Early autumn 1945, a scattering of balloons

Early autumn 1945, West Germany, the American sector: Hof an der Saale.

Again there was no school. The reason for this – all Nazi propaganda had to be removed from textbooks and all teachers had to be retrained.  Once more, Guenter and I were free to play and to explore, within limits.

Usually we went to an open area near our homes, because this was where the “GIs” played football. What a colorful game! The players wore outfits with huge shoulder pads and very solid looking helmets. Under spectator benches we often found cigarette butts, a great treasure. The tobacco freed from its casing and fluffed up would, when traded, earn us respect and also small rewards from older boys.

I was eight years old and Guenter was seven.


This time we went to a park, also close to home.  We loved finding things and, as luck would have it, amongst the bushes and trees we found a scattering of balloons.  Pure joy!  After much debate we blew one up, the others we pocketed.  Back home we carefully arranged our treasure on a low bench, then we blew up a few more.  Filled with water, they became weapons we used against each other. We knotted the ends and played catch.  What a wonderful time! But then, out of nowhere , my mother appeared.  Her demeanor was glacial.  She walked over to me and slapped my face hard, both cheeks.  Guenter was sent home and I had to go inside as well.  For a long time I was puzzled.  I did not ask my mother anything – she was too angry.

(excerpt from an unpublished “flash” memoir, Shame, by Renata Bernal, 2008)

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