Translated by JUMIMA
Original German text and additional reports by Engelchen
We didn’t need an alarm clock.
We were awakened exactly on time at 6:00 am by deafening howling and thundering. Five MIG15 jet fighters raced low over the houses of our children’s home and brought the night’s rest to an abrupt end. I only had to open my eyes and turn my head a little to the side, and I could see them, like arrows, boring into the sky. Their sound slowly faded and mingled with the voices of the waking boys. Just as we were standing in the hallway to go to the dining room for breakfast, the planes returned. Just not quite as loud as when they were starting. When you looked through the hall window, you could see them floating towards the airfield with their noses raised and then disappearing behind the trees.
The MIG-15 was a beautiful airplane that reminded of a toy with its squat fuselage and trimmed wings. The home had a fence, but of course it had three holes. One was to the right of the soccer field and led directly into a swaying grain field, which in late summer hid many intimate secrets under its stalks and kept them to itself. There was another opening to the forest, in which an old German machine-gun bunker offered a great playground, and a third hole shortened the way into the village considerably and was used by children and educators alike. If you chose the third route, you could reach the barbed wire fence of the airfield in 20 minutes. In the cover of the bushes you could work your way up to a small hill directly at the fence and thus had a wonderful view of the runway. I went there very often with my friend Robert, but one day he was moved to another home and I kept going on these trips alone.
One afternoon, as always, I was lying on my stomach in the grass, using an imaginary walkie-talkie to give orders to the pilots on the planes. I also had a booklet with the numbers of the planes, so that I had full control over flight operations. Suddenly I felt a hand on the back of my neck that lifted me up and put me on my feet. In front of me was a Russian officer with a black mustache and sunglasses, which he had put on his forehead. He took my notebook and leafed through it while I stood paralyzed before him.
“You spy?” He asked.
Um, no, njet!!”
“You how old?”
“Eleven.” I so startled I forgot what “Eleven” was in Russian.
The officer took a step back and eyed me.
“You eleven and spy!” He said. “Good! We will see!”
He reached for his pistol pocket, pulled out his macarow, and shot in the air once – while I peed my pants.
A jeep appeared out of the forest and he put me on its rack. “You sit here,” he said threateningly. Then he swung himself into the seat and beckoned the soldier at the wheel to leave. After a few minutes we had reached the gate and after a short conversation with the guard, the officer took me to a barrack. We entered a room where several soldiers were sitting and were eating. He put me in the middle of the room and just said: “Spy!” Immediately a roar of laughter broke out. The soldiers slapped their thighs and held their bellies laughing. They pointed to my pants – wet with pee – and one fell off the chair laughing. I was so ashamed and still terrified. The officer stood in front of me and said: “I Grisha, and you?”
“Come over! Spy Rolf! “, He said with a grin and led me by the shoulder to an adjoining room which was full of beds and lockers. He got a flight suit out of a locker and said. “Take off, pants! This better.”
I took off everything because the shirt had also gotten something and got into the much too big uniform. Grisha knelt before me and rolled up the trouser legs and sleeves. Then he put me next to the window, took a camera out of a closet and took a picture of me.
When we came back into the large room, a few officers had already gathered. One spoke German very well and finally I could explain what had happened. I was beginning to feel better because the soldiers were very friendly and fed me some white bread and canned meat while I was sitting on Grisha’s lap. He constantly ruffled my hair and kept saying: “Little spy, Rolf!!”
The officer with the good German leafed through my notebook and asked if I had written down all the planes that I had seen at the airfield. “I think so,” I said, but he said I was a bad observer and unsuitable for the spy profession. Then he said something to Grisha that I did not understand, got up and left the room.
Grisha lifted me from his lap, gave me a pat on the butt and said: “Come with me, spy Rolf!”
Outside we got on the jeep and this is how the most wonderful afternoon I had experienced with my few years so far had begun. For almost two hours, Grischa showed me the airfield, I was allowed to climb into the MIGs and look at the helicopters, and in the control tower I couldn’t get my mouth shut in amazement. Many airplanes were hidden under mounds of earth or stood in halls with roofs planted with trees. No wonder they were missing from my list. It was an unforgettable experience for a boy like me. Unforgettable also because I had noticed how Grischa was constantly looking to be close to me, hugging me, supporting me when I was climbing and catching me when I jumped the last part of the ladder. This type of touch was well known to me and aroused a mixture of feelings of caution and curiosity. He was a handsome man with a tanned face and black hair. When our eyes met, there was something of a secret about – which I knew more than he assumed.
He drove me back to the home, hugged me firmly when I said goodbye and said: “I’ll pick you up again, spy!!”
In my flight suit, I naturally was a great attraction and the other kids pestered me with questions. Of course I bragged about what had happened, but preferred to keep certain details to myself.
The following Saturday I got grounded. I had punched another boy and as a punishment, I was supposed to copy 20 pages of the book “How the Steel Was Hardened”. Although I did not really understand the meaning of this punishment, I went to work until my educator came into the room and said: “You are lucky, you have a visitor.”
I glanced at him incredulously. Who could be visiting me here at the back of beyond? The educator was getting impatient. “Get moving before I change my mind.” So Ostrowski had to keep his deep thoughts to himself and I ran down the stairs.
Grischa was standing next to his jeep and when I saw him I turned around and fetched my flight suit. He hugged me and I got a kiss as if we had known each other for 20 years. Then we sped away.
So it was true!
My feeling hadn’t deceived me. I eyed the man sitting next to me and he took off his sunglasses and put them on my nose. “We’re going to fly, spy!”
Again, we drove to the barracks and he led me into the room with the many beds. He pointed to my pants and said, “Take off, I’ve got something.” He got something out of a closet and tossed it to me. It took me a moment to understand what it was. A flight suit in my size, with all the pockets, hooks and buckles. I could see from the fabric that it was newly sewn. Custom-made for me!!! Still in my briefs jumped at Grisha and clung to his neck. His mustache stung and when his hands touched my bare back I found that despite their size they were very tender. It was OK. I got into my new uniform and was as proud as a Spaniard. It fit like a glove and Grisha only said: “But don’t pee again, spy.” I laughed and shook my head.
A little later we sat in a helicopter. While the flight combo fit well, the helmet slipped so deep onto my forehead that I couldn’t see anything. But Grischa stuck a glove in between and it worked. The helicopter lifted off the concrete surface with a roar and I clung to my officer, because I felt a bit queasy. Soon the airfield lay deep below us and I tried to orientate myself in the landscape. I recognized the street that cut through the village and could also see the buildings of the children’s home. The lines that the boy’s feet had trampled into the cornfield were particularly visible. Now I was no longer afraid, because Grischa wrapped his arm around me from behind and held me very tightly, while he smoothed the folds of my suit with his other hand.
I was now trying hard not to endanger my weekends with Grisha with any of the punishments lurking everywhere. He ook me on a visit to friends in a tank brigade and we were often in Berlin, in the cinema or in the theater or his friend with the helicopter flew us to Finow to see the ship hoist that was installed there. We used the warm days of late summer to tell and fulfill secret wishes, lying under the camouflage nets that were stretched over the bunkers. Then fall vacation came.
Usually all kids from the home went to a camp to help with the harvest, but somehow the educators had no strong arguments against the kind of German-Soviet friendship I had with Grischa, and so I was allowed to spend all 14 days with him in a house in Schorfheide. It was a kind of log cabin with a sauna, a living room, bedroom and a small kitchen. Anyone who knows the Schorfheide knows how the brownish light falling through the pine crowns onto the warm sandy ground can smooth and enchant the waves of the soul. Knows how the silence, only tinted by the buzzing of insects, opens the soul wide and makes it receptive to the wishes of those close to it. For the first time, I was actually alone with Grischa. Not that we had been guilty of omission in our afternoons under the camouflage net, no, but actually alone with him… – I was only here.
Only here could I feel the feeling of waking up next to him in the morning, getting a kiss and a glass of fresh milk and then resting my head on his chest and letting him tenderly rub my back.
The afternoons, when we came back from fishing or hiking to lie naked in the warm sun, when he traced words on my back with his finger that I should guess.
The wonderful, crackling evenings, when after the sauna he gave my skin a slight reddening with the brushwood. He toweled me off me and then carried me to bed.
And the nights, that had somehow lost their nightmares that had troubled me a lot.
And then it was January. Relentlessly cold. Grischa comes, like almost every weekend.
He gives me a bearskin shapka. I put it on and feel how the warm, cozy fur warms my ears. Then I hug him, and as my head lies on his shoulder, I notice that he’s trembling. I tilt my head back and am looking into tearful eyes.
Grisha, this bear of a man who would grab me by the hand and throw me into the water, who would put his hand on my back and I wold feel that I am out of reach for the rest of the world because that hand protects me. He who sewed the flight suit for me. He to whom all the other soldiers are kowtowing.
He’s got a little boy in his arms and cries. He kneels in front of him and rests his head on the child’s chest, stammering something like “Da moi” – home. In 3 days. Home for Grischa is the Caucasus. I still don’t know where I am at home. Now I’m understanding what’s going on.
Farewell. And immediately I sense: it is forever.
Now they both kneel in the snow. The man and the boy, and if you look closely you can see how similar they are.