Chronicling a friend's return to Germany

Imagine yourself playing a word association game with me.

I say, "Quark."

What's your response?

Someone with a strong science background might recognize "quark" as a quantum physics term.

If you've used a certain computer program, you'll reply, "express." Only a few respondents will say, "cheese."

Dairy farmers in Germany produce quark, a soft cheese, for homemakers and commercial bakers. A fresh cheese product with a short shelf life, quark would not travel well to America.

I first tasted quark a few days after my son's first birthday. At the time, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom basement apartment in a German farming village. A very special house guest, Ida Linder, came from America to celebrate Nathan's birthday with us.

Born and raised in Berlin in 1920, Ida Lindner married a college professor who was many years her senior. Although her family respected the academic achievements of Ida's new husband, they frowned on his political involvement with Chinese nationalists. When Ida insisted on accompanying him to China, they were dismayed.

At first, Ida found life in China to be an idyllic adventure, but as the years passed, her husband travelled extensively with Chiang Kai-shek, leaving Ida alone with the servants. His final journeys took him deep into the civil war raging in China between the Nationalists and the Communists. His letters to Ida indicated he would continue to follow Chiang Kai-shek. He indicated no desire to have Ida join him. Her marriage effectively ended, Ida packed for a return trip to Germany. She was interrupted by the arrival of both the Japanese army and the Chinese Communists. A German national, Ida was considered an ally by the Japanese conquerors, but Ida's husband had been proclaimed an enemy of the Communist state. Unwilling to turn Ida over to the new Communist local government, the Japanese devised a compromise; she was held under house arrest.

Captive in her home, cut off from her husband and her family, Ida's small savings disappeared. Her life became more and more precarious.

By the end of WWII, she was a penniless refugee, living in a Red Cross relocation camp. She'd survived freezing winters, meager food, bouts with tuberculosis and a perilous long march through the mountains. In the relocation camp, Ida considered her limited options. She chose to board a ship to America.

Twenty years later, in the late 1960s, Ida resided in a charming, old-fashioned, courtyard Hollywood apartment. She supported herself by tutoring students in German, selling hand-made intricate paper cut-outs, an ancient craft she'd learned in China, and re-stringing crystal chandeliers for a prominent Beverly Hills interior decorator. She also held fulltime job as a floral designer. My mother met Ida when they sat next to each other in a workroom making feather wreaths. Their close friendship outlasted the feather wreath business. When I came home to Glendale for the birth of my first child, I, too, became fast friends with Ida. A few months later, I departed with my new baby to join my husband in Germany.

Ida never dreamed of returning to Germany; she hadn't seen her homeland for more than 30 years. When she realized that she could stay with us for as long as she liked, she timed a trip to see her relatives in Berlin to coincide with Nathan's first birthday. After several weeks in Berlin, she arrived in our farming village.

"I have been away from Germany for so long," she said. "I am not used to the formal style of my cousins. They are unbearably stiff and stuffy. Now I can relax and really enjoy myself with your little family."

We celebrated Nathan's birthday with our landlords, Herr and Frau Edler. His first cake: Schwarzwalder Kirche Kuchen or Black Forest cherry cake. The solitary candle on the cake was a bright red mushroom with white spots symbolizing good luck. More than 30 years have passed since that day, but I saved the candle. I put it on Nathan's birthday cake every year, remembering how much it meant to us to share his first birthday with Ida.

We did very little sight-seeing during Ida's visit. She wanted to buy ingredients for her favorite dishes, items she couldn't find in America. Like good German housewives, we went to the village stores every day to shop. Ida sampled bakery goods, brands of coffee and cuts of veal. One day she seized upon a package of farmer's cheese, or quark as it is known in Germany. "Ah ha, I will teach you how to make speisequark pancakes. You can't find quark in America. What a treat," she said.

I have spotted farmer's cheese in our local stores twice in the past 30 years. Last week, while waiting in line at Schreiner's in Montrose, I glanced over at the cheese counter. Two big containers labelled Quark sat there. I couldn't believe my eyes. I snapped one up immediately.

Quark can be made with rennet, yogurt or buttermilk. Appel Farms in Ferndale, Wash., produce the yogurt variety. The manager of Schreiner's tells me that the first shipment from Appel sold out quickly, but they are re-ordering a new supply. If you like crepes or blintzes, you'll want to try my recipe for speisequark pancakes. The few recipes I use are almost always associated with someone I dearly loved. If we play the word association game with "quark," I will not say, "cheese." My reply is "Ida." Guten Appetit.

Write Lynn Duvall at boblynn@ix.netcom.com.

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