September 1945 - Hamburg

"I try to get through to Bärenallee on the phone for most of the night. No luck. So I take the first S-bahn, arriving at Wandsbeker-Chaussee station at twenty to six. Five minutes later I’m in front of papa’s wooden house. God I feel strange. I knock a few times. […] Then the door is unlocked, and in the next moment the parents are in the garden in their nightshirts, taking the children out of the pram. As we enter the house Papa says ‘Have you heard from your Husband??? Oh but we have!!’ And life begins again!"

In the morning, we leave early. Yesterday we realised that the hotel, which I booked specifically to be in the district her parents lived in, is actually 5 minutes walk away from the street where her parents were housed in a temporary house, after losing their home to the bombs that fell on Hamburg.

The street now is pleasant, peaceful and green - the temporary houses long gone and replaced by generous family homes. Walking through it gives me a very real sense of peace and home coming that is unexpected.
31st July - Hamburg
"Mama goes to get beef, and the butcher gives her liver sausage without tokens, because I’m home. My eyes are wide – beef? Sausages? And my goodness all the other food they have. Saturday and Sunday we sleep. Ingeborg’s pram is in the small kitchen, and I sleep on a new mattress, and after a few days even a new bedframe."
"On Monday I go to the Biberhaus with Papa. Hamburg is in the process of deporting 35,000, so being admitted is currently quite difficult. I need to be able to prove that I lived here from 43 onwards, show a bomb pass (showing we lost our house through bomb damage) and be able to document property ownership. And, well, I can do all of that. By the afternoon I already possess a registration form, and food tokens. My goodness, what I can now buy! I behave like a child, for too long I have had to do without. […] "
"And now Frau Neumann. She lives in a temporary home with a girlfriend. All counted they are ten children! She has separated from her husband. When I asked her about it, she said “Inge, we went through too much. First he walked back from Ludetengen without bothering about me. Secondly he now won’t bother to try and earn money.” I don’t know the real reason. But either way, the man was very close by when she had her breakdown, was given his exit papers, and walked straight to Hamburg. When she arrived he was already here. From my descriptions you’ll know that Frau Neumann is a very different character to me. But inside me is something that forbids me to split from her. […] The shared life on the road has brought us together more than we otherwise ever would have come. […]"
"Right Peterle. Now I can’t, and don’t want to, write any more. Two days have passed. Some things got a little mixed up, some sentence structure doesn’t work, some words may be wrong. You must excuse this. This letter was an achievement, with two extremely wild children. “Mutti, potty!” “Mutti, eat!”, “Mutti, klu” (loo) etc. etc.
I want to add one more thing, although I must write a whole new letter about it, later. Our new life together will be strong and good, and it will be so because we have gone through all of this. […]

We all send you our greetings, and the two small ones and their Mutti a kiss.

Your Ingeborg."
We spend the rest of the morning enjoying a walk along the now very modernised elbe, in the HafenCity. Back to the river, back to the beginning.
Welcome home Inge – one of these plots of land would have housed your parents, and the news that your husband was still alive.

This street marks the full stop to the journey, hers and mine, new chapters to come which were and are still unwritten.
I spend some days in Hamburg, on my own, looking back over the journey, writing as Inge did, in retrospect, and using the images I captured to respond, reflect, digest.

It's as if each day of experience is now slowly solidifying into an object. Solid, firm. When I look away I can’t see it – in my mind the different days get tangled, and become sometimes impossible to differentiate from each other. When I read back through my notes, though, it becomes immediately clear. That day, that feeling, the moments, the places. What an interesting experience, to be in something so bodily, and then to be transported back there, with such clarity, through my own words and pictures.

The next weeks, months, years will probably be spent contemplating both of our journeys, and responding to them in some way. Ending the physical part of it now, there is a curious mix of sadness and a joy at this ending. We both made it, Oma, and yet there is so much more to come.
Wandsbecker Chaussee S-Bahn station
Then we head to the main station, Hamburg Hbf, where we part, and Rachel heads back to the airport. I spend a long time in the station, fascinated by the mass of people here, the movement, the bustle, and the endless waiting – there are some big disruptions going on today. I try to find the waiting room where she may have spent her night here, but don’t manage to locate it. No matter – the sense of the atmosphere here is enough for me to really feel into the station and the sense of arriving here.
Inge with her children and parents, in Bärenallee, Wandsbek, shortly after arriving in Hamburg.