Before I went to bed on the first night I was alone in this house I went into our Diele, which is the large, barn-like part of the house where the animals used to live and shouted: “It’s our house now”. It’s always felt as if we are just passers-by here, and I often think about all the people who lived here before, the babies born and the dead laid out.
This is how it must have been:
When we moved in in 1997, the garden wasn’t a garden at all. I think flowers would have been an unthinkable luxury for the families living here, but there were, and are, a lot of old fruit trees – peach, cherry, apple, pear, plum and walnut. None of this fruit is delicious, and most of it is allowed to fall to the ground and provide tasty meals for the wasps, hedgehogs and squirrels.
Our house had changed hands several times over the hundreds of years, and the land attached got less and less. The last person to live here before us was a man called Emil, who had lost an arm in Stalingrad, and went to the city every day by bus where he worked in a department store as a lift operator. His wife had inherited the house from her parents as both their sons, her brothers, were listed as ‘Missing’ in Russia.
In the early years of living here my lovely husband found a box of letters from the two young men, written whilst they were still stationed in Germany. The letters are written in an old-fashioned type of German writing called ‘Sütterlin’. This is a ‘script, created by the ‘Berlin graphic artist Ludwig Sütterlin (1865-1917), which was taught from 1915 to 1941 in German schools‘, which we can’t understand. A friend translated them for us and they were about nothing important, just boys not understanding what or why they had been called to war, and longing to be back home.
This is what Sütterlin looks like:
Find out more about Sütterlin and its inventor :
Emil’s daughter, now in her 70s, is our neighbour and once, talking about the garden, she told me how the walnut tree had been so important for her mother. “Her brother Hermann planted it, he buried a walnut.”
A few years ago the doorbell rang and what I can only describe as a foreign-looking woman stood there, telling me in broken German that she had seen our walnut tree from the road and asking could she please harvest some nuts? Well of course she could, and now she and her family come every autumn. I asked her a few years ago where she was from, and she replied “Syria” and then there was nothing more for me to say except I was so sorry about what had happened to her country. The next year she brought us home-made some walnut cookies.
Here is my (very easy) recipe for walnut biscuits:
Vanilla and Walnut biscuits
60g chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk
0.5 tsp baking powder
Heat oven to 180°
Cream sugar and butter, add vanilla, yolk and nuts, beat well.
Stir in the flour and baking powder to form stiffish dough. Roll into balls, flatten slightly.
Bake 10-15 minutes.
Of course, these taste best made with walnuts from your own garden. Here’s our tree, planted by Hermann, who is still missing somewhere in Russia:
We take really good care of it.