published Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Brother, sister are together again in Chattanooga after decades of separation

Ulf Berge, who has lived in the United States for 60 years since moving from Bolivia, is reunited with his sister Ingrid Matienzo as she arrives Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport in Chattanooga, Tenn., with her family from Brazil.
Ulf Berge, who has lived in the United States for 60 years since moving from Bolivia, is reunited with his sister Ingrid Matienzo as she arrives Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport in Chattanooga, Tenn., with her family from Brazil.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Ulf Berge stood near the airport gate, his grown daughter in tow and clutching a vase of pink, yellow and purple flowers.

The flight was a few minutes early, but Berge was ready, his blue eyes straining a look down the long corridor where arriving passengers were heading his way.

Berge, 82, bounced slightly in anticipation.

Then he saw her, his only sister, walking toward him.

His mouth agape, Berge shuffled forward, kissing and hugging his elder by one year.

Ingrid Berge de Mantienzo had landed here by way of a stop in Gettysburg, Pa., from her home in Curitiba, Brazil.

The pair had seen each other only once in the past 64 years, at their father's funeral in Cochabamba, Bolivia, more than two decades ago.

So many pages of the calendar gone by. Sometimes a letter, a Christmas card, maybe a phone call. Watching each other's children grow up in pictures. As with so many of us, the day to day got in the way.

Yet here they were at last, sitting across from each other at a table in the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. They talked, slipping among English, Spanish and a smattering of German.

"My heart is beating very much because of my love for him," Ingrid said, tugging at the mauve-colored cloth of her shirt in the space over her heart.

•••

Their father, Herbert Berge, had left Germany sometime before 1932 and traveled to Bolivia to work as a merchant before eventually opening a shoe factory.

Adolf Hitler became the German chancellor in 1933, a year after Ulf was born in the small South American country. Ulf's grandparents died during World War II. His father, Herbert, decided to settle and start a new life in Bolivia.

Both of the children were born there, speaking German and Spanish and later English.

In 1950, shortly after turning 18, Ulf traveled to the United States to attend the University of Texas at Austin. He returned briefly to Bolivia to marry; his wife, Diana, then came back with him.

After graduating from college, Ulf called his father. Should I come back?

No, Herbert said, things aren't good here. Stay in America, have a career.

The pair built a life, had children, traveled to Cleveland, Tenn., for work, then Chattanooga. The family grew. Ingrid married and moved with her husband to Brazil, where she, too, started a family.

Visiting Ulf just wasn't an option.

"It was difficult to go out from our country, because it was difficult to have money to pay for the trip," Ingrid said.

In the 1980s, Ulf retired from his job at Combustion Engineering and opened greeting card stores and an ice cream shop here, and later a greeting card store in Hixson. As a small businessman he had little time to spare for travel.

The years passed. Then Ingrid's daughter Daisy, who lives with her in Brazil, decided maybe it was time for her mother to take that trip. They would visit Ingrid's other daughter in Pennsylvania, whom Ingrid hadn't seen in nearly 30 years, and then travel to visit Ulf. They arrived in Chattanooga on Tuesday.

Seeing her brother brought back memories of Calla Calla, the Cochabamba neighborhood where they both were raised, a place she hasn't seen since her father's death. Their mother moved to Brazil with Ingrid after the funeral. She died a few years ago.

Memory tries but can't hang onto the dates. Years and names are hard to come by, too.

Ulf pulled a yellow Post-It note from his shirt pocket. On it he had written his sister's name, her daughter's name and her granddaughter's name.

Some were misspelled, and a few names of other grandchildren are missing. Ulf asked Ingrid to correct it for him.

They rose, time to go and prepare for a larger family party when Ulf's sons are coming to town. On Friday, Ingrid will fly away, first to Florida to see her grandson, then home to Brazil.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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