"I’m a typical post-war child," says Bettina Bouresh. Born in 1950, she grew up burdened with German guilt and the traumas of her mother's family, who had lived in Allenstein until 1945. She herself felt homeless for a long time. Until one day she found her place: in Masuria. Here she found a home – and in Steinort Palace her life’s work. Today she is vice-chairwoman of the Lehndorff Society.
Her love of ramshackle castles began in childhood.1  Before Bettina was born, her mother Christine Klesse, an actress by profession, moved into Ritterburg Wetzhausen, an old knight’s castle in Bavaria. After the war, the Franconian State Theater was temporarily housed there – it was a good place for the unmarried mother and also for the little girl.
Nature and wilderness was all around – Bettina's first word was "tree". When she was alone and the adults were rehearsing a new play in the Knights' Hall, she would spend hours looking out through the Gothic windows or crawling along the vast corridors. Having this much freedom during the authoritarian 1950s was rare.
Because the old castle was falling into disrepair, Christine Klesse accepted her older sister Lieselotte's offer to join her in the Ruhr region. Gelsenkirchen-Buer in the heart of the coal-mining area known as the "Kohlenpott” was very strange – the houses dark with black dust. These were the years of the “economic miracle”, her mother Christine worked as a teacher, and the wild Bettina became a successful student. Now and then she was teased because of her High German, but she was spared the usual discrimination of the time; she was only a "refugee" at home.
She often heard adults talk about Masuria, the small town
deu. Allenstein, lat. Holstin, lat. Allenstenium

The city of Olsztyn (population 2022: 168,212) was founded in 1353 as Allensteyn on the Łyna river. Olsztyn is the largest city in Warmia and the capital of the Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship. The city is member of the European Route of Brick Gothic, especially because of its Old Town market sqare and the Castle of Warmian Cathedral Chapter.

The picture shows a city view of Olsztyn /Allenstein on a postcard from before 1945.

, where "the sky was always blue, the fields red and yellow". A bright, ideal world that was conjured up in countless stories. "Königsberger Klopse" would be served at the table, at Christmas there was steamed “blue carp” and "thick gingerbread", and the Christmas tree was decorated according to the old tradition with beeswax candles.
In particular, Aunt Lieselotte, who Bettina called "Mammi" and who was like a second mother to her, had a lot to tell about Allenstein. She showed the girl the old photo albums – pictures of Bettina's grandfather, Arnold Klesse, who was the city's music director. The large family came to life in pictures and stories. Wealthy, respected people, "who had their place in the world" and then "lost it through the war". But how and why was never talked about.
Nobody was allowed to travel to this old homeland. Allenstein, which was now called Olsztyn, was a forbidden zone. Only in the early 1970s did it gradually open up, with some relatives setting out immediately. Bettina's mother didn't want to return, and she herself, already a student at the time, had long since turned her back on her East Prussian origins – everything bourgeois and the old West German provinces.
To her mother's despair, she had moved to red West Berlin in 1968 – a hard, painful breakaway. Just eighteen, Bettina met her father there, a well-known journalist. It was a lucky break for her, and a great time. She was attracted by the student movement and let herself go. At the "Free University," following her inclinations, she chose art history, German studies and classical archaeology. Her greatest experience was taking part in an archaeological dig in Spain, where she felt completely at ease in herself.
But the spirit of the times was stronger; classical studies was considered a "subject for young ladies," and of no use. Sociology and pedagogy, on the other hand, could change the world. 
She was enthusiastic about the new Ostpolitik, and Willy Brandt's genuflection in
deu. Warschau, eng. Warsaw

Warsaw is the capital of Poland and also the largest city in the country (population in 2022: 1,861,975). It is located in the Mazovian Voivodeship on Poland's longest river, the Vistula. Warsaw first became the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian noble republic at the end of the 16th century, replacing Krakow, which had previously been the Polish capital. During the partitions of Poland-Lithuania, Warsaw was occupied several times and finally became part of the Prussian province of South Prussia for eleven years. From 1807 to 1815 the city was the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw, a short-lived Napoleonic satellite state; in the annexation of the Kingdom of Poland under Russian suzerainty (the so-called Congress Poland). It was not until the establishment of the Second Polish Republic after the end of World War I that Warsaw was again the capital of an independent Polish state.

At the beginning of World War II, Warsaw was conquered and occupied by the Wehrmacht only after intense fighting and a siege lasting several weeks. Even then, a five-digit number of inhabitants were killed and parts of the city, known not least for its numerous baroque palaces and parks, were already severely damaged. In the course of the subsequent oppression, persecution and murder of the Polish and Jewish population, by far the largest Jewish ghetto under German occupation was established in the form of the Warsaw Ghetto, which served as a collection camp for several hundred thousand people from the city, the surrounding area and even occupied foreign countries, and was also the starting point for deportation to labor and extermination camps.

As a result of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from April 18, 1943 and its suppression in early May 1943, the ghetto area was systematically destroyed and its last inhabitants deported and murdered. This was followed in the summer of 1944 by the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation, which lasted two months and resulted in the deaths of almost two hundred thousand Poles, and after its suppression the rest of Warsaw was also systematically destroyed by German units.

In the post-war period, many historic buildings and downtown areas, including the Warsaw Royal Castle and the Old Town, were rebuilt - a process that continues to this day.

felt like a salvation. Acknowledging that Masuria irrevocably belonged to
deu. Polen, pol. Polska

Poland is a state in Central Eastern Europe and is home to approximately 38 million people. The country is the sixth largest member state of the European Union. The capital and biggest city of Poland is Warsaw. Poland is made up of 16 voivodships. The largest river in the country is the Vistula (Polish: Wisła).

! Perhaps the expellees and their associations did not even have the right to mourn? Considering all that the Germans had done to the peoples of Europe, and the murder of six million Jews.
The Nazi era became, and remained throughout her life, the number one topic for Bettina. A heavy burden and task: What can our generation contribute to reconciliation? This question consumed and drove her as a student, and, like many at the time, she did not feel at home in Germany. "If I don't have a home," she thought, "I have to create one for myself."
Traveling helped. Taking part in excavations in Spain satisfied her longing for a time. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, she went to Tehran as a journalist. And after a year and a half, she had to face the fact that she "could not live here as a single woman”. Her marriage to an Iranian man was also short-lived. What remained was the name Bouresh – and a daughter. It was probably when Maja was born in 1984 that Bettina finally began to put down roots.
1984, the year before Gorbachev came to power and his Perestroika raised hopes throughout Europe. In 1988, Bettina met Bożena Gryczka from
deu. Osterode i. Ostpr., deu. Osterode in Ostpeußen

The town of Ostróda was founded in the 14th century as a settlement near a Teutonic Order castle. In 2020, almost 33,000 people lived here.

The picture shows a postcard with a city view of Ostróda /Osterode before 1945.

at her daughter's kindergarten. The friendship between the two mothers would turn into a German-Polish adventure. Bożena, who had originally come to Germany on vacation, chose to stay when the military declared martial law in Poland in 1981 and settled in Cologne, where Bettina was now living too. The German learned everything about Poland from her new friend, who had been a Polish scholar in Krakow.
There was a thrilling sense of revolution in the air and Bettina found her thoughts returning to her mother’s homeland of Masuria. She got in touch again and urged her – after the fall of the Wall – to make a joint trip to Olsztyn. In the summer of 1991, the time had finally come: mother, daughter and little Maja, three generations together, set off.
Bettina was overwhelmed by the meadows and the clouds in the skies. She was happy to just sit there and daydream! But her mother Christine had a long list of places she wanted to see – her parents' house, the school, the Treudank Theater, the cemetery... She found a lot had changed, she often got lost, and there was no end of conversation.
Until then Bettina had only known fragments, but now the whole tragedy came to light. When the Red Army conquered Allenstein, her grandparents had stayed behind and starved to death. Of their eight children, one son was missing, three sons died as children in World War I, one daughter was deported in the spring of 1945 and died on the way to
rus. Sibir, rus. Сиби́рь, deu. Sibirien

Siberia covers an area of 12.8 million square kilometers between the Urals, the Pacific Ocean, the North Polar Sea, China and Mongolia.The Russian conquest of Siberia began in 1581/82. At the time of the Enlightenment mainly a source of raw materials and space for trade with Asia, Siberia gained importance from the 19th century as a place for penal colonies and exiles. With the development of the Trans-Siberian Railway and steam navigation at the end of the 19th century, industrialization and thus new settlers came to Siberia. Further industrialization under Stalin was implemented primarily with the labor of Gulag prisoners and prisoners of war.

The map shows North Asia, centrally located Siberia. CIA World Factbook, edited by Veliath (2006) and Ulamm (2008). CC0 1.0.

. So many dead! "And they are all part of my history," Bettina Bouresh realized at the age of 41.
The conversations with Poles and Germans who had stayed behind were somehow comforting, similar stories of being uprooted and having to start a new life. Trips to the countryside were a joy – even for the child. On one tour, they ended up in Sztynort, at Lehndorff Palace.
Was it the charm of the old crumbling buildings? Or the ancient oaks? "Something happened to me." The castle was locked, but by chance a German man was there, an interested private investor who let the guests in. They wandered through the empty stately rooms and climbed the staircases. Here and there were traces of the socialist agricultural operation, remains of frescoes, old tiled stoves. "A magical place."
A magical place
She dreamt about it at night. For ten days, until her departure, she discussed with her mother how to save the castle. The 72-year-old expellee from Allenstein tried to see the situation through Polish eyes. And Bettina suddenly felt solid ground under her feet. "I am at home. Here in Masuria." And there was even a project to get on with!
Project? More like a castle in the air! The real castle was about to be auctioned off to investors; it was to become part of a modern water sports center complete with luxury suites, a posh restaurant, etc. Bettina, on the other hand, dreamed of a place of culture and meaningful encounters that would honor the memory of the last lord of the castle, Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff, a resistance fighter who’d been involved in the events of July 20, 1944. She knew very little about this at the time. The only thing that was clear was that Bozena would be involved. Through her contacts to the regional heritage preservation authorities, she was able to procure the documents of the auction.
The two friends wrote a letter to the mayor of the municipality of
deu. Angerburg

Węgorzewo is a city in northeastern Poland in Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship. It is inhabit by about 11,000 people and is located not far from the border of Poland with Russia.

, asking him to accept a symbolic payment for the palace in return for their pledge to ensure its future use as a cultural center. "We would run around the whole world to save it," they promised. They enclosed a mark, fixed with adhesive tape on the letterhead.
For a year they heard nothing, then came a surprise invitation from the mayor. "He was utterly perplexed that suddenly two women in plaid shirts were standing in front of him." In his opinion, a large landowner, as in Lehndorff's time, would be the best solution. The vision of the two women from Cologne was of little interest to him; it would not bring in any money.
It was the gold rush years – investors and speculators came and went; the race was finally won by the company TIGA Yacht. It was primarily interested in the Mauersee lakeside area and the development of the sailing harbor. It had no serious interest in the Lehndorff mansion.
In 1992 Bettina and Bozena, together with other enthusiasts, founded the "Förderkreis Steinort" (Steinort support group), with Gottliebe von Lehndorf as honorary president. Over time, the initiatives brought regional and state institutions on board. Networking, scientific research, fundraising – Bettina Bouresh was right in the middle of it all, whether it was about inspiring the descendants of the Lehndorffs, negotiating with heads of business, or involving the village of
deu. Steinort, deu. Groß Steinort

The village of Sztynort is located in the north of the Masurian Lake District on the Jez Peninsula between Jezioro Mamry, Jezioro Dargin and Jezioro Dobskie. Until 1928 the village was called Groß Steinort, then Steinort.

Over time, however, the momentum dried up. During one of her last visits to Masuria with her mother, in 2004, it looked as if the castle was irretrievably lost. But efforts continued and, in 2009, the German-Polish Foundation for the Preservation of Culture and Monuments, together with its Polish sister foundation, TIGA Yacht-Gesellschaft, was able to buy the castle for the symbolic sum of 1 złoty. In the same year, the Lehndorff-Gesellschaft Steinort e.V. was founded in Berlin as a successor to the Förderkreis.
Thirty years have passed and "the worst times are behind us". In the meantime, the emergency repairs of the manor house have been completed, and a concept for its use has been drawn up. In 2018, the Italian King Cross Group took over the harbor, the park and the remaining area. It was a stroke of luck – finally economic and cultural interests have come together.
Already, there is life around the palace in the summer, Bettina Bouresh is in the middle of it again. A cultural festival, summer university, guided tours, small exhibitions, and a volunteer program that bring locals and tourists together.
The summer belongs to Masuria. From Berlin, Bettina Bouresh slowly makes her way east by car, a large white dog at her side. It’s a homecoming. Family history is always in the air and the whole historical tragedy, even the dead are there. Her mother, of course, whom she misses dearly, and Bozena, who tragically died in a mountain-climbing accident. For her sake alone, she will continue her work with the castle.
First thing in the morning she jumps into Mauersee, the lake. Water, space, silence – nowhere in the world is more beautiful.