Saturday morning we hit the road early because it was going to be a long day covering almost 100 kilometres of territory with several important stops along the way. By this fourth and last day of touring with our guide, Aleksandre, we were beginning to know him pretty well and I think he had us figured out too. Over the last three days he had heard us talk so much about our mother and we told him so many stories from her book, that sometimes he would say things like "I bet your mother would have come this way." Or he'd ask what our mother had written in her book about a certain church or village. We certainly would not have been able to explore so much of the Konigsberg area without him, and if he's reading this blog... Thank you Aleksandre.
Our first stop was at a T intersection on a dusty country road about 10 kilometres from our parents' farm in Klein Engelau. We are now near the beginning of mom's trek. On the wagons with her is her mother, her two small sons Klaus and Hans, and three farm hands who in the end probably saved all their lives. She wanted to turn the two wagons right to travel to Konigsberg to get her father but the road was completely blocked by hundreds of wagons coming from that direction, with passengers intent on their own escape efforts. She had no choice but to direct the wagons to turn to the left, and in their panic to merge into the "traffic" and in the icy winter conditions, one of the wagons slipped into the ditch with its passengers still on board. Some soilders on the road helped them lift the wagon out of the ditch, and then they were on their way to Friedland, the next town on the escape route. Mom never had a chance to say goodbye to her father. Omi never had a chance to let her husband know that she had survived her own escape on a train out of Konigsberg a few days earlier.
Our next stop was a few kilometres down the road towards Klein Engelau. We are in the middle of no mans land. There is nothing here, but as we get closer to Klein Engelau we can make out the tall ruins of a church, the only thing still partially standing is the steeple. This is the church where Klaus was baptized over 70 years ago. These are the church grounds where our father's father is buried along with a sister who died very young (dad came from a large family of five boys and five girls, most of whom did not survive the war). We tried in vain to find an indication of where there might be a cemetery or some gravestones. We did find a couple of old rusted door handles which Klaus is bringing home as a souvenir. Before we leave, we reenact Klaus' baptism by pouring some drops of water on his forehead.
We get back into the Dodge Caravan to continue down the narrow dirt road. Oue next stop is the old village of Klein Engelau which is now a military zone where they detonate unwanted ammunition and destroy old military equipment. There are a few buildings where they house some military personnel, and we see a few soldiers in the distance at a well, which is their only water supply, pumping water out of the well to splash themselves to cool off in the stifling heat ( it's about 30 degrees in the shade). Our guide Alex is looking for a senior officer to talk to; we already have our papers in hand giving us permission to be so close to the border. We are ready to bolt if the situation gets out of hand. Alex is clearly nervous. He returns to the car and tells us that we have permission to walk around for a few minutes but we cannot take any photos.
TO BE CONTINUED. We have to pack up and check out of the hotel. We are on our way to Berlin.