It was a cold and rainy Easter Sunday morning, and my friend Harald (I didn't play with just Ilona and Marion!) decided that once and for all, we were going to find "Der Osterhase" (the Easter bunny), so I met him outside of his house (just 3 up from us at 23 Litzelau)at 5 am, and warmly dressed (we thought) and booted, we set out on our mission to find this animal which could lay such colorful eggs, capture him and bring him back for all to see!
We had packed some sandwiches, an apple, and some "Müller Milch" ("Alles Müller oder was?" - "everything Müller or what?" was the advertising slogan for this banana or strawberry flavored milk) along with a few cubes of Ahoj "Brause", which was a type of candy which provided quick energy and effervesced in your mouth, similar to what kids here in the States used to eat out of a straw as a sweet, fruit-flavored powder.
Do you have Google Earth?
If so, you can find our emabarkation point.
4. Litzelau Strasse 26
And then zoom in. You should then see the very last house on the left-hand side of the street adjoined by the Sports Park with the "Fussball" field. That is where I lived.
If not, take a look here:
See the green arrow? That's our starting point.
Use your cursor and go south across the railroad tracks, across the Autobahn (!) and in that big thick area (which used to be mostly woods) is where two little 6 year old boys were headed to find that "dwatted wabbit" and find out how he could lay so many eggs and get them hidden in such a short time.
Because we hunted eggs right after church, we figured he made his "deliveries" at night, and would be back in his "hidey-hole" where we could catch him sleeping.
This is the point at which everyone's supposed to say, "Yeah, right!".
So we skip church. We are, after all, two young intrepid hunters out to capture the Easter bunny, and everyone was going to be so proud of us that they'd forget all about us missing church and have a parade, and give us all kinds of neat stuff!
Holding hands, we made our way up the hill across the tracks, across the main thoroughfare ("Autobahn") and into the dense forest.
Because of where Germany lies latitude- and - longitudinally. it gets light right about 5 - 5:30, but that morning the skies were overcast, it was drizzling rain and it was hard to see, but still - we had come this far, and we were not about to turn back now.
When I wrote "dense forest", I wasn't just being colorful with my writing. This was 1955, and this land had yet to be developed, and once we entered, those trees pretty much cut out all but a little bit of daylight.
So, still holding hands so we wouldn't lose each other, we began our search.
And we walked.
And shivered from the cold rain which had now turned to sleet.
Soaking wet, we continued on our quest. Deeper and deeper into the forest.
Of course we saw some rabbits, but these couldn't be the Easter bunny! All the chocolate bunnies we were used to, if you looked at them in their packages with colorful trees and bushes all around, meant that this guy had to be huge! Yes, we were only 6, but we knew (somehow) to imagine him scaled to his surroundings!
We lost all track of time. When we entered the forest we could still hear the church bells ringing, but now there was only the sound of the wind and the sleet hitting the trees.
We sat down and ate one of our sandwiches and drank some of our milk.
We looked at each other, and realized we were probably lost.
"Haraldele?", I said.
note: this is a "nuance" of the German language. His name is Harald, yes, but as a "term of endearment" or nickname if you will, we sometimes add the "ele" at the end, kinda like you calling me "Billy" instead of "Bill". For girls, the suffix would be "chen" as in Ilonachen, got it?
(This dialogue is in German, but I am translating it for you)
"Whose idea was this?"
"It was your idea!"
"Ach, nein! I distinctly remember the argument we got into at the Spielplatz ("playground") with the other boys and girls and you were the one who insisted there was an Easter bunny, and he does lay all those eggs, remember? You even told Horst, you would prove it to him!"
"I do not remember it that way, Billy!"
"But you said it! I know you did!
(Does any of this sound familiar?)
Then, as little boys are wont to to do, we began to fight.
And we fought.
And we slid down and skinned our knees.
And we fought some more.
Until we were both so tired we fell into each other's arms and started crying.
"Wir haben den Weg verloren, Billy!" ("We've lost our way, Billy")
"Ja, ich weiss, Haraldele."
So we stood up, cleaned each other off as best we could, ate the rest of our food and began to make our way back - this time arm in arm.
One of the things German children are taught very early on, are to listen for the church bells. They all toll every half hour and every hour.
So that was the plan: we would walk in a straight line, as close as possible to the way we had come and listen for the church bells and keep our eyes peeled for a steeeple.
We walked and walked, and soon our little bellies began to grumble, for we had eaten all our food and drank all our milk. We had come to the conclusion that we were going to die anyway, so why hoard the goodies?
We were either going to die or get eaten by that damn cannibalistic witch in Hansel und Gretel, so what the hell?
So we walked some more. And cried and snuffled some more. And began to cough and sneeze.
Neither of us realized it, but we were succumbing to the elements and were catching pneumonia, and in 1955 Germany, you could still die from it.
By that time, we were so exhausted we just sat in the wet, sleety grass and held on to each other for warmth.
Finally, the rain and sleet stopped, and we just laid there, by now too exhausted to move.
In Germany, ambulances, fire-trucks and police cars all make the same sound: "Deeeee-Doooooo, Deeee-Dooooo, Deeee-Dooooo", and through the fog of our exhaustion that's what we both heard.
We stood up and holding each other made our way toward where we thought that sound had come from, and soon arrived at the edge of the forest, (we later found out it was 8 miles further south than where we had entered) where we met up with some forest rangers, who were getting ready to enter the forest looking for us.
Unbeknownst to us, police and forest rangers had been looking for us most of the day and it was now 5 in the evening and getting dark.
We both had pneumonia and Harald almost died from it, but we both recovered and when we were good and healthy, we were given the beating of our young lives. We survived that too.
No Easter bunny, no Easter eggs (that year) and to this day Harald and I are two old men still arguing over whose idea it was!
So ends Chapter Two. Still to come: Billy falls into an open cesspool and almost drowns in "it", and running away to the Kaserne ("Army Base") to see my Daddy.