As a child, you don’t realize the value of a family. The family is usually a matter taken for granted.

It`s always there. But children’s ears listen. You hear stories. They listened when grandma and grandpa talk about the old days. Often, I would sit on their lap and listen. The stories were so distant, so unusual. Almost like you don’t believe them. Because such a time was not imaginable. They were telling us about World War II. Where many things were different. When many tears flowed, and people lost themselves. Where debris, ashes, and hunger nourished melancholy.

My grandpa was a musician. He mastered various instruments. Be it saxophones, clarinets or trumpets. In the Second World War, he did not go into battle at first but played in the orchestra. So, he traveled a lot. Born and raised in the Ruhr area, he met his wife in Hamburg. They fell in love.

My grandmother left Hamburg for the love of her life and came to the Ruhr area. In the middle of the war. She was young, feeling alone despite her love. Abandoned, her family, siblings and especially the city of Hamburg missed her. In the Ruhr area, many things were initially foreign to her. It got a lot harder when my grandpa had to go to war. She got pregnant, and she was alone. At some point, she reached the news that her husband was missing. Somewhere … somewhere in Russia. She waited, hoped and couldn’t stand it any longer before she returned to Hamburg highly pregnant, finding refuge with her family. In Hamburg, bombs were hailing at the time. The people huddled more in the bunker than in their houses. The pregnant women were taken away from the city to safety. My grandmother landed sometime in Neustadt at the Baltic Sea. That’s where she was supposed to give birth. Apart from the rubble, debris and ashes in Hamburg, where one alarm triggered to the next and nothing worked anymore.

My mother was born. After some time, my grandmother could return to Hamburg. Her husband was still missing, and she probably thought at that time that she would never see him again. Nevertheless, she pulled herself together and drove back to the Ruhr area. With her baby to her husband’s parents. Feeling, that that’s where she belonged. She was probably led hope. The war was finally almost lost and over. But she just couldn’t feel at home in the Ruhr area. She always spoke of hard times. Days that just went by. She described her in-laws as strangers. The mother-in-law died, too. The post-war period hurt many people.

There was nothing to know, nothing to find out about her missing husband. Did she give up hope? I don’t know, I don’t know, I just don’t know…. In her stories, when I sat on her lap, she never said it openly.

She kept in touch with her siblings in Hamburg and with her mother. Her own father was dead a long time ago.

My mother was almost two when her Father returned home. Like a stranger. Two years of imprisonment in Russia are changing a person. The couple felt the distance – when the girl first met her father, my mother had cried. There was a broad wall. But married couples didn’t separate so quickly in the old days. They held out. Somehow, because it had to be. Because it was proper. It was probably a difficult, inner struggle. The shy man who had experienced something in Russia for two years but never talked about it. Day after day he remained silent, registering neither his wife or daughter. A loner who had lost his laugh. His wife couldn’t stand it at one point. In a dispute, she reached for the toddler and took the train to Hamburg. She couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t stand her husband. He was a stranger to her.

The void can shake you up. The silence also motivates the trauma or the apathy to grasp the essentials again. My grandfather was shocked. He grabbed his bike and drove off. His path was in his head. To Hamburg. He wanted to get his wife and daughter back.

By bike. How else? A train ride didn’t occur to him at the time. Maybe the money was missing. I don’t know. I don’t know. I just don’t know…. Every day he droves a few kilometers. Somehow, he kept pedaling, again and again. He could not remember how many kilometers he had already driven. He always told me that happiness had accompanied him. He met a truck driver. They started talking. A conversation between men. Pat on the back, understanding and the invitation to load the bike onto the truck and drive along. He wouldn’t quite go to Hamburg, but at least his destination had been shortly before Hamburg. Somewhere behind Bremen, the journey would go. Grateful my grandpa had accepted. The remaining kilometers to his wife he cycled off again.

There was a bell at the front door. My grandmother was accommodated by her mother with her daughter, who was about three years old. She opened the door. Before her stood her husband. I’m worn out, he said, full of traces of the last few days. Everything was so unreal. She saw in his face the experiences of the previous years and the sadness in his eyes. His words, “I want to bring you back,” echoed across the hall.

Silence! That didn’t need any more words. Probably they had been able to look each other in the eye again. Family. They’re a family. The experience was next to it, but it was over. Three of them traveled back by train. Since that day they were still united, had a second child and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. My grandfather had worked as a professional musician again for many years. Back, and back they told me their story. Curious, I listened. As a child, it sounded like a story from a chimerical tale. I can’t imagine. Only later, as I grew older, did I understand the depth of their life journeys and what war does to people.

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