Archive for the ‘This Day in History’ Category

mow-and-blow gardeners

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Mow-and-blow gardeners must be the Marxists of the gardening world because they tend to put all their efforts into curb appeal and none into weeding.

— J. Elke Ertle


Weeds and the personal touch.

Weeds and the personal touch.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Your dog – your biggest admirer

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.

— Ann Landers

Complete devotion - Photo © Sonja Brzostowicz,

Complete devotion – Photo © Sonja Brzostowicz,


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Unlocking our Potential

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.

— Sir Winston Churchill


Stalin Note

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

The Stalin note was a diplomatic paper. On March 10, 1952, Joseph Stalin’s deputy foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, delivered three identical documents to his postwar Allies–the United States, France and Great Britain. The Stalin note was the first of four pieces of correspondence on the same subject, all initiated by Marshal Stalin. The paper proposed a peace treaty between the four Allies and the East- and West-occupied Germanys to end the country’s artificial division.

Content of the Stalin Note

In this diplomatic note, Stalin proposed German reunification but attached several stipulations. Aside from other requirements, he proposed reunification of East and West Germany, providing that the occupying powers withdraw their armed forces and liquidate all of their bases in Germany. He further demanded that once reunited, Germany would be required to forfeit her right to enter into a military alliance with any power, that had taken part in WWII. Stalin suggested a four-power conference to act on his proposal by signing a peace treaty with Germany.

Four-power conference

The conference never took place. Germany and the three Western Allies feared that a peace treaty of this nature could result in the reunited Germany’s inability to protect her borders. They also recognized that signing this peace treaty would mean that the reunited Germany would be barred from aligning herself with the Western powers. As history shows those interpretations prevailed. The Cold War continued to heat up over the next three decades, and East and West became more firmly entrenched in their respective blocs. Germany remained divided until the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) collapsed in 1990.

The question remains

Historians have been divided ever since on the intent of the Stalin note. The questions remain (1) Did the West German, Western European, and American leaders miss a much earlier opportunity for German reunification? (2) Were the Soviets offering a sincere path toward German reunification in 1952 or was the Stalin Note a ploy to facilitate the incorporation of Germany into the Eastern bloc? Opinions differ to this day.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Did Churchill coin “Iron Curtain”?

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

In the United States it is often erroneously believed that Sir Winston Churchill coined the phrase “iron curtain,” when he travelled to Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946. It had been a mere ten months since World War II had ended in Europe. Only one of the three signatories of the Potsdam Agreement was still in power: Soviet Union’s Marshal Joseph Stalin. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had passed away and been replaced by Harry. S. Truman. Sir Winston Churchill had lost the British election to Clement Atlee. At this point in time, the U.S. and Great Britain were mainly concerned with the state of their own post-war economies and remained grateful to Russia that she had taken a prominent role in ending the war.

“The Sinews of Peace” Speech by Churchill

On this day in early March 5, Churchill gave an address at Westminster College in Fulton. His speech was entitled, “The Sinews of Peace.” He began by speaking of his admiration for the Soviet Union and by welcoming her into the circle of leading nations. He expressed understanding for Russia’s need for security on her western frontiers. But then he cautioned, “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies.” He went on to say, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

Following the speech, the phrase “iron curtain” became widely known. To read Churchill’s speech in its entirety, visit.

“Iron Curtain” became a household word

Although it is still widely held that Churchill coined the term “iron curtain” during his 1946 The Sinews of Peace speech, that belief is inaccurate. He had used the term for decades already. The phrase was first used in 1920 by British author and suffragette Ethel Snowden in her book Through Bolshevik Russia. In 1945, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used the term in his 25 February 1945 speech entitled The Year 2000. But after Churchill’s post-war speech in Fulton, the phrase became synonymous with the way the West viewed the East. The phrase became so popular that I, a post-war child growing up in Berlin, Germany, remember it as one of the givens in my vocabulary. To me at that young age, “iron curtain” meant Cold War, and I was convinced that Sir Winston Churchill had coined it.



Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill’s view on the Berlin situation

Sir Winston Churchill also foreshadowed what, indeed, ended up happening in Berlin a couple of years later when the Russians blockaded all ground access routes to West Berlin. In his speech, Churchill said, “An attempt is being made by the Russians in Berlin to build up a quasi-Communist party in their zone of Occupied Germany by showing special favors to groups of left-wing German leaders. At the end of the fighting last June, the American and British Armies withdrew westwards, in accordance with an earlier agreement, to a depth at some points of 150 miles upon a front of nearly four hundred miles, in order to allow our Russian allies to occupy this vast expanse of territory, which the Western Democracies had conquered. If now the Soviet Government tries, by separate action, to build up a pro-Communist Germany in their areas, this will cause new serious difficulties in the British and American zones.”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Destruction of Dresden

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

The destruction of Dresden occurred toward the end of WWII. The city, with a population of 350,000, was a cultural landmark in Northern Germany with many world famous museums and historic buildings. Its town center was of little to no military significance. Sixty-nine years ago today, most of the people living in the city center perished.

What happened

During the night of February 13 to February 14,1945, British Lancaster bombers dropped a barrage of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the city center. They did so in two waves. The attacks occurred three hours apart. Then, during the middle of the second day, American B-17 Flying Fortresses bombed Dresden again. Together, the Allies dropped 3,300 tons of bombs on the city within a 24-hr period. The resulting firestorm reached temperatures of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. The incendiary bombs burned for two days. The heat caused the surface of the roads to melt, and peoples’ feet burned as they tried to run away.

The death toll is difficult to estimate. It ranges between 25,000 and 135,000. The reason for the variation is that 25,000 bodies were located. But Dresden also served as a temporary refuge for the people running from the advancing Russian Army, making it impossible to accurately estimate the number of people who perished. In addition, many could not be buried that quickly and were burned instead. Those numbers are also difficult to assess.

Why it happened

Opinions differ sharply on the reason for the destruction of Dresden. Although the city center was of little to no military significance, some scholars maintain that Dresden was located in Nazi Germany. The Allies were at war with Nazi Germany. That alone represents sufficient justification.

Others believe that Britain and the United States feared Russia might wish to turn its back on Allied postwar agreements regarding Germany. They believe that the western Allies hoped that a demonstration of power would act as a deterrent.

Still others maintain that Dresden was a legitimate target because of its rail base which could be used to transport troops to the front lines and fight against Russia.

Dresden post-WWII

When Germany was divided following WWII, Dresden ended up in the Russian sector. Their Communist occupiers rebuilt the city in the 1950s and spared no effort in restoring the cultural landmark to its pre-WWII charm. You may also wish to read about Dresden’s Zwinger Dresden’s Frauenkirche , Dresden’s Semper Opera House , and Green Vault .

A commemorative plaque reminds visitors today who it was that destroyed the city and who it was that restored the city to its old splendor.

A Commemorative plaque, installed during the Communist era, reminds the visitor that Anglo-American bombers destroyed Dresden in 1945

A Commemorative plaque, installed during the Communist era, reminds visitors that Anglo-American bombers destroyed Dresden in 1945


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Germanys Unite through Treuhandanstalt

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

How did the two Germanys unite economically after the fall of the Wall? Through a Treuhandanstalt. West Germany was built on a free market system. East Germany was based on a state planned economy. In order for the two Germanys to reunite after the collapse of East Germany in 1989, a common system had to be created.

Creation of a Treuhandanstalt

In mid-1990, East Germany’s legislature created a trust agency, called Treuhandanstalt, which was to become the legal owner of all state-owned property of the former East Germany. On 3 October 1990, the date of the formal German Unification, this holding company was put in charge of privatizing and restructuring around 14,000 state-owned companies, agricultural lands and forests, public housing, property of the former Ministry for State Security (Stasi), and holdings of the former National People’s Army.

Problems facing the Treuhandanstalt

Most of the factories in East Germany had never been modernized so that their productivity was on par with that of developing countries. Following unification, East Germany products simply were no longer in demand. Only high tech enterprises, such as Jenoptik in Jena, Opel in Eisenach, the steelworks EKO, and the Baltic shipyards were considered profitable enough to be restructured. (

Treuhandanstalt is criticized

The operations of the Treuhandanstalt quickly drew criticism. The agency was accused of unnecessarily closing profitable businesses, misusing or wasting funds, and unnecessarily laying off workers (approximately two-and-a-half million employees in state-owned enterprises were laid off in the early 1990s). Affected workforces protested. Supporters of Treuhandanstalt operations argued that not placing these former state-owned enterprises into private hands would cause the loss of even more jobs and slow down economic recovery.

Treuhandanstalt is disbanded

In the end, the trust agency left debts amounting to 137 billion Euros. On this day in history, on 31 December 1994 the Treuhandanstalt was disbanded.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Silent Night – a favorite since 1818

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

The Christmas carol, Silent Night, has been a favorite since 1818. Originally written and sung in German (Stille Nacht – Heilige Nacht), the popular hymn has been translated into nearly 140 languages. It is now heard all over the world and was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO In 2011.

First Introduced

Silent Night was first sung at the St. Nicholas parish in the small Austrian village of Oberndorf near Salzburg. At that time, Oberndorf was a poor community along the Salzach River. Their young parish priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had written the lyrics to Stille Nacht two years earlier in nearby Mariapfarr where he had worked as an assistant. Then, on Christmas Eve in 1818, just hours before the Christmas mass, Father Mohr found himself in a pickle. His plans for the evening service lay in shambles. In the aftermath of a flooding of the Salzach, the church organ no longer worked. Distraught, Father Mohr grabbed his old poem and set off to find Franz Xaver Gruber, the church organist. He prayed fervently that Gruber would be able to create a melody and guitar accompaniment for his poem in time for Christmas mass. Indeed, the organist is said to have composed the melody within a few short hours, and Stille Nacht was sung that night. Gruber had composed a lively tune in 6/8 time.

Then Forgotten

Thereafter, Silent Night was forgotten. Six years later, an organ builder found the score again and took it home. But it wasn’t until 1831, that Stille Nacht quickly gained in popularity. After it was sung in Leipzig, Germany, the German Kaiser, Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, had the hymn sung in his castle every year and instructed the royal court orchestra to include it in its repertoire.

Silent Night during the Christmas truce of 1914

In 1859, the Episcopalian bishop, John Freeman Young, published the English translation, although today, we sing only three of the original six verses. Silent Night was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by the troops during the Christmas truce of 1914 during World War I. It was the only carol that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew.

Silent night, Holy night! – Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!

All is calm, all is bright – Alles schlaeft, einsam wacht

Round yon virgin, mother and child – Nur das traute hochheilige Paar

Holy infant so tender and mild – Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar

Sleep in heavenly peace – Schlaf in seliger Ruh!

Sleep in heavenly peace – Schlaf in seliger Ruh!


Silent night, Holy night! – Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!

Shepherds quake at the sight. -Hirten erst kundgemacht

Silent night, Holy night! – Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!

Glories stream from Heaven afar – Durch der Engel halleluja

Heavenly hosts sing hallelujah – Toent es laut von fern und nah

Christ the Savior is born – Christ, der Retter is da!

Christ the Savior is born – Christ, der Retter is da!


Silent night, Holy night! – Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!

Son of God, love’s pure light – Gottes Sohn o wie lacht

Radiant beams from thy holy face – Lieb aus deinem goettlichen Mund

With the dawn of redeeming grace – Da uns schlaegt die rettende Stund’

Jesus, Lord at thy birth – Christ in deiner Geburt

Jesus, Lord at thy birth – Christ in deiner Geburt


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.





Hitler and Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Hitler and Roosevelt: a dictator and a democrat. What do the two men have in common? Both came to power in the beginning of 1933. Both died in April 1945. But that’s where the parallels end. One led Western Europe to the brink of destruction, the other returned it to the path to freedom.

72 years ago today, on 11 December 1941, the German Empire declared war on the USA. To this day, historians speculate what made Hitler declare war on America. Four days earlier, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. The following day, the US Senate and House of Representatives declared war on Japan. It could not be known at the time that what happened in Pearl Harbor would change what was going to happen in Western Europe.

Americans oppose US intervention

Until Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had secretly debated how to depose Adolf Hitler. But the majority of Americans wanted the US remain neutral in the European war. After Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass – in November of 1938, Hitler’s invasion of the Czech Republic and of Poland, public opinion began to change although the majority of Americans still opposed US intervention. And following the attack on Pearl Harbor the eyes of the American public were directed toward Japan.

Hitler is delighted

At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, German troops were stuck in the snow in front of Moscow. The Red Army had begun a powerful offensive. The news of Pearl Harbor caught Hitler by surprise, but he saw an opportunity. He suspected that the U.S. would now focus all of their armament and military power against Japan and reduce or eliminate their support for the United Kingdom. If he employed his submarines, he may win against England.

Historians speculate

The historian, Alan Bullock, suspects that Hitler felt he had to demonstrate after the defeat of his troops in the east. Sebastian Haffner called it a simple act of madness. Hitler biographer, Ian Kershaw, says “It was in Hitler’s eyes the chance to win against England.” Together with Japan, Hitler hoped to not only control the European continent, but to also bring the US to its knees. In his 2011 book, Roosevelt and Hitler: Todfeindschaft und Totaler Krieg, Washington historian, Ronald D. Barley, surmises, “as paradoxical as it sounds the fact that Hitler declared war on the US on December 11, 1941, forged the path to freedom for Western Europe.” For additional information, visit (Zweiter Weltkrieg: Krieg gegen America)


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Ex-Berliner recalls Kennedy’s death

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

J. Elke Ertle was a Berlin teenager when John F. Kennedy’s death plunged West Berlin into depression and despair. From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Berlin was physically divided. In 1961, the East German government, with Soviet backing, surrounded West Berlin with a 12-foot wall. In June 1963, Kennedy gave a historic speech in which he expressed admiration for those who had remained in the tiny capitalist island despite being surrounded by a communist sea.

Excerpt from Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom

Elke writes, “My eighteenth birthday fell on a Thursday. I didn’t celebrate until the following afternoon, November 22. Three girlfriends came for a Kaffeeklatsch and had barely left when the phone rang. It was my American friend. I assumed he wanted to wish me a happy birthday. Instead he asked, “Have you heard the news?”

“What news?”

“President Kennedy has been shot!”

A long silence. I tried to comprehend.

“President Kennedy? When?”

“Less than half hour ago.”

“Shot at? Or shot dead?”

My friend shared what he knew. “Go and turn on the TV,” he said. We quickly said good-bye, and I flicked on the set. In disbelief, I watched as the tragedy in Dallas unfolded. Although the shooting had occurred shortly after noon Texas-time, it was already evening in Berlin. Within hours, thousands of Berliners gathered in the Rudolph-Wilde-Platz in front of city hall where John F. Kennedy had spoken only five months earlier. In a broadcast, the Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, read,

“Eine Flamme ist erloschen. Erloschen fuer alle Menschen, die auf einen gerechten Frieden hoffen und auf ein besseres Leben. Die Welt ist an diesem Abend sehr viel aermer geworden. (A flame has gone out. Gone out for all people who hope for a just peace and a better life. The world has grown considerably poorer this evening.)” 

The following afternoon, my friends and I joined the 15,000 students who walked in silence from the Airlift Memorial to the Schoeneberger Rathaus. We marched behind a banner that read Wir haben einen Freund verloren — We have lost a friend.

On the day of Kennedy’s state funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, 250,000 of us gathered in front of Berlin’s city hall. The Rudolph-Wilde-Platz was renamed John-F.-Kennedy Platz. In West Berlin, where the East-West confrontation could be felt more than anywhere else in the world, the grief for Kennedy was particularly deep. John F. Kennedy had been our hero. Our loss was personal.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.