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I'm trying to translate a late family member's narrative written in postwar Germany. The transcription of a short passage is as follows:

Ich bin keiner Deutscher, aber Lette aus Lettland, die auch jetzt ihrerseits der großen Grenze oben an Ostsee sich befindet

which, with my elementary German (and Google Translate) I translate as

I'm not a German, but a Latvian from Latvia, which, for its part, is now on the big border at the Baltic Sea.

I'm at a loss to make sense of 'the big border.' Is it the Iron Curtain, or am I somehow mistranslating?

Here's a scan of the original passage, in case I've mis-transcribed.

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Update: Here is some context that I should have included in the original question: the writer is a Latvian male in his early twenties who was displaced from Latvia c. 1944 and wrote this passage while in West Germany c. 1948.

  • Your transcription is correct, but the writer had poor command of German so it's a bit of a mystery what he wanted to say. Ihrerseits der großen Grenze means on your side of the big border. He most likely means himself. Maybe he had to flee Latvia and came to West Germany? The cut-in-half words on the top are Zuerst möchte, I guess ich mich follows, on the next line is … vorstellen: it makes this letter look like a job application. – Janka Aug 18 '18 at 5:32
  • To be able to understand what ihrerseits is supposed to be related to, it would be interesting to know who is addressed. Ihrerseits der großen Grenze would imply we're talking about the iron curtain, and with Latvia being part of Soviet-controlled Europe after 1945, this Letter apparently has gone to East Germany? – tofro Aug 18 '18 at 7:41
  • It would also be interesting to know when the letter was written. – help-info.de Aug 18 '18 at 9:19
  • @Janka, there are indications this was addressed to somebody in East Germany (my guess is the letter was written around 1948/49 so maybe it was the Ostzone at the time). My mistake was to interpret 'ihrerseits' as 'for its part' instead of 'on your side.' So a better translation might be 'which is on the Baltic Sea, currently on your side of the Big Border.' Maybe the term 'Iron Curtain' was not in widespread usage at the time, or 'Big Border' was an idiomatic alternative. If you post an answer I will mark it as accepted. Otherwise I'll write a community_wiki answer. Thank you. – brainjam Aug 18 '18 at 12:33
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Your transcript is correct, but the author of the postcard wasn't a German native speaker. It must have been someone who just was beginning to learn German. The sentence is full of errors.

  • Orig: Ich bin keiner Deutscher
    Correct 1: Ich bin kein Deutscher (if the author was male)
    Correct 2: Ich bin keine Deutsche (if the author was female)
    English: I'm not German

  • Orig: aber Lette aus Lettland
    Correct 1: sondern Lette aus Lettland (if the author was male)
    Correct 2: sondern Lettin aus Lettland (if the author was female)
    English: but Latvian from Latvia

    »Aber« is not really wrong, but »sondern« fits better. Both is but in English.

  • Orig: die auch jetzt ihrerseits der großen grenze oben an Ostsee sich befindet
    Correct: das sich jetzt ebenfalls jenseits der großen Grenze oben an der Ostsee befindet.
    English: which now also is located beyond the big border up there at the Baltic Sea.

    • The relative pronoun »die« must be »das« since it refers to »Lettland« which is not a feminine but a neuter noun.
    • The reflexive pronoun »sich« was in the wrong place.
    • »auch« is not wrong, but »ebenfalls« is more elegant in this case.
    • The word order »auch/ebenfalls jetzt« is grammatical correct, but »jetzt ebenfalls« fits better to the meaning of the sentence.
    • The adverb »ihrerseits« (on/for her part) makes no sense in this sentence. This is the most severe error. I believe, that the word, that the author was looking for, was »jenseits« (beyond; on the other side).
    • »Grenze« is a noun and needs to written with an uppercase first letter.
    • »Ostsee« has to be preceded by a determiner, and the definite article »die« is the first choice for this function.

So, the complete sentence, corrected (for a male author) and then translated, is:

Ich bin kein Deutscher, sondern Lette aus Lettland, das sich jetzt ebenfalls jenseits der großen Grenze oben an der Ostsee befindet.

I'm not German, but Latvian from Latvia, which now also is located beyond the big border up there at the Baltic Sea.

I think, what the author called the big border was the Iron Curtain, that from 1945 to 1991 separated Europe into a western and an eastern half, where the eastern half was all countries that belonged to Warsaw Pact, among them Latvia, which even was a part of soviet union in this epoch.

Oben (up there) is an often used synonym for nördlich (north). This is because, when you attach a map to a wall, then the northern parts are on the upper part of the map.


Addendum (Reaction to comments)

1. meaning of »ihrerseits«

The word »ihrerseits« has absolutely no local connotation, and therefore also no geographic connotation. It doesn't mean form/at/on her location. It means from/on her part.

Examples for correct usage (Exampels taken from Wiktionary):

  • singular feminine:

    Paul hat mir andere Informationen übermittelt als Lisa. Es handelt sich wohl um ein Missverständnis ihrerseits.
    Paul has given me other information than Lisa. It is probably a misunderstanding on her part.

  • plural:

    Die anderen haben ihrerseits genau den gleichen Fehler gemacht.
    The others made exactly the same mistake on their part.

There is also a masculine counterpart for singular usage, which also is used for neuter gender:

  • singular feminine:

    Lisa hat mir andere Informationen übermittelt als Paul. Es handelt sich wohl um ein Missverständnis seinerseits.
    Lisa has given me other information than Paul. It is probably a misunderstanding on his part.

  • singular neuter:

    Lisa hat mir andere Informationen übermittelt als das Ministerium. Es handelt sich wohl um ein Missverständnis seinerseits.
    Lisa has given me other information than the ministry. It is probably a misunderstanding on its part.

2. jenseits/diesseits

The words »jenseits« and »diesseits« do mean locations:

  • diesseits = on this side
  • jenseits = on the other side

If the author und the receiver of the text both lived in a Warsaw pact state, or even in the soviet union, then of course diesseits would be the word that the author wanted to write:

Ich bin kein Deutscher, sondern Lette aus Lettland, das sich jetzt ebenfalls diesseits der großen Grenze oben an der Ostsee befindet.

I'm not German, but Latvian from Latvia, which now also is located on this side of the big border up there at the Baltic Sea.

If sender and receiver lived on different sides of the border, then both words are possible, this part of the sentence can be interpreted from both sides of view.

  • 1
    Thank you, my German is too basic to detect that the writer's German was also flawed. The lack of uppercase first letter for Grenze is my transcription error. While you were writing your answer I was also preparing a community wiki answer to close the question, but since your answer is much more complete I will happily mark it as the accepted answer. – brainjam Aug 18 '18 at 17:11
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    Your theory that ihrerseits is completely wrong is of interest, because that word is what had led to my original confusion about the 'big border', which made no sense in that context. The narrative is about 12 handwritten pages long, and it remains to be seen whether it was addressed to someone or was just a personal journal. If it was addressed to someone, then ihrerseits/your side makes sense (even if it is bad German), otherwise jenseits/beyond makes more sense. – brainjam Aug 18 '18 at 17:29
  • "Ich bin kein Deutscher" ist nicht falsch, wenn es von einer Frau geäußert wurde, insbesondere nicht Ende der 40er/Anfang der 50er. – user unknown Aug 19 '18 at 8:41
  • I'm Latvian and I would say that ihrerseits refers to Grenze (feminine in German (and also in Latvian)). It's the most severe error, of course :) – Andra Aug 19 '18 at 9:52
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With the help of the commenters (thanks to @Janka, @tofro, and @help-info.de) I've been able to correct the translation and make sense of the phrase. The passage was written around 1948, possibly to future in-laws in the ostZone, and the correct (but inelegant) translation would be something like

I'm not a German, but a Latvian from Latvia, which is on the Baltic Sea, nowadays on your side of the Big Border.

I had been thrown off because I had mistakenly translated 'ihrerseits' as 'on its part' instead of 'on your side'. I assume that in the Germany of 1948 that 'Big Border' would be understood to be the boundary between Soviet and non-Soviet Europe.

  • to future in-laws in the ostZone - it's much more likely that in 1948 a Latvian would write in such a case ihrerseits with a capital 'i' – Andra Aug 19 '18 at 15:52
  • @Andra, thanks for your comments on ihrerseits. This is of course not so much about correcting the writer's German as much as figuring out what he meant to say with his faulty German. With your insight as a Latvian, do you have any opinion on how die auch jetzt ihrerseits der großen Grenze oben an Ostsee sich befindet should be translated into English? Because if ihrerseits does not mean on your side or on the other side I don't see how the sentence makes sense. (I have also updated the OP to add additional context) – brainjam Aug 19 '18 at 17:25
  • maybe beyond as in Hubert's answer is the best choice – Andra Aug 19 '18 at 17:55

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