A German couple and a dinosaur go on a road trip.


This was my entry for the 2023 Guardian Shory Story Prize.

In 1988, my parents (a young couple from West Germany) visited the USA for a month. On their road trip through the South West, they encountered many predictable cultural differences, but also questions about "what it was really like in Germany", with the wall dividing the country. These questions seemed somewhat futile to my parents - the wall, in their opinion, was not coming down. Nothing was going to change. The irony being, of course, that the wall came down just one year later, in 1989.

I wanted to tell this story because it is a reminder that the things we believe in so very strongly can sometimes shift. Walls come down. Wars start and end. Things, and people, change.

It's also a story about the things we remember. In the story, the "big things" - such as the political situation in Germany or Otto's death - are almost less important than the food that was eaten, the T-shirt that was bought, the little toy dinosaur that was so coveted by my mum that she spent days agonising over the decision to purchase him. This toy dinosaur had lived on my mum's bedside table for as long as I can remember - and I'd never thought to ask where he came from.

When I contemplated writing a story about my parents' time in the USA, I really couldn't decide if the story should be told through one of them, or even through me. But when my mum mentioned buying this dinosaur on the trip, and I realised that he had been there all along, something clicked - it sparked the format for the entire comic. The dinosaur could play the role of the overlooked observer and narrator of my parents' adventure.

The real dinosaur

Woven into this story is also a narrative about a relative, who lives in a gated community, behind a wall of her own. This relative is Frida, my mum's great-aunt (so, my mum's grandmother's sister) who had emigrated to the USA in the 1920s. I enjoyed digging into some family history for this - I spent some time trying to find out what I could about Frida and Otto. On the website findagrave.com ("World’s largest gravesite collection") I was able to confirm that Otto was buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery in 1988. The website helpfully shows not only photos of the gravestone, but related graves, too: Frida joined him there in 1999.

A findagrave.com member called Jim left virtual flowers for Frida and Otto in 2016. Intrigued, I clicked on his profile - was Jim perhaps a distant relative of mine, descended from other emigrated family? But looking at his profile, it became apparent that Jim's just a general grave enthusiast: the stats on his profile show he's added 130.000 photos to the site, manages 7200 memorials and has 77 followers. He has left virtual flowers on "just" 741 graves, though. I wonder what made him choose Frida and Otto. Thanks, Jim.

Just like Jim, I didn't know these distant relatives, but by including them in my story, perhaps I've created a memorial, too. For Frida and Otto, for my dad, for John Wayne, for the toy dinosaur, and for this moment in time.

Thanks for reading!

L x