Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Odyssey of an Otter

My grandfather's pet otter Ingo looking through the window
 in Guja, East Prussia before WW2
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
  Yesterday two dolphins dove under our anchored boat. The smaller of the two stayed in close proximity so I put on my mask and fins, slid into the water and swam toward it. What an adorable sight!. This bubbly little creature was doing somersaults on the sandy bottom in between playing with a gnarled branch, which it shook and tossed through the aqua colored water. When it saw me it stopped and swam closer, cocking it's head to look at me with that perpetual dolphin smile. Its demeanor, so playful and lively, reminded me of a character in my novel The Last Daughter of Prussia—an otter who splashes through my heroine's childhood memories with the same dolphin friskiness and zest for life as my newfound friend did yesterday.

Ingo in all his glory
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

  The otter's name in my novel is Ingo and as you can see from the photos in this post, he really did exist. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of listening to my mother and my grandparents talk about their lively pet otter. They told stories of how he shared their home in East Prussia, splashing in the bathtub, eating from their table and generally creating both havoc and happiness wherever he went. There was always laughter in their voices when they spoke of him.

Ingo in my mother's bathtub
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

Ingo at the breakfast table.
Otters need to drink lots of water.
Ingo, who was no exception, took the liberty of
 drinking out of anyone' cup when he was thirsty.
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

  In my mind, Ingo surfaces larger than life. Because of that I felt he belonged in my novel, so I wrote him in as a character—as the beloved pet otter of my heroine, Manya. The real Ingo was my grandfather, Walter von Sanden's prized pet and so intrigued was he by Ingo's personality that he wrote a delightful book called Ingo—The Story of my Otter in which he recounts his experiences with this playful, headstrong creature. The book was recently translated into Polish by Grazyana Czausz and re-published.
* Side note: several weeks ago the East Prussian Museum put together an exhibition in both Polish and German in Olsztyn (Allenstein) Poland about my grandfather's work. This touches me deeply because his work has returned home to the land he so deeply loved. Though East Prussia is now Poland the earth has not changed.

Ingo in bronze
 Just a little more about Ingo. My grandmother,  Edith von Sanden—artist and poet—loved him so much that she sculpted him in bronze. She used to tell me how naughty he was, how he'd sneak into the milk shed and drink the milk from the metal milk cans. She'd laugh remembering how his love for raw eggs would drive him to the chicken coop where  he'd whine beseechingly until a soft-hearted farmhand finally rolled him one.

Grossmutti and Ingo in Guja before the war
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

Ingo holding his precious egg bounty
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

Here's Ingo sneaking into the milk shed
for some milk. What a prankster he must have been,
so full of life, so frisky and smart.
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

  Even though I never knew him, Ingo has a special place in my heart. I'm fortunate to have a bronze sculpture of him which sits on my cottage porch, high on a hill overlooking the turquoise Sea of Abaco in the Bahamas. How far he has come! His presence reminds me that pieces of the past do survive, and though people and animals may be displaced by the cruel hand of war, the stories of the soul are never lost.

Ingo contemplating the sea from my porch in Abaco, Bahamas
(Photo (C) Christine Matthäi)

  Gazing at the sleek contours of Ingo's body I cannot help but think of his odyssey from East Prussia to this New World. He represents the journey my mother made across the ocean, the trek my grandparents undertook over the ice in that final, bitter winter of WW2 when everything except life was lost. In some ways Ingo is also a symbol of my heritage, of the strength, and endurance it took to survive. And sometimes, when the setting sun warms his smooth head and a sparkle touches his eyes, I sense his playful spirit. Then, in my imagination, I plunge into the deep lakes and moving rivers of his forgotten world.

'Til next time,

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles

(c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie

1 comment:

  1. Oh my ... this is such a wonderful post, and I am totally besotted by the impish Ingo now too! Thank you for sharing this, and I am so happy to know that some of The Bahamas' playful and frisky water sprites -- the dolphins -- are dancing with you. Such a beautiful memory and piece of writing!