This is the first chapter of a book I have been working on. If you like it, please let me know in the comments box below. If not, then please say what you don't like in the same place. Thank you.
Berlin. April 9th, 1933: A New Day
In the heart of the city, Katarina Langsdorf was waking to the start of a new day, a special day, for today was her fifteenth birthday.
It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was rising in the clear blue sky and streaming in through the window as she drew back the heavy curtains.
The trees had new leaves growing and the birds on their branches were singing joyfully.
In her heart, Katarina felt alive and ready to begin a new chapter of her life.
She was growing into a very beautiful young woman. She was tall and slim, her long blonde hair was hanging loosely around her shoulders and her ice blue eyes twinkled as she looked out at the busy street below.
Although just seven o'clock and a Sunday morning, Potsdamer Platz was busy with the squealing and clanking of trams and the constant drone of the omnibus engines and car horns. She could hear the faint voices of people going about their business from her window in the apartment high above the street. The sounds, though, were but a background to her thoughts and not loud enough to be an intrusion.
"Katarina!" She heard her mother call.
She turned away from the window and skipped through the door and down the hall to the kitchen.
"Good morning, Mama." She ran to her mother and threw her arms around her neck, "It is a beautiful day!"
"Good morning, Katarina, It is indeed. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart." Her mother hugged her tightly. "Are you ready for some breakfast?"
"Mmm... yes please, Mama."
Katarina sat at the large wooden table and her mother cut some bread from the crusty loaf and placed it on a large plate for her. Next she sliced some cheese and some ham and placed them on the plate also.
"Some milk, darling?" her mother asked.
"Mama..." Katarina paused as she considered the question, "Do you think I may have coffee today, please?"
Her mother smiled, 'Growing so quickly,' she thought as she poured the thick, dark liquid from the tall pot.
She looked lovingly at her daughter. At fifteen she was a woman now, ready to venture out into the harsh reality of an emerging Germany.
Adolf Hitler had been declared Chancellor just a few short weeks before. There was an air of optimism. He had given rousing speeches about how Germany would rise and become great again, its people free from the control of Marxism. No longer would the German people be held down by the yoke of defeat that had been imposed upon them after the last war. They would rise up and become the masters of their own destinies and the world would look up to them once again.
Magda Langsdorf, however, didn't trust Hitler or his cronies, they were bullies, using the depression and hopelessness of the populace as a way to gain power.
At the end of February, there had been a huge fire at the Reichstag building, there in Berlin. A young communist had been arrested at the scene, accused of arson, as were four other communist leaders soon after.
Adolf Hitler had demanded, and been granted, a change in the law which resulted in the arrest of communists including all of the party members who sat in parliament. It was this act that had given the Nazi's a majority share in government and which led Magda to doubt their credentials.
Her husband, Siegfried, Katarina's father, worked in the diplomatic service and, although a member of the National Socialist Party, a pre-requisite if he was to remain in his post, didn't trust them either. Neither would say so out loud, of course, to denounce Hitler would be certain death but, at home, they continued as best they could to bring up Katarina in as normal an environment as possible, with scant mention of politics.
He had been a diplomat since the end of the last war after he was discharged from the Army. He had seen great changes in the political arena but they had, until now, made little or no difference to him. He was not a politician, more a messenger, liaising between the government of the day and those of the rest of the world. He was fully aware of the oppression of his Fatherland and the conditions imposed on her whilst the rest of the world continued to grow and prosper.
He understood why the citizens of a now single but reduced and oppressed entity which was greater Germany, made up of former proud and in some cases, sovereign, states, would grasp at the straws being offered by a man who was, without a doubt, a great orator but he was not convinced. He was aware that this man could not have achieved such status by words alone.
However, there was nothing he could do so he and Magda tried as best they could, to give Katarina the best upbringing without concerning her with such matters.
Magda sighed and passed the cup to her daughter who took it and sniffed its delicious aroma.
Katarina took a sip and wrinkled her nose. It was strong and bitter.
"Ewww, Mama! How do you drink this?" she exclaimed
Her mother laughed,
"Would you like some sugar and milk in it, Sweetheart?"
"You don't have milk in it." she replied.
Smiling, her mother stirred a half spoon of sugar into the steaming black liquid and Katarina took another sip.
"That is better," she said, "but still, well..."
Her mother didn't allow her to finish.
"I am afraid good coffee is hard to find these days," she told her daughter. "It is only because of your father's position that we have any coffee at all!"
“Oh yes! where is Papa?”
“I am afraid he had to go into work, sweetheart. He said he wouldn't be too long though.”
“Oh, but Mama!” Katarina protested, “It is Sunday! And it is my birthday!” She pouted.
Magda Langsdorf walked over to her daughter and put her hand gently on her shoulder.
“Don't worry, my love, I know you are disappointed but he will be home before too long. He said he had some paperwork to deal with. That's all.”
“All right, Mama.” Katarina smiled up at her mother then frowned. A little grimace appeared.
“Mama... ” she paused, “...I don't like this coffee. May I have milk instead please?”
Her mother smiled.
“Of course you may, Katarina.” She walked over to the worktop and poured a glass of milk for her daughter.
Placing it on the table before her she said:
“You don't have to grow up instantly, you know. You can still drink milk even at fifteen.”
Then, she put her arm around her daughter's shoulder and gave her a hug.
Katarina reached out and slipped her arm around her mother's waist and smiled.
After a moment, Magda Langsdorf went back to her chores in the kitchen.
"Have you thought about what you want to do when you finish school?" she asked.
"Oh yes, Mama," her daughter replied, "I want to be a nurse."
"A nurse?" Her mother replied, "That is a good job, Katarina. A lot of hard work and so much to learn, though."
"Oh, yes, I know. I don't mind that. It would be worth it to help people who are sick to get better."
"You are a good girl, Katarina. I am very proud of you darling. I think you will make a very good nurse."
“Do you really think so Mama?” came the reply.
“Yes, Sweetheart, I do. You are so selfless in everything you do.”
She finished her breakfast and helped her mother clear away the dishes and wash them and when all was done, she sat on a wooden chair whilst her mother brushed her hair and tied it back.
“There,” her mother said when it was done, “a more beautiful woman doesn't exist.” She bent forward and kissed Katarina on the top of her head.
“Oh, Mama!” she giggled, “I am not beautiful, I am just me!” and she smiled broadly.
Inside, her mother's comments made her feel warm and loved.
“Now then, young lady,” she felt her mother tap her shoulder gently, “Go and get washed and dressed. We have much to do before your father gets home.”
“Yes, Mama.” she replied jumping to her feet and trotted quickly off to the bathroom as instructed.
Together, they spent the rest of the morning cleaning and cooking and doing all the chores that needed to be done in the apartment until, finally, the apartment was sparkling and clean, which it always was anyway.
Magda Langsdorf took a large cooking pot and began to prepare two pigs knuckles. Katarina helped her and began peeling potatoes and slicing onions and placed them in a pan of water to prevent the potatoes from drying out.
The two pork joints were placed in the pot and left to boil slowly for the afternoon.
Some hours had passed when the front door opened and closed with a thump.
“Papa!” Katarina ran down the hall to meet her father who placed his briefcase on the floor so his hands would be free to hug his daughter as she threw her arms around him and held him tightly.
“Happy Birthday my darling.” he said, smiling.
It was then that she noticed the flowers in his hand.
“Are those for me?” she asked., her mouth wide open.
Siegfried Langsdorf laughed happily.
“Not all of them!” he chuckled as he separated the two bunches. “Some are for your mother.”
Katarina carefully took the pretty, sweet smelling bouquet from her father and looked at them in awe. No-one had bought her flowers before. All of a sudden she didn't feel like a child anymore, for the first time in her life she was being treated as an adult and she felt wonderful.
“Papa... ” she looked at her father who was still smiling and she saw his eyes were a little moist.
“Thank you, Papa, they are so beautiful. I love them.”
Siegfried took off his hat and coat and hung them on the hall stand then, with his arm around his daughter, walked down the hall to the kitchen where he went to his wife and kissed her, handing her the remaining flowers.
Magda placed a cup of steaming black coffee on the table in front of her husband then turned to her daughter and, with a mischievous smile she asked:
“Would you like one, Katarina?”
“Oh, er, no thank you,” Katarina replied, “I am not really thirsty.”
Wiping a strand of jet black hair from her forehead, her mother laughed,
“I will get you some milk... ”
Her father looked puzzled.
“Katarina had some coffee this morning,” her mother answered the unasked question, smiling. “She didn't like it much.”
Her father laughed gently.
“There is plenty of time for coffee, Sweetheart,” he said, rubbing his daughter's head benignly. “Don't be in too much of a hurry to be grown up. Enjoy your young life whilst you can.”
Her smiled widened.
“Yes, Papa.” was her answer.
Katarina returned to the business of slicing the potatoes for her mother to place in a frying pan which had been warming on the stove, along with the remaining onions that had not been put in with the pork.
Once Siegfried Langsdorf had finished his coffee he looked at his daughter and smiled.
“Katarina,” he said.
“Papa?” she answered.
“I have watched you grow into a beautiful and caring young woman and I have seen how you are with friends and strangers alike. You never refuse a request and always help wherever you can, however, difficult that may be. Such as the time last month when old Frau Gruber tripped and fell. Your mother told me about how you helped her to her feet and made sure she was not hurt and then carried her shopping up to her apartment whilst guiding her up the stairs.”
“Oh, Papa!” she protested, “That was nothing. She is nearly ninety years old. Anyone would have done the same.”
“Perhaps.” he replied, “Nevertheless, you helped her without a single thought.” He paused, thinking.
“That was just an example, sweetheart, of how you are all the time. Never thinking of yourself and always putting others before your own wishes.”
He reached into his pocket and brought out a small box, not unlike a box that would contain an engagement ring but perhaps a little larger.
He handed the box to his daughter with a smile and the words:
“Happy Birthday, Katarina.”
Wiping her hands on her apron, Katarina took the box carefully from her father's outstretched hand she looked at it carefully then looked at her mother, questioningly.
Magda smiled happily at her daughter and nodded her assent to open it.
Holding the little box between fingers and thumb of her left hand, Katarina slowly prised open the lid against the sprung hinge and gasped. Putting her hand to her mouth and her eyes filling with tears she looked first at her father then her mother, both of whom were smiling broadly and with moist eyes.
Inside the box was a small round brooch. The centre was white and upon that white background was a red cross. Around the top, silver lettering on black enamel. The words:
'Deutsches Rotes Kreutz', then, below, 'Schwesternhelferin'.
It was the insignia of the German Red Cross, Nursing Auxiliary.
Katarina didn't know what to say but a whispered, 'thank you' found it's way out.
After a pause to allow his daughter to regain her composure, Siegfried Langsdorf spoke again.
“I, well we, your mother and I, have known for some time time that you wanted to be a nurse...”
Katarina looked at her mother and frowned.
“I asked just to be sure,” her mother confirmed.
“I have some friends who have found you a place at the Charité Hospital, here in Berlin. When you have finished your studies at school, later this year, you will go to the hospital to train to be a nurse.”
Katarina threw her arms around her father.
“Oh Papa, Thank you, thank you, thank you...” then, releasing him, she ran over to her mother and gave her the same treatment.
“Mama, I am so happy. Thank you so much.”
Siegfried felt that, at that moment, there could be no happier family anywhere in the world.
Before too long, the meal was ready. Magda cut the meat from the bones and shared it between them and also the fried potatoes and onions. Katarina handed a dish to her father who took it with thanks and placed it before him on the table then sat at one side with her own dish whilst her mother, after placing a fresh pot of coffee on the table, sat opposite her.
Siegfried Langsdorf made an announcement.
“Next week,” he began, “I have to go to England for a few days.” He waited to see how the news would be received.
“Oh, Papa...” Katarina pouted.
“Don't be sad, little one,” he continued, “You and your mother are coming too!”
Her face brightened immediately.
“There is a conference I have to attend but we shall also take a little holiday.”
“I love going to England, Papa! The people are always so nice.” Katarina's eyes sparkled and danced with joy. “Oh, this is the best birthday ever!”
“I will send a letter of explanation to your teacher tomorrow and we fly out from Tempelhof on Thursday. How does that sound?”
“Wonderful, Papa, I cannot wait!” She clapped her hands together in excitement.
“Will we stay in London?”
Siegfried Langsdorf smiled.
“Yes, Sweetheart, at the Embassy.”
By the time Katarina went to bed that night, she was happier than at any time in her short life.
She loved visiting London and of all the people she had met from around Europe, the English people were so much more like themselves. She found them very welcoming. It was true that some of the ministers and their families were quite stuffy and aloof but they were always pleasant and, when she tried to learn a few words of English they were always so helpful in explaining the correct pronunciation.
It was a difficult language, she found, so confusing when there were so many words meaning the same thing and then so many different meanings for the same words and worse. Because she didn't visit often, many words were soon forgotten.
What Katarina didn't know, however, was that this would be her last visit to England.
Outside of her happy world, many were beginning to suffer the effects of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs. Little more than a week before, they had begun a programme of hatred against the Jewish population. Their businesses had become out of bounds to the German populace and worse was to come but that was all unknown to Katarina as her parents had kept such things away from her and so, that night, she placed the little box containing her birthday present on the stand beside her bed climbed into the cool sheets with her future planned and everything was perfect.