This month’s guest post is by Erika Dreifus, author of Quiet Americans. I’m a longtime subscriber to Erika’s blog “Practicing Writing” and to her “Practicing Writer” e-newsletter, both of which are wonderful resources for writers. A big thank you goes out to Erika for contributing this essay to my blog – and for her tireless and generous efforts in providing information on the craft and business of writing to practicing writers.
Mannheim in Pictures and Prose
Guest Post by Erika Dreifus
As the author of a recently released short-story collection (Quiet Americans), I have been appearing before audiences and reading brief excerpts from my book. One of the excerpts I’m most fond of presenting is a section from a story titled “Homecomings.”
Like much of the book, this story draws inspiration from the experiences of my paternal grandparents, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. In “Homecomings,” a couple with a similar background—Nelly and Josef Freiburg—return to Germany for the first time in September 1972. At one point in the story, the cousins who are hosting them drive them back to Nelly’s home city: Mannheim.
In fact, Mannheim was my grandmother’s home city, and my grandmother did return there for the first time in 1972. I was too young to be aware of the occasion at the time, but Grandma spoke about it in later years, and I often thought about what she said, and imagined how she must have felt. I thought about all of this even more in 1990, when my father and I traveled to Mannheim ourselves for the first time, and on two later trips.
Some of those commingled thoughts, observations, and imaginings appear in “Homecomings”:
Mannheim’s water tower still stood, surrounded by well-tended lawn. The florist shop she and her father had visited each week, so that he could buy a bouquet for her mother—still there, too. The office where her father had run his business, until the Reich outlawed that. Only the shoe store had changed; now it was a café. The shoe store, where she had found a job at the age of eighteen, because even with her Abitur she couldn’t attend university. Not then. Not in 1933. But her father had said: “You’re not just sitting around here, my dear girl. Waiting to emigrate. You shall do something useful.”
Her cousin Daniel turned the Citröen off the city’s main ring, onto Ifflenstrasse, and Nelly thought she’d stopped breathing. The building, where she and her parents had lived in an apartment that occupied the entire second floor, was the same! The same purplish stone. The same flowerboxes. The same big windows.
No. The windows. Those were not the same.
“Those men came in,” her mother had said, once they could speak freely about that night back in November 1938. “They smashed the windows. The china. The paintings.”
In writing these paragraphs, I relied not only on memory and imagination. I relied also on photographs.
I am proud to share some of those photographs with you, in the spirit of "In This Light," and with thanks for Dory's invitation to contribute a guest post.
The florist shop she and her father had visited each week....
The office where her father had run his business....
Visiting a location isn't necessarily essential for every writing project. But I believe that for "Homecomings," it mattered very much.
Erika Dreifus is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories. She is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine and Fiction Writers Review. Web: http://www.erikadreifus.com
All photographs copyright by The Dreifus Family, all rights reserved, used by permission