Life at the Bruderhof
Life at the Bruderhof
Dieter came to Shropshire as an orphan during World War II and was looked after by a religious community on Clee Hill. Find out what he thought of the Bruderhof and why he would never go back.
Dieter was only seven when he was orphaned and sent to a children's home in North Germany. He was born during World War II and had an unsettled early life. Just months after going to the orphanage, he and his two brothers were chosen by a pastor from the Bruderhof church to come to England.
They hadn't a clue what was going on and the boys' relations were not informed. The children were gathered together and, along with another two boys and five girls, they were shipped from Hamburg to Hull.
On arriving in England the children were met by a Ludlow bus and were transferred to a house high up near Clee Hill. Dieter recalls that moment with astonishment: "I knew they were queer folk when they opened the bus door. The men had got beards, funny clothes and the women had got headscarves, and long skirts. They just looked like gypsies to us and we wouldn't get out the bus. They had to entice us out with chocolate."
The children found the first few days very strange. They struggled with not knowing the language and became homesick. But they soon settled in to life on the farm and enjoyed the freedom of being away from the orphanage. They did what they wanted and had what Dieter remembers as "a good life."
A married couple was selected to become the boys' foster parents and they looked after them as if they were their own. They were from Yorkshire and were unable to have children. But three years after arriving in England the boys were given the opportunity to return to Germany. All three of them declined the offer, reasoning that they would just end up back in the children's home if they were to go back. So instead they continued as they were and were allowed to stay until they were 16 years old.
Dieter at the Bruderhof
The community was called The Society of Brothers or the Bruderhof. When people joined they were required to donate all their possessions, although the women were allowed to keep their wedding rings. But members were often thrown out and their belongings not returned. This happened to Dieter's foster parents in the early 1960s and they were left with nothing. They had to rebuild their lives from scratch.
Dieter was offered the chance to join the community when he was 16, but having not experienced the outside world, he decided against it.
He later came to consider life at the Bruderhof as strange: "I think it was a completely weird system. It was unnatural to me, looking back at it. I mean I didn't know any different at that time. As kids I remember seeing these fat ladies who had special foods and then all of a sudden this lady is thin and she's got a baby in her arms. It certainly didn't come from under a gooseberry bush but we were told nothing."
As a teenager, without the knowledge of how the world worked, Dieter found life at the Bruderhof both strange and restrictive: "They were completely paranoid about sex. They never even talked about it. There were occasions when you felt fruity but you couldn't do anything about it. Look but don't touch. The only things we learned were from the labourers from outside."
Now, almost 60 years on, Dieter is happy with his life in Shropshire and believes the county is the best in England: " I just love Shorpshire, I really do. When I go back to Germany, I still feel that this is my home." But he would never go back to the Bruderhof.
last updated: 30/07/07
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