My Halle Family
Copyright 2023 by Galya Bacheva
Photo courtesy of the author.
grew up in a communist country, so what we knew of the world was not
much. It was apparently divided into the “good people” on
our side of the Iron Curtain and the “bad” ones beyond
it. But we did not know much even about the “good people”,
because travel outside our country was not considered necessary.
Patriotism would not allow for it, naturally. What was at home had to
suffice. One needed a really important reason to go to another
we had arts and there were all sorts of artistic events that we were
encouraged to attend in order to manifest our skills. I for one sang
in the town choir back home. From time to time a selected few of us
were sent abroad to remind the world that we were still a part of it
and we had talent.
year was 1986 and I was twelve years old. Having sung in the choir
for about four years, I was now well trained and old enough to be
allowed a shot at being selected for a trip to East Germany. There
was going to be a music festival in Halle, a town located just over a
hundred miles to the southwest of Berlin. Each and every one of us
choristers had to audition, before the team of supervisors decided
who goes and who stays. It was a terrifying experience, as one had to
enter a room where the choir conductor, her assistant and the pianist
asked us to sing whatever notes and intervals they wished. But I went
through it with determination because I wanted a glimpse at the
world. Though I tried my best, at first I did not think I had
performed well enough. Eventually, however, I was listed among the
blessed few who were to set off on a journey to Halle.
much has remained in my memory, but I know this much – I was
filled with zest for travel and tons of curiosity. This was also the
first time I got to fly, so my excitement levels were through the
roof. Could something cloud this experience? Not a chance!
flew to Berlin and then took a bus to Halle. As soon as we arrived in
Halle, we were lined up at the bus station, facing a similar line of
people a few steps away from us. Those were families whose children
sang in the local choir, and they were going to be our hosts. No
money was going to be spent on hotels. Our conductor started calling
out names, gradually sending each of us to a different family. I
watched my peers go away, uncertain of where they, or I for that
matter, would be taken. When it was my turn, I was introduced to a
couple of happy looking people whose names appeared to be Linda and
Willy. They had two lovely girls, a little younger than me - Diana,
who was nine I think, and her little sister Silvana. Both were
beautiful and looked pretty friendly. As I spoke zero German, I could
make nothing of the stuff they were saying other than their names.
Boy, were they babbling!
and Willy had a car, but the first day I did not know that because
they had chosen to walk. As Willy was carrying my bag along the
sidewalk, Linda started collecting grass from the small square areas
around trees. She merrily gestured with her hand towards her mouth,
apparently informing me that this was meant for food. To my dismay I
recognized the word “salad” among the flow of weird
sounds that Linda was uttering. Willy eagerly nodded and the two of
them seemed to be having a great time. My poor heart, on the other
hand, was bound to sink all too soon after entering the miraculous
world of a foreign country.
we reached an apartment building that was not very pretentious, to
say the least. East Germany, just like Bulgaria where I come from,
was a communist country where everyone lived in equally small boxes.
But I was soon to find out that these people had enormous hearts!
entering the apartment, I must have been shown to a bedroom, though I
do not remember much of my accommodation. I believe I slept in one of
the girls’ beds and they shared the other one.
I do remember Mucky. He was nibbling on something, unaware of the
turmoil my poor soul was in. His plump hairy body was still, but his
ears were trembling as he was chewing at lightning speed. Linda
introduced him to me and held up some of the grass she had picked on
the way, producing a cunning smile. It was only now that I figured
she had been pulling my leg when she said the grass was for salad. I
was relieved to realize there was hope they would feed me something
else. And I was so grateful for Mucky, whose business it would be to
take care of the grass!
I was being entertained with the Guinea pig, Willy had prepared a
bath for me. The whole family made arduous effort to direct me to the
bathroom without having to drag me there. They were motioning,
beckoning and gesticulating to get me out of the bedroom and make me
cross the hallway to a door where Willy was waiting with a grin on
his face. Once I finally got the message, I stepped into the bathroom
to find a bubbly bath surrounded by a mist of hot air. Willy looked
so proud of what he had done! But I was appalled. We did not have
this at home! I had heard some people say it was really cool to have
a bath (though only a handful had ever seen one), but there was no
way I would submerge into this absolutely obscure space. My new
German friends looked mesmerized as I refused to take advantage of
this wonderful opportunity to relax after my long trip. The fragrant
bubbles went down the drain and I was allowed to take a pathetic
shower. I now realize it must have been very rude of me to do that. I
hope they have forgiven me a long time ago.
were always a hustle, as the whole family had to attend to my
demanding hair doing routine. I had very long hair that I wore in two
ponytails. As I believed it was imperative to have an absolutely
straight line between them, and they also had to be at precisely the
same height, all four of my German hosts were involved in achieving a
perfect final result every morning before they took me to my choir
performance. Given that Linda and her two daughters had short hair,
this was a completely new experience for them. There was always a
person holding a mirror in front of me, and one who held the rubber
bands, ready to hand them one by one to Linda. She was usually the
one to go through the ordeal of combing my thick hair and splitting
it into two equal halves. Once she was done, a second mirror was held
behind my back, so that I could see the final result and hopefully
approve. If not, we had to start all over again. I do not know what
they were saying to each other, but they never made me feel bad for
giving them such a hard time. In my defense, I do not remember asking
them for help and there is a slight chance they were enjoying this.
Or maybe they just wanted to get it over with, put me in their
miniature car, take me wherever I was supposed to be taken each
morning, and go on with their day. Either way, having my hair done
was turned into a ritual. And by the end of my stay they had it down
to a fine art!
was a must, as any decent adult would consider. It was also a time
when I could just have a sandwich or something, as opposed to trying
out the local cuisine, which I was quite unfamiliar with. Although I
am sure Linda and Willy were good at cooking, I sometimes found the
meals hard to swallow. But at breakfast things were alright.
eggs and toast one morning. I slowly cracked the shell of the egg
with a spoon and then carefully peeled it off, happy to eat something
of familiar taste. In the middle of it I halted, however, because
everyone was staring at me. They had not touched the eggs in front of
them, still snug in the eggcups with their shells on. It was now my
turn to be astonished and I waited to see what happens next. Making
sure I was watching, Linda picked up her knife and carefully aimed at
her egg. She held the knife horizontally, slowly pulled it away from
the cup and then suddenly cut the egg in half with a single blow. The
beheaded egg lay wide open on the table, looking quite happy to be
devoured. Linda merrily put salt on in and started spooning out parts
of it from the shell, making a funny face. Linda always made funny
faces. Meanwhile my jaw had dropped, while the rest of the party
seemed utterly delighted to have educated me how to deal with a
retrospect, I realize that they probably wanted to give me a little
thrill and make me smile. I must have looked miserable most of the
time, having been submerged into a different culture with nobody and
nothing familiar around, apart from the singing rehearsals and
performances. Once they were over each day, however, I was back to
the German craze. But though a foreigner in this wondrous land, I was
embraced with love and treated like family. I wish I could
communicate to them how much that meant to me.
after day rolled by and my new German family wondered how to
entertain me. One day they sat me in the living room and asked me
what I wanted to do. I have no idea how I got the message, or maybe I
was insolent enough to have started the conversation, I do not have a
clear memory of it. But I remember I told them I wanted to go to the
zoo. In English, too. I had studied English for about a year and had
fallen in love with it. It had not proven very helpful up to that
moment, but I never gave up. So “Let’s go to the zoo”,
I said. Blank stares. A few attempts later I started imitating
animals, hoping to get my message through. No success with that, but
at least they laughed a lot. Starting to feel desperate, I looked
around for help. Luckily, most of the cupboards had glass doors, and
I soon figured out a way to explain “zoo”. I started
opening the doors and picked every animal figure that my now
dumbfounded hosts had displayed on the shelves. Having two children
apparently meant that Linda and Willy collected toys from chocolate
eggs and who-knows-where-else. So soon I was holding a bunch of
plastic animals in my two palms, almost shouting at everyone: “zoo,”
“zoo!!!” “Oh, zoo!” – Linda exclaimed,
pronouncing only the first sound differently from me. Or so I thought
– who knows how I actually said the word. But at the time I was
pretty indignant that they could not get such a simple one.
we went to the zoo. There is no zoo in my home town and it is quite
likely that I had never been to one before. The pictures that I still
keep remind me that we had ice cream and saw elephants. In one photo
Diana and I are holding hands - we had made great friends. I am not
sure exactly what animals we saw, but I have this really vivid memory
of petting the goats.
|We were allowed to walk into the goat enclosure
and pet whichever animal allowed us to. It seemed to work somewhat,
but they were mostly moving and hard to keep still. Willy was taking
lots of Polaroid
photos, and when we later looked through them there was one that
particularly stood out. I clearly remembered that animal, which moved
forward as I petted it. So Willy had managed to capture the moment
that buck had almost evaded my caress. I was standing by its rear
with a hand on its rump. It was not pretty, but of course everyone
had a good laugh. Those people had an astonishing sense of humor.
Photo courtesy of the author.
this day I treasure the memory of my German family, and I still keep
a picture of Diana and Silvana, on the back of which a diligent hand
had written: “Diana + Silvana. Zur Erinnerung aus Halle. 1986”. Yes, I
do remember, my dear family! I also keep the Meister
glass that you gave me. It might have been meant for my parents, but
I never let go. It survived thirty-seven turbulent years of my life,
though I travelled a lot and lived away from my home for over twenty
years. I suppose the reason why it is unscathed is that it has always
been precious to me, so I made sure it was well taken care of at all
times and nobody was ever allowed to touch it. Today the glass is
displayed on a shelf in my own living room cupboard with glass doors.
are the highlights of my stay with my Halle family. When I think of
it, I am overwhelmed with nostalgia for those uncanny for me, but
remarkable times. I can still feel the warmth, care and patience that
I was embraced with and I will forever cherish the memories of my
unforgettable days with Linda, Willy, Diana and Silvana.
within just about a week they stole my heart.
Galya Bacheva is from Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. She has an
M.A. and a Ph.D. in Archaeology. She is fascinated by cultural
interactions, human behavior in general and how it affects our world.
She currently works as a teacher of English and enjoys writing
alongside. Her published works so far are Archaeology - related
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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