Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Guest Post by My Mum: My Father, My Hero

(Written by my Mum)

Recently was the 31st anniversary of my father's death. This was a reason for me to look back to my childhood and what he was to me. Meike asked me to write a guest post, here it is:
My Father, I called him "Papa", was born in the month of May, during WWI, his mother, my beloved "Oma Engel" (that means Granny Angel) delivered at home, as usual in this times. He was the oldest, then came a little brother, who died in child's age, and then came Otto, I introduced him to you in this guest post.
Oma was a cook in a home-style cooking restaurant in the town where we still live. Her husband, my grandfather, was a porcelain painter, he came from the German East (now Poland) and before coming to Ludwigsburg he workd at Meißen's Manufactory.
Here he couldn't find work in his profession, so he worked in the office of a big health insurance.
They had not much money, but weren't poor; they had what they needed and were content.
Erich Engel

Papa went to Grammar School, and after this, he became apprentice in a big enterprise in the neighbouring town. He was trained as a toolmakera craft nearly unknown today. That apprentenship took four years, and he stayed at the same company nearly until he retired
In his youth he must have been rather sporty; he drove a motorbike and flew gliders.
Then he met my mother, they fell in love and married, shortly before Hitler came into power and WWII broke out. Of course he had to be a soldier and was sent to the front. He was POW in Russia but came back rather healthy. (His father lost his job, because he refused to say "Heil Hitler", someone denunciated him.)
When I was born, the world was burning allover, Papa was in Russia and learned much later that he now had a little baby girl. I didn't hear the bombs, my mother said I was sleeping all the time in a little basket which she could take to the bomb shelter when the alarm sounded. 
The family in autumn 1946. Erich was 31, Else 30, my Mum one year old and her brother was six. (I know this because it is on the back of the photo in my Oma's handwriting.)

My first memory is of Christmas, when my father gave me a doll's kitchen, with a real working little electric stove (everything made by himself), and every pot, plate and pan like my mother's, just tiny. I could cook little pancakes or soup from stock cubes. 
He also made a little shop, with electric light showing "Kaufhaus Engel", (Engel's Store). Engel was our family name, it means angel. Mother filled all the drawers in the shop with little sweets, nuts, fruits, and my 5 years older brother and I loved to play with it, we even had play money.
In this time after the war these toys were something very special, because you couldn't buy them in a shop or order from Amazon. 
I admired him for this, and all the other little toys and things he made for us children, such as toy furniture, a little bed for my doll, a chair for the teddybear and many more.
Our name "Engel" I loved so much that one day, I think I was about 3 years old, I told my parents: "You know, when I am big, I will marry Papa, then I can keep my name Engel". Mutti asked: "And what about me?" I thought for a moment, then replied: "Oh, you will be dead then". 
In our basement he had a workshop in one room, very cold, no heating, where he had good tools, the most prized was a turning lathe. He made the prettiest little wooden boxes and bowls with it, here is one he gave me for my 3rd birthday for little trinkets, it is only 6 cm in diameter.

The greatest for me was when Papa allowed me to sit on the ground on a thick doormat underneath his working table, where also his turning lathe was. I liked the sound of the machine's motors, the smell of the metal chips, all in all really nothing to inspire a little girl, but for me it was heaven to be near my Papa, seeing what he could do with his hands, admire the result. Until my mother called me to come upstairs, because she was afraid I would catch a cold down there.
There was really nothing Papa could not do or fix, you could bring him everything, and he would make it alright. Once he was away on a health cure, and he sent me lovely letters in his beautyful exact handwriting, always with handdrawn little pictures.
On weekends, when he did not have to work (Saturday morning was still a working day back then), we went to a nearby forest to pick strawberries, rasperries, or just flowers for my Mom. (I called her Mutti.) Most Sunday mornings, Mutti cooked a very good meal, and Papa and I went for a walk, mostly ending at a beer garden where I met other children and there was a playground for us.
In the evenings he told me stories he made up himself, about fairies, gnomes, giants, dwarfs and also animals who could speak, his imagination never ended.
Once he went with a friend to pick cherries from a tree that belonged to the friend's brother. The next morning when I woke up, there hung a big grape over my bed, all made of the big red cherries, it made me so happy, I did not even want to disturb this piece of art. (But I did...)
I remember Papa as a very, very good, kind and empathic man, but he was born in May, under the sign of Gemini, and Mutti always said: He has two souls in his chest, and sometimes this was true. He could be very, very furious, and when he was convinced of a matter, nobody and nothing could bring him off it. Or when he could not stand someone, he showed it and was not very polite. He was also rather jealous, it often bothered my mother.
Erich in 1967

When he became grandfather (five grandchildren), he also loved them and they loved him. 
When he was 72 years old, he had a bad stroke, the whole left side of his body was palsied and he had to suffer for three horrible years, very, very ill. That was not an end he deserved, but we could only be there for him, though the main load rested on my mother. We tried to help her as best as we could, but we had to go to work and I think it was not enough. 
He died at 75, peacefully at home, no more pain, no more sorrow.
--- End of guest post ---
I suggested this guest post when on November 19th, the four of us (my parents, my sister and I) met at my parents' and drank a glass of what used to be my grandfather's favourite type of red wine, Trollinger. 
My sister and I called him Opa, the usual affectionate German term for grandfather. I remember him as the kindest and best Opa any child could wish for - not once during my childhood did I hear the words "not now" or "I don't have time" from him.
Like my Mum wrote, he could make the prettiest and most delicate things out of wood and metal, and we still own the toy kitchen and shop he made for his own children when they were little, so many years ago.
He also made up stories for me and my sister, often about the stuffed toy animals my grandparents kept in their living room for us so that we could play with them whenever we came visiting (which was often!). 
Sometimes we got an incling of what he could be like when his "other soul" took over - a grumpy man whose sharp wit was directed at my grandmother ("Oma") or a particular neighbour he could not stand.
There is loads more I could tell you about Opa, but it would make this post even longer than it already is, and as a regular blog reader myself, I know that it is hard to read overly long posts.
I have added two photographs; since I do not own a scanner, I clumsily took pictures of them with my mobile phone and uploaded them here.


  1. I wish I had known Erich Engel. This is the best remembrance of him ... Your mother's beloved father and your kind and patient Opa, an endearment I like very much.

    The family photograph is one to treasure. 1946. Your mother just one year old.
    What hard and bitter times these were for the people of Germany, Meike!
    What worries your Opa and Oma must have had for their children and their future!

    The following year 1947 was the coldest on record all over Europe. My late brother was born that year, survived a tuberculoid tumour in his neck, and went to live in sunny California in his early thirties. But life in Germany was very much harder than Scotland.

    A Canadian historian wrote a book about the harsh reprisals imposed on Germany by the Allies. Eisenhower, someone I had till then admired, closed two large fertiliser plants at either end of Germany. As a result there were hundreds of thousands of deaths, including many children. It was a monstrous and unnecessary action, reflecting poorly on our so-called moral superiority. Eisenhower said, *We will reduce this country to the Stone Age.* Many of the details were kept secret and are still controversial.

    So many parents took their worries to the grave.
    My father (1915-2000) was a toolmaker like Erich Engel and he also was born under the sign of Gemini. He too had a lathe on which he turned household items.

    My father was fascinated by Germany and would have questioned your Opa on many things, from his places of work, the wages and conditions, to the landscape and culture of the places where he grew up. My father admired Germany's prowess in engineering and science, their technical colleges set up in the 19th Century, their superiority in so much. During the war my father worked at Rolls Royce and was friendly with an older German refugee, Fritz, who was a passionate socialist and very anti-Stalin.

    If I had a bottle of Tollinger I would raise a glass in tribute to Erich, who did not deserve his last years of suffering. But he is in a better place now, and your mother's words are tribute enough. A good life well lived, in spite of very hard times.

    1. Your father and my Opa had a lot in common and were close in age. Had they lived nowadays, they could have "met" on an online forum for toolmakers or through each other's blogs.

      Yes, those were hard times, not only in this country. Many would argue that the Germans as a nation brought it upon themselves, which is true - but nobody asked the children whether they wanted their parents to follow A.H. into this horrible war.
      We learned at school about that plan to reduce Germany to a backwater. It would make for fascinating reading if an author wrote a parallel history of what could have been; I am thinking "Making History" here by Stephen Fry.

      Opa's was not an easy life and certainly not an easy farewell, but he did his best both as a father and grandfather, giving much love to the two generations after him. He lived just about long enough to see his first great-grandchildren, but he was too ill already to form any meaningful relationship with them.

    2. For the record, the book is *Crime and Mercies* (1997) by James Barque: You will find a Wikipedia entry on this Canadian writer.
      Barque's research was disputed by Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower's biographer, but I incline to the view that Barque was accurate in his broad thesis.

      President Eisenhower was admired for warning the United States about the danger of the military-industrial complex. His surname is German. Many of the American generals in WWII were of German origin. Up to the 19th Century most American immigrants were German. The Pennsylvanian Dutch were really German.

      One of my uncles received a serious head wound in France in 1944, when the jeep he was driving hit a mortar. His English captain was killed outright. He always spoke of his admiration for the endurance and capability of the German Army.

      I wish I could have given my Uncle Robert a copy of Heinrich Gerlach's book (2018 English translation) *Breakout At Stalingrad*, the best war novel I have ever read.
      There is a 150 page afterword about the gestation and difficulties in bringing the novel into manuscript form. Gerlach employed a psychiatrist, who used hypnosis to recover material the writer had forgotten or repressed. The psychiatrist then demanded further payment once the novel was a success, embarking on a law suit.

      My own understanding is that Prussian militarism had a corrupting effect on German culture, going back to the 19th Century and Bismarck.
      Noel Annan said there was no Germanist in the Foreign Office in London who really understood what was happening in German in the 1930s.

      After allowing Bomber Harris to conduct the appalling fire-bombing of German cities, Churchill was magnanimous in wanting no civilian reprisals once the war was over. Churchill lost the 1945 election. Stalin got control of Eastern Europe and half of Germany.
      German prisoners of war were thankful to fall into American hands and not Russian. Stalin allowed Russian troops to commit atrocities. May his soul burn in hell.

    3. Reg. your last paragraph, whoever had a choice at the end or immediately after the war tried to reach one of the three zones that were controlled by the Western allies and get out of the Russian-controlled zone as quickly as possible.
      Wernher von Braun gathered his team of about 120 scientists and engineers, claimed one of the few trains that were still working by forging papers saying he was under government instructions, and travelled through the chaos and dangers all the way from northern Germany to southern Bavaria, where he and his group went into hiding until they learned the US Army had arrived nearby. Then, his brother (because he spoke better English) was sent there by bike to tell the Americans where they were.
      Only a handful of the original group who worked in Peenemünde decided not to go with them but to join the Russians instead.

    4. Von Braun said: *I gave America the moon.*
      I often wondered how he had escaped the Soviet troops: Thanks for telling me.
      Those German scientists were geniuses. I was 18 (1969) at the time of the moon landings. Norman Mailer covered it for Life Magazine. People were up all night watching television. We thought our world would never be the same again. Not quite.

      As a boy of five or six I knew about the Three Zones. After the evening meal I would hear my mother asking my father about Germany, the Airlift, the Berlin Wall. And then Churchill's speech: *An Iron Curtain has descended all across Europe.*

      At my Catholic junior school we were asked to pray for the people of Hungary, and I heard how the Soviets shot the democrats like dogs. The West did nothing.
      Tacitus spoke of an unhappy peace (miseram pacem) and that was the Cold War.

      Glasgow had so many cinemas. With my elder brother I saw two Carol Reed movies, The Third Man (Vienna) and The Man Between (Berlin). There was an Austrian film, Four In A Jeep. I remember Maximillian Schell cross-examining Montgomery Clift in Judgment At Nuremberg: you could see in Schell's face how he hated himself.

      I purchased three Walter Kempowski books in paperback: Homeland, Swan Song 1945, All For Nothing.
      Over the years I read Hans Fallada, Heinrich Boll, Grass, Christa Wolf, Herta Muller, Ingeborg Bachman, Nelly Sachs, Dort Hansen, Gert Hoffmann, whose son is a fine poet and widely admired translator. My sister Joan took shorthand notes from Willy Brandt, though in English. Brandt was chair of the Socialist International.

      And there is Gitta Sereny whose book The German Enigma is seminal.
      It would have been rather nice as an audio book in English, read by Maria Schell or Lilli Palmer.
      Kurt Weill told Lotte Lenya he should never have returned to Berlin for the Linden trees were gone. Now the Wall is only a memory, thank Gott.

    5. YouTube: Speak Low. Lotte Lenya.
      Tony Bennett sings Kurt Weill's song with Norah Jones. Also YouTube.

    6. Walter Kempowski! He is my (and I believe, my mother's too) favourite contemporary German author. My Mum has all his books, and I have read most of them, some of them more than once. We met him personally when he was in Marbach (German Literature Archive, one of my clients) for a reading.
      He died years ago but his work stands out.

      Maximilian Schell had so much more going for him than a handsome face (and handsome he was), didn't he.

      I was one year and a few months old at the time of the Moon Landing, my sister was two and a half. When I once asked my Mum how she remembers the event, she said it did not much register with her - she was busy with a toddler and a baby. I'll have to ask my Dad; he was working night shifts at our local paper's printing press back then, and maybe had occasion to watch it on TV or listen to a radio report.

    7. It would have been good to have heard Walter Kempowski reading in Marbach, even if I could not have understood a word. Spoken German is a pleasure to hear.

      There was a famous bookshop in Glasgow which stood opposite a Danish restaurant, both gone now. I remember the excitement of buying the new Gunter Grass and reading the first chapter over coffee and Danish pastry. He was a good poet too.
      Michael Hofmann, son of Gert Hofmann, translates German writers into English.
      I like Gert's story collection, Balzac's Horse; and his novel, The Film Explainer.

      Penguin Books printed Grass with bronze covers, a photo of the young writer on the back, his black moustache bristling. Edna O'Brien reviewing Dog Years said *Gunter Grass is a genius*. She met him in London. Everyone wanted to meet Grass.

      My sister was working for Socialist International while I was reading Gunter's
      The Diary of A Snail; and I had so many questions to ask her about Willy Brandt and Grass. His novel Local Anaesthetic is about democracy and dissent.

      On the last day of a Socialist International Conference in Lisbon the Palestinian delegate was shot in the foyer of the conference hotel. The assassin escaped. Joan saw him lying dead.
      Brandt was criticised for not having held the conference in Sydney, a safer venue. Bob Hawke was Labour PM in Australia then. Olaf Palme's murder is still unsolved.

      Maximillian Schell had the strongest role in Stanley Kramer's Judgment At Nuremberg (1961). Burt Lancaster stretched belief as an upper-class Prussian officer. Schell did a bleak but brilliant movie with Tim Roth, Little Odessa, which I have on DVD.
      Curt Jurgens was an Austrian-German actor who went far. He was in the war movie, The Longest Day (1962) and had a memorable cameo role in the BBC spy drama, Smiley's People (available on DVD) as a Baltic State emigre living in London.

      Your mother like mine would have been too busy with her children to reflect much on the moon landings. But she would have looked up at the moon and thought, *Men have walked up there.* Your father's memories are worth hearing.

      And how sublime those first photographs of our blue home planet looked to us!

    8. Judgment at Nuremberg 1961 Maximillian Schell. (YouTube)
      This is a scene from the courtroom drama. Spencer Tracey is an American judge, delegated to adjudicate at this War Crimes Court.

      Schell played a war criminal, Eduard Roschmann, in The Odessa File, based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth. John Voight had the leading role as a journalist in Hamburg in November 1963; the gracious Maria Schell played his mother.

    9. Montgomery Clift in Judgment at Nuremberg. YouTube.

      This brilliant screen actor had suffered a car accident which scarred his face.
      He looks very different from his former self in such films as An American Dream (with Elizabeth Taylor), From Here To Eternity, and I Confess where he played a Catholic priest in Quebec.

    10. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) - The Guilt of the World Scene (8/11) Movieclips.
      Maximillian Schell's in high gear.

  2. I wrote Tollinger instead of Trollinger.
    I must try to find a bottle in a very diverse *bottle shop* (as the Kiwis say) in Kelvinbridge, Glasgow.
    They stock bottles of black, fragrant beer: Baltic Stout, a bit like Guinness.
    Anything to do with the Baltic fascinates me.
    I am reading Alan Palmer's book *Northern Shores - A History of the Baltic Sea and its People* (2005) a writer who has written books on Metternich, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Bismarck who established Germany's technical colleges.

  3. A wonderful tribute by your Mom and you about a good man! I like how your Mom wrote, "They had not much money, but weren't poor; they had what they needed and were content." Being resourceful and content through difficult times is inspirational to us now.
    My Dad's birthday is November 19th (he would have been 96 this year)so I enjoyed that you celebrated your Grandfather on that day. My Dad was a good man too!

    1. Thank you, Ellen. Yes, a lot of what the generations before us had to cope with makes the current situation appear over-dramatised by many. Of course it is not the same for everyone, but the majority here in this country are not having to fight for their sheer physical survival like back in the 1940s.

  4. A lovely remembrance by your Mom of her Papa and you of your Opa.

    1. Thank you, Mary. I was welling up a bit when I first read what my Mum had sent to me for this post.

  5. Does your Mum read your blog? If not, please tell her how much I enjoyed reading this lovely piece she has written about your family and her very special memories! Her Father sounds like such a very special, talented and loving man! How fortunate for you all to have him in your life. I must also add how fortunate to have your lovely Mum in your life! I'm sure you are saving these beautiful memories she has written for they capture much of the essence of your family history and background. These memories and photos are priceless!

    1. She does, Bonnie, and she used to be able to comment, too; somehow, her computer won't let her anymore. We have tried all sorts of things but nothing has worked so far.
      Yes, he was a very special man, and the memories are priceless. Without him and my Oma, my Mum would not be here - and neither would I!

  6. What a lovely post - it is so full of love.

    1. Thank you, Pat. I was thinking of you and a post you wrote about your childhood and how much you loved your father when I was putting this post together.

  7. I enjoyed this post. If your mother's father had flown gliders, did he have any difficulty in avoiding being conscripted as a pilot?

    1. Thank you, Tasker.
      I don't know; but I can imagine flying a glider as a hobby is probably different enough from flying a motorised plane.

  8. This was so wonderful to read. Please tell your mom how much I enjoyed this post about your dear Opa!

    1. Thank you, Jennifer! My Mum reads all comments here, she just can not comment herself anymore for some reason we have not yet figured out.

  9. I remember well the post about Otto which was very moving. You have a very warm way of writing and bringing your reader into the 'story'. I find personal stories, particularly by people with whom I am acquainted (even if remotely) very illuminating and often emotional too. As Ellen said the sentence "They had not much money, but weren't poor; they had what they needed and were content." was very much the situation in which I was brought up and it resonates with me. I like the description "He had two souls in his chest". I enjoyed the post (which I have now read three times). Thank you.

    1. Thank YOU, Graham, for reading and commenting.
      There is so much more we could have said about both Otto and Erich; their lives, like the lives of most so-called "ordinary people", would fill an entire book! But my Mum managed to convey her perception of her father in a manner that speaks to us all. You are about my Mum's age and can well relate to the time that was her childhood and youth, even though you were in different countries.

  10. A lovely post and I can only echo Weavers comments as I too felt the warmth and love come through.

    1. Thank you, Dave. I am glad the post achieved what it was meant to do.

  11. Thank you for the post. I thought it warm and lovely too.

    1. Thank YOU for reading and commenting, Jill.

    2. Such a well documented childhood from your dear Mum Meike, and beautifully written. Glad you have the photos of your grandfather - I have just one of my own, but the family stories were shared over the years thanks to my Mum.

      Please wish your parents a blessed Christmas - may they stay well and, like all of us, embrace the coming year which just has to be better than this one!

    3. Thank you, Mary! We have many family photos, and I love looking at them, also love looking at other people's family pictures and hear the stories that go with them.

      Yes, 2020 was a year like no other, that's for sure; we'll have to wait and see what the next one brings!

  12. Those home made toys sound perfect and must have given endless hours of creative fun.

    1. They did, Linda, and they were so well made! We were always very careful with them - otherwise they would not still exist.

  13. A very lovely post which I enjoyed reading. Not only is this post a celebration of a good man's life, it gives a little glimpse into the strange rise of Hitler with his Nazis and how that impacted on ordinary folk. My own step-grandfather was also very good with his hands and made my younger brother and I an impressive castle complete with a drawbridge and turrets. Much better than a plastic castle bought from a shop.

    Regards to The Meike Mama for her excellent piece - written with much love.

    1. Thank you, Neil. My Mama will be happy to read your comment here.

      Reg. the impact of the Nazis on ordinary folk - it would not have been possible if not many of them were in fact ordinary folk to begin with.

    2. I guess that some of them kind of pretended to be Nazi supporters for reasons of self-preservation and fear. After all, compassion, civility and intelligence have always been features of German society.

    3. As with every nation, "the Germans" as such were (and are) not one homogenous mass, all thinking and acting alike. They were certainly those who firmly believed in what they did for the regime, while I guess many were, as you said, more or less pretending so that they and their families would be "safe". And then of course there were those who resisted actively, by writing, teaching, fighting, helping those whose lives were threatened.

    4. In historical terms, it wasn't very long ago but it is still difficult to get a true sense of what exactly was in people's minds. Good point you make about Germany not being a homogeneous country - but a nation that evolved with borders that were frequently hazy.

  14. Your Opa sounds absolutely wonderful, and I loved your mother's description of him. He does indeed sound like a wonderful father with a most enviable gift of making things. How I wish I had that gift! I do believe that this sense of happiness and admiration is one of the best things a parent can give their child, and so how very blessed. I think he would be pleased to be remembered so well in this blog!

    1. Thank you, Jenny!
      It is hard to tell what my Opa would have made of this blog, and blogs in general, and the entire internet and social media and all that. He was a highly intelligent man and not averse to progress and modern things, but when his other soul took over, he could be very grumpy and reclusive and maybe would not have appreciated being made "public" on here. We will never know, but we know what it was like to have him as a father and grandfather in our lives.

  15. I love this so very much.

  16. What a wonderfully written piece from your Mum! I can't tell you how much I loved reading it! I can't help but wish that my father could read this. He was in Germany, as you know, just after WW2, so this would have been so special to him. Your grandfather was so handsome! And your mother's writing of his character, easy to see where you get your writing ability, Meike! I just saw what Nan wrote in the comment above and I so much agree...I love this so very much.

    1. Thank you, Kay! I was in fact thinking of your Dad when I was putting this together, and I remember so much of what you told us about him over the years that your blog has now been active.
      Yes, Erich was handsome, wasn't he!