Chapter four Servitude Although father’s body was removed from the apartment the night he died, it never felt like he was completely gone until last night. I didn’t even try to sleep. I knew it was nearly impossible. My mind wouldn’t allow me to rest. It was full of teasing thoughts. Imaginary ones that tricked me into believing there was still a future for me to thoughts that laid out the bleak reality. I couldn’t turn them off. It was a miserable night of seesaw as my outlook seemed as imbalanced as the childish beam itself. Before I knew it, the doors on the clock opened and the dancers appeared with a warning.
It was 7 o’clock and I realized life as I knew it had vanished. Today would start my subjection in the home of strangers. That is until I could somehow find an alternate path. I pulled my key from the rusted brass lock and paused anxiously in the dark hallway. My eyes lingered on the large brick barrier before me. It had recently been constructed into the frame of the front main door of the building. Similar obstacles had been compiled in each of the apartment windows that faced Bernauer. Even rolls of barbed wire were placed along the edges of the roof. I could no longer look out from my bedroom and see the sun shining or the rain falling.
It was like a prison was being assembled around me right before my eyes. “They are trying to discourage escape. ” Frau Ingobert stepped out of her apartment across from me to find her cat. She was an older woman who lived alone. She continued, although I didn’t speak. “I think they are trying to force us out. ” I looked at her in shock, “They wouldn’t do that… would they? ” She shuffled past me in her cotton robe and slippers. Her face twisted in a frown. Dotzi her unfriendly cat cowered in the corner. She must know something we don’t. “They can do anything they want dear.
She said as she bent over to pick her up. Tlooked back at the barrier then towards Frau Ingobert. Her words echoed loudly, They can do anything they want. Isolemnly slipped out the back entry and buried the threat. I had other things on my mind today. I couldn’t be late as I ran through the alleys towards the bus stop. So much unknown lay before me. I didn’t mind so much working to pay off the debt on my father’s casket. Even if it was for a wealthy family like the Franke’s, my apprehension now was more out of inadequacy and doubt. I wasn’t sure I was truly qualified for the job. What if I wasn’t good enough?
What if I messed up and did something wrong? I had cared for our little home without a problem after Mama passed away, but it was just that… little. Thad never been in the actual residence of the Franke’s. I had only seen the outside attached cemetery, but even from that angle their home was enormous. It was a formal estate located on the Schonhausen Palace grounds. Many Berliners knew the palace to be the former residence of East German Government Elite. This was before they moved their business to Wandlitz last year, so the Franke’s close alliance with powerful authority was not imagined.
I arrived ten minutes early. I was ushered into a drawing room off the main entrance before I could pause long enough to scan the intricate elaborate detail of prosperity. The quaint room was beautiful. It was small enough to entertain intimately, but large enough to make a statement about Herr. Franke’s success in the business of death. Gold and crystal lamps adorned glass tables. Gilded mirrors hung in succession and spotless white cushions topped handsomely carved wooden mounts. I was afraid to sit. My dress would surely leave a stain on such a perfect piece of furniture.
Frau Franke entered the room with a sigh. She did not seem pleased with the arrangement her husband had made to accommodate me. “You are the new girl? ” She did not hide her surprise with her first impression either. It was one I had seen hundreds of times, but no longer affected me. Her eyes went from my face to me feet. “You are Fraulein Kuhn? ” Her face became clearly rigid and stern. “Yes ma’am. ” I responded confidently. I had chosen my best working dress. Pulled my dark locks into a tight braid and washed my face three times that morning. Yet somehow still felt inadequately presentable under her scowl.
Ella. You may call me Ella. ” I continued respectfully. “I will not. ” She snapped, “Much too informal. ” She handed me the apron she was holding and advised me to put it on. “You will arrive precisely at eight o’clock each morning and not leave until five each evening. Work days are Monday thru Saturday unless told otherwise. You will receive seven Mark per day in living wage and the remainder will apply to your debt for the next twenty four months. If you are so much as late or absent one day you will not be given a warning nor will you be released of your debt.
However, you will be reported to the authorities on your delinquencies. Do you understand? ” “Yes Ma’am. ” | nodded. “Fraulein Kerner? ” Frau Franke called to an adjacent room as a young woman approached very quickly. “Please see that Fraulein Kuhn is shown to her duties immediately. ” Then she turned back to me, “Lunch break will be directly at 12 o’clock for thirty minutes in the staff kitchen. Bring your own food. If you are caught taking anything from our home even the least bit of scrap from the table you will be released and arrested. I will not tolerate duff. ” Ilowered my head.
It was hard to appear grateful under the circumstances, but I was. I could not live with myself if I had sent Papa to the chimney. Something Germans cringed about since the horrors of Hitler’s death camps were exposed. It was a dark history for Germany regardless of whether we believed in the regime or not. It was a scar the world would never let us forget. I followed Fraulein Kerner, who introduced herself to me as Lena, to the laundry room. She was thankfully very kind in her instructions and thorough in her training, but aptly warned me not to consort with the family or guests.
With the type of work Herr Franke did along with his connections, his home became a central point for entertaining many political leaders and elite. As hired help we stayed out of their business. I never perceived this to be a problem. I was not a social person to begin with. I was more skilled at frightening friends away than keeping them. Now, with the only people who mattered to me, gone, I had nothing to talk about. They wouldn’t have to worry about me. I worked diligently through the day and picked up what was required of me quickly. When five o’clock came, I was more exhausted than I imagined I would be.
I had just untied my apron and folded it in the back room when a young woman came fleeting by. She stopped and looked at me curiously. “Who are you? ” She asked inquisitively. Thesitated as I recalled the strict warning. “It’s ok,” she laughed, “I know you are told not to talk to me, but if you don’t then it’s considered rude. ” She appeared smug in her calculation. “I’d rather be rude than without work. ” I whispered flatly as I placed the apron on a shelf that had been recently labeled with my name. She smiled warmly, “Welcome to our home. ” And she was gone nearly as quickly as she appeared.
She had to have been around my same age. Maybe a bit younger, but her countenance seemed so light and free of burdens that she left a twinge of jealousy in her wake. How would it be to have everything I wondered as I stepped out the side door into the glow of a descending sun. To never fear poverty, loss or loneliness… something I would never know. I fell into my daily routine easily. It was not a hard trade. Somewhat physically demanding from what I was accustomed to, but I wasn’t in the factory assembly line or even the unemployment line that seemed to grow each subsequent day.
It was just difficult to be surrounded by such wealth when the vast majority of the city was slowly starving to death. At the end of my first complete work week, I arrived at my flat reprieved, knowing tomorrow would finally be my first day off. I reached in my shoulder bag for the key. I was so tired I barely noticed the paper nailed to my front door. I looked around. The same paper was secured to every door down the hall. The deep black lettering titled “BITTE BEACHTEN” demanded its occupants to vacate immediately. Mere days were provided before entry would be restricted. I heatedly snatched it down and slammed or shut behind me.