September 1945 - Helmstedt to Braunschweig

"The owner has us brought to Helmstedt on a tractor. Here, I part from the women. She wants to find family in the town, I carry on through the streets and to the train station. There’s a train to Braunschweig on Platform 1. It was meant to leave ages ago. There’s an endless queue in front of the ticket office. What to do? I place my pram with the screaming children in the middle of the madness, and squeeze out a few tears. A man close to the counter brings me a ticket. I just manage to catch the train. A soldier helps me get into a closed goods compartment. The train leaves!!"

In the morning we take a short walk to the nearby train station. After the excitement, and long round-about walking, of yesterday’s attempts to find the point where my grandmother crossed the border, we are aware that we need to take it a little slower today. The train journey will take us along some of the same route Inge took, but we’ll walk into Braunschweig.

As we walk, I feel a clear sense of a change in place since the journey’s before Schwerin. It has been really fascinating to sense a change of place in the way that the architecture we are walking through changes. We are now almost completely surrounded by red brick whenever we come to villages.
28th July - Helmstedt to Braunschweig
"Ingelein is fed, while two men take it in turns to hold Gerlinde. Then I lay them both in the pram. […] "
"We soon arrive in Braunschweig. Here I sit on the floor with the children, all night, in the only station room with a roof. The refugee misery is big here too. I give a family with many children some of my bread. I get lucky again. An official locks me and the children into a second class carriage. We lie on the benches and sleep until the train arrives into Hannover. The train is badly full. But I’m used to this now, and of course I get on. It’s another goods train."
It is another warm day today, and the slower walking is welcome. We pass mainly through smaller villages today. There are a lot more people around now, as we walk, and it is interesting to feel a change in people’s temperament as we journey, as well. In the very first days of walking, people were very warm and communicative. In later stages, people were curious but very held back, in general. Now, ever since our encounter with Janis (the greek restaurant owner in Helmstedt), I can’t help feeling a low-level sense of unfriendliness in people. So far, people don’t reply when you greet them, are quite hesitant to serve us in cafes, and we are looked at strangely every where we go.

This makes me consider, not for the first time, what the journeying for Inge must have been like. Being on the road for nearly three weeks now, I've still been able to wash daily, and clean my clothes, but as walkers we are still obviously much less groomed than what I assume people are used to, from the looks we get. She often couldn't wash, and had trouble to find places to change her children at times. Of course there were many others in the same position, but being a woman who was always quite particular about her appearance, she must still have felt discomfort at her appearance after weeks of travelling.
Braunschweig itself is different. We enter the city from the side that houses the University, and it is bursting with young life. The buildings here too emanate a friendliness and openness. It is significantly bigger than I had expected, and it takes us a long while to cross from one side to the other to find our hotel, making a stop in the Botanic gardens on the way.
As the heat of the day cools, we make our way by bus into the city centre. Here we feel surrounded by ancient history – perhaps even more so than in other places until now. Beautiful, ancient, decorative buildings surround us, and we take our time walking through as much of these old places as possible. It is as ancient as many of the smaller town centre’s I’ve seen on this journey, but the difference is that there are other people here – tourists like us, locals, young and old – such a difference to all the places visited in the former East.