My final Christmas in the fifties in my birth house (the one with the tree and the fence and the sagging roof), and spending quality time with my grandson Karl 30 years later in California, on a beach with a concrete sidewalk and functional stop signs that the city of Long Beach felt were necessary to keep errand bicyclists from running into pedestrians.
It could have been the other way around — to stop peeved pedestrians from attacking reckless bicyclists — a question not consequential enough to get curious about. What I do remember is that Karl and I were about to catch up to two attractive young ladies on this concrete sidewalk in the middle of the beach. Both were fashionably dressed for the occasion, out for a stroll. Since I had nothing better to do at the time and we were getting close enough to get a scent of their not-inexpensive perfume, I wondered quietly whether the two might not be discussing Zen Buddhism. And wouldn't you know it, they did! Welcome to California.
Life can be amazingly unpredictable when, for whatever reason, you decide to rummage through some of your fondest memories. All sorts of things will float up when you then feel an impulse to share those memories with the world — like maybe in a book you’re writing.
The first such surprise came when I tried to reach out to one of my closest friends from the old days in Germany: I found the telephone number of Reiner Ortmann in a 2021 phone book published for commercial entities throughout Germany.
Reiner, Waltraud, Ella, and I commuted in the fifties in a loud, drafty, rattling four-wheeled "Donnerbüchse" (Thunderbox, owing to the racket the low number of wheels made as each wheel dropped sequentially into the small gap between sections of track. The gaps were there to allow for heat expansion during the summer. The rails shrunk a little in the winter, not very much, but enough to where your butt couldn't help notice the difference). It was a long 45-minute ride one way, in third class on unyielding wooden benches. Nobody complained. In the postwar era, we were all glad the old steam trains were up and running again.
Reiner and I got to see each other only twice in 65 years, during the period when Terry and I regularly visited my family in Germany. But that was decades ago. Having found his phone number, I was anxious to chat with him – with more than a little trepidation, seeing that Reiner is only one year younger than I am. Time was no longer on our side and could easily have been our enemy. To my relief, he answered the phone. When I told him who was calling, his first sentence was "Why are you calling me now?" – no doubt expecting bad news. He was thrilled to learn that I had written a book and that he and Waltraud and Ella were in it. What's more, that I had translated every chapter into German, for the benefit mainly of my sister Erika in Plüderhausen, who speaks very little English.
The e-Mail that started it all
Dear Helmut, great . . Great . . genius, these documents should be given to the "Schorndorfer Zeitung" for a series. If you need my support, I would gladly get in touch with the press. This also applies to the "Gemeindeblatt" Winterbach. I will search for the whereabouts of Waltraud and Ella.
Kind regards Reno
Two days later my friend informed me that ZVW, a large collective newspaper that is distributed in twenty cities and villages in southern Germany, wanted to print my story. One of the villages in the territory covered by the paper is now part of the municipality of Remshalden and was formerly called Rohrbronn, my place of birth.
e-Mail from the Editor
Dear Mr. Heindel, here is the newspaper report on your blog. It was a delight to read your story. Make a novel out of it!
Kind regards Michaela Kölbl - Editor
Clear recommendation to read on: Heindel's story on the Internet
With a fair amount of self-irony, plenty of humor, and blessed with the gift of insightful observation, the former Rohrbronner Helmut Heindel, now well into his eighties, has written his extraordinary life story. He reports about the post-war years in Rohrbronn, the exciting time of the new beginning in America, and all the adventures that followed – and this much can be said: a few more were to come. If you want to be amazed, want to laugh, and also be moved, you should urgently go to https://stratosouth.ghost.io/ and follow Helmut Heindel into the past.
Comments from Readers
Na sowas . . . you open the newspaper, bored, and then . . . !!! Thank God there are people who write down their life stories. What you did is not only your personal memories but also a good piece of time history. Every crime thriller is boring compared to your story. I think you should aim for a film adaptation! No joke! Looking forward to a sequel if there is one – and I hope so ?!
Best regards Bernhard
It is with great astonishment and joy that I read the story in our daily newspaper about your résumé and the road you have traveled. For many years I have pursued one question: I always remembered that during the first few years at our high school in Schorndorf there was a student from Rohrbronn who always said he was going to emigrate to America, and that he wanted to join the Air Force there. But no one could provide information about what happened to you. Now the riddle is solved. Your pictures of the many different classic cars are very interesting. The family picture is probably more up-to-date. Here is a photo of us, well-bred, under the thumb of Dr. Loss.
Mit herzlichen Grüßen Eberhard Morgenstern
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