When I was a little girl, living in Leoben with my Aunt, just after the
war had ended, I had a very best friend and her name was Ute. We were both born
in May, although she was a year older than me, and we were inseparable. We
played together and spent time together and as far as I remember, we never once
fell out of friendship with one another, We completely trusted each other and
we always believed what the other one said with all our hearts. This is an
important fact to remember for this story.
It is also important to give some idea of what this house was like,
although I find it is hard to describe, but here goes. The Totz Haus was a big,
beautiful Baroque Town House. The entrance to the house was through an enormous,
carved, wooden door, which was so heavy, I hardly managed to push it open. When
you entered, you were hit with the warm, beautiful smell of baking bread,
because most of the right side of the ground floor was taken up by the bakery. Even
now, when I can smell the baking of bread, I am instantly transported to those
days. There was a huge entrance hall with a stone mosaic floor which separated
the bakery from the shop on the left, where
the bread and rolls and pastries were sold. On that same side, next to the shop,
was the ‘Bauernstube’, a beautiful dining – cum - living area furnished in the
traditional Austrian peasant style and further along was a vast kitchen, where
the meals for the whole family, including the men and the young apprentices who
worked in the bakery, were prepared.
At the end of that vast corridor was a structure made of wood and glass, with a lockable door in the center, which led to a large courtyard. On one side of that courtyard were the rooms where the apprentices slept, followed by a very big ‘wash kitchen’ – a laundry room, which served all the residents of the house, and at the end of that was the Grain Store, where the flour was stored. Beyond the Grain Store was another huge door consisting of two wings, which lead out onto the Glacis. These doors were locked at night.
The courtyard was as wide as the entrance hall, and on the right side of
it were the stables, which housed a number of horses and a very large cart. A
couple of the horses belonged to the Blümel family and were used for riding,
but the other two belonged to the bakery and were harnessed every day to the
cart, which was used to take the bread and pastries out to customers around the
town and beyond.
On top of the ground floor and the stables there were two stories, which
were divided into flats. The Totz family occupied one of the flats on the first
floor, which was the largest and grandest in the house. The other flat on the
first floor, over the stable block, belonged to the Blümel family, where Ute,
my friend lived. My Aunt and Uncle and myself lived in the flat above, on the
On each floor there was a very large space in the middle, a kind of lobby, and each of these had a wooden framework with windows overlooking the courtyard similar to that on the ground floor, and which made these spaces light and airy and pleasant places for us kids to play in. When you looked out from these lobbies you could see everything that went on in the courtyard and the stables. They also provided a good view of the two flats over the stable blocks.
The Blümel family had a small soft drinks company, which was doing quite
well. Every morning they took delivery of berries in big buckets, which people
had gathered in the nearby woods and clearings that surround the town of
Leoben. The fizzy drinks they made were delicious. They came in glass bottles
with a hinged stopper and they were called ‘Kracherl’. I can taste them now,
but with money being very short, they were a rare treat for us kids. The Blümel
family consisted of two sisters, one being Ute’s mother. Her husband had sadly died
in the war. The other sister was married and was expecting a baby. Her husband
and his mother were also living in the flat. With just two bedrooms, and one
big kitchen, which also served as a living room, things were a little crowded.
But it was just at the end of the war, and people were happy to just have
somewhere to live, really.
Then came the day when the new baby was going to arrive. My Aunt went down to help and Ute and I were told to stay with Frau Skiber, who lived in a spacious two roomed flat on the top floor. Her husband had still not arrived back from the war. He had been taken prisoner by the Russians and it was hoped that he would be back soon and resume his job as a master baker in the bakery. Frau Skiber’s job that day was simply to make sure we stayed out of everyone’s way and didn’t get into any mischief.
Ute and I were highly excited that day. We were ready for the big event.
We had a clear view of the flat where the baby was going to be delivered by the
Stork. We had heard about this Stork so many times, but we had never managed to
see one with a baby in a bundle carried in his beak, except in picture books of
course. We knew, that if we stayed in the corridor, looking out of those
windows, there was no way we could miss that Stork. There simply was no other
way for it to arrive. We made a pact; we would not leave our post, come what
may. If one of us had to go to the toilet, the other one would remain in post.
If we had to eat, we would eat standing up by the windows. In any case, we were
both too excited to need food that day and Frau Skiber had a problem getting
any nourishment into us.
We saw people come and go. We saw a woman arrive and we never saw her
leave. My Aunt occasionally went up to our flat on some errand and she urged us
to be sensible and have something to eat, or at least play a game and not just
stand staring out of the windows the entire time. She assured us, that the baby
would not arrive any time soon and she would let us know when it was here.
Little did she know that we would probably know of the baby’s arrival sooner
than any of them, because we would be the ones to see the Stork come flying
through the air. Sometime later, the doctor arrived. We couldn’t understand why
so many people needed to be there, and we began to wonder, why we were the only
ones excluded? It did not make any sense.
And then, all of a sudden, the doctor left, followed almost immediately by the woman we saw arrive earlier. My Aunt made her way up the stairs in a state of agitation and excitement and told us that Ute now had a little niece! The baby was here!
We were thunderstruck. How could this have happened? No way was it possible for that Stork to have got past our vigil. We didn’t see it come, and we certainly didn’t see it leave, either. There was something really not right about all this.
My Aunt left us there, in our perplexed state, and went off to do some
vital thing to do with the baby no doubt. The only available adult who could
answer our questions was poor Frau Skiber. She seemed distinctly uncomfortable.
She kept suggesting that we might have just left our spot at the wrong moment
or maybe lost concentration for a bit. Not surprising really, since we spent
the entire day looking out of that window. But we knew what we knew. Somehow
these grown-ups had tricked us. But we just didn’t know how they did it.
Luckily for Frau Skiber we were too tired by then to start on our inquisition,
although there would certainly be one. We were due to stay the night with her,
so we decided to leave it for now, have some cake and lemon tea and get some
sleep. But we were not going to let this just slide. No way.