So let me take you to Marienburg in Poland, or Malbork as it is called today.
This is yours truly back in 1993. I'm standing at the river Nogat, right across from the Marienburg, or Malbork Castle. So what was I doing in Poland so shortly after the Iron Curtain came down, you may ask.
For centuries, Marienburg belonged to Germany. The castle was founded by the Teutonic Order in the 13th century and named Marienburg (Mary's castle), and so was the town's name, that grew around it. The part it is located in was called West Prussia (don't get confused by people who call this area East Prussia - it is NOT East Prussia, however, most people are unaware of this fact). The castle is the largest castle in the world by surface area.
This town is the place where my Dad was born and raised. His memories of his life here are stories of an innocent, blissful childhood, spent in the woods, on tiny islands in the river. It's hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. Every winter this river would completely freeze over, and my Dad and his friends would ice skate every afternoon until it was time to go home. In the summer, he would row. He was in a rowing club and they did their training here. There was an island somewhere in this river where the boys (and perhaps some girls as well?) would go to, spending long summer afternoons fishing, swimming, and just hanging out. It was a small town, and since my Dad and his siblings were the children of the only veterinarian in town everybody knew them. His Dad - my Grandpa whom I adored when I was a little girl - was one of the first people here who owned a car. As the only veterinarian in the area he needed it to get out to the farms. It became my grandparents' and aunt's survival ticket in the last months of World War II when the town was already burning, the Soviet army was closing in and they had to make their way to Danzig (Gdansk) to board the last refugee ship out of the port of Danzig to Denmark.
My Dad had to join the German military when he was hardly 18 years old. He went to the navy, serving on the Scharnhorst and doing a tour on a submarine. At the end of the war he became a POW with the British and was released in 1946. He never saw his childhood home again. Marienburg became part of Poland. His childhood home was lost to him for ever.
When Eastern Europe broke apart in the early 90's and traveling into these countries became so much easier, I wanted to see where my Dad grew up. I wish he would have come with me, but he didn't want to see the modern Marienburg. He wanted to keep his memories of a childhood that died with the end of the war.