This morning the girls were given porridge and at lunchtime they received a nourishing broth. However, the traditional dark brown bread was served in the evening with slices of cold meat – two open sandwiches each. The girl tried to eat, but her throat was too sore and she only managed to eat half a slice. The other girl didn’t feel like eating either. However, when the sister came around to collect the empty plates, she scolded the girls for not eating up and left the plates in the sickroom.

The girl gave it one more try but didn’t manage to eat any more of the hard bread. The girls were thinking of throwing the remaining bread out of the window to feed the birds, but the windows were locked. Flushing the bread down the toilet was risky as they were aware that the bread might float. So in the end the girl had an idea:

She had received a letter from her grandparents that day, so she put her and the other girl’s bread slices into the envelope and together they lifted up the mattress of one of the unoccupied beds and placed the envelope underneath the mattress.

Open Sandwich with salami

Open Sandwich with salami (Image:

Phew! It was hard work but at last the dreaded bread was out of sight.

The days dragged on. They had books to read but no other form of entertainment and their friends were not allowed to visit them. After two days, the girl found herself all on her own as the other girl had recovered from her illness and rejoined her group.

Time stood still. The girl missed her brother who wasn’t allowed to visit either, her parents and her friends. Never in her life had she been this lonely!

Every day she asked the sisters if she could get up and join the other children again, but every day she was told to stay in the sickroom.

Eventually, after what appeared to be an eternity, the girl was allowed to leave the sickroom. In the evening, one of the sisters asked her to follow and she was taken to a room she’d never been to before. Here she met three of the most senior sisters who said that they had found some discarded food in the sickroom. They questioned the girl who denied all knowledge of it. Eventually, one of the sisters grabbed her by the arm and said:

“You might as well admit it! The other girl has already told us!”

Still, the girl didn’t own up.

Then one of the sisters showed her a grease-stained envelope with her name on it.

She could no longer deny responsibility but kicked herself for her stupidity. She then had to listen to yet another tirade about the sin of throwing food away and had to ask God for forgiveness. She was told that she was a very lucky girl indeed as the other girl had received a hiding for telling lies.

Two days later, it was time to get ready for the journey home. The girl didn’t feel well in the morning and by the time they got to the station, her throat was burning like fire. The sister who looked after the children in her compartment encouraged her to eat and drink, but the girl wasn’t able to do this.

By the time they reached the station in her home town, she was running a high temperature again and when her mother called the doctor the following day, the girl was diagnosed with pneumonia. Her mother was worried sick as she herself had been struck down with pneumonia earlier on in the year and had been very ill indeed.

The girl eventually got better but missed the first three weeks of school after the summer holidays.

She didn’t realise until years later what had been done to her and the other children in the name of religion and Christian kindness.

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The Sisters (Part I)

Villingen in the Black Forest

Villingen in the Black Forest in the early 1960s (Image:

The girl’s parents had decided to go on a holiday without the children as her mother had only recently recovered from a serious illness and needed some time to recover. So for six weeks, the entire length of the summer school holidays, the girl and her brother had been booked into a children’s holiday home in the Black Forest.

How exciting! To spend six weeks with other children, go on walks and excursions, play in the forest, go swimming in the open-air pool in the nearby village – what could be more thrilling for an 8 year-old girl and a six year-old boy?

Their parents took them to the station where a group of children and their parents had already gathered. The girl and her mother were choked up when they said their good-byes and then the Protestant sisters, dressed in their severe looking grey and white habits, took the children to the train bound for Villingen in the Black Forest.

Haus Tannenhöhe, Villingen, Black Forest

Kindererholungsheim Tannenhöhe, Villingen (Image:

The impressive old building was surrounded by tall pine trees and conifers. The girl was looking for her brother but didn’t even see where he had been taken, as she was whisked off with some other girls her age to a six-bed dormitory in the vast expanse of the building.

After the girls had unpacked their things, they were taken to the dining hall at the other end of the building. Long tables were set for dozens of children in the austere looking room. The matron welcomed the children and told about the rules and regulations – which were strict. Naughtiness, backchat and bad behaviour would not be tolerated and the children were expected to eat what was put in front of them.

The girl’s stomach was rumbling, but before dinner was serviced, they had to say prayers. Not closing her eyes, the girl looked around the hall. What a strange place this was: The windows were high up on the wall, so you couldn’t look outside. The hall itself was L-shaped and in the middle, there was a sunken area, tiled in black and white, with several steps leading down. This part of the hall had an eerie look that reminded her of a small old indoor swimming pool. In the middle, she saw a solitary wooden table and chair and wondered who would be sitting there.

The girl didn’t have to wait for long to find out.  She had nearly finished her dinner when she heard a commotion. Two sisters dragged a little boy from the table at the far end of the room into the sunken area and made him sit at the table. Then one of the dinner ladies arrived putting a plate of food in front of the frightened boy.

“This is what happens to children who don’t eat up”, one of the sisters said. “The good Lord provides our food and it’s a sin not to eat what’s being put in front of you!”

“Eat up!” she said to the little boy. “You will stay here on your own until your plate is empty.”

Everybody looked at the boy who had started sobbing, but nobody dared to speak up. Then the children were marched out of the dining hall in their own little groups and left the little boy behind.

Before bedtime, the sisters did the rounds of the bedrooms and pray with the children before switching off the light.

German Rye Bread

Dark German Rye Bread (Image:

The next morning, before breakfast, the children were told to make their beds and tidy up their belongings. The girl had always slept with a comfortable quilt at home and wasn’t used to sleeping in sheets and rough spun woollen blankets. While she was struggling to pull the bedding into place, she suddenly felt an awful pain as one of the sisters jerked her upright pinching her ear.

“What do you call this?” the sister said to the girl. “You’re nearly 9 years old! Ddidn’t your mother teach you anything? And what about your things? Tidy them up immediately!”

The girl’s ear felt hot and sore and she could feel tears welling up in her eyes, but the sister didn’t allow her to explain herself.

After morning prayers, breakfast was a welcome diversion and the children were encouraged to eat as much as they could possibly manage, of dark brown rye bread, butter and chocolate spread or jam.

Then, finally, the sisters took the children out walking – divided into groups, each accompanied by two sisters. The sun was out and the air smelled of pine trees and wood sap. The girl was looking forward to her holiday in the Black Forest.

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The Leather Shorts

Easter Bunny

Osterhase – Easter Bunny (Image:

The girl had a new teacher for her second year in primary school, Fräulein Alscher, a bespectacled teacher in her thirties who radiated authority. As the “Fräulein” (Miss) indicated, the teacher was a spinster. She lived with her elderly mother and dedicated most of her time to the schooling of six to 10-year-old children. Fräulein Alscher would remain the girl’s teacher for the following three years in primary school.

Although the new teacher was strict, the girl liked her well enough but was always careful not to be caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to do. She paid attention in school and did her homework, but she also had an active imagination and would doodle or draw in her copybook during lessons. Not in one of the good ones though, those that she used for her homework and that the teacher might collect for corrections. Rather, she doodled in one of her everyday copybooks.

It was towards the end of her second year in primary school and the girl was bored. She had finished her exercises and was doodling yet again. This time, she drew a picture of her school’s headmaster, the Rektor as he was called. The Rektor’s actual name was Herr Haase and if you removed one letter from his name, the spelling was the equivalent to the German word for hare or bunny. So the girl drew a picture of Herr Haase with long floppy ears, spectacles and a tie and labelled it accordingly, suggesting that Herr Haase looked like the Easter Bunny (Osterhase). She then carefully tore the page from her copybook, folded up the piece of paper and handed it to the girl sitting next to her. The piece of paper was passed around the class, from pupil to pupil, when suddenly one of the kids snickered. Fräulein Alscher, never one to miss anything going on in class, asked the boy what was so funny. She didn’t receive a reply. Going over to the boy’s desk, she discovered that he was holding a scrunched up piece of paper and asked for it to be handed over. After looking at the picture, she asked the class who was responsible for it. The girl – eventually – had no option but to own up.

The teacher became very angry but, luckily, the girl only got some extra homework and had to write lines about behaving in class. However a few months later, when she was caught again for a minor offence, Fräulein Alscher gave her a massive slap in the face that stung for ages and the girl vowed never to be caught again.

German children early 1960s

German children in the early 1960s. The boy is wearing lederhosen, the girl a dirndl (Image:

The Truant

Uwe was one of the boys in her class. There were over 30 children in her class and the girl didn’t know him very well as he played with some of the boys in the school yard. He didn’t do very well in school either.He was behind in his reading and writing and sometimes didn’t do his homework. That would result in Uwe having to stay behind when the other kids went home at lunchtime.

From what the girl had picked up in class, it appeared that Uwe’s father had died some time ago and that Uwe’s mother was working in a factory. In the early 1960s, working mothers were few and far between and this, if nothing else, made Uwe stand out from the other kids.

During their third year in primary school, Uwe was missing from class, but as he didn’t have many friends in school, nobody was particularly concerned about his whereabouts. Two days later, Uwe turned up in class again. When the teacher asked him where he had been, he said that he had to look after his mother who had been taken ill.

The following day, however, the teacher found out that Uwe had been lying and had played truant. Fräulein Alscher told the class to be quiet and left the classroom for a few minutes. When she came back, she was accompanied by Frau Seifert, a mature teacher in her fifties. They asked Uwe to come in front of the class.

Fräulein Alscher told the class that Uwe had been lying and had skipped lessons deliberately and that, therefore, he needed to be punished.

Every classroom had a bamboo cane that was used for pointing at words or numbers on the blackboard. Frau Seifert grabbed the cane while Fräulein Alscher was holding on to Uwe, who was screaming and struggling  to get away. Frau Seifert then pulled Uwe’s lederhosen (leather shorts) half way up his right buttock and brought the cane down. An angry red welt immediately started developing and Uwe began howling. The cane came down once more, then again and again…

When Frau Seifert had finished, she said to Fräulein Alscher:
“This is so bad for my heart – it always takes so much out of me!”

The other children had watched in silence. The girl nearly felt sick and her heart when out to Uwe who had been so badly beaten. She was reflecting on Frau Seifert’s words too. What did the teacher mean? Was she only concerned for her own health, or did she feel sorry for the boy? And if she did, why did she still hit Uwe?

Although the girl didn’t particularly like Uwe, she realised that something was really wrong here. Everybody knew that Uwe’s father had died and that Uwe’s mother was working all day. Uwe had told some of the kids that he had to do chores around the home and prepare the dinner when he returned from school. He couldn’t go out and play. Uwe and his mother lived in a poor part of town and Uwe never had any pocket-money for sweets or treats. Why didn’t the school realise that things were difficult for Uwe and try to help him?

When the class started their fourth year in primary school, Uwe was missing. He had been sent to Special School, the school for mentally disabled children, children with learning difficulties and troublesome children.

German children didn’t – and don’t – wear school uniforms, so in the early 1960s, boys were wearing lederhosen (leather shorts) or other types of shorts in the summer months and girls usually wore skirts or dresses.

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The Gift

Slate Tablet

Slate tablet as used in a German primary school in the early 1960s.

School was great! The girl wanted to learn, especially reading and writing. Her grandfather owned a bookshop in town with countless shiny new books on sale for adults and children. Her mother always read to her and her brother at bedtime and they had several fairy tales vinyl records at home that she loved. Some of them, she could nearly cite verbatim, but what she really wanted to do was read her own books.

They didn’t own a television as her parents were of the opinion that TV for children was not a good idea. So when she wasn’t running around in the park with her brother and friends, she sat at home playing with her toys or drawing. She had outgrown her colouring books and painted whatever came into her head. On rainy days, she would present her mother with several pictures a day and frequently ran out of suitable paper to draw on. Her mother, who was very resourceful, had started collecting the thin white cardboard used in the packaging of her stockings and handed them out, one at a time, when the girl had used up another one of her sketch pads.

Copybook 1st year primary school.

Learning to write – the way it should look!

It was the last school day before the Easter holidays and the girl had not only finished her first year in primary school but she had also received her first ever school report. She had done well with her reading and spelling but her adding and subtracting wasn’t as good as it could have been and neither was her handwriting. She tried, she really did, as she loved writing, but the letters she wrote on her slate tablet just wouldn’t come out as nice as the ones the teacher had written on the blackboard, despite the special lines showing her where the letters were supposed to go.

That day, her mother picked her up from school and the girl proudly showed her the school report, handwritten by the teacher in a special copybook designed for school reports only. She was looking forward to showing it to her father too, a teacher who placed great emphasis on academic achievements.

On their way home, the girl skipped along singing to herself, her blond pigtails bobbing up and down with her every move. She was looking forward to the school holidays and Easter, hoping for some nice presents, as well as an Easter egg hunt.

When they got home, her mother smiled at the girl and said:

You’ve done really well at school and I’d like to get you something nice. What would you like?

The girl looked up at her mother and replied without hesitation:

“I’d like to have my hair cut, I want to have short hair!”

Her mother was shocked as she loved the girl’s straight blond hair that she had always looked after, brushed and combed, plaited or tied up in a pony tail or bun. The girl, however, hated having her hair done and disliked the combing and pulling. She wanted to have short hair that didn’t need to be plaited and fussed with.

Her mother tried to dissuade her from taking such drastic action, but the girl was adamant.

They went to her mother’s hairdresser the following morning and the girl had her hair cut short. While she admired her new look in the mirror, her mother walked over to the hairdresser and asked to keep the girl’s two blond plaits as a keepsake.

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The Cemetery

Hagen 1960

Hagen/Westfalen 1960 (Image: Hans Wehner)

They put on their coats and left the house. It was a cold winter morning, just above freezing, but there was no frost or snow on the pavement. The family walked through the quiet Sunday morning streets of the city: The girl, her mother, her father and her little brother. The mood was sombre, but she wasn’t surprised by this as she knew where they were going, as they had done many times before.

They arrived at the wrought iron gates of the municipal cemetery and walked past many graves with old and new gravestones. The girl looked at the writing on the headstones, but she had only just started reading and writing in school and couldn’t decipher most of what was written. She also noticed some graves that were covered in lots of flowers and wreaths.

“They are the new graves”, her mother told her. “Someone died and was buried here yesterday or the day before.”

Soon after, they arrived at their destination, a small grave among other small graves. As always, her mother and father went very quiet and tears started rolling down her mother’s face. She took the girl’s hand and squeezed it before asking her and her brother to fold their hands and pray for their older brother whose grave they had come to visit.

Her mother had told the girl that her older brother had died when he was only a few weeks old. Choked up by tears, she had once shown her some pictures of her baby brother in his crib. The girl always felt very sad when they came to the cemetery as she pictured her little brother lying motionless in his grave.

Then the girl’s mother removed some weeds from the grave and fetched some water from the freestanding tap with one of the old zinc watering cans belonging to the cemetery. After watering the flowers on her sibling’s grave, they quietly said some more prayers before returning home.

Friedhof bwThe blank Canvas

The girl enjoyed school. She was about to turn seven and was in her first year in primary school. As opposed to her kindergarten, the school she attended was non-denominational which meant that the school was attended by Protestant as well as Catholic children in the early 1960s.

Her teacher, Fräulein Thiemann, was a Catholic and would occasionally talk about religious matters in class. One morning, she told the children that she wanted them to paint a picture. The girl got excited, drawing and painting were some of her favourite activities and she spent many a rainy afternoon painting pictures for her mother with watercolours, crayons and coloured pencils.

The teacher then turned to the class and asked them to do a drawing of a cemetery. The girl stiffened – a cemetery? But why paint a picture of a cemetery? She sat and stared at her drawing pad without putting pen to paper. The girl knew that she was supposed to follow her teacher’s instructions, but she just couldn’t bring herself to draw a picture of a graveyard.

Fräulein Thiemann did the rounds and looked at the children’s progress. When she stopped at the girl’s desk and saw the empty canvas, the asked:

“And why aren’t you drawing a picture of a cemetery?”

The girl blushed as the whole class looked up from their drawings and stared at her.

“I don’t want to paint a picture of a cemetery”.

“And why not?” her teacher asked her.

“Because it makes me sad”, the girl said and refused to do as she was told.

The next day, the girl’s parents received a letter asking them to come to the school and speak to the teacher. When they did, Fräulein Thiemann told her parents what had happened and inquired if they were atheists. Her parents explained about the regular family visits to the cemetery and the matter wasn’t mentioned again.

But her teacher treated the girl differently from that day onwards – realising perhaps that she was dealing with a child who had a – possibly rebellious – mind of her own.

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The Punishment

KindergartenShe attended a Protestant Lutheran kindergarten, but the girl didn’t know that, nor did she concern herself much with religion. Her mother reminded her to pray every evening, but they usually only went to church at Christmas.

The nursery teachers were called “aunt” or “Tante” in German, as was the custom. They played with the children, read to them and taught them how to make things out of coloured paper, cardboard or natural materials, but the kids weren’t taught how to read or write until they started primary school.

The girl enjoyed going to kindergarten and looked forward to it every weekday morning. This morning, she carried her small leather satchel containing a sandwich and an apple and a heavy bag with horse chestnuts and acorns, collected the previous afternoon. Today they would be crafting items from conkers and acorns. After morning prayers, the children sat down and received their crafting materials, such as matchsticks, glue and crafting tools. The nursery teacher showed them how to make little stick men and animals out of the chestnuts, acorns and matches and even how to carve tiny baskets out of the conkers. Great care was taken with the knives as their little hands weren’t quite accustomed to dealing with sharp implements.

The Plaster

She had finished constructing a man with a big fat chestnut tummy who was able to stand on his feet made from acorn halves, and a dog standing on four matchstick legs. The children had been told to be quiet and listen to Tante Hanna’s instructions. Some kids had barely started crafting their chestnut figures while the girl got bored waiting for them to finish. So she started chatting to one of her friends. The teacher called her name and reminded her to be quiet and pay attention. Having nothing to pay attention to, she soon started whispering again to the girl sitting next to her, when, out of the blue, Tante Hanna appeared behind her and roughly grabbed her by the arm.

“I told you to be quiet and pay attention”, she said. “Now you will have to stand in the corner with a plaster covering your mouth!”

The girl started protesting and tears were beginning to roll down her cheeks. She promised to be good, but her pleading was ignored. The nursery teacher fetched a roll of black plaster and stuck a large piece over the girl’s mouth. Then she took her by the arm and led her to a corner of the room.

“Stay there and face the corner”, she told the the girl, “and don’t turn around!”

She then said to the other children: “Let this be a lesson to you all. If you are naughty, you will end up standing in the corner with a black plaster over your mouth for everyone to see!”

The girl started gagging and felt nauseated by the smell of the sticky plaster. To be singled out like this and made to face the wall with a her mouth being covered, the shame was nearly unbearable. She felt angry and helpless, but there was nothing she could do about the situation. And she wouldn’t tell her parents as they would probably agree with Tante Hanna’s actions and tell her off as well.

The year was 1960 – nursery and school teachers were permitted to use the cane and other forms of physical punishment, and corporal punishment wouldn’t be abolished for several years to come.

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A Tomboy in the Making


She was looking forward to the party. Yes, a real party with drinks, cakes and games. She took her duffle bag, grabbed Petzi and off she went.

Petzi was her teddy bear and the party venue was a doll and teddy bear party at her local kindergarten. She was five years old.

Some of the other kids had already arrived and had lined up to enter the party room. The tables and chairs had been decorated with colourful tissue and crepe paper, and plates and cups were laid out for all the children. Each child sat down with their favourite doll or teddy waiting for a piece of cake and some apple juice to be dispensed.

When it was her turn, the nursery teachers said to her:

“And why did you bring a teddy and not your doll? All the other girls have brought their dollies and only the boys have brought teddies.”

The girl was surprised by this question, patted Petzi on the head and said: “Because he’s my favourite!”

And so it began. She knew then that she didn’t meet some people’s expectations, was different from other girls and didn’t fit the mould.

Afternoon coffee and cake

In 1960, petticoats were all the rage and her mother dressed her in a white dress with red roses on special occasions, such as on this Sunday when the family went to visit a retired teacher for afternoon tea, or rather, coffee and cake as was the German custom.

The girl was wearing her special dress with a petticoat … and it was itching. She told her mother about this and wanted to change into one of her ordinary skirts, but it was a Sunday and they were visiting, so the petticoat and dress were the order of the day.

The retired school teacher, a spinster, lived in an immaculately clean house filled with dark, polished oak furniture. When the lady opened the door, the girl’s mother handed her a bunch of flowers, carefully selected from a florist shop, and introductions were made. In the dining room, a table with a starched white linen table cloth was set for coffee and cake and the girl and her young brother were poured real hot chocolate from a shiny coffee pot. They were given a piece of gateau with whipped cream and tucked in while the adults made polite conversation.

Soon the girl got bored and started pulling faces at her little brother. She wanted to get up and play, explore the garden or climb a tree, but she had been told to sit still and behave. Sitting still isn’t an easy thing to do when you’re bored and your petticoat is itching, so her long legs were dangling from the chair and she was fidgeting while half-listening to the adults’ conversation at the coffee table.

She must have been day dreaming when she accidentally knocked over her cup of hot chocolate. The thick brown liquid started seeping into the starched white tablecloth and the polished oak dining table. Her mother gasped and apologised profusely to the old lady, trying to help clean up the mess while the girl was shouted at by her father for misbehaving. She was sent out into the garden and told to mind her little brother. Some relief at last! But wearing her best dress, she didn’t dare to get dirty as she was in trouble already and didn’t want to incur her parents’ wrath.

They were never invited back to the teacher’s house and the girl was blamed for it.

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