BEFORE THE STORM: Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia by Marion Donhoff

BEFORE THE STORM: Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia

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From her perspective in contemporary Hamburg, Donhoff, a countess and the publisher of Die Zeit, offers an elegiac tribute to the lost world of landed aristocracy in Friedrichstein, her family's castle and estate in still-feudal East Prussia, where she was born in 1909. Donhoff evokes her protected and idyllic childhood--persuing the seasonal pleasures of riding, dancing, hunting, ice-sailing--and life with her aging and remote parents: her father, a diplomat who had served in Washington, London, and Vienna; and her mother, a lady-in-waiting to the empress, whose visits along with other royalty and dignitaries Donhoff relates. From documents she found in an attic, she reconstructs the 300-year history of the estates, a project that eventually became her doctoral dissertation. The present book ends with two journeys on horseback: the first, with her sister-in-law in 1941, through the still-peaceful landscape, lovingly described; the other, in 1945, when Donhoff was escaping from the advancing Russian troops who destroyed her estate, most of the male population, and an entire culture, poignantly represented by an aging countess who chose to die in her castle, attended only by her butler, her grave already prepared in the garden. Donhoff's narrative contains many private names and allusions too obscure for American readers. And at least a third of it, according to the author, appeared in her previous Names no Longer Spoken of (not reviewed)--the title of which may explain the purpose of this memoir: to keep names alive, even if the people and places are gone, for which the 36 photographs are useful.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf