Personal Journeys


September 12, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A childhood haven beckons again

A Memorable Place

By Sibylle Ehrlich

In the 1930s, my family spent summer vacations on a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea. Our cousins owned a summer home on Bornholm, which offered us respite from the horrifying events unfolding in Nazi Germany.

The adults could read foreign newspapers and discuss political events freely. We children were permitted to roam and explore the island to our heart's content.

We watched fisherman hang smoked herring on racks. We walked along the sandy path to the next village for an ice cream cone, picnicked by the ruins of an ancient fortress, picked berries in the cool woods and swam and played at the beach.

The summer I was 10, 1936, was our last summer on Bornholm. The next year we emigrated to the United States.

I knew that I had to hold fast to my memories of the island, my paradise of peace and freedom. "Mental photos" of my favorite places there were imprinted in my memory. I can still recall vividly emerging from the cool, musty-smelling dark woods into sunny fields of wheat. Brilliant red poppies and blue corn- flowers framed the golden fronds of wheat. Beyond lay gray rocks and blue sea. It was more beautiful than any artist could have painted.

As the years passed, I often thought of returning to Bornholm. Would condominiums have replaced the fishermen's shacks? Would there be a boardwalk where once there had been our sandy path?

Forty years later, my daughters visited Europe, and I asked them to check out Bornholm.

"Mom," they said on the phone, "it is just as you had always described it to us."

And so my husband and I returned to the place in my youth that had represented such freedom and peace.

We stayed in a small hotel on the island and watched the fishermen bring in their haul. The smell of smoked herring hung in the evening air. We walked the sandy path to the beach -- it was a much shorter walk than I had remembered.

Fragrant wild white roses trailed over the cliffs. I found the rock on the beach where we had left our towels and beach balls. I could spy the cousins' house behind a stand of trees, but did not have the courage to introduce myself to the current residents.

The golden field of wheat with its poppies and cornflowers no longer was where I thought it had been. Perhaps it was better that it remained a picture in my memory.

After we left the island, I felt reassured that during the decades in which so much in the world had changed, my childhood paradise had not been spoiled. And that golden field, so deeply etched in my memory, might still exist somewhere on Bornholm.

Sibylle Ehrlich lives in Towson.

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Let Us Hear From You

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Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

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