by Rita S.
Irene K. was born in 1929 in a small German town. At the time of the interview she is
91 years old. She has been a widow since 1994 and lives alone in a house with garden
in a small town in Germany. She has one daughter, three grandchildren and one greatgrandchild.
Childhood and adolescence
Irene tells us that her mother was often ill and she had to look after her mother:
"My mother was like my child that I always took care of."
She describes the mother as a musical person who also wrote poems.
She was very attached to her brother who was two years older:
"my brother was my best friend".
The father was very strict, the children had to do what we were told!
Irene always liked going to school. She had to work a lot at home during the holidays.
So, she was usually happy when the holidays were over, and she could go back to
She was 10 years old when the Second World War broke out. She remembers terrible
experiences during the war, a major attack and the destruction of the city. She tells of
many dead people lying everywhere or buried under the rubble.
She had a good friend with whom she overcame everything together:
"she was my closest confidante".
At the age of 14 she was allowed to attend a teacher training college:
"my dream was to become a primary school teacher".
In the training school she lived together with many other students in the boarding
school, which she liked very much.
"What made me happy was to be in a large community, we were 64 girls between 14
and 19 years old, who were accommodated in large dormitories. I loved going to
school, I loved it, all the young people around me. Of course, there was bad news that
a father or brother had fallen and that was not nice - - one tried to comfort the other
girls. “In general, I always liked being part of the big family, and that was the best time
of my youth".
After the war Irene had to leave the teacher training college, as her father could not
pay for the school fees. The family had not heard from her brother for a long time, he
was still a prisoner of war. Her father rebuilt his large workshop after the war, she had
to help a lot and work physically. After the workshop and the shop for installations had
been rebuilt, she worked in her father's office without payment. Here she taught
herself to write on a typewriter and took a course in shorthand.
At 18, Irene met her husband and was married to him four years later. In this period of
4 years, she found a job in the big city of Frankfurt and lived with an aunt.
After she got marriage and had her daughter, she worked in different areas as an
administrative employee, e.g. in the administration of a hospital or together with her
husband she took over a gas station.
When they gave up the gas station and moved into their house, where Irene K. still
lives today, she took up an administrative job in a school for the deaf. She says that
she always enjoyed working, also at this school:
"Yes, I like to go to work every day, I was always half an hour early, because in the
school for the deaf I had to organize the children picked up by the bus".
The last years of her professional life were not easy because her husband suffered a
stroke at the age of 58. He could still walk with a cane from time to time, but he was
still quite handicapped. In total, her husband was ill for 13 years and she cared for him
during this time at home.
In the last years of her professional life Irene had to cope with caring for her husband
and her job. This was very stressful so therefore she stopped working at the age of 61.
"It was 5 years that I was at home, we often had to go to the doctor, to the hospital, it
was a bad time"
Between the ages of 54 and 60 her three grandchildren were born, which helped her a
"… my daughter's children made me happy then. My husband was still alive. And when
I was at home - my husband also loved the children - I always had the children there
She liked the intensive contact with the grandchildren very much,
"because I always wanted lots of children. My grandchildren today are like my children.
I talk to them about everything. They're all happy to come today. In that respect, I have
a happy life today".
Irene looked after her husband at home until he died:
"I wanted him to die in the house because he loved it so much."
After the death of her husband she went back to the gymnastics club, to the senior
citizens' meeting and learned pottery.
At this stage of her life, she can no longer sleep as long as she used to.
" … when I am awake, I have gotten used to thinking of beautiful things that I have
experienced, whether in childhood, whether in youth, whether with my grandchildren or
my daughter, with my husband, we also had a good marriage. Then I think about such
things, first of all the night goes fast and inside it makes me happy".
Irene says that she has a fixed daily routine: Normally she gets up at 7 a.m., and after
getting ready for the day in the bathroom she has breakfast at 8 a.m. Afterwards she
reads the newspaper until 10 a.m. and then she puts the house in order. Lunch is
punctually at noon, she still cooks by herself, always for two days. Between 1 p.m. and
2 p.m. she allows herself a break on the sofa, watching TV. Afterwards she goes
shopping, goes to the cemetery or works in the garden. At 3 p.m. she drinks two cups
of coffee, at 7 p.m. she has dinner.
"In between I learn what I don't need. I am passionate about puzzles, already in the
newspaper they always do the puzzle at the end, then I read English on the daily
calendar, practice shorthand or read a book. I do gymnastics on Mondays, once a
month on Wednesdays I go to the seniors' home, until last year I still met with former
work colleagues and I have to say: I am never bored".
"I can only recommend to every old person to organize their life also in old age".
Irene is not afraid of the future.
"I was able to do much more in the past. If I could not do more, I would not be afraid of
a retirement home".
She does not want to move in with her daughter as she does not want to be a burden
on the family. But if she had to move to a retirement home, it should be near her
daughter and grandchildren. She has no more material wishes, but
" the only wish I have is to stay physically fit, that I can keep walking and that is what I
wish for. And I am not attached to material things either, inner values are more
important for me, for example when somebody hugs me, or a kind word or a
handshake, where I know it comes from the heart and is honest. I am grateful for that
and I prefer it to a big bouquet of flowers".
In Irene's narrative about her life there are themes that recur: responsibility, the
importance of the family, the value of social contacts, and the joy of learning and
Even as a young child Irene had to take responsibility for her mother, who was often ill.
In her statement "my mother was like my child" it becomes clear that she is describing
a reversal of roles here. Even in old age she took on responsibility again by caring for
her sick husband for many years. It seems that she took this responsibility naturally in
the different phases of her life, because good family ties were and still are very
important to her. With her mother, she emphasizes not only the illnesses, but also the
musical sides of her mother, the brother was her best friend, also in later life". In the
phase of growing older, the relationships with the grandchildren become especially
important: "my daughter's children made me happy then". To this day it seems to have
a significant influence on her well-being: "My grandchildren are like my children today.
I talk to them about everything, in this respect I have a happy life today".
In addition to family ties, good social contacts with individuals or in groups are
important to her, the good friend who becomes "the closest confidante" in difficult
times, or life in a large community of peers "that was the best time of my youth". Even
after her retirement, she continued to meet with former work colleagues until her old
Another aspect that runs like a common thread through her life phases is the joy of
learning and working. She says that she always enjoyed going to school and that her
dream job was teaching. She was not able to realize this dream, which she does not
tell resignedly, but reports how she learned to write shorthand and typewriting on her
own initiative, which enabled her to work in various administrative areas. Even today
she still reads English texts, novels, works with puzzles or the new developments in
Irene conveys in her narrative that she has developed a positive basic attitude despite
difficult circumstances and experiences in life. Even at the age of 91 she is still active
and tries to keep herself mentally and physically healthy. The clear structuring of her
daily routine, the good relations with her family and the cultivation of social contacts
probably contribute to the fact that she says about herself today: "I am an old happy