Grandfather: East Prussia 1934

While he waited for my wife to cook the lunch he had ordered, the stranger looked at the posters on the wall. They advertised the Strassburger Circus which was in town for a few days. ‘I’d like to go’, he said to me. ‘When they asked me to put up the posters in my restaurant they gave me two complimentary tickets,’ I said, ‘We will go together this afternoon’. The stranger had been cycling around Poland and was now in the isolated part of Germany called East Prussia. He had put his faithful bike, George, on the freight train earlier that day and would go to Berlin later on the ‘sealed train’. It crossed the Polish Corridor between the two parts of Germany and no-one was allowed to get out.


As we walked to the circus he told me how much he had liked the castle. It was originally a 14th century Teutonic castle and is now mostly red brick, and is three castles and a church all in the same place. He’d liked it so much he had been round it twice. He liked the circus too. There were lots of clowns. There were elephants, tigers and bears. Then the ringmaster announced the ‘unrideable horse’ and called for volunteers. Three men came forward, including a Nazi officer in full brown uniform. The other two men performed entertaining acrobatics, avoiding the kicks and bites: clearly they were not really volunteers and were actually part of the circus troupe. The ringmaster tried to persuade the Nazi to sit down again, but he was drunk and insisted on trying to ride the horse. He didn’t get far. The horse charged up to him, opened its mouth and ripped the trousers from the Nazi’s bottom. It was a true comic turn, worthy of the circus but I, and the rest of the audience, had strong respect for the uniform of course. The stranger next to me, being English, had no inhibitions. In the midst of the nervous silence he let out a mighty guffaw. That was enough: soon the whole circus tent was rocking with laughter.