Family recipes, childhood in wartorn Germany inspire memoir

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CEDAR RAPIDS — More than 12 years after Anneliese Heider Tisdale’s children first urged her to write down her mother’s German recipes and tell her own story of growing up in war-torn Germany, she has published her memoir.

“I wrote down the recipes, put them in a three-ring binder,” says Tisdale, who turns 85 on Feb. 4. “They said, ‘Oh, no, we don’t know what happened during World War II. We need to know that, too,’”

A book, “Christmas Trees Lit the Sky,” (Authorhouse) is her answer. It includes many of those recipes. It is also a timeline of her childhood from her father fighting and losing an arm in World War I to her family’s life in the early 1930s until she came to the United States in 1947 as a war bride.

“You can’t imagine what it’s like to have the war on your soil unless you’ve been through it,” Tisdale says.

It was air raid after air raid, the sirens piercing the air. It was bombs destroy buildings, burying victims alive. It was dead bodies rotting under the rubble because they couldn’t be dug out before the next attack.

You might think it would be difficult to write about losing friends and family, about having a brother in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp for three years, about the events that devastated her hometown of Munich.

“No, not any more,” Tisdale says, “because they are far enough back. I’m far enough removed from them.”

Her brother, Ludwig, who grew up to speak seven languages and become an advisor with the German postal service, died in 2002 at age 82. Her parents, Martl and Elisabeth Heider, each lived to be nearly 92. She had to be the one to tell their story.

So, this Cedar Rapids woman, who still speaks with a pronounced German accent and taught German and French for 30 years at Franklin Junior High and Washington High School, learned to use a computer. She also forced her muse to work.

“I write at night,” Tisdale says.

“Sometimes I’m up until one or two in the morning,” she laughs, “and then I can’t get up.”

Limiting the story to the war years became a challenge because she has so much to add.

In college speech, for instance, her professor would give her an A for content and a C for delivery because she had an accent.

“I’ll take that accent to my grave,” she says proudly.

While her marriage to the American soldier produced three children, it lasted just nine years because of his drinking problem.

As a divorced mother in the 1950s, she persevered while all eyes seemed to be on her.

She remarried 20 years ago. Her second husband Jim Tisdale is the father of her daughter’s husband. Linda married Gary Tisdale 40 years ago. After his mother died of cancer, he urged Anneliese to date his father and they eventually married.

Tisdale has plenty of other stories to tell, not the least of which would pick up where this book left off as she settled on a Western Iowa farm.

“Me, a city girl, on the farm,” Tisdale laughs. “That’s book two.


  • Anneliese Heider Tisdale reads from “Christmas Trees Lit the Sky”
  • Where: New Bo Books, 1105 Third Street SE, Cedar Rapids
  • When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Admission: Free
  • Click "play" to listen to Heider read a two-minute except from her book, "Christmas Trees Lit the Sky"


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