The story of his life sounds like one of those fairy tales he loved to tell his children and grandchildren. Not so long ago, the beautiful Adelheid lived in a town in the east, which was then called Schneidemühl. She was the daughter of a wealthy baker who was Polish and had married a German woman for love. And so Adelheid was born lucky. She grew up as a princess, learned many languages, played the piano, rode noble horses until her father gave her a car.
Adelheid married early and gave birth to a son, but she was choosy and looked for a new prince, with whom she fathered two more sons. The war came, the man became a soldier and died, the parents first lost all their wealth and then their lives. A former journeyman baker murdered them in revenge for firing him.
The home town of Schneidemühl was called Piła in Polish after the war, Adelheid was now called Adela and had to work to support herself and her sons. But a new prince was already at the door, he had driven up in a black Volga, an official of the powerful party, and a rogue with whom she fell in love and with whom she became pregnant. But his wife, who lived far away, was also pregnant by him, and so Adelheid drove to Posen to see a doctor. But first she met her Polish cousin Marta, a believer, married but childless for far too long, to whom she told of her pregnancy. Martha took it as a gift from God and begged Adelheid to carry the child and leave it to her. “You bring it into the world, I’ll raise it,” is the contract that they signed with a handshake.
Just before Christmas Eve 1951, Adelheid gave birth to a boy. But the midwife leaned towards her and ordered: “Keep pushing, there’s another one coming!” A straggler, very weak, who was given the name Maciej: “God’s gift”. Adelheid kept the older son, Marta got the second son. Both agreed not to disclose the twin birth.
Marta and her husband were very caring parents, their child should have it better than everyone else, but piety came before all tenderness. And so Maciej grew up in Poznan, believing he was the only son of his very old and very strict parents. Adelheid, on the other hand, moved with her four sons to the city of her dreams, West Berlin, thanks to the help of her married prince, who wanted her to be happy but somewhere else.
The promise that Maciej should not find out who his real mother was until Marta’s death was still valid. But he sensed that something was amiss. Maybe that’s why he was a bit rebellious, and so he was placed at school next to the brave Hanka, who was later to become his wife. Because even if he himself sometimes kept an eye out for other girls, he didn’t want to see her holding the hand of another boy. The two married when they turned 23. Their son was born nine months after the wedding day.
The small family lived with the in-laws for seven long years. Hanka had finished her chemistry studies and became a laboratory manager. Maciej dropped out of college and traveled around as a buyer. He always knew someone who knew someone who could get what someone else needed. And so he traded a dozen jars of nougat cream for a drill, and that for a bicycle, and that for a favour.
A daughter was born, they were fine, but rumors reached his ears. “Aren’t you the adopted child?” “There was a little scandal back then, the birth of twins!”
He never found out more until Aunt Adelheid invited him to West Berlin in 1979. “Aunt,” he asked her directly, “what was funny about my birth?” Then the beautiful Adelheid turned to the window, pondered and then turned to him with the words: “I gave birth to you, but yours Mother lives in Poznań.”
Maciej was amazed but not shocked, and resourceful as he was, he immediately came up with the idea of how he could offer his children a happier life. He traveled back to Posen, but when he arrived, he didn’t say a word to Marta, his adoptive mother, about what he had learned, he just whispered it in Hanka’s ear. Six years passed, they kept the secret to themselves, until Marta died. But he was still legally her son, because the actual birth certificate seemed untraceable. But since he could always offer something in exchange, he finally got proof of his descent from a German mother.
Hanka didn’t want to go abroad, she wanted to stay, especially since she was pregnant with her second daughter. But he was drawn away. “For the sake of the children!” he asked again and again. At the end of the 1980s it was getting grayer and dreary in Poland, and so she finally agreed that he should drive ahead with her son. “It’s not going to your aunt,” he revealed to him on the drive, “it’s going to your grandma!” Two weeks later, Hanka and the daughters followed. And Matthias, as he was now called, was right, everything turned out fine. For the kids. It was difficult for him and Hanka. They quickly learned the language, but finding work was not easy. Hanka’s certificates were not recognized and he was no longer needed as a buyer and barterer. So he worked as a warehouseman, as an office clerk, as a temporary worker, and if he hadn’t had his many books, which he loved more than anything, he would certainly have despaired from time to time.
But then the grandchildren came, to whom he could tell the old stories, and he and Hanka found a property by the lake on the way to Poznań. In the summer he liked to sit there on his bench near the edge of the forest and read and smoked, smoked too much. And it was a little like Hans im Glück in the fairy tale, he was happy about everything, just as it had happened. Because love lasted, no matter how much Hanka suffered from homesickness. “How lucky I am to have such a pretty woman by my side.” And the children, and the grandchildren. And after death also the mother, the biological one, because he was buried in Adelheid’s grave.