Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Rubble Children - Trümmerkinder

For the whole of one very hot summer two little girls played at housekeeping every day. Each took over a couple of rooms in the ruins of the large house on the corner plot, whose lower floor was almost intact except for the space furthest away from where the entrance door had been, where an iron girder was laid bare between the black and white  tiles of the vestibule. The children spent most of the time in what had been the kitchen of the house, with two large basins of white china clay, miraculously undamaged, having come to rest on the floor at a crazy angle. Twisted pipes hung down over the basins; there was, of course, no water, but as there was no other kitchen furniture at all except for the basins, imagination supplied what they needed. There was enough rubble inside and outside to build your own cooker and table and benches. Broken tiles became pots and pans. What they couldn’t invent they imagined and what couldn’t be imagined they discarded as unnecessary.

Having access to a whole house with floor space for playing was luck indeed. The whole street was in ruins; although all the rubble had been cleared from the roadway itself, most of the remains of former houses were standing amid fallen masonry, shattered chimneys and smashed roof tiles. The wood had all gone, used as firewood. The girls were adventurous, to them the ruins were not dangerous places; they made sure they stayed away from black, gaping holes which opened into the cellars.  They knew that if they fell in, there was no easy way to clamber out again. Besides, they had heard the adults talk about people who had been inside the cellars when the houses collapsed on top of  them. “Who knows”, they said, “ their ghosts might still be down there”.

It was dead people they feared, not the adults they knew. And certainly not houses which had once been houses for real people to live in.  

The upper floors to the house were missing, fragments of walls reached into the friendly  skies whose deep blue was safe now.  The children knew nothing of what had brought about the world in which they lived. The old world the adults spoke of was alien to them, they knew that the houses had not always been in ruins, that they had had walls and roofs and doorways and windows that could be opened and shut, much like the flats they lived in now.  The word ‘makeshift’ meant nothing to the children. When the adults said that the day would come when all would be well again, the children looked at them as if to say “ what is not well now?” The adults spoke of toys and food and clothes and shoes they had once had and would have again one day, and the children didn’t understand. They had shoes on their feet and clothes to wear and food in their bellies, and above all, they had their wonderful ruined house, where they could take their rag dolls and play housekeeping.

The house had once stood in its own grounds and although much of the former garden was covered in rubble from the cleared roadway, a small patch right in the middle of it was left free. The black frocked priest in church had talked of paradise and the girls thought they must have found it. Being secretive and unwilling to share the secret, they kept their discovery to themselves, forcing their way through the rubble which was partly hidden under the by now rampant vegetation and overgrown with long strands of trailing brambles, patches of thigh high nettles and thorny rose bushes, until they reached their own special den, the heart of the original garden, where flowering shrubs mingled with a large stand of willowherb. The scent was overpowering. The girls flattened some of the tall willowherb, which was taller than they were; when sitting on the ground they were completely hidden from view. 

Here they took their afternoon picnic. They had brought precious lemonade to drink out of toy cups, they had a few sweets; sometimes they had a biscuit each;  everything else their imagination supplied. They did as children do, and always will.

Summer that year was a miracle, paradise indeed, never to be forgotten. But all summers have to come to an end eventually.

The following year rebuilding began; the ruined house was demolished completely. One little girl moved away and the other remained a while longer, searching for a long time for her lost garden in the hustle and bustle of rebirth. It had disappeared completely and become the foundation for a whole new world.


  1. This is excellently written and historically and sociologically very important! One hopes you will find a way to share this with scholar/historians who will consider your words a treasure trove!

    Aloha from Waikiki, Dear Friend

    Comfort Spiral

  2. Friko, this is marvelous. It speaks of childhood memories, dreams and ghosts. It speaks from the heart.

  3. Hello Friko, Reading this post is brought back memories of my early childhood. While I don't remember playing in ruins I do remember that we had lots of imagination and little else. We treasured the foil wrapping of a candy or chocolate, carefully smoothing it and storing it in a small cardboard box. Believe it or not we also collected lint - but please don't ask me to remember what for because I simply can't. In east Germany reconstruction took much longer and ruins could still be seen when I last visited there in the late 60s.

  4. Oh to see the world through the eyes of a child again.

  5. Friko, that was lovely. I could imagine myself as being one of those little girls. You write so well.

  6. Beautifully written account of children living in their own world. One that spanned the the scarred division between old an new.

  7. You have such a fluent style.

  8. You capture well what a little freedom can add to the fantasiful element for children. One summer my two daughters and cousins transformed the upstairs of our play barn into a nature club. We were there at a distance providing them with the materials they needed to fulfill their imaginations.

  9. This surely is worth to be saved and used to teach. Much respect upon your writing, of an epoch nearly forgotten. Chapeau !

  10. I read a book once about a young girl living in post-war Germany and the rubble you've described sounds just like what she saw.
    Children have a wonderful ability to live in the present. This is a story full of hope and promise, with the dark shadows in the background just enough to enhance the light.

  11. We in America easily forget what it is like to grow up in a war torn country. We are very sheltered, and that is probably why we appear so spoiled to the rest of the world. You did a nice job of creating that place in time.

  12. I don't know whether to mourn for what had been or to rejoice that children are so accepting and imaginative...

  13. There's a lot of truth and poetry in that beautiful reminiscence, Friko. You know the child mind so well.

  14. Sad that we so easily lose that innocent wisdom of childhood. A lovely piece, Friko!

  15. Beautiful memories of history, life and childhood. Thank goodness you could find the joy of rebirth when the magic of summer ended.

  16. My first visit here though I have seen you around blogland. I enjoyed this very much. congrats on POTW.

  17. Beautiful Friko. The children could have been my brother and I. Remembered as though it were yesterday.

  18. So beautiful written! I was playing along with the children and we had the most marvelous tea parties! Yes! I remember!
    Congrats on your POTW

  19. Cloudia - golly, this is fulsome praise, thank you and Aloha!

    Hilary - another gratifying comment. (I have since found out that you have awarded me one of your POTW - thank you very much for that.

    Carla HR - that is amazing that there were still ruins in the East in the 60s. The West started the tidy-up immediately after the Waehrungsreform and the Wirtschaftswunder made itself known during the 50s. I am glad to be able to share memories with you.

    hah - the thing is, children seen what is, not what was or could be.

    molygolver - thank you kindly, molly(golver)

    Martin H - I can only say that children accept what is, without knowing of any whys or wherefores.

    Fran - this means a lot, as it comes from a reader and English teacher. Thanks, Fran

  20. Paul C - the children you spoke of were lucky to have you watching over them and encouraging them.

    robert - Ich freue mich, dass du gekommen bist und danke dir fuer das Kompliment. Ich hoffe, wir sehen uns wieder.

    Lorrie - a child's view of the world is a beautifully simple affair. As you say, the presence is all there is.

    Tabor - thank you Tabor, and congrats on the POTW. It never does to generalise, I have changed my mind about a lot of countries since I've got to know individuals who make prejudices look like what they are: meaningless.

  21. A beautiful post. It really is the essence of childhood - that we accept things as they are and find wonder where we can. Unless you become as one of these little ones, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a lot to that. Congratulations on the potw.

  22. Exquisitely written Friko. I was captivated. What precious memories. They brought back a few of my own - reminding me of a garden 'den' I loved made from giant ferns in the forest behind our home in British Columbia. I had a cousing with the most lyrical English accent that would read "Anne of Green Gables" to me there. You are so right - such precious times are the building blocks of a life.

    Thank you for this.

  23. I agree that this is wonderful writing, straight from your heart.

    In their ignorance of pain past, it is the children who foster hope for the future. Where once was evil and dark, they see only goodness and light. They are beacons, the guardians of humanity.

  24. Wonderful post .. congrats on the POTW mention from Hilary

  25. June - as far as children are concerned, neither is necessary.

    Mark - Thank you Mark, I find that children are basically like animals and therefore totally natural and thoughtless.

    Vicki - Thank you Vicki, We have to grow up, life becomes a serious business for all of us.

    LadyFi - Thank you for visiting and leaving your kind comment.

    ellen abbott - Thank you for telling me about POTW; I'd never have found out about it otherwise.

    Moannie - Where would that have been?

    slommler - thank you for joining my children at play, I am sure they were happy to have you.

    Cricket - yes indeed, well said. Thank you for visiting.

    Bonnie - I am so glad you liked the piece. As you know, your opinion is always of great importance to me, particularly when the post is important to me too.

    Charlie - Thank you for braving the lion's den. I Love your comment; we must make this a world where children can play, where all children, regardless of creed and colour and origin, can follow their imagination without fear or hindrance.

    Daryl - Thank you for visiting and your kind comment.

  26. it takes a special person to capture the magic of children and the reality of time passing and to share it so beautifully

    congrats on POTW

  27. I came here to find a respite from my too-busy, fractured day and found solace. Your lovely story made me settle back into my chair and my breathing slow - what a wonderful painter of word-pictures you are!!

    The world you describe is completely foreign to me, growing up as I did in North America where war and its aftermath were only the subject of some parental reminiscences - unfathomable to me. It's important to lay down these memories as you are doing - might you be The Accidental Historian?

    Quite lovely, and in your usual excellent fashion you have given me something to think about and quiet pleasure, all wrapped up together.

  28. Wow...this is so beautifully written. I was right there in the ruble, happily playing along side those children, completely unaware that I should be wishing for more. Thank you for writing this.

  29. I enjoyed your story Friko, so well written. It reminded me when I was growing up in the suburb of Paris near a very large forest. After a long walk up the forest I had found an abandoned cottage which you could only reach through brambles and shrubs. I would go there with my dog very often. Once by the cottage you could see so many wild flowers. I would bring a book and stay there with my dog and read. I was alone, but I loved it there where no one knew where I was. I had not thought about this for years. In the spring there would be primroses in that garden and I would bring a few back to my mom, but I never told anyone where I found them, it was my secret place in the forest.

  30. This beautifully written account takes me back to my own childhood. We had a 'den' in some bushes on the slope of a railway embankment. 'Imagination supplied the rest' - how true! There do not seem to be such magical places left in the world any more. Even if there are, I wonder if kids have their imaginations WII-ed right out of them.

  31. Dianne - Thank you for visiting and thank you for your very kind words.

    Deborah - You are the sweetest and most lyrical of my commenters,
    thank you. We never really recapture those magical days of long hot summers and the games we played. It doesn't matter where and how we played them, a child's imagination is all it takes to make them special. My little girls in the story had almost nothing compared to the riches children command today; I don't honestly think that that mattered at all. Not then. You don't miss what you don't know about.

    Susie & A Slice of my Life - Susie, thank you for visiting and for your kind comment. Not wishing for more, you have said it; that is the secret of contentment.

    Vagabonde - I knew you would find something similar to say; why is it that we share so many memories? They may not be the same memories but, in essence, they are very close. Is it because we are both Europeans from the same time? Or is it that we just share a similar way of looking at life? I can see you there in your secret house in the forest, reading. I too have such pictures of myself, a book, a secret place, solitude.

    Argent - I really hope not, Wii is all very well, and I don't want to stop them, but imagination and children's games are so much more rewarding. I wonder if such kids will ever write blogposts on "and then I got Wii-something and I danced about in front of the screen".

  32. die Welt der Kinder sehr schön beschrieben und die Tragik des Lebens auch...

  33. Children really don't question their world . Which , in some cases , may be a blessing .
    But a perfect summer like that would be remembered for ever ..... and not a Barbie in sight .

  34. This story reminds me of the places we played as children; in my grandmother's no longer used chicken house, under our front porch, and in a big cupboard at the top of the stairs. It had no light unless the door was open but it was a "house" to us. Your writing shares a time I've only experienced in books or in the movies. Thank you for the glimpse of childhood in very troubled times

  35. Renee - Ich danke dir fuer diese freundlichen Worte.

    S&S - no, Barbie had not been invented then, rag dolls were the height of luxury. Or maybe not, maybe dolls with china faces were..

    Sheila - Isn't it wonderful how so many here had special places to play. I am not sure that children nowadays would be allowed such free rein.

  36. Beautifully written, Friko. I see that I'm not the only one to see something very familiar here, despite never having played amidst the rubble of war.
    You put your reader in the time and place with just a few words - completely there - and then speak in a voice that, while not the child's voice, speaks for the child....without sentimentality.

  37. Your little girls were richer in the ways that matter than the overindulged children of today. They had the ability to imagine....To answer your question---It's not that I thought you perfect, but rather that there is a grace and composure, born I'm sure of plenty of suffering, that comes across in your writing. You seem high minded and generous in your thoughts....something I aspire to but don't always reach! Your story of the bead debacle made a great impression on me! Don't know if this helps! You certainly have a gift with words.....


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