Dorothea Brander (née Märzbacher) was born in 1924 in Berlin, to a family that originally came from Munich. She had an older brother, Eugen. Her father was an industrial chemist and her mother was a kindergarten teacher before her marriage. Her father came from a religious background but the family was not observant; Dorothea took some Hebrew lessons but never attended synagogue.
Dorothea’s grandfather had a coin shop in Munich, and her great grandfather was knighted and was an honorary Consul for Saxony and Bavaria.
Dorothea was brought up in Oranienburg, where she attended state schools. Her father worked for a German firm, Gasgluhlicht Auer Gesellschaft, making gas masks. In 1935 the firm arranged for him to go to Turkey to open a branch of the business there, and the family moved to Ankara, where Dorothea received private tuition. After a year the Red Crescent took over the German firm and her father worked for them.
The family lived in Turkey throughout World War Two, and socialised with a group of German Political Refugees consistent about 100 Jewish and non-Jewish refugees, including teachers, doctors and scientists who had been given jobs in Turkey.
Dorothea's brother emigrated to USA where he became a physicist, and her parents later followed him. Dorothea married a Scotsman who was working for the British Council, and moved to Glasgow in 1945, where their eldest daughter was born.
In the following years her husband was sent to different postings by the British Council and the family lived in different countries. They lived in Bratislava from 1946 to 1950 through two communist coups, and their son was born there in 1947. They returned to Scotland after her husband was shot, and in 1952 were posted to Goettingen, Germany, where their youngest daughter was born. They were later sent to Iran, Italy and Iceland, where her husband initially lived on his own. Dorothea went back to Edinburgh, where the children attended school, and moved to Reykjavik in 1960 when they started attending boarding school. They lived there for seven years.