Winter 1948/49. The city of Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains, like many other cities in Europe, is slowly rebuilding itself. Many windows are still barricaded. In one of these windows is a poster of the 1949 World Peace Conference in Paris with the lithograph by Pablo Picasso “La Colombe”, the dove of peace. “It was March 1949 – I’m …

Winter 1948/49. The city of Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains, like many other cities in Europe, is slowly rebuilding itself. Many windows are still barricaded. In one of these windows is a poster of the 1949 World Peace Conference in Paris with the lithograph by Pablo Picasso “La Colombe”, the dove of peace. “It was March 1949 – I continued, and then suddenly I got the text and the melody. But at first I only had one verse, it was the second. ‘You should fly, dove of peace, tell everyone here, never Again, we want war, we want peace. It was only later that I wrote the other stanzas. “Erika Schirmer recounts the creation of the one of the most famous children’s songs in the GDR The second was soon followed by other stanzas – the first: “Little white dove of peace, fly over the country, you are well known to all, young and old”. The third and fourth: “Fly over the great water, over mountains and valleys; bring peace to all men, greet them a thousand times. And we wish you joy and good luck for the journey; little white dove of peace , come back very soon. “

The song spread quickly – and almost without the help of the young kindergarten teacher: “It was my first kindergarten in Nordhausen. The answer came from my eight students who did an internship with me. There was no note yet, nothing at all. You sing it and take it away – and then the first calls came in: we all sing this song. That’s how it happened. I got nothing there. do. “

She has remained modest to this day, because shortly before her 95th birthday she invites you to a conversation in Ilfeld in the Harz region, “although it has all been written so often.” The contact was arranged by bookseller Kathrin Jakob from Oelsnitz in Vogtland, who for many years decorated her bookstore with Erika Schirmer’s song on the occasion of World Peace Day.

Born July 31, 1926 in Nettkow, Poland, now Czerwiensk, Erika Erna Mertke experienced war and later flight from Silesia as a young adult. Her parents raised her strictly, “but there was a lot of music in the family.” Her father was a blacksmith and built a guitar and a mandolin himself, her mother was an avid singer. Then the escape … “was a terrible experience. I was kicked out of my home with my mother in the night and the fog. After a week we arrived in Thuringia, were disembarked in Eichsfeld. Nobody wanted us. I did not have a job. Open We did not receive our ration cards; ‘Nothing is sold to the Poles’, they said. But we were not Poles. C’ was really bad. ”She wrote applications and got a job as a kindergarten teacher in Rügen. “An orphanage was opened there, run by a former concentration camp inmate. I worked for him for a year. He was a great educator. She looked after 48 orphans aged 3 to 16. “The kids had nothing, I had nothing. I’m still in contact with a lot of kids today. But some committed suicide – they couldn’t cope with life outside. , the church took over the house – and I returned to Thuringia in 1951 I got married, we had a daughter in 1952. That’s how it started. “

His song about the dove of peace was already famous. Erika Schirmer graduated as a teacher and then worked as a teacher for children and young people with disabilities. The GDR border regime found her unfair, but otherwise she had no problem with the country. And she always wrote poems and songs, limericks, short stories, and from 1998 when her husband passed away, she also made filigree paper cutouts and flower images. Till today. His models: Hundertwasser, Heinrich Heine; She has already read “Josef und seine Brüder” by Thomas Mann three times.

Erika Schirmer lives at the Sonnenhof in Ilfeld, a modern nursing home for the elderly. Your one-room apartment is reminiscent of your old apartment with a large library and lots of photos. Your favorite place is at the desk in front of the window, where your computer is. Her images, often accompanied by her own texts, have already been the subject of around 200 exhibitions, in Germany, but also in Poland, where she has been campaigning for reconciliation between the two peoples for decades. She has been invited to countless lecture series. And the mid-90s still advertise with a warm, modestly eloquent smile for peace, respect, and compassion – all the while being highly decorated. Schirmer is an honorary citizen of the city of Nordhausen and his hometown of Czerwiensk. On October 6, 2016, she received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for her long-term commitment to peace, humanity, values ​​education and democracy. She initially wanted to refuse it when it was announced to her. But, “the answer came straight from Erfurt – it doesn’t work. Soon after, I was invited to a high school in Weimar. And at first the high school students looked at me like ‘What the old woman want? ‘ The first questions came with hesitation, then I should say something about my award and I said, “I don’t deserve this award. My mother would have deserved it. “And I told them about March 1945. We were in an attic. The next day there was a knock on the door, there were two deserted soldiers. Mom hid them for two weeks and we shared our bun with them. Across the street they had been dismissed as traitors. The students were as silent as a mouse and not a single one left prematurely, as they sometimes did in the past . “

Erika Schirmer can touch and inspire people with her words. Her courage to face life, her optimism, also the way in which she accepts old age as a stage in life that still has something to offer – it’s exciting and touching. She cannot say where this positive attitude towards life comes from: “It is in a person. This cannot be explained.

His song about the little white dove of peace is sung in several languages. “The best translation is from Finland,” says Erika Schirmer. “Rauhankyyhky” is the name of the song there, and the famous first line, “Pieni kaunis rauhankyyhky” means, literally translated, “Little beautiful dove of peace”: the melody fits perfectly here too. There was “a lot of good reaction” to the song, “and I got to know a lot of great people.” The song didn’t stop the growing militarization of the education system in the GDR and the world didn’t become much more peaceful either, but Erika Schirmer didn’t expect it either. People have to make peace themselves: “You don’t have to write a song, but if everyone fought for peace a bit, then that would be a lot better. You don’t have to do heroic deeds. is sometimes more valuable and better. For others to be there – it’s very important. “And his wish for the world, not just for his birthday:” May it be more peaceful, more human, that it is no longer just a question of prosperity.

You can watch a video with a short portrait of Erika Schirmer by scanning the QR code opposite or at www.freipresse.de/schirmer

A video with the song in a version by singer Dirk Michaelis can be seen here: