No Time!" -- Ich habe keine Zeit.
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connnie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
During the course of the World War II, my family
lost most of their material possessions. We were able
to bring only a few items of special value with us
to Germany and then later to Poland. As we fled back
to Germany my family was stripped of everything. When
my grandparents fled Poland they too could bring with
them only what was necessary to live on. Most of that
was left behind in Eastern Germany as we fled to the
Western sector. My family arrived in Stuttgart with
only the clothes on our backs. All we had left were
memories of our time in our Bessarabian homeland and
the life we walked away from in an attempt to live
Once the post-war economy in Germany had improved
so that I had the resources to travel, I chose to
emigrate to Canada in 1955 to begin rebuilding my
life. When Helgard and I married in 1962 we started
with very little. With "Fleiss" - hard work
- we began to build our future. Eventually the pieces
started coming into place. But we had no mementos
of the life we had enjoyed before the war. How we
wished for some physical objects that could represent
One day on a trip out into the countryside, we came
upon a town that was settled primarily by people from
Europe who had come to this place to make their start
in the New World. Walking down the street, we found
a second-hand store loaded with beautiful old things
from bygone days. Helgard and I went in to see if
we could find something we liked. Did we ever! The
shopkeeper was a lady who was easy to deal with. And
why not, as we loaded ourselves down with the treasures
in that store! We found napkin rings, plates with
glass inserts -- all kinds of table items dating from
the late 1800's up to the 1920's. Many items were
silver plated, fitting exactly the style of things
we were looking for. We also found hand-embroidered
linens such as napkins and tablecloths, crocheted
spreads and more.
We asked the shop keeper why people would want to
dispose of all of these treasures. She replied that
people don't have time these days to bother with such
things, and don't always know how to care for them.
It didn't take us long to select an entire collection
of heirlooms! We keep our fancy things in a glass
cabinet and continue to use them today much the same
as our folks used their special things back in the
Old Country. Come festive holidays and special occasions,
our dinner table takes center stage as it is set with
items fit for royalty. To keep our treasures in good
shape, we use modern products and equipment -- such
conveniences were not available to our ancestors back
in Teplitz, Bessarabia.
My grandmother Pauline (Mueller) Zacher was a master
at hosting a dinner party, and so is Helgard my soulmate.
Oma Zacher used to say, "Eat with your eyes to
fully enjoy your meal." In Teplitz, Bessarabia,
my grandparents had more of the finer things of life
than many people. My grandmother had fine furniture,
dishes, cutlery and linens to work with to host an
impressive dinner party. A special piece of equipment
that was kept busy on these occasions was the Samovar
for making tea. My grandmother also had a Topfkuchen
which was a special baking unit that looked like a
brass stove-pipe about 12" x 6" that sat
atop an ethyl-alcohol burner. I wish I knew the recipe
my grandmother used for making the pastry she baked
in that Topfkuchen. The Topfkuchen was a quick way
to bake Kuchen pastry to be served with tea. After
baking the dough in the Topfkuchen, it would be sliced
and then dusted with icing sugar.
My grandmother considered the making and serving
of tea as adding an elegant touch to her dinners.
Oma Zacher had special glasses that were reserved
just for serving tea. A cube of raw sugar that looked
much like an ice cube was placed into each glass of
tea. Guests carefully sipped the tea as it flowed
over the sugar cube into the mouth. This had to be
done elegantly, Russian-style, which meant there could
be no mouth noise as the tea was sipped.
To prepare the various dishes that were so special
to us in Bessarabia, the women had no modern appliances
of any kind, no electrical power in the house, and
no indoor plumbing. The preparation of every-day food
items was a challenge. To go beyond and prepare fancy
party foods took know-how and a willingness to work.
All laundry was washed using a washboard and home-made
soap. For fine white things, Oma would add a bit of
blue dye. To stiffen shirt collars and table linens
such as napkins and table-cloths, she mixed home made
potato starch into the water. The wet laundry was
hung outside to dry in the sun, which also helped
to bleach the white items. The sun was the only "bleach"
we had. When dry, the laundry was taken back inside
and the larger items were set aside to be stretched
prior to ironing. I often helped Oma stretch these
pieces to remove some of the wrinkles and shrinking.
She would pull on one end of the item and I would
pull on the other end while standing behind a table
for balance. Ironing was a fine art that took skill,
time and patience. The iron was heated with charcoal
-- swinging it from side to side increased the temperature.
Learning to iron properly required much practice.
Especially difficult to iron were pleated items and
the corners of embroidered pieces. The last step was
to fold the ironed laundry before storing it away.
All of the table linens were made of cotton or linen.
If an item was not used for a time, the edges would
begin to yellow, and the item had to be re-washed
and re-ironed before use. If silver items were not
used frequently, they would tarnish and then had to
be polished and washed before they could be used.
One day when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was
helping Grossmama with her chores. It was laundry
day and she had laundry to hang outside on the clothesline.
Grossmama carried the wet laundry out to the clothesline
and I carried the clothesline clips in a cloth bag.
After we were done, she had a few pieces of laundry
left that she wanted to take inside and hang on the
rainy-day clothesline up in the attic. These were
home-made oval shaped cloth pads - my aunt's private
laundry that Grossmama did not want to hang out in
public. Being curious I asked, What are these? Grossmama
said, These are women's underwear warmers. I asked,
Why don't I have any? She said, Boys don't need them
- they wear pants. My curiosity was satisfied with
Those were the good old days: a time that required
hand skills, a time without our modern "time-savers,"
a time to which we give so little thought! And we
say we have "no time!"
Edited by Connie Dahlke
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns
on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his
childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences
of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945
before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the
reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).
Note: Many German Bessarabian recipes can be found
Spezialitaeten:aus der Kolonisten am Schwarzen Meer,
1814 - 1940", 1999,
82 pages in color, compiled by Gertrud Knopp-Rueb.
English translation of the cookbook title is "Bessarabian
Specialities: From the Settlement Period of the German
Colonies in the
Black Sea Region, 1814 -1940".
This cookbook is available including a translation
of the recipes at this