AN ABBREVIATED HISTORY OF THE DRESDEN/BERLIN CLAN
By Kimberly Towle (e-mail:
The members of the Dresden/Berlin Clan themselves know virtually nothing about their own history before World War II. All they know is that their clan had made its home in Dresden, Germany up until February 1945. Until that time, Dresden had been relatively untouched by the war between Germany and the Allied Forces, but between February 13th and February 15th, 1945, the city was bombed in a massive strike by Allied forces that nearly leveled it to the ground. Thousands of people were killed, including nearly all living members of the Dresden clan and whatever human allies they had. It has been speculated that the Dresden Clan had helped to secretly rescue many of their area's Jews and Gypsies from persecution and deportation to labor camps. It has also been speculated that they were a secret branch of Hitler's SS, part of the "Nacht und Nebel" (Night and Fog) methods that the Nazis used to strike terror into the hearts of innocents. The truth will likely never be known, as all records were apparently destroyed in the bombing.
After the worst of the Dresden bombing was over, the thousands of homeless and destitute left in its wake scavenged through the ruins for whatever they could find intact or reasonably intact. Little Gregor Schoenburg and his mother Anna Schoenburg were the only two surviving members of their family, saved by the couch tumbling over on top of them to make a happenstance shield when a bomb ripped their home apart and killed Gregor's father, sister and two elder brothers. Still basically in shock, they were scavenging at night, searching for food by candlelight, when they heard the faint sounds of children crying deep in the ruins of a baroque mansion, one of the buildings destroyed in the first bombing raid. They explored to find, instead of human children, three young winged creatures wearing diaper-like clothing and huddled, weeping, at the base of what appeared to be the headless statue of a angel. They were surrounded by rubble, shards of stone and gravel on all sides, but the decapitated angel had evidently tipped over just in time to catch and brace a falling roof-beam and keep it from crushing them. Instead, rubble had fallen all around them, effectively burying them alive until the Schoenburgs dug them out.
Anna's normally pragmatic mind had been somewhat unhinged by the shock and grief of losing so much of her family at once, and she took the discovery for a miracle, and a sign that those strange creatures were under the protection of angels and had to be cherished at all costs. She ordered her son to help her carry them secretly back to the remains of their own home, where they were cleaned up and fed, cared for like any other orphans of the bombing. Once they had determined that they had two males and a female, she named the royal blue male Helmut, the dark gray male Heinrich and the forest-green female Helga, and treated them much like young human children, despite their wings and tails and alarming habit of turning to stone at dawn.
The strange children, looking to be the equivalent of six-year-old human children, spoke no words for the first few nights, but then took to speaking as rapidly as if they had done it before. But if they did, they had no memory of it; all their memories of whatever life they had led before the bombing had been wiped away by the disaster and the horrible trauma of being buried alive for two full nights. Their first clear memories were of crying in the dark, and then being uncovered by Anna and Gregor. Anna decided they were earthly angels, sent by Heaven to replace her lost children, and cherished them as lovingly as if they were of her own flesh and blood. Gregor was highly doubtful of his mother's opinion and privately wondered at first if the young creatures were actually misplaced demons, but as time went by he changed his mind and heart and eventually came to care for and cherish them as well. (They always kept the children hidden, though, knowing that others in their community wouldn't feel the same way; at the sight of such strange, almost demonic looking creatures, too many people would have grabbed burning torches and weapons first, and asked questions later.) When Anna died in her sleep in 1953, Gregor took over their care completely.
When the East German authorities, now under Soviet control, became too oppressive, Gregor and his family of gargoyles finally left Dresden and fled to West Berlin in 1957. They lived in relative peace in a building in the British Sector, the gargoyles hiding and playing in the attic (and jumping off the roof on moonless nights, to practice their gliding), while Gregor worked hard to keep a roof over their heads/under their feet, and enough food on the table for them all. Gregor also did what research he could in the public libraries, trying to find out more about his young charges. He found no mention of any creature resembling their kind in any zoological text, but ran across a story of gargoyles 'coming to life at night' in a book on mythology, next to a picture of a gargoyle who looked to be the spitting image of dark gray Heinrich. He borrowed the book and took it home to show his 'foster children' who their ancestors were and what they were called, but could tell them nothing more. But at least they now had that much, and so they lived more or less happily until August of 1961, and the building of the Berlin Wall.
The wall was built over the weekend of August 13-14, 1961, and by Monday many surprised West Berliners who had been visiting friends and relatives in East Berlin found themselves stranded on the Communist side of the Wall. One of those stranded was Friedrich Muller, the son of the family who lived next door to Gregor Schoenburg, who had been visiting his grandparents in East Berlin. When Gregor told his young gargoyle charges that the neighbors were in tears because their son could not return to them, Helmut proposed they go and rescue the boy. Though they had never actually met the boy, obeying Gregor's rules about staying away from others, they had seen him playing through the windows of his home at night (and happily took whatever toys he left outside, thinking he must not have wanted them anymore, to be so careless of them.) They found out the address of little Friedrich's grandparents by eavesdropping and spying for a few nights, and the next night, armed with only a map of the city and a steak knife stolen from the kitchen, they set out to find and bring back Friedrich.
Though they were only developed to the equivalent of thirteen-year-old kids, they managed to avoid the nighttime patrols, find the grandparents' home, steal Friedrich out of the bed he was sleeping in (leaving a note in his place saying they were taking him back to his parents, so the grandparents wouldn't worry), and fly him back over the Berlin Wall. (Friedrich was initially terrified of them, but Heinrich had brought along one of the old tin soldiers Friedrich had left outside last year to reassure the boy that they were friendly, and by the time they had reached his home Friedrich had sworn eternal friendship to his rescuers, and even forgiven them for stealing all his toys over the years.) When they returned home, they found Gregor to be as upset as Friedrich's parents had been at their going out without telling him where or why, but he forgave them when he saw Friedrich returned to his parents. Friedrich vowed to keep the secret of the gargoyles, and indeed did so until his death several years later. But Friedrich's grandparents still had possession of the note the gargoyles had left, and later secretly contacted him to ask if the unknown persons who had somehow gotten him out of East Berlin safely could still be contacted; they knew of a young couple with a baby who were desperate to escape. The new parents were willing to spend nearly all their life savings in order to get over the Wall; the gargoyles knew Gregor could use the money… Thus was the secret organization titled Rettende Engel der Nacht (Rescuing Angels of the Night) formed.
Over the next twenty-eight years, the Rettende Engel secretly transported people out of East Berlin. Friedrich and Gregor were their liaison in the West and Friedrich's grandparents the liaison in the East for the first three years, though they never saw the gargoyles themselves. Gregor insisted, for the sake of secrecy, that all escapees be drugged unconscious and left with the 'transport fee' in the attic of the grandparents' home overnight. The escapees always found themselves waking up on a park bench somewhere in West Berlin the next morning, with no memory of how they had gotten there. The grandparents agreed to the restrictions, knowing that the less they knew, the less that could be tortured out of them if the Soviets ever found out how these people were disappearing. In March 1965, their fears came true; the Soviets came to their home in the middle of the night, just as Heinrich was leaving with an escapee. Heinrich was shot in the arm and wingtip but escaped with his passenger unharmed; the grandparents left in the company of the Soviets and were never seen again.
They considered disbanding the Rettende Engel after losing their contact in East Berlin so tragically, but Friedrich insisted that his grandparents would not have wanted it that way, and voluntarily went back over the Wall with faked papers in order to establish another contact with people friendly to the West. He found Paul Lowhard, a widower who promised to set up a pickup point in the attic of the laundering business he owned, if Friedrich could find a way to transport his only daughter Sofia to the West. Sofia was taken over the Wall three nights later, but had secretly disposed of the knockout drug rather than take it, and so only pretended to be asleep when the gargoyles came for her. From snippets of conversation she overheard while Helmut and Helga were carrying her to safety, she deduced they lived in the home of a man named Gregor who was a friend to the man who had come to her father's home. In less than a week, the determined young woman tracked down Friedrich and Gregor, and when she found them demanded to see the creatures who had rescued her, so she could thank them personally. She was escorted up to the attic just after sunset, and in short order became a friend to the gargoyles… and eventually, Gregor's wife. In 1967, she gave birth to their son Karl, who grew up thinking it was perfectly natural to have nannies with wings at night.
The gargoyles usually went on missions singly or in pairs, having grown large enough by the mid 1960's to be able to carry even full-grown humans individually, instead of having to carry them on nets strung between them. Even with their incredible strength and senses far sharper than the average human, they were still at risk every time they went over the Wall, and were frequently shot at. Rather than simply fly high over the city with their passengers and risk being seen by the guard towers and surveillance posts everywhere, they learned to fly low and dodge between buildings at the first sign of patrols or watchers, and always crossed the Wall at different points lest a pattern in their activities be discerned by the Soviets. There were times when they were shot at and wounded despite their precautions (Heinrich and Helga were, that is; enemy fire always seemed to just barely miss Helmut), but if they could not make it safely over the border on the first night, they would hole up with their passenger in an attic somewhere for the day. They always carried a small medical kit with them, with hypodermics of the knockout drug as well as bandages and painkillers, and would drug the passenger again just before dawn, to prevent him/her from waking up during the day and giving them away. When night fell again and they awoke with injuries healed, they would try to cross the border again… In this manner, the gargoyles transported a total of 287 people between 1961 and 1989, losing none of them to Soviet recapture.
Having no source of information on their own kind, the gargoyles guessed they were becoming adults as they grew larger and began to resemble human adults, began to feel the stirrings of sexuality and fumblingly tried to act on them. But they had no idea of their breeding cycles, or any way of knowing when the Breeding Moon was coming. One September night in 1972, while Heinrich was away on a mission, Helga came into her first breeding season with the rise of the full moon, and Helmut instinctively responded to fly and breed with her. Helga had tried not to favor either of her brother/suitors before then, but by the time Heinrich had returned from his mission, Helga and Helmut were established mates. Disappointed and angry at being set aside so abruptly, Heinrich denounced them and left home for nearly a week, but came back after realizing he had no other family and nowhere else to go.
Helga grew large and heavy with pregnancy over the next few months, and her family refused to let her go on missions anymore. In March of 1973, Helga gave birth to, instead of a winged baby, a single giant egg. The gargoyles were terribly disappointed in not having a winged baby to care for and cuddle immediately, but had to assume that this was normal for their kind. Not knowing when it would hatch, they simply followed the instructions from a manual for raising chickens, rigging up a large incubator to keep it warm and turning it frequently. And they waited…
In 1974, lonely and frustrated after Helmut and Helga became mates, Heinrich finally attempted to establish a relationship with a human woman, a lovely escapee named Krystyana that he had rescued a short while before. …It did not go well, and he swore never to try it again.
Soon after giving birth to the egg, Helga resumed going on missions again with her rookery brothers. But in April of 1976, on a mission over the Wall, the gargoyles' luck finally ran out. Helga was shot down, not over Soviet territory but over Western territory, by an overexcited U.S. soldier. She dropped her passenger into a tree, where he awoke the next morning with broken bones but alive and free. Helga crashed into another treetop nearby, damaging her already wounded left wing even further, and lay there unconscious and bleeding until dawn. When she awoke the next night, most of her left wing crumbled into gravel, too badly damaged to be restored with the rest of her wounds. When Heinrich and Helmut found her, having been told of the news report about the escapee found in a tree, they took her back home and mourned together for the loss of her wing and her ability to glide. From then on, Helga stayed inside, minding little Karl and helping to take care of Gregor, who had been diagnosed with leukemia over the winter.
Gregor died of his leukemia in late 1976. Friedrich died in a car accident less than a year later, and without other father figures in his life, Karl began to see "Onkel Heinrich" and "Onkel Helmut" as his father figures instead. Sofia and her father in East Berlin continued to manage the Rettende Engel der Nacht between them, arranging for people to escape Soviet oppression courtesy of Heinrich and Helmut's wings.
In March of 1983, after the gargoyles had almost given up hope and were turning and minding the egg more out of force of habit than faith, it hatched and a little blue hatchling emerged into the moonlight. They named their only child Gregor, after the man who had raised them all and was still dearly missed, by them and by his wife and son.
In late 1985, Karl fell in love with a local girl named Andrea Hostetler, and after several months finally got permission to bring her home after dark, to meet the gargoyles. Andrea was initially terrified, but Karl and his mother continually reassured her of the gargoyles' good natures and told her all about their past exploits, and she eventually grew to accept them… At about the same time it became obvious she was already carrying Karl's baby. They were wed in an evening church service with the gargoyles watching from the choir loft, and in December 1986 Andrea gave birth to Dieter Schoenburg. Now three years old, walking and talking, little Gregor was fascinated by the human baby and kept begging to help Helga with the nightly feedings.
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union and began his policies of glasnost and perestroika, the ideological walls between East and West began to crumble… and finally, in November of 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Paul Lowhard came across the opening just carved in the Wall by determined civilians with chisels and sledgehammers, leaning on his cane and shaking with effort but proud and determined as ever. They had kept in touch by way of carefully worded letters and phone calls, and care packages left in the attic of the laundering business, but on the evening of November 9th, 1989, Paul tearfully embraced his daughter Sofia for the first time in twenty-three years, and saw his grandson Karl and great-grandson Dieter with his own eyes at last. And later that night, he also finally met the forever-unseen Rettende Engel face-to-face at last… The gargoyles and the Schoenburg-Lowhard family joyously celebrated the end of the Cold War, at the same time as they began to wonder what they were going to do for a living now that the Rettende Engel der Nacht were no longer needed.
Fortunately, a former 'passenger' of theirs now had a job well placed in the government, and remembered Sofia's father. The formidable and tumultuous task of reunifying Germany provided well-paying government jobs for both Karl and Andrea, so the lack of income from rescues wasn't missed. Paul Lowhard lived with his daughter and her family until he died in his sleep in 1991, and was mourned by humans and gargoyles alike.
The gargoyles decided that now that little Gregor was growing up, it was past time for them to find out exactly what they were, and if any more of their kind were still out there somewhere, so little Gregor would not be the last of his kind. But they had no idea where to even begin looking; frequent midnight raids on the public libraries yielded no more clues to where others might be than when the elder Gregor had begun searching thirty years ago.
After the seeming miracle of the egg hatching after ten years of waiting, and after her own wounding by 'friendly fire' and permanent grounding, Helga was overprotective of little Gregor to the point of paranoia. She absolutely refused to let him try his wings out in the city, insisting that they use a rebuilt bakery van to smuggle him out to the nearby forests on weekends for his gliding lessons. Helmut and Heinrich generally conceded to her wishes rather than endure her hysterical tears again, and Karl was happy for the excuse to take his family on weekend excursions. Sofia was now beginning to feel her age and the effects of arthritis, but she had been a young schoolteacher before escaping East Berlin, and she took up the task of teaching little Gregor reading, writing and arithmetic with the same fervor with which she had taught Karl and was still teaching Dieter. And so life went on, more or less contentedly… until October of 1996, when Andrea came running home from her job with wide eyes and a tabloid newspaper clenched in her hands. She showed the gargoyles the article on page 3, headlined "Menschenartige, fliegende geschopfe im New York entdeckt! Man-sized flying creatures discovered in New York!"
Could it be… after over fifty years of searching and hoping… more gargoyles, more of their kind?! For the first time in years, the household began to bustle with purpose besides just minding the youngsters and working their jobs. Andrea and Karl bought mounds of food and camping supplies for a long journey, while Helmut researched ship sailing schedules and destinations and Heinrich spent every moment he could learning English from tapes and books. Finally, three weeks after finding the article, the combined family drove the old bakery truck down to the docks at midnight. With hugs and kisses for everybody and promises to call or write as soon as he could, Heinrich grabbed his bags and glided out to a cargo ship that was getting underway, transporting hundreds of German automobiles to America. Next stop, New York…
For further tales of the Dresden/Berlin Clan, stay tuned for more of "Life Goes On"!