Martin Börner was working as a 14-year-old apprentice in a hotel kitchen when the alarms went off. It was nearly 10 a.m. when the first bombs dropped. Börner was instructed to hastily take shelter underground with everyone else. Hours later, when he popped his head back into the daytime, his city of Dresden was in flames.
Before the second wave of bombers flung more fire upon Saxony’s capital, Börner fled on foot to a nearby town to survive. “For three months we could smell that sweet smell of human bodies,” he said. “It was awful.”
Sixty-nine years after the Feb. 13, 1945, air attacks by the U.S. Army Air Force and British Royal Air Force squadrons, Börner tells the story of the nightmarish day from his home in Grecía. There his wife Tessa and he had owned the long-running Posada Mimosa bed and breakfast until its close last October.
In 2005, Börner and his wife wrote “English Girl, German Boy”, a book that recounts their experiences in World War II until they met and married in Canada. Mrs. Börner lived in the United Kingdom during the war and lost her soldier father during the Battle of the Atlantic.
Before writing down their contrasting accounts within the 273-page book, the Börners said they had noticed how a person’s perception about the war directly related to what country they were raised in.
Because Germany has always been reluctant to release much information since the war, the couple said they thought they should tell Martin’s story.
“There was no other point of view from the Germans,” Mrs. Börner said. “I said to Martin that we need to get out and write this story.”
When they first settled in Canada, Martin’s nationality caused him to be victim to recurring xenophobic attitudes. Years later in their children’s schools the history lessons about the war were often one-sided and scarred with obvious omissions.
The Börner’s raised their five children to be fluent in both English and German, always reminding them of their deep-running cultural roots.
“I was determined that our children would be proud of both cultures,” Mrs. Börner said.
In a strange twist of fate, which is not divulged in the book, one of their daughters would marry the son of a pilot who bombed Dresden.
Though it has never been legally stated as a war crime, the attacks targeted and killed many innocent civilians. One remaining question is how many? Börner said that 200,000 of his countrymen and refugees were killed amid the bombings, though the tolls vary drastically between sources and their place of origin.
Costa Rica harbored a great wave of German immigrants in the mid-19th century. Some stumbled upon the beautiful coast on their way to find gold in California, while others started business in San José and lucrative coastal towns.
There were 3,000 published copies of “English Girl, German Boy” when it first debuted, and the Börners said about 1,000 remain. The book is available on Amazon and by mail from their daughter who was the publisher.
The Börners can be contacted via email at email@example.com for more information. Mrs. Börner also authored the 2001 book about Costa Rica, “Potholes to Paradise.”
By Michael Krumholtz
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff