Well, yes, I know that my last post was about a year ago.
I really can’t think of a valid excuse for my tardiness, except that life presented me with some personal challenges (like it does to everyone). Now, please don’t think that I wish to complain, but it is true that every day gets a bit more challenging, when you are not eighty anymore. On the plus side of things,I have to say that the advancing age presents you with a mature mind. You see many more opportunities than in your younger years. Sometimes it gets downright impossible to sit down, and concentrate on writing, while you see countless possibilities slipping away. Never the less, I attempted to finish my second book of the Kellner Chronicle series in a timely manner. But, I am sorry to say that it is still not ready to be published. Give me another month, or so. Please.
Let’s see, I wanted to post about a thought provoking incident which occurred about two weeks ago.
The fourteen year old daughter, of a friend of mine, asked me for a favor. Apparently she worked on a class assignment to write about the generation gap.Somehow she figured that I looked old enough to be interviewed. Wondering about the subject matter myself, I had no objection.
Most of her questions were direct, and simple to answer. Then it got more complicated.
“How old were you, when you got your first phone?” She asked.
“I never got a phone” I answered. “I saved my money until I was able to buy one.”
I must have hit a sore spot, because she exchanged looks with her father. “How old?” she repeated.
“Twenty five,” I answered truthfully.
She rolled her eyes in disbelief. “What are your first memories?” she continued her questions.
“Do you mean my first memories, or my most dreadful ones?” I asked in return.
“I mean your first ones,” she maintained.
Her insistence caused me to think hard. There were birthdays, but I could not exactly remember when they happened. Then it came gradually back to me. “I remember cleaning and polishing my dad’s shoes, every evening, before I was permitted to go to bed..”
“You did what?” she asked, with open disgust all over her face..
“You know, keeping my father’s shoes in pristine condition. This was not an option or expectation. It was the normal, and the first thing that a father demanded from his son. You have to remember that this was 1934 and in Berlin,Germany.”
There were no more questions, and I don’t know what she wrote in her report. However, a few days ago, her father told me that she received an “A” on her assignment.
Generation gap? Anyone?.
You would think that I should have posted an announcement before I published Postwar Survivor.
Well, yes, this would have been the normal thing to do. However, I knew that my trusted V.A. Chris Haas, would send an announcement to my loyal readers, to offer them the opportunity to obtain the book at a discounted price. I wasn’t worried that anyone would be forgotten. Whoever had subscribed to my newsletter, would be notified.
However, what did worry me, was the fact that I wrote this particular book in response to my reader’s request, to follow up on Karl’s life, after the war. As I mentioned many times before, I didn’t think that there was much to write about, and I wondered how this uneventful book would be received.
Now, after numerous emails, and questions, from many of my new found readers, and loyal friends, I feel a lot easier. A whole lot, matter of fact.
Let me get right to some of the questions: “Do you still eat sugar filled rolls in the morning?” Yes, of course I do. The only thing that could possible stop me, would be my wife, Jennifer. However, now, after nearly forty five years of marriage she has either gotten used to it, or, she has given up to educate me. Don’t really know what it is. I suspect, that the fact that my weight never changed, might have something to do with it.
“Do you still eat mostly potatoes and noodles? “ Yes, as long as they make potatoes and noodles, I will not even try to stick something else in my mouth. The problem is mostly, that I don’t know how to get rid of it. Once it is in your mouth, what are you going to do with it? Swallowing is not an option. No way!
“Just like to tell you, that vinegar and salt works, to clean copper. I tried it on my old copper watering can. It looks now like new.” Right, but it does not last forever. You have to clean it on a weekly basis.
“You touched on the topic of declining family and moral values. Was there more to it than you mentioned?” Yes, a lot more. Plus the incompetence of the newly elected officials. However, there were exceptions, If they were indeed, competent, they were corrupt beyond imagination. Maybe this was a job requirement, I don’t know. But, I do know that it went hand in hand. Had something to do with human nature, I guess.
Did it changed during the past seventy years? (I am sometimes asked when I am a guest speaker.) I don’t know. Your call. It is also your choice, how you wish to look at things. Sometimes I am told that the present climate is the price of freedom.
No, I shake my head. Wrong terminology. It is the burden of freedom.
I tried to write a balanced account, about times which were not only difficult within themselves, but also difficult to understand. Based upon the comments I received, I know now that I came pretty close. Close enough to encourage me to continue writing about Karl as he came to this great country of ours. In the meantime I also started to write the second book of the Kellner Chronicles.
Thank you for all your comments, and please feel free to ask questions about these forgotten times. If I can, I will answer. And, thank you, for your loyalty and reading my books.
Yes, the time has finally come.
I finished my fifth book, Postwar Drifter, a few days ago.
Well, that’s not exactly correct as I wrote the final chapter several weeks ago, but after reading and rereading it seemed that the flow in the last three chapters needed some adjustments. This turned out to be a very time consuming undertaking. Once you start correcting yourself there is no end to the changes you want to make. I will never, ever do that again. Rewriting I mean.
Last week I received the last chapters back from my new editor, Melodine Reese, and I dumped the whole load on my trusted VA, Christina Haas, to read the story and create the cover art. True to form she came through not only with an excellent cover but also in record time. (She knew I was more than late) And then she really stepped on it. She wrote the foreword, the blurb, the historical note and did the keyword search which is important and which I still don’t understand. Then she put in a night shift to format the book and submit it to Amazon.
Thanks Chris! Without your unrelenting effort it would still be nothing but a manuscript.
But now it’s finally published.
The book is about the life of Harold under the tutelage of the Russian Commissar Godunov. Due to his very unusual life I decided to write several books about him and his covert activities during the cold war and beyond. I have to give Christina Haas credit for suggesting the name of the series: “The Kellner Chronicles”. You might remember that Harold’s last name was “Kellner”.
Since I had many readers asking me to also write more about Karl’s life I started in the mean time to write a book about his years after the war.
However, right now I bake myself a cake, or maybe cook some noodles with milk and then cover it with several layers of sugar. As soon as the first layer melts you have to add another layer of sugar until it doesn’t melt anymore. This way you can hear it crunch when you eat it.
I know, I know, I heard all the comments how the sugar is supposed to be bad for your health. Well maybe, for somebody.
However, I am now close to 86, enjoy the same weight, 140 pounds, as 50 years ago and always enjoy potatoes and sweets. That’s just the way I roll.
A day ago I received a comment from one of my readers which raised a subject that triggered the thought for this post. I contacted the reader to ask for permission to quote him and he graciously agreed:
” During the late 1960’s I was an American soldier serving in what was then known as West Germany. I had a German friend who told me on several occasions that I could not understand what those times were like for those people. I am still trying to understand that and other things he told me. Just finished Children To A Degree and find that you have advanced my understanding remarkably. Thank you so very much. I definitely want to read the other books in that series. Gary”
The core of Gary’s comment was something that I encounter very often. People ask me or write to me that they have a hard time to understand the Germany of the 1930’s.
When I wrote my books I never considered that there would be questions in this regard. Please let me explain. First of all, the 30’s are now about 80 years behind us and as a reader of today we tend to look back with the combined knowledge of today. In other words we take phones, radios, television, internet and other means of communication and INFORMATION for granted. Not to mention the social networks.
Secondly our upbringing was totally different from today. I will try to paint you a picture.
All of our information came from Newspapers which were controlled by the government. Free speech was unheard of and there was zero tolerance for offenders. As a role model we had only our father or grandfather ( from fathers side of course, because our mother and her line of parents would never be considered). Female authority figures was a contradiction in terms. Radios were extremely expansive. I didn’t know of anyone owning a radio, besides my father. We were taught to respect our father and grandfather. However, to ask any question was a privilege which had to be earned. Speaking without being asked was unthinkable. None of my classmates parents nor my parents owned a telephone. Religion was not being taught. In school we were not only expected to excel, but is was demanded. Any kind of a slacker was severely punished, bordering on cruelty, or for that matter simply expelled from school. I could, without great effort, paint you a grimmer picture, but then you might think that I am pushing a personal agenda.
Not so. I merely try to point out that all of the above was the result of the mindset of our elders, and the rigidity of their upbringing made the atrocities of the Hitler regime possible. The technical lack of communication was another contributing factor.
Presently, I am working on a book which deals, in part, with the culture shock Karl experienced when he came to the USA. Not only in terms of the unbelievable wealth of the ordinary citizen but also in the freedom of expressing opinions.
Fwiw. My first book of “Harold” named “Postwar Drifter” is now with the editors. However, I am still struggling with a fitting name for the series.
Since I published my books I communicated with some of my readers of my age who were born or still live in Germany.
This communication resulted in some specific questions (from me) and the results are astonishing.
My first few questions were simple enough: Did you had a bout with Diphtheria in your preteen years, specifically between 1932 and 1937?
My follow up questions were more specific, but I will not bother you with the details. However, the answers are pretty astonishing.
All of my readers who underwent hospitalization during their illness had the following in common:
1) They never needed a hospital stay for any other illness.
2) During their lifetime of over 80 years they never needed any kind of medication, except some blood pressure prescriptions.
3) None of them experienced or is subject to any allergy. No hay fever or any kind of food intolerance’s, such as gluten or lactose or glucose intolerance.
4) None of them likes or drinks alcohol. Except, maybe a glass of wine with their meal.
5) None of them had the need to see a physician during the past 70 years. Except for an injury, eyeglasses, or as I stated above, for blood pressure observation.
6) While none of them could remember any birthdays or other specific events before the age of four, they all had vivid memories of their illness (high fever hallucinations) and their hospital stay.
7) None of them is a diabetic or has a problem controlling their weight. In other words, none of them is overweight.
8) And, finally, all of the people I asked are still in vibrant health and active. Mentally as well as physically.
Yes, I know, this is not a comprehensive study and it wasn’t intended to be, but it leads to the question if the treatment of Diphtheria, in Germany, in the thirties, caused the interesting similarities, or was it the illness itself?
Or, is this all coincidence?
Hmm, coincidence? I know of two ladies who instead of wasting their years solving crossword puzzles, started to learn another language at the age of 83, just as I decided to embark on a new career as a writer.
Wow, I do receive fan mail from many readers and I wish to thank all of them for their genuine interest and comments about my books.
With some of my readers I correspond on an almost daily basis. (And, you know who you are.)
However, the following is not really what you might call “fan mail”. But, I have to consider it as such because what else it is?
Well, a reader copied me a letter which he emailed to his friends. That’s all. Just the copy of his letter and I received his consent to publish it here:
Ya orta read tha book “Children of a Degree”by Horst Christian. Electronically you can read tha intro to it ifen you search tha enternet. Tha book is free if you have a way to download it to your electronic reader or cell phone. Just be aware that there are 3 more books. I have three of tha books now. I just electronically loaned tha second book to “mom” and then most likely ta Mark, so it wont be available fur a few days ta borrie fur readin. Ima just startin tha third book. Tha books are easy reads, but ya just caint puttem down. Ah do own book 2 in paperback but az itz signed by tha author ima keepin it close and it aint fur loan.
Tha secon book is called “Loyal to a Degree”. Its needs to be retitled to “From Outta tha Fryin Pan and into tha Fire” as that’s where the second book literally begins and then ends. Ah caint believe Karl is still alive! Read book one fur free than determine ifen ya want ta continue. Ah bet ya will. Alan, as you grew up in England durin WWII ya need ta read it as your peer, the author, grew up in Germany durin tha same time and now you both live in CA. What a different life!
“Thank you, Ray”,
This is written in response to the many emails I received from my readers.
When I started to write the ” degree” series I planned to conclude Karl’s story with my fourth book. I wanted to phase him out and at the same time starting to feature Harold and his interesting life.
It seemed that I succeeded because one reviewer remarked that I shifted “seamlessly from Karl to Harold.”
However when I showed my wife the many emails suggesting, and in some instances almost demanding, that I continue with Karl’s story, she said: “You should continue to write about Karl’s life…..(at least to a certain degree) because you are abandoning your readers”.
Now, this is the last thing I wanted to do. I thought that continuing with Harold was the right thing to do because his actions and viewpoints, during the cold war, were remarkable.
While I was a pastry apprentice and learned how to make butter cream and wedding cakes and eventually became a pastry chef, Harold learned additional languages and became a cunning international businessman. All the time being under the protection of the political Soviet Kommissar and the almighty Soviet State Police, he also became a political agent .
In addition, he avenged his mother without directly killing anyone. He made them all wish that they were dead..
Plus, he traveled with Stalin’s team, and later on with Khrushchev, as a translator, to many Eastern conferences and all during this time he kept me up to date.
For example: He knew more about the American nuclear submarine Nautilus (you remember the first crossing of a submarine under the northern polar ice) than the American public.
So, while I was thinking of continuing my books in accordance of the historical events at that time…… my readers and my own wife tells me: “No. It is not the history or WWII with which you connected with your readers ……. It is Karl they want to know about.”
I never thought about this when I was starting the series.While I was writing about a time span in recent history and about my experiences during this period it never entered my mind that a reader would be interested in Karl’s life after the war.So now, as a writer, I would be stupid not to listen to my readers and I decided on the following:
- I will finish my first book about Harold, because I am writing already the final chapters. Off course, the book still needs cover art and (yes, a title) and to be edited and formatted. However my VA team with Chris Haas from zenithbusinesssolutions.com is already working on it.
- Secondly, I am starting on a follow up with Karl’s life. At this time I intend to write about him until he entered the United States.
At the present time I cannot predict how my readership will react to it, because I also received many requests to keep on writing about the cold war and Harold’s experiences.
Due to the fact that I met with Harold many times and in many different international locations it is entirely feasible that from time to time I somehow merge again the two characters in my future books.. We hardly ever acted together, but our viewpoints clashed on many subjects. However, they never impaired our friendship. Somehow, I think, this could evolve into interesting books.
Time will tell.
About a week ago I was invited by a local reading group to answer questions of their members in regard to our school system during the war years in Berlin.
Some of the questions were easy to answer, but some others were more difficult. First of all the questions showed me the vast difference in the concept of our upbringing during the Forties in Berlin. To sum it up evenly, I know that our parents and teachers tried to raise adults. This is in stark contrast to the current belief that children should be children as long as possible.
Believe me, I am not trying to stir up a controversial subject. I am not a teacher, just a story teller, about forgotten times.
However, one of the readers remarked that she is the grandmother of a 17 year old. She thought that her grandson would have been hard pressed to survive the events I described in my books. Due to his upbringing, I have to agree that this might have been difficult for him.
Yes, we were constantly schooled to use our mind. This resulted that we thought and acted on our own. We were trained to stay alive under difficult circumstances.
But, here is the real question: “Was it better then? Was it better to know how to act when your back was against the wall?”
NO, I don’t think for a moment that it was better then……….but I also believe that we should teach our children to use their mind. And, the sooner the better.
I can’t see anything wrong with it.
Well, the fourth book, Partners To A Degree, is finally finished. I say ‘finally’ because I rewrote the book several times. On one hand I needed to end the story of Karl and on the other hand I wanted to report about Harold and his experiences during the historical events of the first few weeks of the Russian occupation. This second part was not so easy because I had to rely on the notes which I kept from my later meetings with Harold, and on the reports I received from him over the years. So, I am sorry to say, it took several rewrites to get it right and to include the vital parts of the story. And, just like the first three books, the story is true and all of the characters as well as the places existed.
Now the book is off and in the hands of my trusted assistant, Chris Haas. She did again the cover art as well as the formatting and even the final editing. Her help is truly priceless and according to her latest email we should be ready to hit the publish button today.
Oh, yes, the cake. I knew you would ask. I always reward myself with a cake.
They can keep the meat and the fishes and the vegetables where ever they want. I will take a cake anytime and as a former pastry chef, it is not much of a challenge. However, I don’t use any recipes. When I obtained my master designation in Germany you were not allowed to use a recipe during the test. Besides, you would be barred immediately from continuing the two day test. You were eligible to apply for the test after three years as an apprentice and five years as a journeyman. Therefore, you came to the master committee with eight years of experience and using a recipe was a sure sign of incompetence.
For today I decided on a pound cake filled with french butter cream and you are welcome to join me. The pound cake is simply what the name suggests. Pound for pound:
1 pound butter, 1 pound sugar, 1 pound eggs, 1 pound flour. Whip up the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time (Either about 15 egg yolks or 10 whole eggs.) Add the flour, bake at 375 for one hour.
French butter cream: 1 pound powdered sugar, 1 pound butter, eight egg yolks. Whip butter and powdered sugar, add the yolks, ( one at a time) Don’t forget some rum or brandy flavor.
Over the last three or four weeks I received many varied questions from my readers and tried to answer each and one of them individually.
However, Ms. Bunny, asked several questions which might be of interest to many, if not all of my readers. The answers might shock a few people who never read international accounts of that time. Let’s see if I am able to do this in a neutral and balanced way.. First of all the personal questions which are easy to answer.
1) Do I know what happened to my grandfather? No, All I knew that after his wife, my grandmother died, he was unable to keep his mouth shut and I think that this was the reason for his arrest by the SS. These prisoners, as well as homosexuals, were used as cannon fodder, Meaning they were sent to the front line. The line of the first defenders to catch the brunt of the advancing enemy.
2) Was it difficult to stay in touch with Harold due to the iron curtain? No, not at all, because Harold always found a way. Due to his incredible language skills he served on several occasions as a translator with Khrushchev’s team, including his historic visit to the United Nations in New York where the Russian premier took of his shoe and banged on the speaker podium. Remember this? He was outraged about our U 2 observation flights over Russia. Most of my future books will follow Harold as he proceeded with his own agenda. The future books will therefore also follow Kommissar Godunov and his political ambitions.
3) Do I still have family in German? No. But I still have a few friends who are, like me, in the middle 80s and consider me nuts, trying to write about times nobody in Germany wishes to remember.
4) How many civilians were killed during the time frame I am writing about?
Well, here is where it gets a bit difficult. But, besides Ms. Bunny’s question I received a few other likewise ones. My first response is: Nobody knows. Eight to ten days after Germany surrendered the Russians were still counting their own military deaths. In my own experience there was no effective way or method to tally the German civilian casualties. The Russian authorities reported about close to two million civilian casualties in the general area between Warsaw, Poland and Berlin. My question is: Did this include the casualties in the refugee trains? I mean the many trains filled with civilians fleeing from the Soviet onslaught. The common practice was that the Soviets raped all the women and girls and then burned the trains, filled with refugees, to ashes. Flamethrowers are a terrible weapon in combat. Used on helpless civilians…..your call.
Now, how many trains were there? Who did the counting? There was a report in a British paper where the reporter estimated that this alone amounted to over 20,000 casualties. The Russian papers estimated that the civilian casualties during the last week in Berlin exceeded 160,000. The German estimates were considerably higher. Again, who did the counting?
George Kennan, the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union (at that time) summed it up, and I quote:
“The Russians swept the native population clean in a manner that had no parallel since the days of the Asiatic hordes.”
Let me, please, add an undisputed fact which I remember from my assignments to the KLV camps in 1943. An average air raid (in 1943) killed between 1,000 and 2,000 civilians. In addition, each of these attacks always rendered at least 20,000 homeless. It was because of these figures that the KLV camps became mandatory with the terrible result that when we returned the children from the ‘”safe” camps, nobody had any idea where the relatives where or if they were still alive. I know for a fact that in the end thousands of children went unaccounted for. It is anybody’s guess how many found their home or their relatives, or got adopted, or simply died. No school kept a record. It was no big deal at that time, the children had ‘no voice’, nobody cared, unless it was a parent looking for his child.
I tried in my books to write from my own young perspective, and avoided, on purpose, statistics. I mean I could, it would be a simple task. Which brings me to a question of my own: Should I write a small statistical follow up book? I mean no personal involvement. But, there were countless books written about figures and samples of atrocities. So, why add to the gruesome stories? My original agenda was to give a voice to our generation. Thankfully, some of the responses I get are telling me that I am succeeding.