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Dresden, second trip
An old lady visits Dresden fort the second time in her life

Dresden, second trip
(c) Jan Sjöholm

Toward Dresden
I have wanted to visit Dresden for many years, but despite all my travels in the area it never happened. It was always “Well, perhaps next time”.
One day it actually happened. Early one morning I entered a Polish tourist bus for a one-day trip to Dresden. My language skills are limited and as I only can tell that I want two beers and explain that I’m hungry in Polish it isn’t possible to get involved in a intellectual conversation, how ever I use to be well fed. As there was no bistro on the bus all I could do during the trip was enjoying the view and try to block what I heard as I couldn’t understand it anyway. After all, in Germany I could at least communicate a little more and.
Two hours and a coffee-break later we arrived to Dresden. Afraid to loose the contact with the group I tried to memorise the other travellers and then I did my best, not to be left behind.
We walked, looked and whenever we crossed the path of another tourist group I tried to sneak in and listen to their guides in languages that was easier to understand.

Odd passengers
Three ladies in our company were, like me, a little odd. Two of them only spoke German, but wasn’t interested in communicating. But the third, which also spoke German kept trying to talk to our guide all the time. After a while he was a little annoyed as the majority of his group only spoke Polish, he for some reason tried to push her in my direction. I don’t know why, perhaps he recognised me from other trip.
The lovely old lady and I started to talk as we walked along. I don’t speak German by birth and can’t speak it fluently but this was an excellent opportunity to exercise.
What I got was a fragment of her life, a very interesting fragment..

As a little girl by the end of WWII, she, her sister and their mother was on the run. The Russians was coming and the where coming fast. They lived in Legniz, (today: Legnica) and the authorities had decided to evacuate the civilians in the city. In a typical German order they waited while block after block was emptied, then finally they was ordered to the evacuation train  On the crowded evacuation train the only had the clothes they where wearing. It was too many people on the train. In every wagon a soldier tried to keep order among the frightened refugees. The destination was Leipzig, but first they should do a over night stop in Dresden, a city she never seen before. The train moved slowly on the damaged and over loaded railway.

Over crowded
Just outside Dresden it halted. It wasn’t possible to enter the overloaded station in the city, they had to wait on the train during the night before it continued. It was February and very cold. The breath from the refugees condensed on the window, froze and made it impossible to see anything. There was nothing to do but wait and hope for the best. Later on the night the girl’s mother was attacked by fear. A fear she couldn’t control. She had to get away at any cost. She asked and begged the guarding soldier of permission to visit her sister in a village a few kilometres away. Perhaps it was their last meeting in life. The Russians was coming and the rumour was that they spared non.
The soldier hesitated. His orders were simple; no one enters the train, no one leaves it. The mother kept begging and finally he gave after, but they had to be back before first light or they would be left behind at the mercy of the enemy. She couldn’t thank him, sobbing she dragged the tired and frightened girls along as she darted into the night. Finally they found their relative but it was hardly a joyful meeting.

Rain of fire
It was the night Dresden was bombed and burned into ashes. Bombs fell all over the city. The explosions and fires could be seen several miles away. The bombings started about midnight, and continued the whole day after. No one dared to leave their shelters and terrified the girls and their mother watched the devastation of the old city. The next day they tried to get a little closer, but the fires caused so much heat and such strong winds that they feared for their lives. They had to return to the little village. On the third day they made a new attempt to get into the city, frightened, confused with the only thought in their mind to get to further to Leipzig, but not knowing how.
It still burned everywhere and on their way the passed where they left the train. It wasn’t there anymore. In the huge, long crater only some scrap metal remained. The rest of the train was scattered all over the terrain. Survivors: Three, a mother and her daughters that just weren’t present.

In a pause I carefully asked here where she lived now.
But then we could speak English! With a sigh of relief I changed language and we spoke a little more.
The old woman’s husband, children and grandchildren wanted to visit Wroclaw. On the German time the city was known as Breslau. Breslau was declared as fortified city (Festung Breslau) by Hitler and it was one of the last places to surrender after the fall of Berlin.

Back in Dresden
After a while the old lady was back in Germany, the English language temporarily forgotten. After all, it was her second visit in Dresden.