From former war enemies to friends: Ilse Teerling was one of the first to take part in the school exchange to Bristol shortly after the second World war in 1949. Today, her British host ‘sister’ was in Hannover for her return visit after nearly 70 years. Whoever wants to learn about world peace need only ask these two.
Hannover. They look a picture as they thumb through the photo album, two elegant elderly ladies remembering shared memories. There is coffee and cake being served in Kirchrode today. “That one, that’s from our trip to the seaside, and this one is the fat school friend who had a really good singing voice. That one is the neighbour’s dog”.
64 years have passed since the two ladies have seen each other, there is much to talk about. That they met at all at that time required pioneering work: “”Many people needed a lot of courage at the time,” Sylvia says.
The 83 year old has come to Hannover with a delegation from Bristol to celebrate 70 years of Bristol being twinned with Hannover. The value of that partnership can only be fully appreciated when one hears the story of Sylvia Supple and Ilse Teerling.
As an 18 year old Ilse participated in one of the first school exchanges with Bristol. “A British Officer lived in Moltkeplatz and he asked my parents if I would like to go to school in England for six months” Ilse who is now 86 explained and so Ilse jumped at the chance.
In those days, England was not a holiday destination for most Germans and a school exchange visit was no language course with social programme, rather, it was a leap into the unknown. It was a risk for all involved “We didn’t know what to expect and how life would be with a German living in our house” says Silvia. Her father had suffered from nightmares since the war but despite that he agreed to the exchange without hesitation when he heard that St. George’s grammar school were looking for host families for the students and so Ilse came to Bristol to live with Sylvia, Marion and Hazel.
“I stood there in my coat made from an old wool blanket and admired the well-dressed English girls” says Ilse, “And I was always hungry”. The Lord Mayor of Bristol received the German visitors at the Council House and served them tea and sandwiches “I polished off eight of them – it was like heaven on earth” she laughs. “Ilse quickly made friends – and we had a big sister for six months” says Sylvia Supple today. “The family gave me a hearty welcome and I was never known as just ‘The German’ in school ” adds Ilse Teerling.
Ilse remembers the Jewish classmate who refused to shake hands with her at the start of her stay but who gave her a big hug at the end of it. During the war, Sylvia’s father worked as a mechanic for the Royal Airforce, repairing the Lancaster bombers that dropped bombs on Germany. When Ilse was leaving, he cut off two buttons from his uniform and gave them to her “ Now it is peace” he said.
As they turn the pages of the album they talk of peace “ Before Ilse came to stay, we were afraid of the Germans” says Sylvia Supple. Bristol was destroyed by bombing just as Hannover was. “When Ilse left, we knew that German children were just the same as us”, adds Sylvia.
“The exchange changed my attitude towards strangers” says Ilse, “If the youth of all
nations could meet, there would be no more wars” she adds.
Sylvia visited Ilse in Hannover in 1953 and stayed for three weeks. She remembers that the rebuilding of the city went on all day and all night by floodlight. They continued to write to each other for some time but eventually lost contact. This visit to celebrate the 70th anniveray of Bristol-Hannover twinning is their first meeting for 64 years.
Sylvia has two sons, one of them is an actor who has performed in Hannover. Ilse has a niece who lives in London. Today’s youth don’t realise that many people laid the foundation stones for reconciliation and a united Europe.
I am sad about the Brexit vote says Sylvia and she points at a b/w photo of her and Ilse together side by side. Two girls from two different nations sharing a short period of their youth. “Our generation brought people together” says Sylvia.
This has been informally translated from the German by Lynne McAleavey (BHC executive member). The original article can be read here: Wie eine Britin aus Bristol 70 Jahre später ihre Gastschwester in Hannover besuchte – HAZ – Hannoversche Allgemeine (1)