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Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple III: The new life

In July, my parents got married. It was a private affair, pledging a lifetime of love a second time. After the court house, dad set up a makeshift tripod in our bedroom. It felt strange to have a new man in our most intimate space, even stranger to know him as the real father. I wondered why my other dad left but I didn’t ask many questions. I learned early on not to ask things that make people uncomfortable. We were done living the old story, this much I understood. A new chapter had begun, our first together, a blank page. A picture would be perfect. I kept one arm around my mother, smiling as prompted. Beep, beep, beep. Click. Our first family selfie. We took at least a dozen.

Our new life would include more physical exertion than either mom or I were used to. My real father seemed hardwired for exercise, even the government noticed that. At age 12 they recruited him for Sports Academy where young socialist athletes were trained to kick butt in the Olympics. Outstanding sports performance would perhaps enlighten the world to the glories of socialism. Dad never made it to the Olympics, leaving plenty of energy to train us.

East Germany has a couple of smaller mountain ranges, not enough to satisfy a hardcore hiker. The Alps run through the southern part of Germany in the West, off limits to us. We were only allowed to travel the Eastern Block. Communists claimed we needed solid protection from western philosophy pollution. The wall was for our own good, insulating the socialist experiment and shielding it from contamination. Everyone knew this was bogus. The wall did not exist to keep evil capitalists out but to stop people from leaving their own country. Too many people left the East while the border was still open. They had to close it or no one would be left to work the production line.

The High Tatra’s, a beautiful, alpine range of jagged peaks south of Poland (in what is now Slovakia) became our first travel destination. It must have taken us about 10 hrs to get there since the Trabant’s [worst car ever made and not for the glory of communism] max speed was 60 mph.

I was 4 ½ our first summer there, perhaps it was honeymoon, with hiking boots and a kid. We returned the following summer and my memories of climbing mountains with my parents blend both years together. We climbed most of the tallest peaks over 8000 feet. I just looked up their names, remember them again, they sound like old friends to me.

Dad got us going at sunrise and off the mountain before the weather turns. I didn’t have hiking boots the first year, they didn’t make any for children my size, certainly not in the East. I hiked in little canvas shoes or rubber boots. I learned to put one foot in front of the other, without whining or complaining. I knew what was expected of me and gladly rose to the challenge.

Occasionally, when my own children threaten to collapse or actually do so after 1-2 miles of hiking, I bite my tongue to keep from saying what I really want to but won’t because it never helps: Hey, when I was your age I climbed mountains, with my parents, all day long and no one ever carried me.

When you’re a pretty small hiker climbing a pretty large mountain, other people will cheer you on. I learned, early on, that praise must be earned. And I was determined to earn it, to always do well, at everything.

Sometimes we talked about God on our hikes. He seemed nearer somehow, at high altitude. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful: crystal clear mountain lakes, thundering waterfalls, pristine pine forests, wildflowers and higher up another world made entirely of rock. I loved all of it, nature artistry, speaking beauty into our souls.

I remember having my first conscious thoughts of God there, wondering mostly where He came from because I could not wrap my mind around someone who has always existed, who came from no-where and will always be. It made no sense, eternity, another reality where time did not exist, no beginning or end. It was a fascinating mystery that made my head spin, I had to let it go.

Dad successfully turned mom and I into hard core hikers, at least for a couple of summers. He also got us into a new church. Our new life would revolve around a new church. More on that next week.

“Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple” is a series in which I am telling you my story of growing up Christian in East Germany. Part IV will continue next week. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox. As always I welcome your comments and questions. If you need to catch up,  read Part 1 here. and Part II: Divorce here.
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First family photo                                                            High Tatra’s age 4                          High Tatra’s age 5



8 Replies

  1. Keep it up, Astrid! As you lay out this overview of your life, if you want to stop and review specific incidents along the way, please do so. There is no hurry to get this story finished. Or, you can also tell the overview, then go back and pick out incidents. Praying for you. . . appreciate so much what you are doing here. It is excellent… one other thing I just thought of. Most people may not remember that there was an Eastern Germany and an ugly wall. You refer to some of this; but if you are up to more detail, please do it. Blessings!

    1. Astrid Melton

      That’s funny- another friend just told me this reads more like an outline….like I could go back and fill in more details/ story/ feelings etc. Some parts of our personal story we avoided talking about so there isn’t much more to say than whats there. More details on East Germany are definitely coming…I am pretty young in this post and I only picked out things I truly remember. Thanks for your feedback- it helps a lot!

  2. P West

    Thanks Astrid. One slight, almost insignificant, correction: while hiking boots for kids were not being sold in E Germany, they were likely being made there for retailers in the West.

    1. Astrid Melton


  3. Stephanie

    Love this! Can’t wait for the next chapter to your life’s story.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. You guys are keeping me on schedule for writing!

  4. Erin Presby

    Steven mentioned your blog and I’m riveted! Realize I’m behind here, but thank you for sharing your story, it’s been a privilege to read it thus far. Michael’s family immigrated originally from the area at the base of the High Tatras and we spent a few days in that area last summer, but didn’t come close to your climbing feats as a 5 year old — love your pictures!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Cool. I loved that area- still remember it so well-and have lots of pics from there.

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