Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

The Garden

I was born in a part of Berlin which was developed after the Franco-Prussian War (ended in 1871). The streets were named after battles where the Germans were victorious, such as  Weissenburg, Metz, and so forth. The streets were laid out according to the plans of Paris. Broad boulevards planted with trees would radiated from central points. Real estate became precious and behind the 'front’ of solidly built four—story high sandstone houses, cheaper houses were erected around  courtyards. These houses were called Hinterhauser (houses behind houses.) They were usually quite dark and airless, buildings with small apartments with toilets opening from the stairway and used by several tenants. But about five minutes from where I lived was THE GARDEN, as we children called it; it truly was a garden for children, a kindergarten in the real sense of the word. One would not know this garden existed from the street, as solidly built houses surrounded it. However, if you walked through the entrance of one house, you came to its courtyard and from there entered, the garden. It was a tract
of land of about three to five acres, which to a child's eye seemed enormous. It belonged to a nursery and part of it contained rows of flowers and greenhouses. We were forbidden to enter this area and we rarely did. The other section of the land was divided into small parcels of land, separated by bushes. There were large trees, maples, oaks and fruit trees, plums, cherries, apples and pears, which grew free and unattended; we were allowed to pick up the fallen fruit. These small parcels, about  20 by 40 feet, were rented out and every year my parents would pay for the privilege to have a lot. Here I formed my earliest friendships, some lasting until today. None of us attended a kindergarten, private or municipal, and we could let our imaginations run full course without supervision. Among the games we played were War: the first world war was taking place at that time. I refused to be a soldier, and therefore was demoted to being a nurse to tend  the wounded. We also  played ball, hopscotch, ring-around--the-roses, marbles,  and invented games. Children are cruel. If a new child came whom we did not like, he or she was excluded from our games. In the course of the year the child would disappear, not to come back again. We would act out dramas, with corpses lying around all over the place; in the fall there was a harvest festival.

This garden played an important role in my life but by the age of twelve more important events took place outside this confined area. I had outgrown it.

After my husband died in 1977,  I returned to Berlin in 1978 with my daughter and a fifteen--year old grand daughter. The house I was born and grew up in had withstood the bombing of World War II. It was in the Eastern zone. I did not want to revisit it, but my daughter insisted. She wanted to see where I had spent my youth. While we stood in front of the building I suddenly remembered the garden.         

With some difficulty I found the entrance--way of the house we had to pass through in order to get to the garden. There, separating it from the courtyard we found a newly erected wall. My daughter and grand daughter helped me to look over the barrier. There was a tremendous heap of rubble, the remnants of all the houses of the neighborhood, which had been destroyed in the air raids on Berlin. No trees or flowers reminded one of this garden of Eden from which we had been expelled. It taught me, that memories are just that: to be visited in one's mind only and not to try to find them in reality.


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