Friday, May 7, 2010

1 Freelance Friday: Travels With Vivi, Germany Edition

I realize I may be biased, but my grandmother had a pretty incredible life. Her adventures took her all over Europe, across Russia, to Japan, and then on a crazy route around the US. To share some of these travel stories we have a guest blogger, Kerstin Potter (AKA Mom), who will appear in a series of posts. 

Vivi was born on April 3rd, 1918 in the last phase of World War One and was named “Wiltrud Siegfriede” (the one who wills magic to win peace) in hopes of an end to the terrible war. Her father Walther Preibisch , a music and Latin teacher, was fighting at the western front, while her mother Louise was teaching English and French in their home town, Stendal, Germany. Her father saw the infant Vivi on his last leave, and was then killed shortly before the war ended.

After the war the family moved to Upper Silesia. Vivi and her older sister explored the new surroundings. They lived next to the large and ancient school building with its long hallways, hidden attic rooms, and, most importantly, the gym. They regularly “broke into” the gym after hours and climbed the ropes, swung on the trapezes, and tumbled on the gymnastic equipment in an effort to outdo one another. 

Due to a promotion to head a larger school, the family was moved to Wandsbek on the outskirts of Hamburg. Vivi began high school and joined her school’s rowing team, crewing on the River Alster regularly in early dawn. Her big sister had meanwhile graduated and started studying music in the Town of Luebeck. Vivi visited her regularly on week-ends, hitchhiking each way. As Vivi told recently, she learned quickly that pulling up the skirt a bit while thumbing for a ride made the cars stop a lot quicker. She never encountered any difficulties getting around.

Meanwhile, the Nazis had come to power. All citizens were now required to provide documentation of their ancestry to prove their Aryan background. Much to everyone’s surprise, it turned out that her father’s mother had been born Jewish and was baptized before her marriage. This fact completely changed Vivi’s life. While she was still allowed to attend school, she was ostracized in all other respects: no crew, no school dances, no social life--except for one friend with a similarly “tainted” background--and worst of all, no college after graduation.

Vivi graduated from her school in 1936, and waiting for the political climate to change, she got on her bicycle and rode north. She took a job as an au pair, first in Denmark then in Sweden. When it became clear that things were not going to change anytime soon, she received an invitation from her uncle to join him in Japan. Her father’s youngest brother had left Germany earlier (being “half-Jewish”) and was teaching at College in Yamaguchi, Japan.

Next stop, the Trans-Siberian Railway...

1 comment:

  1. I love it! I'm so honored that you're sharing Vivi's story with us!


Related Posts with Thumbnails