You Would Have Missed Me
By Birgit Vanderbeke, Jamie Bulloch (translator)
‘I can’t remember what it was like being born, but from what they used to tell me it seemed almost as if everything had been fine up to that point.’
Standing in her family’s two-bedroom flat in the Promised Land, a little girl realizes that once again she won’t be getting a cat for her birthday. She’s been wanting one ever since she was five – all the way back to when they were living in the refugee camp. In the East, her Grandma made cakes and kept rabbits; now there is no baking, no pets and certainly no Grandma. West Germany in the early 1960s is a difficult place for a seven-year-old East German refugee, particularly when no one will listen to you.
About The Author: Birgit Vanderbeke
One of Germany’s most successful authors, Birgit Vanderbeke was born in Dahme, East Germany, in 1956. When she was six her family fled to the West and she grew up in Frankfurt. She has written twenty-one novels and won five prestigious literary awards, including the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and the Kranichstein Literary Prize.
Read an Excerpt
We have our best ideas between the ages of five and ten. Some people have only a few ideas after that, maybe until they’re twenty-five or thirty, depending on whether they’re still talking to anyone then, but after thirty most of them no longer want to talk to anyone, they’ve given up, so obviously that puts an end to any more ideas.
I had my best idea when I was seven, because at the time I urgently needed to talk to someone, and when it occurred to me how I might go about that I sensed too that it was a really good idea, although I didn’t realize quite how good until much later.
To be precise, it happened on my seventh birthday.
We were standing in our two-bedroom flat in the Promised Land and once again it was clear that I wouldn’t be getting a cat for my birthday.
I’d been wanting a kitten ever since we left the refugee camp. I was five back then.
This was the third birthday in a row I wouldn’t be getting one.
You get used to disappointments, but in the long term they make you feel cold and empty inside, and you begin to lose heart.
It wasn’t true that pets were banned in the new housing development.
The Egners in 24C had a dachshund in their first-floor flat, and Gisela’s mother bred chinchillas in the basement. Everybody knew, and nobody had yet raised any objections to the Egners’ dachshund or Gisela’s mother’s chinchillas. The chinchillas lived in cages like the rabbits at Grandma’s, but Grandma was in the East. Sometimes she’d kill one of her rabbits, usually on a Friday before her sons came to visit.
On the Saturday they’d be skinned and would then appear on the table on Sunday and be eaten.
Now we were in the West and things were done differently.
Article originally Published in the October/November 2019 Issue “Read Global”