Ruins of Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany

Visiting the ruins of Hanstein takes us back to medieval times - Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany in 2012 More »

Vietnam War protestors demonstrate - Wichita, KS, 1967.

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Solingen, Germany after the bombing, November 1944. - Stadtarchiv Solingen

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My grandmother Grete with her sisters in the early 1920s in Germany.

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B17 Bomber above German Airfield in WWII

U.S. Bomber flies above German airfield in WWII. More »

 

Category Archives: true story

A Great Reading and Upcoming Books

woman standing next to treeLast weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the fifth ‘Literary Hike’ in the beautiful Vorwerk Park in Wuppertal. Under cloudy but dry skies eight authors and their roughly twenty guests walked and enjoyed beautiful settings together. At various picturesque sites throughout the park authors presented stories and poems.

Since the German translation of ‘Surviving the Fatherland’ called Vaterland, wo bist du? will be published this month, I read a section from the new book. We also had the pleasure of listening to Michael Völkel’s music and ballads, both entertaining and fun.

A New Novel Set in WWII

book title

New Cover

When Hitler decided to mass-evacuate Germany’s children in 1940, he had a lot more than their wellbeing in mind. He had a purpose for those kids, particularly children eleven and older. Sold to parents as ‘vacations to protect from bombs and nourish their minds,’ the real goal was to train boys as future soldiers and girls to become mothers. Many camps were strictly organized and schedules began before seven am and lasted all day, strapping children into tightly regulated timetables. School time was restricted to four hours a day—less later in the war because of lack of teachers—and afternoon activities increased to include war games and competitive sports.

I wrote an exciting novel with two youth protagonists, fourteen-year old Hilda who is in love with her neighbor and best friend, fifteen-year old Peter. Here is a little intro:

When They Made Us Leave tells the heartwarming love story of two teens who are separated when they’re forced to attend separate evacuation camps. Each confronted with terror and cruelty as well as unexpected kindness, they must rise above to survive the war and find each other once more.

book cover german

New Cover German version of ‘Surviving the Fatherland’

Both characters have deep wounds and secrets they must work through while dealing with the ever-increasing threats of war and the atrocities they encounter in camp. I’ve also worked in some great historical info I found while researching the dozens of books, magazines and other resources.

VATERLAND, WO BIST DU? Available now in bookstores!

The new German version of SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND is now available in bookstores and online.

I’ve also been working hard preparing the publication of Vaterland, wo bist du? in paperback, hardcover und eBook. Expected publication will be later this month. Because of language, this edition targets the German language market. I’m hoping to do a number of readings and presentations.

On the Hunt for the Next Story

Everywhere I go, I keep my eyes open for another story. It’s not even that I’m purposefully looking, it’s sort of an unconscious awareness that is ready to scream when something interesting crosses my path. You never know when you hit pay dirt. This time it happened on a strenuous hike in South Tirol—Northern Italy.

ascending stairs and stone walls

Stairs and More Stairs

At the entrance to the Gröden valley sits a little town named Klausen. And on top of the mountain, almost flying above it, thrones Cloister Säben. On a whim my husband and I decided to pay the cloister a visit. After all, the sign said it was only a 20-minute hike.

medieval castle on a hill

Branzoll Castle by Matthias Suessen Summer 2017-7870

Right. The trail began with a series of uneven steps and natural rocks. Picturesque, yes, easy to walk, no. We scrambled our way up to the first vantage point at medieval Castle (Burg) Branzoll. Unfortunately, it is privately owned and we were not able to take a look inside.

shrine with religious painting

One of the Many Shrines along the Way

So, off we went toward the cloister which seemed to mock us from its heavenly heights. The trail meanders on uneven ground along vineyards and sheer cliffs. Each turn offers a new breathtaking view of the valleys below. As the roads, cars and people in the valley turned to ants, we grew short of breath. Thankfully, a few benches offered moments of respite. All the way up there are small shrines with statues or old paintings depicting Christian figures. Some of them are decorated with flowers and candles. At last, we reached the first church (Liebfrauenkirche) which is located outside the cloister walls. You can refill your water bottle here. Unfortunately, the church was closed to visitors.

cloister sitting on a rock

Cloister Säben by Mmenendezb [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

So we continued uphill along fifteen-foot walls, and what is called the pilgrim’s trail. These walls are so strategically placed that you can’t begin to guess what is behind them. The only way to know is to see photos from a distance, usually from the Internet or public photos.

At some point we came across a poster sign that told the story of Sister Magdalena Told, a Benedictine nun who showed outstanding bravery and is credited with saving Cloister Säben’s fate. Apparently, during the Napoleonic wars in the late 18th century, the cloister was taken over by hundreds of French soldiers. Most nuns had fled, but Sister Magdalena held her own. The French soldiers eventually left, but in 1808, Bavarians, who fought with the French, reoccupied the cloister. What made it worse was that the new government had decided to remove the religious status as a Benedictine cloister. As a consequence, its precious possessions were sold to the highest bidders in the village below.

View over valley in South Tirol

Flying Above

Sick about the destruction, Sister Magdalena dressed up as a soldier and hiked across the mountain to Bozen to complain to the local General. He not only listened, but promised to put a stop to the cloister’s occupation. Sister Magdalena proceeded to see the bishop in Brixen and pleaded for the reinstatement of the cloister. She got her wish.

What a woman! What a protagonist!

At the top of the hill we finally entered the oldest part of the cloister with the most amazing views I have seen in a long time. Flying is more like it when you stand up here above the valleys. Life as we know it is far removed. It is quiet except for the wind. You can almost imagine how it must be to live up here for a nun so close to her god.

inside an old church

Holy Cross Church at Cloister Säben

The highlight of our climb, that by the way took nearly an hour, was the Holy Cross Church at the highest point of the mountain. Inside, time truly stands still. It is a small church with few adornments, a simple place that is more powerful because of it. I can almost imagine Sister Magdalena praying in one of the pews, asking for strength and wisdom how to defeat the French soldiers and save her beloved cloister.

Sometimes it takes lots of effort to find a precious place. Sometimes such a place reveals a precious story. I hope I get to tell it one day.