Heidersdorf - part 5
August 25, 2006

Posted by BDM Historian

Chapter 5
The Heidersdorf Ghosts

The day had been humid. In the evening, clouds had appeared in the sky; clouds with thick, white heads reaching higher and higher. Irm thought to herself, this is what icebergs or large glaciers must look like.

"We'll have a thunderstorm," said the hostel mother and wiped her forehead when she returned from the shed carrying a heavy basket of firewood. - "We'll have a thunderstorm," said Kathrin too, when everyone got together after dinner to sing on the lawn in front of the hostel. "We will need to get our sports equipment from the shed by the lake. It can't stay there if it's going to rain. The roof has large holes."

"I'll go," Liese said immediately and stood up. She always joined them to sing with the Jungmaedel. Kathrin nodded. "Thank you," she said. "But take someone along to help." - Liese briefly looked over the hundred Jungmaedel who were sitting at her feet. "Irm," she then said, "will you come along?"

Irm rose a little slower than normal. She looked critically at the dark tower of clouds behind which a slight glow appeared every so often. If she listened closely she could already hear the far away thunder. What if the storm came close quickly and they were caught in it out in the forest? But to show that she was afraid - no, that was out of the question. "Of course," Irm said a little too loudly and climbed over the heads of the others to Liese.

They walked closely together along the small path crossing the muddy lawn that separated the youth hostel from the woods. Now she'd get to see the forest in the dark after all! Irm listened alertly into the dusk. "Liese," she then said, "Sometimes you write such nonsense in school essays, don't you?" Lise laughed: "It happens. But what made you bring this up now?" - "Hm..." Irm thought for a moment. "We had to write an essay once titled: The Night. I started: Deep silence lies over nature at night. The sentence sounded really good to me back then. But it isn't true at all. Listen! Do you notice anything resembling deep silence?"

"Only people who've never been outside at night could write that or find that pretty," said Liese. "You always hear something. Crickets or frogs or toads or whatever other animals. If you listen close enough, you can even understand what they're saying. Just listen to the frogs!"

"I only hear: Ribbit - Ribbit - Ribbit," said Irm. - "You need to listen more closely. There's a fat old frog, who's calling: Wet, wet, wet is the water! And then the others are laughing at him: So stay away, away, away!" Of course! Irm could understand them now as well.

"And over there, Liese, the ones that are going "too-coo, too-coo"?" - "Those are toads. They are calling, "duck down, duck down." It's actually a whole song they're singing:

Duck down, duck down, a royal daughter
has drowned here many years ago,
on the bottom, on the bottom, she sits and spins,
she's the queen of us toads.
She sits in moss, she sits in mud,
and deep at the bottom of swamps.
Whoever will want to win our queen,
must kiss her on the mouth!"

Irm looked at her in surprise. "Pretty," she said, "But it's so sad." She was glad to reach the edge of the forest. She didn't want to look at the muddy grass any longer because it made her think of the drowned girl.

"Ki-wi, ki-wi," called a tawny owl as they took the path through the woods. Irm winced a little. "Liese, is it true that someone dies when the owl calls?" She remembered what the merchant's wife had said after her brother's death: "And the entire night long a tawny owl sat on the chestnut tree by his window and called: Come with me, come with me!" Ever since then, Irm had been afraid of owls.

"What nonsense," Liese replied, and it was strangely comforting to hear her voice so lively nearby. "Look, that's where it's sitting!" Now Irm saw the dark lump on the lowest branch of a big pine tree. When it noticed the human voices, it took flight. It looked big and dark, and they could hear its wings flapping heavily.

Liese said, "Now it's going hunting to feed its young." The owl had a nest inside a hollow tree, Liese said. The young owls looked grey and had soft, fluffy feathers. Irm thought it would be neat to find such a nest, but of course you couldn't pet the little ones and you had to be very quiet or you would scare the adults so much they would abandon the nest. Then the little fluffballs would starve. They sleep all day. But at night, the adult owls left to hunt. They circled the woods calling out, "Ki-wi, ki-wi" and all small birds ducked deeper into their own nests when they heard the tawny owl call.

A bright flash of lightning suddenly ripped through the darkness and lit up the path, the low bushes, and the dark tree branches. Irm yelled and reached for Liese's hand. But Liese stood still and counted, "One, two ... seven, eight, nine..." Only then the thunder came. "The storm's still far off, but if we don't hurry now, we'll still get soaked," she said. "Are you scared?"

Irm threw back her head and laughed. You didn't have to be afraid of anything out in nature, she'd learned that much already in just a few days. But if she still felt uncomfortable - which could happen - then that was something for her to deal with by herself. She didn't need Liese for that...

By the time they returned to the hostel the first heavy rain drops started to splash onto stone tiles at the door. Inside, everyone was in the day room. It was almost entirely dark only some candles in front of Kathrin provided any light. "We're telling ghost stories," Shorty called across the table. "Hurry up, this is great!" Irm quickly slid into the circle. Everyone looked expectantly at Kathrin. "Now's the time for Inge's surprise," she said. "Up at the manor house, they have an old palace chronicle which they let Inge borrow yesterday. Inside is a ghost story. A ghost story - well, I won't tell anymore."

With this, she pushed the three candles in front of Inge, and Inge straightened up. This beginning was already promising:

(Translation notice: The following text was written in 17th Century formal German, which proved difficult to translate. I've chosen to go with a simple translation rather than one equivalent to the formal old German used in the original text.)

"The story recounted here demands strong beliefs in order to take it as truth. The reader may believe none of it at all, or just as much as he would like. I do not feel myself qualified to take away one's believes or to set boundaries to limit them. The Roman Catholics are much more gullible in such affairs than the Protestants. It is also to be desired that there are not many Sadducees among us who, since they do not believe in ghosts whatsoever, would be reinforced in their wickedness."

Outside, lightning and thunder followed each other in shorter and shorter intervals. Inside, Inge continued reading the "curious historical notice from the old palace in Heidersdorf".

"Among the servant staff of the baronial family was a house maiden who, in carrying out her proper duties, had to enter the cellar each day when one day she noticed an opening in the wall through which a bright light was emanating.

At first, she did not pay it any attention, but since it continued, she told the lordship as well as the domestics, all of whom were eager to see this light and went together and looked through the hole in the wall. Without exception, they all saw the glow of light, although they could not tell where it was coming from because of the wall.

The master of the house found this even more curious because the hidden part of his palace had not been known to him, and he could not understand how this hidden fire could have been nourished for so long.

There was much discussion as to how one was to react to such an unusual experience until the unanimous conclusion of the present illuminated clergy was that there must be a large treasure hidden there and that the light was a sign of its presence. However, the treasure would have to be recovered by the house maiden because it was her the light had first appeared to.

Now an effort was made to create an opening to get closer to the light: but when the workers had torn down a large part of the wall, the light disappeared before their very eyes and they remained only with the lights they had used to for their work. They had to leave without having located the treasure.

On the following day, however, the house maiden entered the cellar again and to her big surprise saw an even larger light, and when she stepped closer, she saw 33 lights in the order in which they are traditionally set around a noble corpse at funeral, without noticing anything further.

When she returned to the upstairs, she told her story with all its details which confused the clergy, particularly since they noted that the good house maiden was no longer willing to continue with her duties in light of the strange occurrences. They needed great effort to talk her into continuing her work, so that three days later, she descended into the cellar once again.

She did not, however, set out on the return journey upstairs and also did not report anything she had seen; instead, a horrible commotion was heard and nobody dared to follow her footsteps down into the cellar.

The cellar, however, was the one where wine and other edibles were stored, which the household could not live without. Therefore, the domestics, accompanied by three clerics, were sent into the cellar, each carrying a light. But even though they had many steps left to go to the opening in the cellar wall, they noticed a horrible stench so bad they had to hold their noses, and when they came closer, they found the house maiden dead on the ground. But what had happened to her could not be ascertained, and there was no light or shimmer of a light to be seen anywhere.

But because it was believed that otherwise there would never be an end to this affair, it was concluded that the hidden treasure had to be excavated. As soon as they started digging into the loose soil, however, bones began to be unearthed along with the sand, which seemed even stranger and even more suspect since nobody would use the cellar of a palace for a funeral.

Meanwhile they tried to speed up the affair through digging faster. But the deeper they dug, the more bones they dug up and slowly, they began to understand what sort of treasure was buried there. After much labor they finally reached solid rock and realized that all of their work would be for nothing.

During the following night, the lord of the house could not find any sleep because his disquieting thoughts would not let him rest, and he sat down in a window facing the church to pass the time more quickly.

When the clock struck one, he realized that the church was filled with lights and a mass of people dressed in white were exiting it and walking toward the palace. The lord received such a shock that he quickly ran from the window and crawled into his bed.

When he began to fall asleep and only the small night light still burnt on his table, the chamber door suddenly opened and the house maiden entered in her normal dress, followed by a row of bodies dressed in white which were all missing their heads and carrying them underneath their arms. The good lord was frightened stiff but he understood through an inner knowledge to address the house maiden and ask her what she wanted from him.

Instead of her replying, one of the heads of the present corpses said with a weak voice: "We are all innocently executed subjects of your ancestors, and if you wish to know the reasons for our deaths, you only need to check their records. We have rested in peace for many years and were never disturbed by anyone although we are still seeking revenge on our judge which we will get when the time is ripe. You, however, have destroyed our resting place and thus we have come in this form to ask you for another resting place." After those words, the entire procession disappeared like a whisp of smoke.

The next day, the lordship had the skeletons buried next to the church with the permission of the clergy, including the body of the house maiden. And from that time one, the palace was returned to its previous state of quiet."

So that was the ghost story from the Heidersdorf manor. "Uh," Liese said, and then started to sing in a hollow voice: "A ghost, a ghost, steps close to the bed and moans." It became the final song of the evening, but the Heidersdorf ghosts continued to spook all the way into the bathrooms.

"Booo, Shorty, aren't you scared? I bet you can't sleep tonight," called Ellie when Shorty stumbled up the stairs to their rooms carrying her sweat suit. "That's what you think!" Shorty stood on the landing and waved her pants like a flag. "I'll sleep snug as a bug in a rug as soon as the room has gotten quiet!"

"At which Shorty returned herself from the washing room and moved herself to bed," Irm laughed over to her - When Kathrin came to wish them a good night ten minutes later, she found a long row of ghostly figures covered in white sheets, who greeted her most properly. Strangely enough, all of those creatures spoke in most proper 17th Century language.


Heidersdorf - part 4
August 09, 2006

Posted by BDM Historian

Chapter 4

New Acquaintances

The first thing Irm heard the next morning as the sound of an accordion. Oh, that was the song, "And the morning freshness, that is our time..." Who was playing and where was she at, anyway? Sleepily, she opened her eyes and her first glance fell onto the large window at the foot end of her bed. She saw green twigs and leaves and above that, a piece of clear blue sky. Heidersdorf! Jungmaedel camp! Happiness came over her so strongly that she could feel her heart beating inside her chest.

With a big leap she jumped from the bed and ran to the window. Below, Kathrin walked along the side of the building. She wore her sports clothing and the buttons on her accordion gleamed in the sun. Tramp jumped around here in big circles; you could tell right away that he was happy too.

"Formation for morning sports is in five minutes!" Kathrin called up to the window. She had to hurry now! Irm rushed into her sports clothing. The others were in a hurry as well, and there was little time to wish each other a good morning. Only Shorty gave her a quick, friendly poke as she ran past: "Are you this excited, too?"

Then came the morning run through the dewy meadow, through a barbed wire fence into the woods, across logs and through bushes. Everywhere, birds were chirping, a cuckoo called from far away, and above everything lay the gleaming sunshine, much brighter than it did in Berlin. It was beautiful in Heidersdorf. Irm wanted to just scream with joy. But you didn't do that, of course.

After fifteen minutes they were standing in front of the youth hostel again. "Breakfast will be at 8:30", said Kathrin. "By then you will need to have washed up, dressed, and made your beds."

Oh, that was still a long time away! While everyone else pushed their way to the bathroom laughing and talking, Irm went back upstairs to the bedroom. She would make her bed first, maybe it was even better than if everyone was running around the bedroom later on. She shook up her blankets and folded her sleeping bag.

Then she saw Inge's harmonica on the window sill. Carefully, she put the small instrument to her lips: "And the morning freshness..." she tried to play. But the right sounds just didn't want to come. Well, no big deal. "Now the gate of the night has fallen before the joy, the joy, it has burst," sang Irm while she jumped down several steps at once.

There was much excitement downstairs in the bathroom. Kathrin had been there and she had been less than excited about the Jungmaedel's idea of washing up. "Elli kept her sports clothes on. She said, otherwise, she'd get cold," said Inge. "You should have seen Kathrin! We're at Jungmaedel Camp, and not in a pig stay. It wouldn't be washing if only face, neck and hands are getting washed. You should brush your hands, wash your feet, and the ears inside and out. She's going to check all ears, and hands, and feet later, she said."

"It's all show," Ellie complained. "The leaders are always all show." - "Why show?" Irm said and rubbed herself with a rough washcloth until she turned lobster red. It would've been horrible to be counted among the "pigs". But Ellie grumbled on. "I would like to know if Kathrin always washes herself. Today she was probably not in here, and how about yesterday evening - we don't know if she did or not because she was the last one to go to bed."

Irm shook her head. "Kathrin isn't all show, you can believe that," she said convinced. But she still had to laugh when someone in the corner next to the window suggested they should take Kathrin's toiletry bag and hide it. "It's on the third hook here. Then she can't wash. And at breakfast, we'll ask her, and if she says yes, then we know how it is with the leaders and that they're really all show." - "Good," said Shorty and Elli hid the toiletry bag in her sweat pants.

When Liese and the kitchen duty group put the steaming milk soup onto the table, everyone was already seated full of expectation and unusually quiet around the table. Liese was a member of the BDM as well. She had even once led a Jungmaedel group. But now she was here and helped the den mother. This was called the "female service year" and Liese said that she liked Heidersdorf so much, she would rather not leave again. Everyone would probably get along well with her.

Then Kathrin entered. In a choir, everyone asked, "Did - you - wash - yourself - today?" - At first Kathrin made a confused face. Then she said loudly: "Not very thoroughly, because I couldn't find my toiletry bag. Do you know...?"

"There it is!" Ellie yelled, and among the general howling Kathrin could just say, "What a horrible band of thieves you are!" - She couldn't even guess what an important test she had just passed, and that the Jungmaedel would now believe everything she'd tell them to the word, no matter what she said. But the Jungmaedel knew and it was great for them...

Irm could hardly wait for breakfast to end. What would be on next? "We explore Heidersdorf," said the camp schedule that hung in the entry way next to a large fireplace. That would be a lot of fun, even though nobody quite knew how to start.

Later on, Kathrin explained exactly what was meant. The Jungmaedel were to go by themselves or in small groups around the village and ask what there was to see and do; about the history of the village, about the farmers and their work, about sagas and fairy tales of the area. Maybe there was an especially pretty farm house or an old fountain or something. They were to ask lots of questions and look around. They were given the whole morning.

"Oh, fun!" Inge was excited. "I'm going up to the manor. The den mother told me that it used to be an old knight's palace. Maybe there's a secret passageway or something. Do you want to come along?" - But Irm thought it was better to go by herself. After all, only one girl could ask a question at a time, and she didn't just want to stand around.

She took the small trail to the left of the main town road, which went out to a singular farm, two small sheds, and then into an open field. Certainly none of the others would be going this way.

In the grassy yard of the farm house, a young woman was hanging up the laundry. Irm said hello and the young woman laughed back. "You must be one of the Berlin Jungmaedel from the hostel," she said, and when Irm nodded, she asked whether she liked it there, even though she came from the big Berlin with it's sky-high buildings, the electric trams, and the many cars. She wanted to know a lot more and Irm had to keep going: about Potsdam Place with the many lighted advertisements that are so bright, you can't even see the stars in the sky. About the rail triangle where so many different rails ran together you couldn't even count them anymore, and about Alexander Place where five different trams cross.

"There's quite something going on in Berlin," said the woman sighing and shook out a wet sheet so that the drops sprayed in all directions. "I'd like to live there, too, and not here, at the end of the world."

Irm looked confused. She had never thought that the S-trains and the high rises were something special. They were actually quite boring, but especially the underground trains where you rode in the dark all the time. The advertising slogans of "Bullrich Salt" and "Oleo-Sasso" were something you quickly knew by heart, and nothing else there was worth looking at. Heidersdorf was a lot more fun.

Irm told this to the woman, but she shook her head. "Good grief, you only say that because this is all new to you. But you wait, in three or four years, my husband and I are going to sell this dreary little rat hole and then we'll move to Berlin. Our children will have it better than us."

"What could be better?" Irm though and looked at the little boy who was rolling in the grass with a shaggy brown dog next to the laundry basket. She felt that there was something not right and she didn't really like the young woman. But she was just a Jungmaedel. What could she tell a grown up. She was happy when the woman took her laundry basket and went inside: "My soup will get burnt otherwise. Have fun in Heidersdorf."

Irm went on with her head hanging low. She had wanted to ask about the village, and instead she had spent her time talking about Berlin. She absentmindedly picked up a switch from the side of the path and beat at the air with it so that it whistled. It was so horrible what the woman had told her, oh, so horrible!

She hardly watched where she was going so that she startled when she found herself in the middle of a honking flock of geese. Hissing, the geese started in on her. "Get away!" Irm yelled energetically and hit the gander so that he honked and flapped his wings getting away. Behind a large golden willow, someone laughed. Then a blonde boy's head with tousled hair appeared between the branches. "You're not scared at all - much braver than our village girls!" With this, he crawled out entirely and now stood before Irm, barefoot and tanned.

"Scared? Of a Gander? - Nope! - Takes more to scare me." Irm thought it didn't hurt to put herself into a better light in front of boys. The result showed immediately, too. The boy was definitely willing to make further conversation. "I'm Goose-August's Karli," he said. "What's your name, and what are you doing here?"

Irm told him about the Jungmaedel and the exploration trip to the village. Maybe Karli would know something? A funny story or the like? Karli thought for a minute, then spat on the ground. Then he said, "When Schulze's Emil comes home from the Jug, he's always drunk. He zigzags across the road. He'll bump into the telegraph pole, then he'll bump into a garden fence. Then he'll stop dead in the middle of the road, looks real stupid, and says, "Oh, oh, take it easy now. Young horses cost money." Then we stumble and zigzag along behind him and yell, "Oh! Oh! Take it easy now!" Then he turns around and throws rocks at us. But he never hits us because he's too drunk to aim. That's pretty funny."

Irm shook her head. Karli's stories were pretty useless. So she changed the subject. "Who lives in those two little houses?" - "In the house on the right lives the old broom maker woman, but she's coo-coo" - he tapped his forehead. "She tells everyone about her Hannes and that tomorrow, the mailman will bring a letter from him. But Hannes has been in the city for 25 years and he's never written yet. Yeah, go there, you can laugh about her, too."

"Thanks," said Irm. She didn't want to insult Karli but she also didn't want to go back to the woman with the laundry. But she would, of course, make a big beeline around the house with the broom maker woman.

But when she came near, a grey figure straightened up behind the garden gate: "Hey, li'l girl, c'mon over here for a mo'." Irm turned around. There was nothing else nearby, so obviously she was meant. A little hesitant, she drew closer. That must be the broom maker woman. Irm didn't want anything to do with people who weren't quite right. They were eerie.

"Do you know how to write?" said the old woman. "Yes." Irm was surprised. There were people who didn't know how? - "Then please write something down for me. I've long forgotten that old school stuff." With that, she laughed a little and Irm thought that she wasn't that eerie after all. Maybe she wasn't even the broom maker woman after all.

"Look there," said the old woman and pointed to a wooden letterbox mounted to the garden fence, the door of which was wide open. "In there's a pair of sparrows. They want to make it a nest. They're only sparrows but if they really want to be there, they might as well stay." Irm looked at the old woman's face. What would come next?

"You should write me a notice to warn the mail carrier not to throw the letter from my Hannes in there tomorrow, so he won't scare away the birds." - It was the broom maker woman after all! Irm was so alarmed she would've liked to just run away. But now it was too late. "Does Hannes write often?" she said just to say something.

"Yes," said the old woman mysteriously. "Tomorrow. He will come back. It's what the earth wants. The good Lord has given her great power. Who doesn't bow to her will be damned, and his children and grandchildren will be damned, so wills the Lord. But Hannes comes back." Irm swallowed. Why had she chosen not to go to the manor with Inge? But now she had to finish what she had started. "What should I write?" she asked, and her own voice sounded strange to her.

"Well, so..." the old woman touched her forehead as if she wanted to change her mind. "Did I scare you, li'l girl? The old broom maker woman doesn't always know quite what she's talking about anymore. Don't take it quite seriously, li'l girl." With this, she had the same gleam in her eyes as she had talking about the birds.

"Here's a piece of paper and a pencil. Now write: 'Mister Postman! There are young birds inside the letterbox. Do not put the letter inside.'" Irm made an effort to write as pretty and evenly as possible. "That will do," said the old woman. "And now I'll give you something, too." With this, she limped into the garden and soon came back with a small bouquet of lavender. "There," she said. "Give this to your mother to put into the laundry closet. It'll smell like summer all year long."

Irm thanked her with a proper curtsy. The old broom maker woman wasn't so bad after all, but Irm was still glad when she got back to the main village road among people. Only she couldn't understand why Goose-August's Karli could laugh about the old broom maker woman.

In the afternoon, everyone recounted their exploration trips. Most were really proud of their adventures, and especially Inge was acting very secretive. She had something really great, but what it is, she wasn't going to tell. Kathrin had told her it would have to wait until a special social evening.

When it was Irm's turn, she said: "It's nothing great, really, and it's not really about the history of the village, but I want to tell you about it anyway." Then she told them about the broom maker woman and the woman with the laundry basket.

When she had finished, Liese nodded. "That was part of it after all," she said. "You have to know that even in the villages not everything is as it should be. There are many who think, they can only get places in the city. Maybe it's good that us city girls are sent to the country to help. Not just because the work needs to get done, but so the people in the country also realize that us girls in the service year or the land service or the labor service do this work willingly and like it. I'm really happy I get to be a part of it."

At those words, Liese looked very proud and happy and Irm thought: "Later on, when I've finished school, I'll go to the country to work, too. There can't be anything better!"