Last weekend I wrote about my family and their resilience here. After the family reunion I travelled to Neuruppin to research my father’s movements during WWII – more about that in another post, and then to Berlin for no reason at all, except that I love the city. Sometimes decisions become opportunities and my decision to go to Berlin was a perfect example.
Despite having a large extended family on my father’s side, I have only three first cousins across both sides of my family. They are the children of my father’s eldest sister. I first met the oldest daughter when I was three and she was in her early 20s. I met the second daughter in 1987 on my first visit to Europe. But I had never met the son until last week.
Dieter lives near Potsdam, which is near Berlin. His sister told him I was staying in Berlin for a couple of days and so a visit was arranged. I travelled out by train and was met by Dieter at the station. For me, it was as if we had known each other all our lives. He took me to his home where I met his lovely wife, who plied me with food and drink with typical European hospitality. We chatted about our lives, growing up and, of course, family.
But the best part of the afternoon was when the old family photographs were brought out, some I had never seen before. There was my father, very young and posing with his brother, sister and father. I wonder where his other sister was. There was his father, looking old, and his mother with her sister and two gentlemen unknown to me. On the back of one of the photos was written “Großvater to Mutti”, which would make the gentleman my great, great grandfather – wow! But the photo which I love and which I didn’t realise the significance of until later, is of the two young girls.
The eldest of the girls is my Aunt Sigrid, the older sister of my father. I met her only once, in 1987, and loved her immediately. She was the polar opposite of my father – warm, fun loving, and adventurous. I had automatically assumed the younger girl was Ursula, the other of my father’s sisters who I had seen only in photographs of her as a young lady. But no – on the back of this photo is written “Sigrid and Gabriele”.
Gabriele, another of my father’s sisters, died in 1919 when she was four years old, one year before my father was born. There was only a year between her and Sigrid. I had never before seen an image of her and didn’t even know one existed. Judging by the date on the photo, it was taken the same year she died. I don’t know what Gabriele died of. I assume it was something like pneumonia or perhaps tuberculosis, as they were diseases which were around at the time. She died in Riga, quite a way from the family estate, so I assume she was in a hospital there. One day I hope to find her death certificate but right now I’m just happy I’ve found her photograph.