The grand city of Berlin lies milky in the morning light. Amid the avenues and alleyways, the tram stops and department stores, a little girl by the name of Rosa Klein hurries through the freezing air to buy some rolls for breakfast. She turns onto the Wilhelmstrasse, a trail of vapour from her mouth lingering in the air beneath a canopy of tram cables, and, a little breathless, reaches the Konditorei and heaves at the heavy door. A little bell chimes, and a cloud of delicious, moist scent blossoms into the street, floating like a blessing towards the dogs scrounging in the gutters. Rosa enters the bakery, a Reichsmark note clenched in her fist like an autumn leaf, brimming with pride; she is not usually allowed out alone, after all she’s only nine, but there is not a crumb of bread in the entire apartment, and she was awake anyway, and Mama decided that it’s time for her to spread her wings, or at least start to unfurl them.
That is the first paragraph of The English German Girl, by Jake Wallis Simons, a book I picked randomly from the shelves of the library. I did indeed try to be very random in my selection. I picked a row, then arbitrarily turned left and went in the adjacent row. I faced the right side of the stacks, then quickly turned around and grabbed a book.
I found the bucket-list idea of picking up a random book and then doing something based on the first paragraph in someone else’s bucket list published online. The idea is novel (hahaha, get the pun?) and sounded fun. Luckily I didn’t pick a book with a first paragraph such as the one in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, one of my favorite books. It reads, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” What a great line! But what would one do based on that? Find a desert and run?
So, I read the first paragraph of The English German Girl and decided it would be easy enough to pick a cold morning and go get some rolls for breakfast from Scholar’s Bakehouse or even Krogers. That idea bit the dust rapidly when, first of all, our winter weather left and it became impossible to see my breath in the morning air anymore. Second, when I told my daughter what I was going to do, she protested that this plan lacked both imagination and fun.
She was right, so I re-thought and came up with a new plan. I was scheduled to visit my mother in West Virginia, so since the paragraph mentions the girl’s mother, I decided to take Mom to a bakery for breakfast when I was there. An exciting bakery, not Krogers! A little online research found a bakery/deli eight miles out of town up in Pennsylvania in a little town called Mt. Morris. The Rising Creek Bakery & Deli got great reviews online, and I attest that every one was absolutely correct. The food was great, and the setting along an idyllic creek is beautiful. Rising Creek’s big specialty is salt-rising bread, which isn’t rolls, but close enough. It was just a hair too cold to sit on the porch overlooking the creek, which was too bad, but on the other hand that fit the cold-weather setting of the book.
Things didn’t go exactly according to the book’s first paragraph. For one thing, Mom is 87 years old (and I’m not 9) and she has eaten her raisin bran religiously for breakfast for years. Slowly, and at about 9 am. So our day didn’t start with breakfast rolls. The bakery trip was a lunch event, but boy was it good! Mom had a salad covered in fresh fruit and I had an omelet (with salt-rising bread toast) that was amazing. Plus, to help with the “rolls” theme I bought a small creme puff and some cookies for dessert and also brought home one of their specialty apple pies—not exactly a German apfelkuchen, but close enough. A successfully completed bucket-list item. The book’s title was apropos, by the way, since my mom is half English and half German.
I interrupted progress on War and Peace and am about halfway through reading The English German Girl. No sense stopping at the first paragraph! It is about Nazi Berlin at the start of WWII told from the point-of-view of a Jewish family. It’s not the type of book I usually read, but it’s well written enough to be readable and despite the horrible topic quite interesting. I’m about halfway through and Rosa Klein is about to be sent to England to escape the very depressing madness. I’ve been eating my rolls (and everything else) with more appreciation of the good life I lead.