The Watcher

Celebrations

The morning did not begin as it would any other Sunday morning in Berlin, when the pavements would be clear of pedestrians, the cobblestoned streets free from the clatter and blue tinged smoke of the autombile, except that is, of course, for the stumbling remnants, in taxi or on foot, of the night before discovering their way to their home or that of someone else after the champagne, cocktails or pilsner had stopped flowing.

It was a time, melancholically called the blue hour.

Shops, if this were a normal Sunday, would remain shuttered behind slats of wood. Squares that bustled with the life and energy of a city of 4.5 million on six of the seven days of the week should be deserted. A time when officials normally, bedecked during the working week, in top hats and suits remained sleeping in their luxurious beds in palatial manors found amongst the trees and winding streets of the Grunewald or rose early for the services held at first light when the golden rays of the sun broke through the coloured glass of the Evangelical churches. A day when even the Schutzpolizei of the Prussian Police would be diminished in their usual numbers in the Kiezs of Berlin. Sunday’s were a day of rest the metropolis, where fresh air blew in with the wind from the west, clearing the smoke that had been expelled from smokestacks that towered, and rustled the leaves of the trees planted along the road ways and even the hooded crows, who had made the city their home, failed to break the dominant silence with their caw. It was a day, if this were a normal Sunday, when the occasional bell of a tram could traveled far, reminding whomever found themselves awake that the city existed but was caught in a slumber, and had no clatter of the hoofs of horses dragging the carts of kegs of Kindl or Schultheiss from brewery to bar, no cry of a newspaper boy or even the rattle of the jar of the beggar to compete with. A day when four and a half million people took rest bite and continued to sleep as the sun rose or breakfasted lazily in the apartments across the city. Sunday was a day of equality amongst the city, where courtyards of the Myer’s Hof of Wedding rang as quiet as the palatial residences of the Ku’damm in Berlin West. However, this was not a normal Sunday.

For the past week the city had been throng with the added people and activity amongst its midsts. Berlin was known as the cross roads of Europe and therefore it was normal for, during the working week, the city was bolstered with the passage of millions of peoples through its streets and avenues, but there was an extra furore amongst the transients. Workers were out in droves carrying ladders beneath their arms with others towing behind bunting and branches of trees. Trains had been arriving more than usually scheduled. The stations at Anhalter, Stettiner, Görlitzer Schlesischer and Potsdamer Bahnhofs were forever towered over by columns of steam from den Sonderzügen or special trains that had been laid on. From the doors of the Anhalter Bahnhof on Askanischer Platz the strange tones of the boisterous voices of Austrian Reichsbund members mixed with the accents of Bavarians, Schwabians, Silesians and others from across the Reich who formed the Reichs Banner and had been venturing to the Hauptstadt for the past week. Upon leaving the stations they were greeted by towering poles and banner masts some ten meters in hight, flags flapping with the wind, flags of the free states and of the Reichs eagle glittering with gold and decorations in the high summer sun and letters in Franktur that read Frei Heil zum Fest des deutschen Volkes.

In the southern district of Neukölln, on Hermann Platz, an arch had been erected of green fur, the arched passage way over ten meters in width, a hanging canvas reminding all those that pass through that the republic is the best haven of peace. People leaned from their windows on the square that was dominated by the Karstadt department store, recently opened, they tinkered with the hanging flags of black red and gold, or pulled the strings tight to the banners that covered entire facades that welcomed republicans to Neukölln, a district that had only a few months prior had ran red with the blood of the communists and innocents in the disasters and crimes of the May day riots.

In other parts of the city workers were also making haste to have the city prepared for the 11th. Trees bore sashes in the colours of the republic, the hotels, such as the Excelsior, Esplanade and Fürstenhof, also hung the colours of Prussia along with those of the Republic. The Wertheim on Leipziger Platz, the Weinhaus Rheingold, Haus Vaterland and the Pschorr haus on Potsdamer platz also were well trimmed in the decorations of the coming celebration. It was perhaps the most unity the ten year old republic had ever displayed.

On the important platz of Pariser Platz, where the Brandenburger Tor towers over and the goddess Victoria glares down at the French Embassy, a cenotaph bares the somber inscriptions to those that died under the flag of the Empire, the Republic and the World War from which the new republic was spawned. And on Platz der Republik two 22 meter high flags stand before the building of the parliament of the Reich, the Reichstag. Flowers towards the end of the week had arrived on flat beds in boxes piled high, colourful chrysanthemums now lined the stairs along with laurel trees and firs of deep green.

The whole of the city had been decorated, the papers had been reporting that no street did not bare the displays of the celebration for the republic. Even the red strong holds of Wedding and Neukölln had been caught by the celebratory bug.

For on this Sunday the preparations were to come to fruition, as the populations of the districts that constituted the great city rose from their beds early, awoken by the bells of churches not calling the devoted to mass but awakening a city to celebrations, calling for the residents to pour from the doors of the rows of apartments that lined numerous streets andclamber onto tram, U-bahn, S-bahn and Omnibus and make their way to the hundreds of celebrations taking place across the city.

It had been ten years since the first Reichs President, Friedrich Ebert, had placed his signature upon the constitution of the Weimar Republic. And even though the Republic had been through much, from the Treaty of Versailles, to the loss of the Ruhrgebiet to France, to communist revolution in Berlin, the Kapp Putsch, as well as the Putsch by the little Austrian Corporal it was, despite all pessimism, still standing. The words of Friedrich Ebert in the 1924 echoed, “For many years to come, all of the state’s festivities will be days of shared concern.” He echoed the words of Lenin to the 4th comintern in saying, “The most important thing for us is that we take a sober look at the constitutional decade behind us and learn from our mistakes. That we do not close our eyes to what has not yet been achieved.”

In prior years the festivities had been mute. The pomp and ceremonial circumstance that existed on this day was the first of the constitution days to show a national plumage and it contrasted with the somber reflections that had been born by a nation that was struggling to find its feet after such horrendous loss and starvation, it had wobbled solemnly. But ten years had passed, finances had stabilised and from the Hague changes had arrived that would allow the nation, for once, to celebrate.

So in the magnificent Kroll Opera House they had gathered. The representatives of a nation, adorning the formal black that if it were not for the bunting one could easily mistake for the occasion of a funeral rather than a celebration. Speeches were projected from the stage and the beginnings of a celebratory day began.

Once more into the day light the representatives emerged, at their head an ailing older man, a tall top hat on his head, that he chose to tip to the gathering crowd that stretched back far beyond the statue in its brilliant white of Helmuth von Moltke. The crowd had been gathering since early in the morning. Making use of the trams and trains that often would traverse the city streets empty but today they were crowded with the masses who wished to be part of the day, they stretched from the florally decorated steps of the Reichstag to the statue of Moltke and a great cheer, that rose from deep within the people, went up with the top hat of President Paul von Hindenburg.

Suddenly a drum roll broke through the noise of the crowd. Ernst Hädicke, Bundesstabführer in Magdeburg had given the call. The tapping was to begin. The Reichswehr band broke into Frei-Weg, the men dressed in suits of black piled out of the Kroll Opera House and stood on the steps behind their President, they chatted amongst themselves and shook hands with one another. Then the trumpets sounded the opening notes of the Hoch Heidecksburg. The cheering crowd stopped to listen as the resonation of the marching tune echoed within them. The government led by the President and former Field Marshall became stiff with the military teachings engrained within and looked on at the band of the Reichswehr as they performed.

The music, as with most marches, came to a resounding halt before the crackle of the loud speakers that had been erected around the Platz der Republic, and the bald head, and elongated moustache of General Berthold von Deimling stood before the microphones. “Komaraden, began von Deimling, “I greet you at the the square of the Republic where the German Republic was proclaimed on the 9th of November 1918. The German princes then fell from their thrones as the leaves fall from the trees in autumn. The centuries old dream of a few German empires seemed to come true, but all too soon the “high-buraucracy” of the countries quickly regained their self, and before the National Assembly in Weimar was able to finish its work, it made important concessions to fight. So Germany was probably rid of the dynasties, but the small state kept it.” von Diemling continued to speak. To speak of how the the North and the South needed to support one another and to not think of themselves but to think of Germany as a whole, and that would only be how a greater German unity would be reached. He continued, “the Republic that has accomplished great things, that has overcome the Bolshevik attack and has maintained imperial unity, must not stand still, and it is year after year in the fierce battles that the state had to fight against its enemies from right and left the imperial banner stands behind them sword and shield, and if the opponents of the republic prepare for an attack they will bite on granite.” The applause that met with von Diemling’s speech seemed never ending and eventually it was to the band to bring an end to the sounds of appreciation of the crowd when they struck up Freiheit, die ich meine the crowd, who for any born after 1905, knew the lyrics by heart, joined in with gusto before the band crossed into the Reichsbanner marsch.

Through the crowd the soldiers and their musical instruments marched, as they would for four hours through the city, marching through the arch of green fir at Hermannplatz and through the quarters of the city. Rebelious movements that wished to bring disruption to the day were few and far between and as the papers said, the marching of the Reichsbanner showed to the radical elements of German society that they will fail because of the protective wall it provides to the republic.

As the band marched the representatives continued the day in the Reichstag itself, the Berlin symphony orchestra under its first conductor Ernst Kunwald performed Handel’s Concerto Gross in D Minor in the plenary hall. Reichs Minister of the Interior Severing spoke of peace and greater international understanding to bring nations together and ensure a better future for all nations.

The festivities continued across the city for the entire day. Honour bands continued to play and squadrons of biplanes circled over the city, although the hope of the government to have the worldly triumph that was the Graf Zeppelin and its Commander Hugo Eckener fly over the city could not be met.

Far across the city, to the outer reaches where the metropolis begins to blend with the wild from once it came, came great cries, sounds that echoed from a small rise on the otherwise flat landscape that new districts of Berlin were expanding over. Seven and half thousand children of the city were gathered at the German Stadium, a stadium intended for the Olympics that never happened in 1916. Their voices rose high as they sang with pride before Reichsminister von Guerard as they formed, in their coloured dress clothes, a waving banner for the Reichsminister to look down upon. The children singing were joined by a choir of a further seven and a half thousand voices in a coordination organised by Josef von Fielitz to which then a chorus of German male workers, equipped with golden bricks began singing “We want to build a golden bridge,” before all, smiles upon their faces looking up to the Reichminister, came together as one, in the sunken stadium, open to the heavens, to sing together the Deutschlandlied.

They could hear the Deutschlandlied from the open window. The sound wafted across the open fields and through the trees, across the rails of U-Bahn and in through the window that opened to the west. The whistle of the wind lost to drone of the Deutschlandlied, the clarity lost with the distance traveled. The sound briefly disrupting the family and their friends that had gathered on the ground floor apartment on the Westendallee.

Westendallee fell into the new district of Neu-Westend. Much of the land of the area was either yet to be built upon or in the process of construction but many buildings had been erected. Slowly the land that was occupied by allotments were making way for the small villas of Berlin’s wealthy upper middle class, or for the large apartment blocks built to house the growing population of Berlin.

Berlin was awash with people from all across the Reich that had relocated for the opportunities that the Haupstadt offered, so it was that families from Silesia, Hamburg, Rostock and East Prussia were flooding into to the metropolis and the allotments and fields had to make way for new homes required to house the immigrants of the Reich. But whilst many of the people moved into Friedrichshain, Wedding, or the Wassertor district of Kreuzberg the Berlin families who were lucky enough to find themselves slightly better off were able to move to the new districts where the streets were not dominated by the constant facades of apartment blocks built during the last great migration to the city at the turn of the 20th century, where there was little green to break from the monotony of ornamental facades that beautified the squaller hidden within. For most within these districts the apartments were small, three rooms at best, and built with such speed that often families had moved in whilst the plaster still was damp and it was often entire families that lived within the small, dark, confines.

However, Neu Westend was different. A degree of planning was present at the centre of which was the Sachsenplatz.

Planned to be formed from a gravel pit in 1909 the Sachsenplatz garden that was to reference the flora and fauna of Brandenburg, was not realised until 1922, the same time as the Reichsbank finished construction on the buildings along the westside of the street. Here the apartments were not small and pokey like their older counterparts within the city, but cozy and with ample space, relatively, to house a small or growing family.

The Western side of Westendallee was bright with newly built homes all of which belonging to the Reichsbank who leased the apartments to their employees. Not only were the apartments not pokey and dark, each had a winter Garten, a kitchen with a separate pantry room, a bathroom and three further rooms to be used how the occupants wished, except for the top floor apartments who instead of the winter Garten had a balcony.

It was a beautiful area, described by some who were making the area their home as an artists colony despite a large portion of the population being in the employment of the Reichsbank but few were willing to dismiss the name of artist colony for clerk or teller. Even the beginnings of musical composition could be heard filling the air around the Sachsenplatz from the corner building on the Reichstraße.

So the family celebrated in their cozy little flat, on the right hand side ground floor of number 89 Westend Allee, where the name written, by hand, upon the paper below the bell read Zäpernick.

They had come together as a family to celebrate the middle daughter’s birthday. So as the crowds at the Deutsches Stadion celebrated the Weimar republic, the Zäpernick family had gathered to celebrate Hildegard turning eleven.

The Family was headed by Wilhelm Zäpernick. Wilhelm had been born in 1882, he himself, like so many others, was not born of Berlin but had relocated from Genthin, a small town a 120 kilometres to the west, where the opportunities working in the sugar factory or the agricultural plants had not appealed, thus bringing about his relocation to Berlin where he found his work as a bank official with the Reichsbank. He was a tall man, at least 1 meter eighty in size, and when sat down he was not much shorter than his wife when she stood. He liked to look smart, it was part of the job, and he wore the wide collared shirts that were becoming the trend. His light coloured hair was kept well trimmed and parted just off from centre, his toothbrush moustache was also well maintained and again followed a fashion of the time.

With the job at the Reichsbank the apartment had been offered to him, it was not uncommon in Berlin for large companies to build housing for their employees as they themselves expanded. The job was a good one and well respected. He enjoyed it. Many of his colleagues and friends from the Reichsbank lived in the same row of buildings or on the same street. There was a good system to it, everyone had a similar level of comfort, that was healthy for them and provided with a wage that allowed for a little to be spent on pleasure, or allowing for the purchasing of presents for one’s daughter. He had, with his wife, five children, three girls and two boys. Hilde’s brothers, Kurt, square faced with close cropped hair took on the look of his mother and was often seen wearing the knickerbocker trousers that tucked into his long socks and Wilhelm, who was younger and took not only his name but also his features from his father, who, on this day, ran around the apartment as usual. Else was the youngest, and also had a look that appeared to come more from the mothers side and played this day with the neighbour Hans Bökner who lived across the corridor in the apartment directly opposite.

The festivities went on for the Zäpernick family through the day and into the evening. Friends and family came and went, the children kept running through the apartment buildings back door into what was often called the hof or courtyard but was more akin to a pleasant garden. Frau Zäpernick watched through the kitchen and winter garden windows, keeping an eye on her children who were prone to wanting to climb the garden features, be it the birch tree that had taken on a lean from the playful games of climbing and swinging from its trunk and branches or the trellises that hugged and climbed the walls. Either way, by the end of the day, it was agreed all had enjoyed their day. So farewells were said, words of Auf Wiedersehen mixed with the colloquial slang terms of others who had moved to Berlin from far within the nation, and Wilhelm and Hilde waved to those, now leaving, who had taken the time to celebrate her 11th birthday from the open door that looked out across the street onto the picket fence that hid behind it the skeletal brick frame work of the Gillesbau.

The Gillesbau loomed in the dark. The gas lamps that burnt a faint hue of blue in the night did little to spread their rays over the facade, in which windows that lacked the trims of habitation shone reflections of the late evening, but no light came from inside, and the recessed spaces for balconies seemed to be darker than the deepest point of night. It was a hollow block in a city teeming with life especially when compared to the Westendallee where windows shone with a warming glow of life. Wilhelm turned Hilde’s shoulder in from the cold of the evening air and closed the door of number 89 Westendallee to the night.

From behind the picketed builders fence, came the sounds of the glass of a beer bottle clinking, followed by footsteps in the graveled earth of a building site mixed with the strains of breathing of a dog held tightly on a collared lead. A few moments later, a dark figure emerged onto the street, paused, a small flicker of light broke the dark briefly but did little to alleviate the shadows cast over the figure, before falling once again into the dark, only the faint glow of the smouldering end of a Juno cigarette betrayed their presence beneath the Litfaßsäule that stood on the corner of Schaumburgallee.

Sun broke through the clouds early the next morning. Through the Reichstraße the wind blew bringing a fresh breeze to the city, a welcome visitor, expelling the billowing pollution of a heavily industrialised city. Thermometers read low, but the breeze that was blowing couldn’t be witnessed from the kitchen window that overlooked the back garden, the buildings of Westend Allee presenting a barrier to the winds that blew this day.

At 7 the children awoke. It was a Monday and school would start shortly after 8. Frau Zäpernick is in the kitchen preparing breakfast, Herr Zäpernick had already left for work at the Reichsbank by the time the children were awake. Kurt and Wilhelm were in the kitchen with Frau Zäpernick when Hilde joined for breakfast. She was wearing a white summer dress beneath a half drawn white shirt, a green fabric belt wrapped around her waist, and yellow loafers with crepe soles. Sitting at a table she smiled broadly revealing her slightly overlapping incisor teeth, but most didn’t notice her teeth for she had bright blue eyes that stole peoples glare and blond hair cut to a bob as was the style amongst her friends and the stars.

Striking 8 the clock in the hallway chimed. Hilde grabbed her satchel, her brothers had already departed for the boys school, she said Tschüss to her mother and left. The Gillesbau was teaming with workmen. The day started early and it posed a very different figure to the previous night. Now morning sun had washed the deep shadows and the workmen who travelled from all over the city created a nice sense that there was life. The building was being roofed, stones were being brought in to finish foundations, or to provide hard standing for concrete to be laid, old creeking trucks that had seen better days were delivering a multitude of different wares, the side boards of which were stencilled in the fraktur letters of the business owners and their trades. Workers, trucks, and machinery were being brought in between the gates on the Schaumburgallee and Westend Allee entrances into what one day would be the inner courtyards of the apartment building complex.

She smiled at Frau Nietschke and Herta Hoffmann who were drawing at the signs for Frau Nietschke’s shop, the Firma Kolonialwarenhandlung Nietschke that was situated precariously down a slope, Hilde could easily see down to the shop, but it was difficult for those within to see anything beyond the rise, except for the very top of the Gillesbau, where workers were manhandling cladding boards into place. A few workmen were already making their ways over to the shop, presumably to buy their cigarettes for the shift.

Hilde enjoyed school, not necessarily for the courses, and especially not for German and French classes in which she struggled, but she enjoyed being with her friends. She might have struggled as she, despite just turning eleven the previous day, was already in the Lyceum, making her amongst the youngest in her year, but it was not a bother to her, she managed, even if she wasn’t the best in the class. She was also happy because the school was now closer to her home, not that the previous school building was far, it was only on the otherside of the Reichs Allee, a stones throw from Reichskanzler Platz, but now it was in a brand new building, in a style that was becoming very common in Berlin, on Preußen Allee.

As ever, Hilde entered the classroom for her lesson with Frau Ramm, who hailed from Lobsens formerly in Pommerania, with a smile on her face. She always did. She was known by the teachers to have something very special about her. Frau Ramm, as did the other teachers, found her to be helpful and therefore Hilde had many friends and not only amongst her fellow students but also with the teachers, even if she was not the most attentive in lessons.

At 1, the school bell rang and classes came to an end for the day. Hilde and the other girls left the school. The boys school technically next door but attached to the girls Lyceum had also rang its bell at 1 and the boys were pouring out of the door. Now the sun was coming to its greatest height, and the mercury within the thermostats was pushing 19 degrees, not the warmest days of summer but never the less the children were all making plans with one another, for once they had eaten, they would reconvene on the streets in front of certain apartments, in the courtyard behind the Zäpernicks or in the areas around the Sachsen park.

The smell of the food drew her through the door as she ran down the steps outside that brought her from street level down to the slightly sunken level of the row of apartment buildings. Through the door she hurriedly moved dropping her satchel with her school books and homework she went straight for the kitchen. Her father was home also for his lunch and sat at the table as was Kurt and Wilhelm and the youngest girl Elsa. Frau Zäpernick stood by the stove and transferred ladles of the stew of potatoes, beans and meat from the enamel pot into bowels. Talk quickly moved to school, to which Kurt and Wilhelm were not so willing to speak of, however, Hilde was happy to talk, her energetic sensibility taking over and she talked fast, not over the lessons but of her friends and childish gossip. Soon, as the clock approached half past two and the bowls had been scraped clean, Herr Zäpernick made the announcement to the family that he must return to work and with his hat on his head he wished his family well and left the apartment to return to work at the Charlottenburg office of the Reichsbank. Kurt and Wilhelm were also quick to leave the table, they ran through the door to the corridor collected a red ball and were soon thereafter following in the footsteps of their father out of the door and into the warm afternoon air, to play amongst the shade provided by the trees that lined the streets.
“Shall I help you mother, or can I go outside and play?” Hilde asked of her mother.
“You can go and play, but only in the street in front of the house or the courtyard, and do not forget, Hilde, you have homework!” Replied her mother. Hilde smiled widely, once again showing the crooked incisors.
“Thank you Mother.” Hilde smiled before running to the door to put her shoes on and run outside.

It was common for the streets to be full of the children of the local area. There was a feeling of safety, but nevertheless, they all had been warned to not entertain the conversation of or to wander away with strangers, and to keep their wits about them especially since the news from Düsseldorf of the horrid cases of rape and murder had been reported in the press. There was certainly a heightened sense of a need to be more aware, but then again, they reminded themselves, Düsseldorf was a very long way from Berlin.

In the streets and around the park, the children played as the sun traversed the sky and began its decent, moving from afternoon into early evening. The building site had gone quieter, many of the workers having stamped out at 4, a few remained behind drinking in the Bau-Budiker, a small Berlin pub selling beers, on the building site. By five in the afternoon only a handful of workers, Gronau and Jahn the Budiker operators and the early shift guard, responsible for making sure no one enters the building site after the works had checked out are left.

It is also at five, when Hilde, Kurt and Wilhelm run home. They’d been playing outside, throwing a ball between themselves in a game of their own devising. They ran down the steps and the grass to the front door and run past Waldtraut Gehricke, their neighbour on the ground floor on the left, Hilde stops.
“Where are you going Waldtraut?” Hilde asked.
“The gymnastic games at the stadium,” Waldtraut replied excitedly, “do you want to come?” Hilde looked excited, but pensive, not sure if she would be allowed.
“I’ve got to ask Mama,” she replied. Turning quickly she ran into her own apartment to find her mother.
“Mama?, Hilde called looking for her mother. “Mama, may I go to the gymnastics game with Waldtraut?” Hilde called into the apartment.
“No, I much rather you stay here and play in front of the house Hilde, ” her mother called in return.
“O.k,” Hilde replied glumly, knowing it meant she could not go.
“Maybe next time Hilde,” Wildtraut reassured her. “Tschüss Hilde.”
“Tschüss,” Hilde responded.

Frau Zäpernick, was clearing the kitchen counters from the food preparation when she heard Hilde’s feet patter out of the building once again. Looking after the three children was difficult, she was somewhat thankful that her eldest daughter had come of age and had moved out, leaving a little more space in the flat for the three. She’d spent the morning finishing cleaning from the birthday celebrations the previous day and now she was cleaning once again. As she washed the dishes in the kitchen sink, she took a moment to glance out of the window and see the children all playing in the garden, she saw Hans Bökner, and Erika Timmler all running around in the joyous innocence of youth, she also saw her overly energetic Hilde, who not showing any signs of disappointment from not being allowed to attend the gymnastic games with Waldtraut was playing on the wall trellis. Knowing that it was not safe, it was only a few pieces of wood that had been screwed into the wall, and meant to carry the weight of some climbing decorative flowers not the weight of an energetic 11 year old who had no care in the world other than having fun amongst her friends. Frustrated, that this was not the first time that Hilde had been caught doing such a thing, she tapped on the window to try and get Hilde’s attention. No luck. She knocked harder but still no luck. She put pause to the work she was doing in the kitchen and twisted the brass door handles of the double doors that led to the wintergarten.

The kids scattered quickly as Frau Zäpernick’s voice shouted across the courtyard from the open windows of the Zäpernick’s winter garden. They scattered not because they, other than Hilde, were doing anything wrong, but rather the instinctive animal reaction that children have when a voice authority shouts to be as far away as possible. Hilde caught her mother’s glare, her blue eyes looking to the floor.
“Sorry Mama,” she shouted back half apologetically.
“Don’t climb on the trellis Hilde!” Frau Zäpernick shouted angrily.
“Yes Mama.” Hilde smiled and turned, and skipped from the garden. The other children had fled knowing they had a parent’s gaze upon them and Hilde gave chase.

The other children had all run around to the front of the buildings and as was common amongst the different groups of children, they had split up and already begun playing games with others that were sat on the curb or playing near the fence of the Gilles bay. Hilde ran onto the street and around the corner. Whilst most of the workers had gone from the construction sight the delivery trucks were still unloading. They were trucks with large load bays, thick rubber wheels and thicker steel frames. The cabs were tiny, the large men, especially those of the stone trucks who were bulky with the manual labour required in clearing the flat beds of the wares looked almost comical, as if part of a sketch by the recently deceased, as of three days prior, great artist Heinrich Zille. Along the wooden boards of the truck that was currently being unloaded was the proprietor of the business’ name, Wilhelm Schulz, and on top was the twenty-two year old Erich Scheffler who originated from Jartoschin, a town that was, since ten years, part of Poland. He was busy trying to unload the bricks that would help build up the building and clad the facade, the quicker he could unload them, the quicker he could go home, but he was also in need of a cigarette, but his ten pack had run empty. The Budiker was closed for the moment, he had seen Gronau and Jahn leave and lock up in order to collect bottles from the building site, which meant there was only Nietschke’s, the Kolonialwarenhaus, which, although only a short distance away, it would take time. At that moment Hilde emerged skipping around the corner.
“Hey,” Erich shouted, “hey!”
“Hello Erich,” Hilde replied happily. Hilde knew quite a few of the workers who were regularly at the building site and broke the formalities of German society when speaking with them by using their first name. Erich, however, felt embarrassed, whilst the young girl wearing the white dress with the green belt, he recognised and knew, he did not know her first name, but there were so many children, and they were often asked by the workers to do small tasks, such as buying cigarettes, he could not possibly know their names.

“Hello little one,” Erich spoke as he reached into his pocket for a 50 pfennig piece, “could you take this,” he held out the coin “and buy ten Juno from Nietzschke’s?.”
“I could,” Hilde replied cheekily.
“I’ll let you have the picture?” In each pack of Juno came a picture, in the war they had been propaganda pictures of Soldiers performing their duties with honour on the Western and Eastern fronts, now they were pictures of the towns, cities and countryside panoramas of the nation.
“Ok Erich.” Hilde replied cheerfully, taking the 50 pfennig coin from the unloader who had leaned down to pass it to her and immediately departing to perform the duty she had been given.

Hilde Gehricke, had not gone with her sister to the gymnastic games and was playing on the street directly in front of Westendallee 89, the Gehricke and Zäpernick residence. She saw Hilde Zäpernick running happily toward Nietschke’s.

Nietschke’s was farther down than the homes meaning more steps to run down that Hilde did happily. Behind the counter of Nietschke’s was Herta Hoffmann whose day was continuing. She was recently 18, lived with her parents in an apartment in a two apartment house. Before the construction of the Gillesbau began she could see the roof of where she worked from where she lived and having worked for two years in Nietschke’s Kolonialwarenhandlung and growing up herself in the area she knew most of the children, so it was a familiarity that she smiled at the young girl with the blond bob and blue eyes, dressed in the white dress with green belt and yellow shoes, who came through the door.
“Guten Abend Hilde.”
“Guten Abend Fräulein Hoffmann.” Frau Nietschke was near and Hilde used the formal introduction. The Kolonialwarenhandlung was a treasure trove of the luxuries of the middle class. Different types of roasted coffee beans were stored in great containers as were teas with fancy and foreign names, toffees and sweets to make the teeth rot, kitchen utensils, wines, vinegars, sauces and powders that only the pocket of the growing lower-middle class and higher of Berlin could afford lined the walls, all ordered and presented neatly.
“What would you like Hilde?” Herta Hoffman enquired.
“Ten Juno please,” Hilde said innocently whilst placing the coin that Erich had given to her on the counter.
“Ten Juno?”
“Yes please.”
“Who heavens are they for?” She was used to children coming in and buying cigarettes for the workers, but she couldn’t remember whether or not Hilde herself had entered with such an intention and she broke her habitat of not asking questions of the purchases made with Hilde’s request.
“For Herr Schulz,” Hilde exclaimed.
“For Herr Schulz? Who is Herr Schulz Hilde?”
“The brick unloader.” Frau Nietschke appeared from the back room and cocked her ear to the conversation. Hilde was eleven and she carried a purity to her that some of the other children did not have, and her being sent for the cigarettes seemed as it would be something her parents would not like.
“Not the watchman Hilde? The watchman Schulz?” Herta pressed.
“No!” Hilde emphasised, somewhat confused by the questions being posed of her, “the brick unloader.”
“I do not know a Schulz other than the watchman,” Herta replied pensively, “but very well.” She reached for the stack that dispensed the cartons of cigarettes and took a thin wide cardboard box that housed ten, of what Berlin always smoked, Juno. “40 pfennigs please Hilde.” Hilde slid the coin closer. “Thank you, and ten back,” Herta placed a small brass coloured coin with stylised corn stalks embossed in Hilde’s outstretched hand.
“Thank you, Fräulein Hoffman.”
“You’re welcome Hilde.”
“Tschüss,” Hilde said taking a step back before leaving the shop and ascending the steps.
“Tschüss Hilde,” Herta said after her.
“I do not know a Schulz on the building site,” Frau Nietschke said as she came to stand next to Herta.
“Nor do I,” Herta responded.
“Only the watchman,” muttered Frau Nietschke thoughtfully.

Theodor Müller had already left school, as many had by the age of sixteen. His father, a strict man and Reichsbank Chief Inspector, had wished for him to head into the field of work quickly and, in asking around the local businesses, found him a job as an apprentice at Wrunicke, a bakery on the Reichstraße at number 101. It was fine for Theodor, only a 15 minute walk from his home at Westendallee 86, and it meant with the Bakery’s having baked and sold their goods in the earlier part of the day, more commonly than not, the shop could close earlier and he still would have time, in the summer at least, to play on the streets with the other children of the neighbourhood. On this day, the 12th of August, he returned home around half past four. The street was full of children playing, including the two Zäpernick brothers. Eager to play, Theodor rushed into the apartment of his parents and hurriedly ate a small snack and before long he was back in the street hungry to end his working day with some entertainment so he began playing with Kurt and Wilhelm, the Zäpernick brothers.

The Zäpernick brothers had with them a red rubber ball, about the size of two fists and they were pushing it around on the street. He joined in with the boys but he was cautious to always keep an eye out for his father. His father, ever the strict man did not like him playing in the street, whether he thought it was because he felt that, he as a Reichsbank Chief Inspector, other children were beneath his son, the Zäpernick brothers being the son of a teller, a chief teller but still a teller, or was generally against his son, at 16 years of age, playing in the street was difficult to say, but Theodore knew his father would not be happy if he caught him.

At ten minutes to six, Theodor’s eyes caught sight of the proud figure of his father approaching from the Reichs Bank Offices and he and the Zäpernick brother’s hurriedly hid the ball behind their feet shielding it from the judgemental gaze of Herr Müller. “Guten Abend Father,” Theodor greeted. Herr Müller, who looked on the boys with suspicion, but chose not to berate, intimidate or belittle, passed by and entered their home at number 86 Westendallee. Ten minutes later Hilde suddenly appears before them, the boys were as of yet to resume their games, and she approached them. “Can I play with the ball?” She asked. “You’re not playing with it.”
Kurt looked down up his sister and replied curtly “We’ll keep playing.”
Hilde, disgruntled, wandered off, Kurt, Wilhelm and Theo resumed their game and didn’t think to look after Hilde.

Children populating the streets with their games were ebbing and flowing as the clocks continued to tick into the latter part of the day. The shadows of the newly planted trees, still thin, their bases painted white to protect the young bark from cracking and the trees from infection, grew longer with the gradual setting of the sun. Often voices of mother’s and father’s were heard shouting the names of their children from windows and doors breaking the quiet brought on by the almost deserted Gillesbau and a district of the city still in the infancy of development, calling them like animals to feeding time. At 18:30 Theodor Müller hears his own name being called and leaves the Zäpernick brother’s in the street.

After only a minute or so since Theodor departed for dinner the Zäpernick brother’s come to the conclusion it was about time, seeing as their friend and most other children by this point had deserted the street, that they also returned to their home. Leaving the red rubber ball in the street, to which they intended after dinner once the other children of the neighbourhood had also returned to the street for the final games of the day to return to, they left. At the top of the steps to number 89 Wilhelm descended first and as Kurt descended he looked back to the red rubber ball, standing over it and picking it up from the ground was his 11 year old sister Hilde, her blonde hair radiant in the evening sun, her smile wide, happy that she finally had her hands on the ball.

Theodor had descended on his dinner as eagerly as a hyena on a the carcaas of an antelope, such was the hunger of a growing 16 year old. Within 15 minutes of his name being called he was leaving his parents home once again to return to the street. He heard the so long and until tomorrow calls of the last workers to leave the Budicker, some sounding a little drunker than others, followed by the closing of the building site’s gates. Shortly after as he wandered the streets waiting for others to return, a small collection of excited younger children appeared laughing and giggling as they squeezed through the vertical wooden boards of the picketed fence that shielded the Gillesbau from the street. He wandered around the block before deciding to return to the row of houses occupied by the workers of the Reichsbank and their families in the hope that the other children would have been like himself and eaten their meals with some haste. He was surprised to see, as he wandered down the side of Sachsenplatz opposite to the Gillesbau, that it was not only the children on the street, but the adults as well. He approached with greater speed, wondering what was going on, what spectacle it could be that was drawing the families from their dinners. He passed two women not far from the entrance to his own home who were huddled in excited discussion, a discussion that turned his insides to ice with the words he caught, “the Zäpernick girl, Hilde, is missing!”

End

Achtung! History is produced by The Berlin Tour Guide, and presented by Simon J. James, follow Achtung! History on twitter, facebook and instagram visit the website theberlintourguide.com, book a tour with Simon in Berlin and become a patreon at patreon.com/achtunghistory