My Precious

Storytelling Sunday is a monthly meme sponsored by Sian at From High in the Sky

When I was 14, in 1981, my family took a 10 day trip to Europe.  My parents took one of these trips, to various places, every other year because they belonged to a group called the Jaycees. The Jaycees were an international organization and held a world wide congress every two years. My parents travelled all over the world going to these congresses, which were set up with a 5-6 day actual congress and then a 4-5 day optional side trip.

The year they took my brother & I along the congress was in Berlin and the side trip was to Vienna, with a day trip into Budapest.

Berlin was then divided by the wall and Hungary was a communist country.

We took an afternoon to visit East Berlin during our stay. What I remember most is that it was grey. The buildings, the clothing, the people, the food, they sky – all of it was grey.  West Berlin was all bright colors, sunshine & neon signs.

Both cities were cold. It was November.

Oh, and my dad’s friends let me do shots of peppermint schnapps.

I still can’t drink peppermint schnapps, not even in hot chocolate, 30 years later.

Berlin is a large bustling metropolis and I was a girl from a small town in West Virginia. West Berlin was the first major city I was ever in.  I was allowed to walk around by myself. I don’t know if the hotel was just in a very safe part of the city and I wasn’t one for walking, or the world was a safer place then or what, but that seems odd to me now.

Especially since I don’t speak a word of German.

Possibly the places I remember walking to were just down the sidewalk & why wouldn’t a 14 year old girl just walk down there in the middle of the afternoon?

My brother & the few other kids along on the trip were all younger than me & they had activities planned for them. At 14 I was the oldest by 3 years and left to my own devices.  I remember watching English captioned movies in a theater (no idea how I negotiated buying a ticket) and all the pointing & gesturing needed to buy a slurpee type drink in a shopping mall.

I found a used bookstore that had English language paperbacks and bought a half a dozen Agatha Christie novels for a couple marks & read through them before we left Berlin.

They were the first Agatha Christie mysteries I had ever read.

Last night I finished a series by Elizabeth Daly, who was apparently one of Christie’s favorite authors.

One night we went some place for supper & I had the sauerbraten & it made me sick. This was not the fault of the restaurant but my own because I didn’t realize ‘sauer’ in sauerbraten was the same as in ‘sauerkraut’ and sauerkraut makes me sick. My folks did know the sauers were the same and had always assumed I was just being dramatic about a food I didn’t like so they deliberately didn’t tell me. They figured I’d eat it, be fine and they afterward they’d tell me & prove their point.

But I threw up at the table.

Guess I showed them.

They never again made me eat sauerkraut or anything cooked with it.

After the congress we went to Vienna, where we stayed in an old hotel that was a converted house & my brother & I had rooms in what used to be an attic. They were cramped rooms with steep sloping ceilings. And the bathroom was downstairs.

Downstairs.

A hotel with no bathroom in the room. Or even on the same floor.

I remember thinking that Europe was weird.

My main memory of Vienna is that the food was excellent, much better than Berlin and worlds away from Budapest.  I suspect we were fed ‘local specialties as translated for tourists’ in Budapest. Or maybe it was something to do with availability of supplies due to communism. I remember the enormous trouble of getting in and out of East Berlin & Hungary, all the checks and all the guards.

We walked all over Vienna on various tours & then on our own. On one of these walks we stopped at a little shop in an old building on a cobblestone square. My mom had seen something in the shop window and we all went in.

Among the things the shop sold were ceramic rings in various colors.

These rings had different designs drawn on them & then some gold leaf applied to parts of the design.

I tried on every single purple one they had, because purple is my favorite color, but none fit me. The I moved on to the cream color ones and finally found one that fit.

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The gold is tarnished & blackened now, but that is a cluster of three roses.  That is the ‘top’ of the ring.

I wore the ring constantly for the next 4-5 years and as a result of all that wear the bottom got worn & a bit chipped

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So I always made a point of making sure that flower cluster was on the “bottom” of my finger.

I stopped wearing it regularly when I was in college and put it away for good about 20 years ago. It still feels sturdy & I don’t think it would break all that easily but it’s ceramic and you just never know what exactly you might whack your hand against in the course of a day.

It lives in my jewelry box and seeing it reminds me of that trip – the cold, the food, the communists, the neon lights & that funny shaped hotel room.

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19 comments to My Precious

  • It must have seemed SO different! What a contrast to your normal life, and what memories of how those places used to be. What a sweet little ring, I can see why it is too precious to wear much now, you could never replace it.

  • No, I can’t imagine letting a 14 year old wander around Berlin – but my parents let me do similar things. I think expectations were different back then :)

    Fun that you still have the ring and the memories. Pretty nails too!

    The downstairs bathroom comment made me smile, was talking to some American friends on Friday and was saying we were making a list for the new house… an upstairs bathroom is probably a deal breaker. Huge swathes of houses dating from late 1800s to early 1900s didn’t have indoor bathrooms when they were built so they’re all tacked onto the back of the kitchen. A long way if you’re in bed feeling unwell :( They were slightly startled at that concept :lol:

  • Wow, that’s some adventure! I’ve always regretted not having the chance to see Germany in those days: as I was reading your story I had pictures in my head of some of those old spy films..I think because your memories are so vivid here. Amazing stuff! And that lovely ring? I can remember those being very fashionable over here at that time and my sister had a very nice one I quite fancied for myself.

    My Grandparents had no indoor bathroom. They lived in a terraced red brick house and the bathroom was in an outhouse in the yard

  • Ladkyis

    A great story beautifully told. It conjured up vivid images of how parts of europe still are!

  • So many little details you’ve remembered. It’s funny what sticks with us. Such a sweet little ring and a lovely souvenir of your trip.

  • S

    Oh I liked hearing about those things that struck you as so different back then. That really is the best part of travel to see something different – although I am not sure a 14 year old should be doing it on her own. Perhaps you were under friendly surveillance you were not aware of – after all, it was a communist country.

  • Jen Hart

    Great story and evocative. I remember that type of ring, I had a red one, loved it. Well done for keeping it.

  • I suspect your memories of Berlin are so vivid because you got to explore on your own. I have never been to Germany, but spent some time in Vienna when I was a student and loved roaming the little back alleys and stores – although I don’t have anything quite as nice as a reminder of my time there.

  • Abi

    Such a great story and what an amazing memory of Berlin. The ring is beautiful.

  • sheena x

    Such a great story & vivid memories of Berlin.
    How lovely you still have the ring you chose.

  • That was quite the adventure for a 14-year-old. I’m glad you’ve managed to keep the ring all these years–it obviously has a lot of memories associated with it.

  • Elizabeth

    What an exciting time for a 14 year old! My brother cannot eat sauerkraut so I can imagine how you felt after eating it and then upchucking. Love the ring and hope you keep it for many more years.

  • Wow, what a trip! I can’t imagine walking around alone in a big city when I was 14. I, too, grew up in a small town (Ohio) and was not a very brave child to begin with. What wonderful memories you have of this trip!

  • Jo

    Wow, a really great story of your travels and a beautiful ring x

  • Great story, you have some wonderfully detailed memories of that trip. Berlin really made an impression on you and the ring is beautiful.

  • Alison

    That really was quite an adventure at such a young age…it would have been so interesting to see Berlin at that point in time
    Alison xx

  • isn’t it amazing how such a small thing can bring back such a flood of memories? Loved your story.

  • What a fantastic story – so well told. We’ve been to Budapest and Vienna, but more recently. It’s interesting to wonder how my kids will remember those trips.
    Love the line “Guess I showed them.” Just perfect.
    Rinda

  • That sounds like a huge adventure! And so very different from the Europe of now.