July 1945 - from Wittenberge to Grabow

"We get onto a train to Grabow, even though the official makes an announcement that refugees aren’t allowed there, and will be sent back to Wittenberge. We’ve managed harder! I’m in the luggage compartment, Frau Neumann in the next carriage. Grabow!!! Right. More officials walk along the train, and won’t let any one get out. What to do? What is Gretel Neumann doing?"

I get up reasonably early and leave in good time. My walk to the nearest train station is 5km, and takes me through a forest on a sandy path that is hard to walk on. The forest is cool and peaceful at this time. I come past a deer mother and her two young, who cautiously amble back into the trees when she sees me, and I am reminded of Inge and her two children.
24th July - Wittenberge to Grabow
I take two trains to the next place – Grabow. I spend a long time at the station, and today again see how only being in places helps me to really understand how and why things happened where they did on her journey. At this station, refugees were forbidden to exit the train. She did so anyway – they jumped off the train and ran. This station has flat forest on either side – no ditches – and so it would have been easier than in many other stations to do so. It is hot again today – 25, 26 degrees, and so I can’t stay for too long.
"I pull the doors right open. A 16-year old boy helps me carry out the pram. The next moment Frau Neumann appears. We run to the fence. An official shows up, who threatens with the police, but then carries on his way. We’ve got the prams over the fence, and perform unhuman feats…and then we are over, and long gone by the time the official returns. "
"It is Sunday. Funny, we don’t care at all right now. We hurry through town to the border. We use all the tricks of our vagabond living, but can’t even get past the first row of sentries. Endless Russian convoys pass by. What is happening? The Russian is getting all of Mecklenburg? Is that true? Then I can go to Schwerin. Now it won’t be long until I can hand my children over to the aunts. I become very calm. […] The new hope gives me new strength. "
"To begin, we return into the town. It is raining, and we have nowhere to stay. We can’t go to the mayor. How should we explain how we got into Grabow? A woman, another seamstress, takes me with the children. When they are both asleep in their beds, I head back out to find lodgings for Frau Neumann. No luck. We ask the woman if we can all stay. We are happy to sleep on the floor…just to have a roof over our head. She gives us everything she has. ."
One side of the station leads straight into the beautiful old town. Since Breddin, the buildings have been changing. Nearly everywhere now is red brick, or old timber-framed houses, or a mix of both, where before everything has felt more modern, if less intact. This town is very well kept – far less crumbling buildings – and must have been left almost untouched during the war, as many of the houses here are at least two centuries old.

The town is near empty, as I am now becoming used to. But in searching for a café on Google maps, I see that there are actually a lot of things here – everything is just closed on a Sunday. I do manage to find a hotel who will give me coffee, which helps me build up the motivation to journey the last stretch.
I decide to walk the 10k to the next place rather than take the more convenient train and arrive as she did, as walking is taking on a sense of achievement and progress for me, and I feel lost without it. The walk is along road for a while, and then through forest – along along along.

At first it is very enjoyable, then my mind begins playing tricks on me, and I start to feel fear – which I manage to keep at bay, but its’ an unpleasant undertone all the way through. The path goes on to a sandy track again, which is near impossible to walk on. I move this way and that to try and find more solid ground, popping up right next to the train tracks for a little while. I manage to come off the path and onto a road soon enough, and end up walking the rest of the way alongside a main road, on a well paved footpath.
In the hotel, I wash and organise my things and wait for Rach to arrive. She has travelled from London and up through Berlin, on the same line I travelled on this morning. Her train was heaving with people, and she had to stand for the full two hour journey.

What joy to have company again. We celebrate with beer, and with the first more varied food I’ve had – so far I’ve mainly been living on pasta and fried potatoes, as it has been hard to find anything else as a vegetarian.
The old town hall, where Frau Neumann would have queued up.
"The next day Frau Neuman heads out. She tells the local economic office that we have been here for a long time, and that we’ve been living off our own provisions until now, but have now run out, and she receives the first food tokens! ! But when she gets to the refugee office, she shows them the tokens as proof that the Mayor has approved our stay. We get accommodation. Both in the same street. Frau Neumann hits gold. "
"[…] I am very ill again. I am taken to the military hospital, but they won’t admit me, as the doctor is not allowed to act without orders. […] In front of her door, I bump into Ruth Eschenburg! Ruth is from Hamburg, we went to Sunday school together as children. My father knows her parents. She brings me home with her. […] They have two rooms at the very top of a house. There is little room, but they welcome me warmly."