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The Nurses. Chapter 27

“I didn't want to worry you by coming in unexpectedly and I do know you have a Luger!”

Berlin. January 1st, 1941.

Katarina was looking forward very much to seeing her parents again, and it seemed so long ago since she had left home.

There was something, though which had taken the shine away slightly and she sat quietly looking out of the window.

Outside the light had long since faded and all she could see was the reflection of the interior of the carriage and its few passengers, most of whom were soldiers heading to Berlin for some leave or military business.

Without Maria she suddenly felt alone again and although she knew she would be very happy indeed to be home for a few days she also knew that she couldn't wait to see her friend again.

Katarina made friends, or rather acquaintances wherever she went, but Maria had so much in common with her that it was as though she had known her forever and a friendship like that is a very special friendship indeed.

It had been a long slow journey from Cologne and she was getting very tired.

When the rhythmic clicking of the train wheels began to slow and the uneven clatter of junction after junction became more frequent, she knew she was almost home, a thought which was confirmed when the lights outside in houses and factories became denser and the train became slower still. It snaked around curves and over junctions as it entered the now brightly lit heart of Berlin until it finally squealed to a halt in Anhalter station.

Wearily, she alighted to the bustling platform, even at this late hour, and made her way towards Stresemannstrasse where she would catch a tram for the last few metres to Potsdamer Platz and the familiarity of her home.

Walking through the booking hall, she noticed the telephone booths along one wall and wondered whether she should call her father. It was very late and she remembered all the commotion when the Metzler's had been driven out by the Gestapo and SS.

An unexpected knock at their apartment door at this late hour would be very frightening for them, so she turned and entered one of the booths, closing the folding door behind her and picked up the receiver.

“Number please.”

She told the operator her parents number and waited patiently for a moment before the ringing tone began.

The wait was only seconds but seemed so much longer. She wasn't surprised though because she knew her parents would be in bed now.

“Hello, Papa.”

Katarina smiled as she heard her father's voice say her name. She could almost see his face.

“No, I am not in France, Papa, I am at the station here in Berlin.”

She waited, listening.

“I didn't want to worry you by coming in unexpectedly and I do know you have a Luger!”

Another pause and then a chuckle,

“No Papa, not intentionally I know!”

Her smile was as wide as it could be now.

“All right, Papa. I will be home in a few minutes. I am heading for the tram stop right now.”

She heard the click as her father hung up the receiver to end the call and she was about to do the same when she heard another, identical click.

Katarina frowned, returning the receiver to her ear but it was silent now. Whatever that click was, it wasn't repeated, so she put down her own handset, opened the door and continued her walk to the street outside.

It was only about a fifteen-minute walk to her apartment, about half a kilometre but she had no energy left and besides, the tram was already approaching, so she climbed aboard when it arrived and relaxed for just a few minutes.

The tram stop was almost directly outside her home and she already had the key in her hand as she walked across to the big shiny front door but, just as she was about to raise the key to the lock, the door swung inwards, and her father greeted her with a huge grin.

“I'm sorry, I couldn't let you carry your things up the stairs now could I?” he said, “Not after such a long journey.”

Katarina stepped inside, dropped her case to the floor and threw her arms around her father, holding him tightly,

Siegfried did the same with a deep loving sigh.

“Come on then,” he said, pushing the heavy oak door closed behind her, “Let's get you upstairs. Your mother will be waiting impatiently!”

Siegfried picked up her suitcase and, arm in arm, they headed toward the bottom of the stairs.

Katarina couldn't help but pause briefly, looking at the door to the apartment nearest to the front door. I was slightly ajar.

Her father smiled and raised his eyebrows.

“Yes,” he said. “The same woman who replaced Frau Muller.”

They walked on and up the stairs.

“She will know I am here then,” Katarina sighed.

Siegfried squeezed her hand gently.

“They know anyway,” he said. “They have phone taps everywhere, always listening.”

Now it made sense! The second click on the telephone line must have been someone listening in to the call she made from the station.

The staircase was long and shallow, and each step creaked slightly under their weight.

“She doesn't need to keep her door open with these stairs. Papa,” Katarina laughed gently.

At the top, they walked a short way along the corridor to the familiar door which was her home. The door which her father had left ajar so they could walk straight in but Katarina stopped and looked toward the shining new door opposite.

She didn't speak, but her father knew what she was thinking and shook his head sadly.

“Herr Metzler didn't survive the beating,” he told her in little more than a whisper.

“So cruel,” she whispered back, “So unfair.”

At that moment, the door behind her swung open.

“Katarina!” her mother exclaimed with genuine surprise, and then slapped her husband's shoulder quite firmly, “You didn't tell she was coming home!”

Katarina and her father laughed and after hugging her mother, the three of them went inside and closed the cruel world out, at least for now.

Once more, Magda hugged her daughter, almost squeezing the life out of her and then, again, playfully slapped her husband's arm.

“When did you know and why didn't you tell me?” she asked sternly with an exaggerated frown and pursed lips.

“Oh, ages ago!” he replied, his face taking on a purely innocent expression, At least, oh... fifteen minutes.”

He turned to his daughter and winked,

“Wouldn't you say so, Katarina?”

Katarina nodded, a broad grin on her face as her mother continued,

“The telephone! You said that was a work colleague!”

Without further ado, Siegfried placed Katarina's luggage in her room. It was just as she left it which made her homecoming all the more special.

They sat in the living room for a while, allowing Katarina time to relax before going to bed.

“So, how have things been here,” Katarina asked them.

“Nothing different,” her father replied. “There has been no more trouble, but the building is watched, we know that. There is a new couple in the Metzlers old place. We have spoken to them, but we have to be so careful these days. None of the other residents know them and they do seem quite friendly with Frau Vogt, so we don't say too much.”

Katarina frowned,

“Frau Vogt?”

“The new Concierge,” her father replied, “Nasty woman. Rarely speaks but always watching.”

“And what about Herr Metzler,” she asked, “You said he didn't survive.”

“No, I'm afraid he didn't, sweetheart,” Magda said, “Your father telephoned the hospital, but they said there was nothing they could do.”

“No,” her father continued, “His spleen had ruptured and because of that and the other injuries he had received he died a few hours after arriving.”

“Oh, Papa,” Katarina was choked, “I tried so hard to save him.”

“Yes, Sweetheart, you did, and I am sure he knew that, but I am sure you will agree that there was actually nothing you could have done to save him.”

There was a brief silence whilst the three of them sat with their own thoughts.

“So,” Siegfried said suddenly and with a deep breath, “You haven't told us yet how long you will be home. For good would be nice.”

Katarina looked at her mother's eager face before she answered.

“That would be nice indeed, Papa but no, I am afraid not. I have to be in Karlsruhe for the thirteenth.”

“Ah well, at least we have a few days with you, but we forget how tired you must be, Katarina. We are keeping you up.”

It must have been the mention of being tired that made her yawn, but Katarina was unable to stifle it.

“Oh yes,” she tried to reply, but the result was almost unintelligible with her jaw trying to open to it's fullest extent and her hand over her open mouth.

“I'm so sorry,” she said when she regained control once again. “Yes, I am very tired indeed.”

The following morning, Katarina awoke to a smell of something vaguely reminiscent of coffee but possibly wasn't.

The clock on her nightstand read almost Eight O'Clock but outside her window, it was barely light.

When she looked out the sky was thick with dark clouds and a light drizzle was falling.

All the lights in the passing vehicles were reflected in the wet roads and pavements and, as much as she liked the summer, winter had it's beauty too.

Down below, in the street, she saw a cyclist trying to navigate the cobbles through the busy traffic when right before her eyes, the front wheel of his bicycle suddenly slipped into the grooved rail of the tram lines, and he fell sideways into the path of a following lorry.

Katarina gasped and grabbed her robe from the end of the bed, ready to run down and help the poor unfortunate man but when she looked again, the cyclist was back on his feet and dragging his bicycle from in front of the lorry which, fortunately, had stopped in time.

“That was close,” she thought, smiling and breathing out a sigh of relief.

“Good morning, Mama!” She greeted her mother brightly. “Is Papa not up yet?”

“Good morning, Katarina. Yes, he is, but he is in the bathroom. He has to work.”

She kissed her mother on the cheek as she asked,

“Would you like some coffee?”

“I will get it,” Katarina replied, “Would you like one too?”

“I have one thank you, Sweetheart,” Magda replied “But you could pour one for your father. He will be along at any time.”

Katarina took the pot from the stove and poured two large cups of steaming black, not exactly pleasant smelling liquid.

“I'm sorry it is not real coffee but decent food and drink is so hard to come by these days, even for those of us with connections. All the good food goes to the military.”

Just then, Siegfried entered.

“Good morning, Papa,” Katarina greeted him cheerily, “I have poured you some coffee already.”

She pushed the steaming cup across the table towards her father.

They sat around the kitchen table together for the first time since she had left and they began to tuck into the breakfast that Magda had prepared for them.

There was not a great deal, but the cheese was good as was the crusty bread that her mother had baked herself.

“I am afraid there is no butter,” Magda apologised. “There is only this replacement available these days.”

“That is all right, Mama. This bread is delicious without anyway.”

Katarina swallowed a piece and washed it down with the almost rancid coffee.

“I have something to show you both,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes as the pulled the small box from her robe pocket and carefully prised open the lid.

Both her Mother and father stared at her medal and then at her with pride, but her father spoke first.

“Only one?” he laughed. “I would have thought you would have several by now!”

As Katarina frowned, Siegfried squeezed her forearm.

“I am only joking,” he smiled. “I am extremely proud of you.”

“We both got one!”

Magda frowned.

“Both?”

“Yes, Mama. Maria and I.”

“Ah yes, your friend at the hospital. I don't remember if you said where she came from.”

“I may not have not have said, Mama, the mail being what it is. She is from Munich.”

There was a moment of stony silence and Magda and Seigfried cast a concerned look at each other.

“I know what you are thinking,” Katarina continued, breaking the silence, “I do realise that we are a long way from Munich here, but once the war is over, I am sure we will still be able to meet each other from time to time.”

Her father cleared his throat.

“Yes, I am sure you will when things have settled.”

“You would like her, I am sure. She is such a wonderful friend.”

Magda smiled at her daughter,

“Yes, I am sure we would, my dear and if she makes you happy then that is the important thing.”

“So, what else have you been doing in France. Have you met anyone else?”

“Oh, Mama!” Katarina scolded her mother, “I know what you are trying to find out. Have I found a boyfriend?”

“Magda pretended to look abashed but couldn't help but smile.

“Well, a mother likes to know these things.”

“All right, there is a man whom I met. Maria met him first, but I don't think she is particularly interested in him.”

“But?” prompted her mother.

Katarina looked at her father who smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, 'nothing to do with me.'

“Yes, all right, Mama, I do like him, he is nice, but nothing can come of it. I don't even know if I will see him again.”

“So?”

Katarina was puzzled

“Erm, So...?”

“Who is he? Does he have a name? What does he do?”

“Before you tell her all the details, Liebchen, I have to go.”

Siegfried stood up.

“All right, Papa,” Katarina said as she also got to her feet. “Have a good day and I will see you when you get home.”

When he had gone, Magda was not to be put off.

“So...?”

“Oh, Mama!” she laughed again. “His name is Michael Steiner, and he is a Sergeant in charge of transport for the Wehrmacht.”

“He is not a medical person then, a doctor or something?”

“No, Mama,” Katarina sighed, raising her eyes. “He is not a doctor or something, but nothing is going to come of it anyway.”

Her mother smiled.

“Why do you say that? A mother needs to know all these things, Katarina.”

“I know, Mama. I know, but I am unlikely to see him again. I am not expecting to return to Amiens and even if I do, the chances of him being there are pretty slim.”

“And you don't mind?”

Katarina laughed.

“No Mama, I don't mind. He was just a passing acquaintance, nothing more.”

“Oh well, I can always hope.”

She patted her mother's hand and smiled.

“Yes, Mama, you can.”

Magda squeezed her daughter's hand.

“So, what are your plans, Katarina?”

“Oh, none really. I was planning to visit the hospital one day, but I am not sure that is a good idea. I don't know who will still be there after all this time. Things change so quickly nowadays.”

“Yes, they do, Sweetheart. You don't have to stay with us all the time, though. If you want to go out on your own, we won't mind.”

“I know, Mama. We shall see.”

For the next few days, Katarina tried to treat her time as normally as she had before she left for France. She went out to the shops sometimes but generally stayed near her home.

She found Berlin quite strange now.

Whilst in France she had seen and cared for victims of the invasion of France and the raids on England and yet, here in Berlin everything seemed to be carrying on as it always had.

Theatres and Cinemas were always brightly lit, and couples were coming and going as normal.

Everywhere were uniforms. Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors. Some in groups, some with women on their arms all happy. It struck her that here, there was no war and yet, for the residents, life was so different.

Rationing was taking its toll. It seemed that the authorities didn't care at all about the general population and seemed to make no effort at all to keep the shops supplied.

She saw that certain shops had long queues and on occasion, when she asked what the queue was for, she was told that there was a small amount of bread available or maybe some potatoes but no-one was really sure if it were true or even if there would be enough but they were so hungry they would grasp at any possibility.

Katarina realised now just how privileged she was to first, be a daughter of a party member and, second to be a nurse attached to the military and not have to worry about where the next morsel of food would come from.

It broke her heart to see these people reduced to such a level.

The night before she was due to leave for Karlsruhe, Katarina was sitting at the kitchen table having just eaten a meagre but sufficient dinner of Schnitzel and Sauerkraut when she suddenly asked,

“Papa, why is food so scarce here in Berlin?”

Siegfried answered without looking at her directly, which she found somewhat unusual.

“It is the war, Liebchen. Food has to be rationed because supplies are difficult to maintain.”

Katarina thought for a moment.

“But there are plenty of things in the expensive cafes. There doesn't seem to be a problem there.”

Siegfried finally turned to face her, his face sad and almost apologetic.

“You must never repeat what I tell you now, Katarina, not to anyone. Do you understand?”

“Papa?”

Siegfried continued in a hushed tone.

“The leaders are not interested in the population of Berlin. They don't consider them important enough to make any great effort to keep them supplied. All they care about is that the military is kept supplied so they can keep this damned war progressing.”

Katarina's jaw dropped.

“They don't care about their own people?” she gasped.

“Not one bit!” her father replied, “As long as the troops are supplied the Nazis don't waste their time with trivialities such as keeping civilians fed. There is little fuel for heating either.”

“But we have enough, Papa, and it is not so cold in here.”

“The party keeps us provided for because of my position. Others are not so lucky.” Siegfried paused for a moment and then added, “I give as much as I can to the neighbours I can trust but that is becoming fewer, and I have to be careful. If the authorities find out, I would be in big trouble.”

“But Papa...”

“Please, Sweetheart, no more questions. The less you know, the safer it is for you.”

She wanted to know so much more, but she realised that if she persisted it would upset her father.

“All right, “ she replied sadly, “But you will stay safe Papa?”

“We will, Katarina,” her mother answered quickly, “Don't worry.”

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