July 1945 - from Breddin to Wittenberge

"I lie for several days. Frau Neuman is staying in the doctor’s coach house, and comes as often as she can. The mayor won’t give us any food. We’re meant to continue on our way. But I can’t. The pharmacist, a woman from Mecklenburg, comes daily and brings good soup, beef broth etc. She always stays for a while, she’s an older lady. It is also her who keeps telling me just to go to Schwerin, and to give up on Hamburg for now.

“You’re not capable of a life-or-death border crossing”."

I decide that I want to move slower today, see more draw more, and so walk less – it’s the call I have been having to make each day. Either feel the place through movement, or through drawing – I can’t do both well.

After a really pleasant walk, where I encounter a woman who is travelling on bike, and curiously collecting the local edible plants – and who is delighted to meet another traveller (as am I), I arrive back into Bad Wilsnack. My kind host of the night before told me I should visit the church here, and so I made straight for it.
22nd July - Breddin to Wittenberge
I find that it is a pilgrim’s church – unwittingly I’ve been following a pilgrims path all the way from Berlin to here, which is famous. The woman in the church tells me all about it, and then asks if I want a stamp, as I have also been walking, and almost forces me to ring the pilgrims bell. It is quite lovely. While the outside is red-brick opulence, the church inside is half derelict, but stunning left in this condition. I spend a long time here, drinking it in, drawing. When I leave I decide to take more time, and stop in the café opposite, in the sun.
My next stop is back to Breddin – I have re-read the passage of Inge’s diary of this place, and want to make more of it. So much happened, and the night at the station must have been terrifying, so I want to spend more time with it.

Interesting how so many of her experiences are mirrored in mine, in small ways. Initially I feel quite content drawing in the shade, but once I start to move around the building, I find that I feel watched by the current inhabitants of the building, some of whom arrive and begin unpacking shopping. It’s not risky, but there is a feeling of being unwelcome, and I don’t stay to draw as long as I maybe would like.

Interestingly, I've been finding that the drawings made under more pressure - either time because of an incoming train I need to catch, or a pressure to leave so I don't stand out - are becoming the drawings I am more interested in. It is not the accuracy of a drawing that interests me, but my ability to really see in the moment of pencil touching paper - and sometimes that happens in just one or two marks.

Leaving feels good, I also have an urgency, after yesterday’s experiences, to get to my hotel and get food.

This time I phone ahead and organise a taxi. Before doing so, I take a wonder to the river bank – this town touches the banks of the Elbe River once again. It is smaller here, but I think this is just a side - river.

Wittenberge station is big and very yellow. It looks more in shape than many of the stations I have seen so far, but is still really derelict in parts.

Hard, at this moment, to imagine this empty station full of refugees.
"One evening, we hear rumours of a train. I claim to be strong enough, and so we hasten down to the station with children and prams. But we still have to wait half the night. A friendly station worker locks us into his office. […] I lie on a table, curled up like a hedgehog, with Gerlinde and the three Neuman girls. […]"
"At about three in the morning, the train arrives. The usual scuffle to get on. Frau Neumann is already in. I try my hardest, but can’t get onto the train. The conductor takes me with him to his compartment. When we arrive this is also already full. The train is supposed to leave. I gesture like mad. […]The train is about to leave. My god this is nervewracking. My pram fits! The children are in the compartment. I can’t see them, it’s pitch black, but we are moving!"
"In the morning we are in Wittenberge, which means we are close to the border. It is just like in Riesa. Thousands of people on the station. Everyone feels hopeless. The Russian will let no one pass. Most are on their way back. This is where I find out that Schwerin is occupied by the English, not the Russians. The last hope gone? Sod it, we ignore what people say."
The hotel is in the middle of no-where, outside Wittenberge itself, but the people are friendly, and on the way I chat to the Taxi driver, who tells me abut his trips to London with family, and about how his son – two years younger than me – now lives in former Western Germany and won’t tell anyone he’s from the former East, because he thinks he will be seen as less than if he does.

A quiet, pleasant evening.
An engraving of some of the first pilgrims, who came to Wittenberge from Berlin in the 1500's.
Wittenberge itself is quite grand, and has beautiful old buildings that lead down to the river. Though I find myself drawn more to these less in-tact, characterful ones - my eye has been trained by all the villages I've passed through I think.