The sweetness of the stay in Berlin was a first clue that this was to be a special summer. In the morning, Mutti Liddy handed me an umbrella and a shopping bag for the daily trips to the open market. Once the vegetables and fresh milk were in her big leather bag, Liddy stopped at a candy stall and purchased a chocolate bar. I anxiously tried to communicate in German, “Nein danke – no thank you. I’m not supposed to eat sweets. Grandma Estelle does not allow us to have candy.” Mutti Liddy responded that chocolate is good for you, and purchased a second bar. Then we sat down on a bench to enjoy the rich treat. Schokolade was my first German word after danke and bitte, thank you and please. In the neighboring shops, Liddy began to announce the names of common food items that you buy at the dairy, butcher, green grocer and baker. I tried to pronounce them as carefully as possible, but I couldn’t say some parts of the hard words. There were some funny smeary vowels, sounds I had never heard before and couldn’t say. Other words were just plain fun, like kartoffel, potato.
It took the entire morning to shop and prepare the big midday meal. There were no cans to open, and there was no big refrigerator to store leftovers for reuse. Everything had to be made fresh. Liddy blanched a bag of fresh tomatoes, strained them through a colander and added cream and butter for fresh tomato soup. Campbells tomato soup had been in half of our daily recipes, and there was no such thing in Berlin. I also learned what happened if we didn’t finish a meal. It would sit in a dish in the pantry until the next mealtime. Best to clean your plate on the first attempt.
On the first day Mutti Liddy went through the big canvas suitcase and dictated what I could or could not wear. Monika was not allowed to intervene, but she had to submit to an interrogation about my wardrobe. Yes, Monika had helped Ellie with the shopping, yes, this was the best quality that Ellie could afford, and yes, eleven year old girls in the US did wear pajamas made out of lingerie materials. The first items to be confiscated until later were the lacy pink pajamas, followed by training bras, a garter belt, and a pair of stockings. Mutti Liddy announced that such things were only appropriate after the sixteenth birthday, no matter how much the girl had developed. Monika’s younger sister Annike agreed. She had returned from a student trip and asked me why my mother had sent these items with me. She was sixteen and was now allowed to wear them. The bras and stockings had been a rite of passage in New York, but apparently that rite of passage was not observed in Europe. I was now a little girl again and we were going shopping.
Modern Berlin was all glass and steel, with the burnt shell of an old church marking the effects of war for all to see. Everything had been designed and built in the fifteen years since the end of the war. KaDeWe was the nicest department store in downtown Berlin. Liddy and Monika marched me in to get properly outfitted. Their first selection was a pretty pastel pink dress with dainty white dots and a dark green sash. Monika had heard the fights about plaid shirt dresses for years, and I loved this dress with its narrow waist and long full skirt.
Then, Liddy selected underwear for a little girl. The stockings and Queen Anne heels that had come to Berlin were a “no.” She bought Strumpfhosen – knitted leggings – to wear with the dresses, and the leggings were purchased by my waist size. I may have only been eleven, but I was in a growth spurt and had just topped 5’6” a height not taken into consideration by the manufacturers of little girl’s leggings. The Strumpfhosen were much too short. “They will stretch.” Monika showed me how to pull them on gently, rolling them upward one piece at a time, but it wasn’t enough. As we went walking along the fashionable Kufürstendamm, the tights began to roll and pull, down, and down, taking underwear with them. I tried to use my knees to control the twists of the fabric, and keep my underpants securely knotted up under a stiff cotton petticoat. I couldn’t even imagine what would happen if I dropped my drawers right out in public. Meanwhile, Annike and Monika strode along at a rapid pace, moving like a team of prize horses in competition. Liddy was the coach driver, and instead of a fair princess following the troupe, an ugly duckling was in tow. The black orthopedic shoes were a nice touch with the pretty pink dress.
When we got home to hang up our city dresses, Annike started laughing. The mess of tangled tights, underwear, and a sticky cotton slip under the dress was enough information. She now had a mission. She had been following Liddy’s directions for years with mixed results. From now on, Annike would take over as confidante, to assist with misunderstandings and help me understand what I needed to do. She sat down beside me at each meal, and instructed me in English which utensils I should use. The fish fork was most impressive one. Fresh trout was served on a beautiful spring day and Liddy had steamed it up in white wine. They were plated head and all. Lesson time. Moni jabbed the fish fork in right under the head of the trout, and removed the head and complete skeleton in a single piece. Then she tucked into her neatly fileted fish and buttered potatoes. I stared at my plate and fork, wondering how this was going to come out.