Grandmother’s travel journal: aiding refugees in post-war Germany
I never knew that my grandmother experienced post-war Germany so closely. The fact that she travelled to the war-scarred country as a single female in 1952 – picking up political refugees and meeting women who’d survived concentration camps – is all the more perplexing given her caution in much later years. I remember that, as an 80-something-year-old widow, she intended to cruise around the Pacific ocean (she was always a traveller) until, just a few months before she was due to depart, the Twin Towers were attacked and the threat of terrorism embraced the world in fear. So it was with great interest that I read these few pages of her travel journal…
Left Amsterdam Monday 10th August about 1.45pm and on across the great Dike, which is a wonderful feat of engineering 20 miles long and 250 feet wide. Crossed flat, agricultural country, windmills and canals and reached town of Groningen (Holland) about 8 o’clock. While stopped, checking bearings and possible hotel, a young boy about 10 years came up on his bicycle and enquired if we required a hotel. When we assented and said we required a good but inexpensive hotel he said he would lead us there, but by this time several other men had come up also offering hotel accommodation. Competition was keen and our young lad waiting just ahead of car was looking very anxiously back and beckoning us to follow him, and so we did, resulting in very cheap but good comfortable accommodation.
Strolled around the town in the evening and after a spot of shopping left for Hamburg, but not before our guide of the night appeared, offering his service to lead us out of the town.
Crossed Dutch and then German border without much fuss. I was driving and it was not long before a speed cop was tailing us and had to keep speed down and was thankful when we dropped him. Arrived at Hamburg at about 8 o’clock and booked into a pension. Had to share our room and the bed covering was an eiderdown of feathers (bright red) but in a sheet-like cover – no blankets.
Hamburg bears plenty of evidence of the war, with large spaces of land with pieces of brickwork jutting out of the earth as grim reminders of terrible things.
It is nothing unusual to see a few- or five-storeyed buildings standing alone with spaces on all sides and holes and foundations jutting out of the ground. It certainly got a hammering. The railway station and harbour area all thoroughly war-scarred. One very large building about six storeys had all back wall missing and all floors were sagging right down.
Forgot to mention having seen a ship launched just after we left Groningen, it was most interesting and at first we thought it was going to fall right over into coral, however, it righted itself but remained as if a newborn foal floundering.
Wednesday 12th August
Left Hamburg for Bielefeld and in course of trip picked up political refugee from Eastern Seaton. He was about 21 or 22, a uni graduate who had to flee because he was one of four lads responsible for burning books and generally making fun of Eastern policy. A most interesting conversation.
Thursday 13th August
Stopped overnight at Bielefeld at home of Salvation Army lady. Big Army Camps here – moved on early next day to Harsewinkel and visited Claas Factory. Good reception and had a lovely dinner with wines etc, as Claas guests.
Met a woman who had been in concentration camp of Russians – scarred and bitter.
A strange story – she was sister of a Doctor in Queensland, who is working with H. Gribble. Strange coincidence.
Dusseldorf badly was damaged. Acres and acres in rubble and people living in cellars and odd rooms of a building almost destroyed – people mostly look serious and unsmiling!
From Dusseldorf on to Koln and stayed at a pension – very nice place. Looked over Koln in morning, bought C. and inspected Koln Cathedral. A wonderful old building which was badly war-damaged. It is situated near station and everywhere is destruction. The main street is now mostly one-storey makeshift stores, food shops display abundance of all varieties of foods. Had lunch and proceeded on to Burjen along Rhine Valley – a lovely drive, but much traffic. Passed a couple of New Zealand girls hitchhiking and talked to them for a while. Reached Bursenbruck about 5.30 and accelerator jammed. Had it fixed and after sometime got accommodation at Bursen Hotel.
Catch up on the series:
- Travelling through time: exploring similarities of grandmother’s travel journal and my own
- Grandmother’s travel journal: To London to visit the Queen
- Travelling through time: London, York and hotel bars with men
- Travelling through time: Grandmother’s trip to Ireland in 1952
- Travelling through time: Last days in Ireland in 1952
- Travelling through time: Dancing in French streets in 1952
- Grandmother’s travel journal: Brussels, Antwerp and Rotterdam in 1952
- Grandmother’s travel journal: Amsterdam and Marken in 1952
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