Sunday, August 13, 1961
The sun dawned on a changed world. People went to bed living in one world and woke up in another. The first thing most of them heard was special news bulletins. Waking Americans switched on their television sets to hear newscaster Walter Cronkite, tired and disheveled, go to live feeds from France, Great Britain, and Germany. In every nation the story was the same. Military forces were on high alert.
Twenty-one-year-old Elyse Schumacher had problems of her own. She couldnt decide which pastry to order.
She sat at a table in the late morning shade of a sidewalk café. Talk of world events buzzed around her. She brushed it away like so many flies. It wasnt that she didnt understand the implications of the news; she did. No one could grow up in Communist East Germany and not be aware of the tension between communism and capitalism. She just wasnt going to let it ruin her holiday.
All year long she listened to Communist harangues, attended mandatory workers meetings, walked among a gallery of street banners and posters boasting of the superiority of the communist way. All year long she endured the eternal tedium of factory work, dwelt in their colorless flat with its stained wallpaper, and stood in endless queues for hour after foot-aching hour for sickly vegetables, discolored meat, and morbid-looking soupbones. All year long she scrimped and saved and sacrificed just so she could have two days of shopping and fun and indulgence in the Western sector. And she wasnt about to let the crisis du jour spoil the pastry du jour. She didnt let her mother spoil it, and she wasnt going to let the Communists spoil it.
It had always been the three of themLisette, Elyse, and her mother. Then, two days before holiday, her mother announced she wasnt going.
Park will be in Berlin this weekend. He wants to meet us! Her fist clenched a crumpled letter. Id sooner spend a holiday with Nikita Khrushchev.
Elyse said she thought Khrushchev looked like Alfred Hitchcock. Her mother didnt think that was funny. Lisette said that if Mady didnt go, none of them would go. They could go another weekend.
Even though it made no sense to Elyse, her mother insisted she and Lisette go by themselves. She became quite animated about it, telling Lisette exactly what she should say to Park. It was clear that hed hurt her mother. What Elyse didnt understand was her mothers continued fascination with the man. Lisette said she didnt feel right about seeing Park without Mady being there. In the end, her mother won the argument. She always did.
The good news was that their holiday excursion was still on. Lisette had reservations about going without Mady. Elyse thought it would be great fun. The idea of going to the Western sector without her mother had a delightfully risqué appeal to it.
As it turned out, there was little that was delightful about the trip and it didnt even come close to being risqué. The crossing was a nightmare. The East German guards behaved nastier than usual. They harassed everyone, shouting at them for no reason. At the
S-Bahn station one guard, with a bloodhound face and whose jaws flapped when he talked, pulled Lisette out of line. He was accompanied by two other guards with rifles.
Identity card! he barked.
Lisette handed it to him.
Where did you get this? he shouted. Its a forgery!
I assure you its valid.
The guard took insult. He leaned within centimeters of Lisettes face and shouted at her, calling her a liar, a traitor, a decadent materialistic fascist. He grabbed one of the other guards rifles and pointed it at her, threatening her with jail, telling her shed never see her family again.
She began to cry.
He kept shouting.
Then he let her go. Just like that. He grabbed her by the arm, shoved her back into line, and looked around for his next victim. Lisette was still shaking when she and Elyse boarded the train that took them across the border to the Western sector.
The crossing set the tone for the holiday. Lisette was moody and withdrawn. Who could blame her?
Café Lorenz was going to be Elyses last chance to salvage the weekend. So what happened? In the middle of the night some nameless, faceless Communist muckety-muck issued an order that set the entire city, the entire world, on edge.
It had something to do with the borders. Elyse didnt listen to the details; she didnt want to know. She wanted to think about pastries, not politics.
She glanced at Lisette. No help there. The woman who had been her mothers companion for more than two decades sat moodily watching the pedestrians pass by in front of the sidewalk café. This was to be Elyses introduction to the American. Lisette told her that shed met him before when she was little, but Elyse didnt remember him. She was nervous about meeting this fellow named Park. If there was going to be any holiday in this weekend, Elyse would have to create it all by herself.
Squaring her shoulders, she smiled, as though a smile, no matter how manufactured, would lure a spirit of levity and good times to the table. With a carefree toss of her head, she drank in the colors and the aromas of the grand avenue Kurfürstendamm. Only she called it Kudamm. All the locals called it that.
They had a perfect table location. It was situated in the shade under the red-and-white striped awning that had become for her a holiday landmark. Magical trees lined the avenue, trees that were greener and leafier and grander than anything in the Soviet sector where they lived. Dappled shadows danced on the bright summer shirts and dresses that swished in front of her on the sidewalk. Large concrete planters overflowed with flowers, splashing the avenue with an impressionists palettebrilliant yellows and whites, blazing violets, bold reds.
I carry a flag, and that flag is red.
Like a brash intruder the school song popped into her head. Every time it did she wondered why the Communist Party was so fascinated with the color red. They displayed it everywhere with their flags and banners. Yet let a student wear a red shirt to school and hed be hauled down to the principals office and reprimanded for his decadence.
Elyse wrinkled her nose in disgust. She was thinking about politics again. She came to Café Lorenz to get away from all that nonsense. Just then, a waiter came to her aid.
He emerged from the swinging door of the café carrying a tray of sizzling sausage. One tangy whiff of spiced meat and all thoughts of politics vanished. Elyse watched in fascination as he set the plate in front of a big man in a business suit. When the plate touched the table, the mans eyesjust for a secondsparkled with little-boy delight.
Thats why we come to Café Lorenz! she thought. She wanted to order that same sparkle. Maybe shed find it this year in the sausage instead of the pastry.
Over the years theyd collected holiday experiences the way a numismatist collects coins. On dreary nights she and her mother and Lisette could escape the grayness of their existence by pulling out their collection and reliving the memories. This would be good to add to the collection.
Remember the sizzling sausage at Café Lorenz?
She turned to Lisette, hoping to find that she too had fallen under the sausages spell. Lisettes face looked tired and older than her forty years. There was no sausage glint in her eyes. Her attention was divided between rearranging the tableware and staring anxiously at the parade of passersby.
Elyse wasnt going to give up on the sausage memory so easily. Doesnt that smell heavenly? she said.
Lisette shushed her, raising an index finger to her lips. In her excitement Elyse had forgotten to use her quiet voice. Born deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, she tended to be loud. She tried again, this time quieter but no less emphatic.
The sausage. Dont you smell it?
Yes, dear. Order anything you like. Lisette turned her head back toward the street.
Elyse sighed. The battle to make a holiday of this weekend would not be easily won. She checked her watch. Its still early, she said. Hes not supposed to be here for another ten minutes.
Lisette forced a smile. Even forced, it was a nice smile. Elyse grew up with that smile. She had loved it for as far back as she could remember.
Its just been so long, Lisette said. Im not sure hell recognize us. My goodness, certainly not you. You were five years old the last time he saw you.
Will you recognize him?
People change. Lisette resumed her watch.
Elyse opened a menu. It was a waste of time for her to join the search. What are you going to order? she asked.
You order, dear. Im not hungry.
Elyse sighed. It was a conspiracy. The whole world was against her. First Mother. Then the government. Now Lisette. She turned to the pastries section.
She smiled. Shed found paradise.
The list of pastries was an orgy of taste sensations. Cinnamon streusel, plum cake with crumb topping, raspberry cream roulade, lemon strudel, and Sacher torte, a chocolate torte with apricot jam filling that was world-renowned for its light, buttery flavor. And for a little extra charge they would add the most exquisite chestnut whipped cream. Just as she had hoped, Elyse found an entire page of holiday experiences just waiting to be discovered, courtesy of the brothers Lorenz.
A paragraph at the top of the menu described the origins of Café Lorenz. It began as a family-owned restaurant on the Unter den Linden, dating back to the 1830s when two Viennese brothers, Karl and Emil, immigrated to Berlin and opened a restaurant. They were an immediate success. During the war the restaurant was destroyed by bombs, prompting the move to their current location. Yet in good times and bad, for over a hundred years the Lorenz family had been bringing the taste of Viennese pastry to appreciative Berliners.
I heard theyre ripping up entire sections of street and forming blockades.
Two fashionably dressed women burdened with packages settled into the table beside them, rudely bringing politics with them. They looked like sisters.
The railway lines too! said the younger-looking one. Not just shut down, but ripped up! Both the S-Bahn and the underground. Heinrich said that no trains are going in or coming out. None.
But what about all the people who work in this sector?
All I know is that the radio said theyre not letting anybody out.
Elyse buried her head deeper in the menu. She focused on the descriptions of pastries, urging them to transport her to the sugary paradise that knew nothing of politics.
But what about the East Berliners who are caught over here? Are they going to keep them from returning to their homes?
Elyses head popped up. Not be allowed to return home?
Who in their right mind would want to go back? the older sister said. Oh, dear, you have to try the raspberry cream roulade. Its heavenly!
Above All Earthly Powers (Songs in the Night, Book 3) by Jack Cavanaugh
Copyright © 2004
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.