Summer is on its way, and a couple hours ago I confirmed with my husband which weeks this summer from which I could choose to take our family to Spain for the first time. We work within limits, mainly schedules, and go where we please, for the most part.
You will see vacations behind the Iron Curtain were a bit different. We continue to follow the A to Z adventures of Irene Kucholick with excerpts from her Iron Curtain Memoirs. (All rights reserved.)
My first vacation provided by the State was not to a place where I really wanted to go, but I had to go where I was told. I was sent to Gral Mueritz, a beach resort on the northern shore of East Germany.
….My new vacation clothes, which were hard to come by, consisted of a bathrobe suitable for beach wear and a two piece beige dress trimmed with brown that felt suspiciously like paper.
….Our trip should not have taken more than six hours but instead it took us one entire day and one entire night. We knew that many times the whole train was delayed on dead railroad tracks to let more important trains pass. At the end of our journey, with our luggage in hand, we stood in line for lodging in hotels or boarding houses, now all owned by the State. In a vacation house I was assigned to a room with four beds in it. After I plunked down on one of the beds two more girls that I did not know arrived.
….I wanted to see the Baltic Sea as soon as possible, so I left the house and ran down to the dunes….The air was invigorating and rushed through my hair as I ran…into the cold water that flushed around my ankles.
“This is life! This is freedom!”
….Our food was the same as what I ate at home, except eel was served more frequently. Ever since I knew that eel feed on dead humans, I did not care much for it. But in a time when food was rationed, I ate it…
….The important thing for me was the sea. Once I walked along the beach the whole day, forgetting both lunch and dinner. I walked where there were no people–just myself and the sea. It seemed so free and it breathed in rhythmic swells and continually roared a song of freedom. I sang back to it as I walked along its shore.
[First verse of song, finished in German and English in book]….My thoughts they are free, no one can ever guess them. They flee away, like shadows in the night. No human can know, no hunter can shoot, I declare to the sea, my thoughts are free!
….Out of nowhere stepped an armed guard. suddenly I was back in the real world of an armed police state.
“Where are you going, Fraulein? Turn around! Turn around! What are you doing out here? Waiting for a boat that will take you to Denmark, eh?”
“Don’t get excited, I am going.” Everything is guarded, I thought….It was so depressing…I lengthened my stride to put distance between myself and the guard.
[Next an old German folk song, Nun Adieu Du Mein Lieb’ Heimatland]
….One day we returned from an outing only to find that the…dining room was closed…the few things [in town] were on ration cards. So that day was without provision….
Suddenly a voice over the loudspeaker filled the air. “All persons not employed by Wismut A.G. must leave the resort.” We learned some vacationers had secretly rented some boats in the hope of getting to Denmark. Silently I prayed that those people with children in their boat would reach the safe shores of Denmark and freedom.
….I washed my new dress. It turned out to be paper–more disappointment. I had paid half a month’s salary for this paper dress.
[Excerpts from Book 3 of Iron Curtain Memoirs, in Survive Little Buddy]
The mention of eel, called “paling” here in Holland, doesn’t make my stomach turn as much as it used to. When Irene references their carrion eating ways, though, I can’t help picturing the dead soldiers in the tide in those first 20 minutes of the movie Saving Private Ryan. I think I’ll steer clear of eel on our vacation to Spain.
Next up, P is for Publishing Unexpectedly.
Kristin King is an author, NGO co-founder, and currently living as an expat in The Netherlands, where smoked eel is very popular. Bought whole from the fish monger across the street from her grocery, you twist the head and pull down to skin the eel from end to end. A couple of her sons really like it. Luckily, they don’t read her blog.