San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Couple Tells WWII Story, ‘English Girl, German Boy’

Thirteen-year Costa Rican residents Tessa and Martin Börner will be selling copies of their autobiographical book,“English Girl, German Boy: World War II from Both Sides,” Oct. 31 at the Newcomers Annual Show and Sell Bazaar on San José’s west side.

“Most books about World War II are from one side, but this shows both,” said Tessa, whose husband and co-author Martin survived the firebombing of Dresden in 1945.

“Today, we see countless wars all over the world, mind-numbing slaughters played out on nightly television for the whole world to see, and we seem to have learned nothing from the past,” the couple wrote in the book’s forward.

Tessa said the book tries to clear up misconceptions about World War II life in England and in Germany, where she and her husband grew up, respectively. For example, many assume every German was a Nazi, Tessa said. She said Martin’s family never became members of the Nazi party, nor the Communist party of what became East Germany.Many Germans, not to mention foreigners, know little about these eras in German history, and don’t care to talk about it, she said.

The 273-page, self-published book is a multi-font scrapbook of family pictures, letters, personal history and images of the destroyed city of Dresden. Regarding the Allied bombing of Dresden Feb. 13 and 14, 1945, “it can only be estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 people died in 15 hours, making it the largest manmade loss of civilian life in a day,” the Börners wrote (p. 171).

Martin, then 15, was working at a downtown hotel and escaped death in a bomb shelter.

Tessa’s father, a member of Britain’s Merchant Navy, was killed when a German U-boat torpedoed his ship in 1941. After the war, her mother married a Canadian military officer and the family moved to Montreal. Tessa became a reporter and editor at the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph at age 16.

While Martin’s family stayed in East Germany, he worked at a hotel in Switzerland and eventually moved to Canada.He met Tessa in Montreal about 53 years ago – she moved back to Europe for a few years, got engaged to an Italian graphic artist, returned to Canada for a visit, met Martin again and married him three months later, breaking off with her other suitor.

“I was determined to bring up our children to be proud of their German heritage, and insisted they learn German, work in Germany and learn about both sides of World War II,” Tessa wrote (p. 113-114).

“To show how hate and wars can be overcome, we decided to write this book for our children, grandchildren and future descendants,” Martin wrote (p. 228).

The final section of the book deals with the family’s, and Martin’s parents’, experiences with post-war East Germany. Martin returned with Tessa and three children in 1964, 16 years after his previous visit. In 1979 they returned again with their four children, whose personal observations are recorded in the book.

The last chapter discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall: “Americans like to claim President Reagan brought the Wall down, but it was not the politicians – it was a Lutheran minister in Leipzig who rallied the people every Monday night in a silent, candlelit protest” (p. 260).

The Börners now have four children and 11 grandchildren. Their oldest son died in 1975. Tessa and Martin own a bed-and breakfast in the coffee town of Grecia, west of San José. Their recent book, published last year in English and this year in German, is Tessa’s second – in 2001 she published “Potholes to Paradise,” the story of the Börners’ Costa Rican experience.

“English Girl, German Boy” is available on for $16.95 and at Librería Internacional stores. It will also be sold at the Newcomers Annual Show and Sell Bazaar Oct. 31, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at Casa España, near western San José’s La Sabana Park. For more information, call 293-6430.


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