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Monday, April 25, 2011

Berlin Diary of 1995 Continued

January 9, 1995
Well, I joined Irving and took a round-trip of the city with his classmates from the Goethe Institute. The trip is part of the Institute program. The city’s history filled me with a sense of awe. Every building and ruin seemed to tell its story – as if it is urgent to do so. It is simply spectacular.

Whether in the eastern or western parts, we saw just about everything that has political meaning: Honnecker's former headquarters, for example; the Reichstag that is in the process of renovation; and the remains of “the wall” to the Brandenburger Tor. The Tor, we were told, will also be renovated.

Our international companions from Turkey, Brazil, England, Russia, French-speaking Switzerland, the Isle of Feroe, and elsewhere were good company. Naturally, they were not taking courses at the Goethe Institute because they loved the German language. Rather most said they were here because they needed to learn German for business reasons.

All I can say is that Mark Twain was more philosophical about it. For example, he was supposed to have said, “I don't believe there is anything in the whole earth that you can't learn in Berlin except the German language.” If you ask me, his words are downright profound. Irving’s favorite assessment of German also comes from Mark Twain: “Never knew before what eternity was made for?” he asked. And answered, “It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.” Let’s face it Mark Twain knew something.

Well, our apartment held no attraction. We swallowed tinned fish and a ready-made salad and returned to look at length at the Prinz-Albrecht-Gelände.

Alas, I must stop here. Stop all foolishness because this is hallowed ground. No, my attitude is not idolatrous. It is simply that, in my mind’s eye, I was looking in the mirror – and saw failure: my failure, the failures of people and of states. I stood and pondered, how did he do it? He and that Briton did not fail – not as persons. But what they intended to do failed and he, but not the Briton, lost his life.

Topography of Terror, but from the Perspective of Hope

Prinz-Albrecht-Straße 8 (today Niederkirchnerstraße) is permanently associated with the brilliant theologian and core man of the German resistance Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) who was held and interrogated there. When he recognized the mortal danger in which his country and church found themselves, he said, “When a madman races his car through the streets, and I as a pastor am with him, I cannot simply console those who were run down or bury them, rather I have to throw myself in front of him and stop him.”

The above picture also shows his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi (1902-1945), who was married to Bonhoeffer’s sister Christine. Dohnanyi was vital to the resistance because like Bonhoeffer he built bridges to other resistance circles in the military, in the foreign ministry, and among Protestants and Catholics. Dohnanyi recognized early on that Hitler and the Nazi leadership had to be removed by force. And he and Bonhoeffer worked toward that goal.

In 1945, Bonhoeffer was sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was executed. With great shock I would learn later that Flossenbürg was just south of the camp where we ended up after our flight from East Prussia.

Bonhoeffer tried hard to get help from the Western world for the fight against National Socialism, especially, through the English Bishop of Chichester, George Bell. That is the Briton I referred to above. Both were infinitely gracious. They failed to prevent catastrophe but are, nevertheless, figures inspiring hope to this day. As well, George Bell helped Jews who were Christians when they most needed it.

Irving and I walked along the Gelände and learned that here Hitler’s indispensible assistants, Himmler, Heydrich, Kaltenbrunner, among many others, planned the Wannsee Conference, organized the Einsatzgruppen, planned the murder of Jews and the Germanization of occupied Poland. It is truly a place of terror and we felt it in our bones. – Except of course, and in final analysis – the good of the resisters, not the evil of their executioners, triumphed. These are not empty words.

Bonhoeffer’s understanding of resistance was significant for two reasons. First, he understood that he and those like him worked with God but in a world without God, and second, he refused to use the same weapons of terror that his opponents used. What those resisters did, they did despite defamation, in isolation, and sometimes with a sense of utter forlornness.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

See Uwe Siemon-Netto's Blog

Berfore I continue with my Berlin 1995 Diary, I want to encourage anyone who is interested in the up-coming Royal Wedding and the historical relationships between the British and German Monarchies or Royal Families to check out Uwe Siemon-Netto's link on the side of this posting. - If nothing else, it is a fun read and free of the world's obsession with drabness and violence. Karla.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Berlin Diary - January 3 to 7, 1995

January 3, 1995
We are in Berlin. The apartment shocked me on arrival. Like everything else, it too reminds me of WWII - primitive, cramped, above all cold. A reminder of the kalte Heimat after WWII – the destroyed one we left in Königsberg and the new one we entered in Werdau, Saxony. Want to start with my research right away but alas, other tasks need doing.

Building with WWII bullet holes

Yesterday, January 2, I found my way to the most important institution in the world, the bank.

I am in the West, my former home, but experienced myself as if shopping in unfamiliar stores. Had to buy bags and pack groceries myself, and then carried the heavy bags "home."

The only good thing I did was to contact my colleague at the research institute immediately. Above all, it was reassuring to learn that the archivists are expecting me.

The old gas stove in the kitchen depresses me. I cannot bring myself to touch it, so Irving cooked. He already knows that he will be doing it for the remainder of our stay in Berlin.

Another thing we have not solved, where and how to sleep. Our aristocratic landlady, a descendant of the famous theologian von Harnack (1851-1930), has obviously not checked the size and condition of the beds - nor has she checked the temperature of the "bedroom." – Our passion will save us, Irving says.

My task today is simple and straightforward. I must find my way to the archive using public transportation. I have the feeling that bus-drivers still do not know that Berlin is part of the new Germany and host city to many visitors. Bus stops are not announced! It is assumed we all know where to get off. When I ask in normal German where we are, the bus driver looks at me as if I am dada. “Ach Mensch,” I say frustrated, “Ich bin doch von Kanada.” “Ich auch,” he says and continues driving. Consider it sightseeing, Irving says.

Saturday January 7, 1995
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays I worked in the archive of the Berliner Missionswerk. The material is excellent. My having practiced writing in the old German Sutterlin script helps greatly reading missionaries' handwritings. Have some difficulty, however, getting used to the East Berlin atmosphere, to the mannerisms of East Berliners, to their poorer clothing and greyer buildings.

At the Berliner Missionswerk Archive

Irving cooked, shopped, and fixed various things in the apartment. He even went out and bought a new shower curtain and pink bathroom mats to cheer me up. Indeed, they brighten the old stuffy place. – Alas, there is method in his madness: he enjoys learning German at the stores; learning German equals shopping; he talks to all and sundry, and not just in the Goethe Institute. Only German grammar frustrates him; it is like a trap, even traps me at times.

Family matters took off too. The half-sister who is the most open and friendly, called back today. I let her know a few days ago that we arrived. She is already helping me plan our trip to her in Löhne. – Have not yet called my cousin E. in Hamburg nor contacted my childhood friend G. in Berlin. I am aware that calling all at once would overwhelm my emotions.

My contact at the Freie Univserität, a woman who, like me, had done research in Zambia, was preparing a paper for a conference in München. I will not see her until her return from there. She did suggest, however, that we participate in the colloquia at the Ethnological Institute of the university.

Our apartment is very cold. I freeze all the time. Telling our aristocratic landlady is useless. After all, she is not freezing. Fact is I have to buy warm clothing. The warm clothing that I brought from Canada, the land that is “really” cold, is simply not adequate. As if that is not enough, my attempt to sleep in the upstairs room was futile too. The temperature must have been sub-zero degrees. At any rate, I woke up with my hair frozen; on the top of my head it stood up like steel rods.

The beds too are too narrow; one is too short and too soft in the middle. When I pointed this out, the aristocratic landlady merely told me that a Chinese physicist had occupied that room. He was very happy in it, so happy in fact, that he asked to bring his wife over. She slept in that narrow, short, curved bed, and she was grateful – while I, alas, do nothing but complain.

Although our landlady is a retired physician, she has obviously not heard of marital intimacy. She is not nor ever was married – except to her ancestors, among them the founder of what is now called the Max Planck Institute.

I look at that bed and all I can think is poor Chinese woman; what did she really think? While I ponder whether I can stand it here for four months, Irving enjoys the city and travels about in it all day – learning German. He loves it. I am beginning to wonder whether my complaining has to do with my historical past. What is wrong with me? Do I want to see evidence of a harshness that once characterized wartime Germany? Is the evidence more in my heart than in Berlin?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Berlin Diary January 1 1995 - Continuation

January 1, 1995
On the train from Bonn to Berlin we pass Löhne. I strain my eyes to see all I can see because one of my sisters lives here. The countryside surrounding Löhne is attractive: rolling hills, farms, space for horses.

Didn't sleep last night, December 31, 1994. We spent New Year's Eve with M. and U.. Earlier that afternoon, we took a 7.3 km walk around lake Maria Laach. Its atmosphere is refreshing and healing, the artwork of monks enchanting. Above all, Maria Laach reminds me of the good work done by Catholics during the resistance against Hitler. For example, the monastery sheltered Konrad Adenauer in the spring of 1933 for about a year after the Nazis squeezed him out of his office as Lord Mayor of Cologne.

After the walk, we had coffee and cake in a hotel on the banks of the Rhein River. The current is swift. In the distance we see a castle. Below it the buildings look bright yellow, reflecting the yellow of a sinking sun. It rains intermittently. I'm surprised to note how green the area is, how balmy the weather. It is a stark contrast to the sharp, jagged, snow-covered mountains of Alberta.

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Back at the H’s home we had a light dinner. Then about 11:30 p.m. we took to the paths surrounding the fields of Odendorf. The intent is to be standing in the fields, amidst several villages and observe the fireworks from there. Midnight they begin. All around us the sky is lit up. Distant fireworks and explosions remind me violently of WWII. I mention it to M. and U. who understand.

Flowers near Maria Laach

And now we are on the train and Irving keeps helping people with their luggage. And I think to myself, I bet no one will help us with our seven pieces of luggage when we get off. The thought makes me anxious. In Bonn the train stopped, literally, for just two minutes and left. The elastic band of the case holder burst and split Irving's fingernail. I chased down a bandage while Irving and Michael loaded our suitcases, all in two minutes. Irving says nothing, just holds his bleeding finger. It hurts to look at it, and I wonder, will I last the four months?

Such is the unease of a German who became a refugee from Königsberg, East Prussia (then) to Netzschkau, Saxony, an escapee from the Soviet Zone to the British Zone, and an immigrant from Hamburg to Toronto.

To be continued

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Berlin Diary 1995 - Prelude

The first time I returned to Germany was in 1990. The Berlin wall had fallen and I was wondering whether the wall to my past would now also fall. Helping this wall disappear was my second task. The first task had to do with my profession. I am an anthropologist with years of research in Africa behind me. Now I was researching a project with global dimensions and that project took me to Germany.

On that first trip to Germany I found several people and learned several things. In Buxtehude, near Hamburg, I found some old school friends and a cousin whom I had last seen in 1953. Then in Werdau, a small hilly town in Sachsen, I discovered that my father's grave had been moved to Berlin. By whom, I wondered? It had to be one of my sisters. But which one and where were they? And how could I possibly find them when they had probably married and changed their last names?

Back in Canada, I followed a German colleague's suggestion and began to write to various Einwohnermeldeämter, registration offices, in various cities, starting with Werdau, to find out where my sisters might have moved to. One day I had an address and then an answer from each of the four living sisters. On the next research trip to Germany I would try and meet these four sisters. That opportunity came in 1995.

I tried to remember what I still knew of my sisters. My mother refused to speak about the past. All I knew is that these sisters were the offspring of a different mother but the same father. Since my mother was 19 years younger than my father had been, these sisters were also considerably older than I. Finally I knew that there had been terrible conflicts between the oldest sister and my mother. Where were we separated and why? We were in an orphanage together near Berlin, but where exactly and when? It must have been in the 1940s, possibly 1947, for in 1947 my father returned from Russian imprisonment and in 1948 he died from the horrible consequences of this brutal imprisonment. Around this time was the moment of permanent separation. With our father dead, each group of children was placed somewhere with its maternal kin--or so I assumed--and one of these maternal groups lived in Berlin.

In 1995, then, all roads led to Berlin. My research would take place in the Archives of the Berliner Missionswerk on Georgenkirchstrasse, in the eastern part of Berlin. We would live in a small apartment in Zehlendorf-Dahlem, in the western part of Berlin. Near Berlin would be the orphanage where we were last together and the cemetery where my father was granted his final rest. Each day I would criss-cross the city and criss-cross too, the heart of my own and my country's history - a country and a history that had become stranger to me than the Africa of my first field trip.

This Diary is a simple record of my equally simple thoughts, encounters, research findings, and tasks in Berlin. My husband and I arrived in Berlin after five difficult years of unrelenting stress. In this state I would do my research and sort out my personal life. I was not at all certain that I would succeed.

The Diary is reproduced as I recorded it, primarily on the route to and from work, usually archives or interviews. It starts in Bonn and Köln with a friend and colleague - one who had helped me find my way home on my first return to Germany in 1990.

December 31, 1994
We left Calgary December 28th. It had turned bitterly cold; the trees stood covered in ice. There was a question as to whether or not the plane would take off. It did.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The flight was straightforward and pleasant except for the incident with an elderly woman who sat in our assigned seats but refused to believe it. She also refused to show us her stub with the seat number. By her demand, we had to call the stewardess. When she spoke, I detected an accent. Let it be English, I prayed, not German. But German it was - or so Irving insisted. Let it be an example of human absurdity, I thought, not - already - an introduction to German pigheadedness. But pigheadedness it was. Eventually we had our rightful seats and I could follow peacefully my dreams of anticipation.

From Frankfurt/M. we took the train to Bonn. Our suitcases were lost, but they were delivered the same afternoon in Odendorf where we stayed with our friends and colleagues. Lufthansa delivers lost suitcases promptly. In this case, it saved our having had to carry them.

At the H's the atmosphere is cosy and warm and our friend is filled with things to do and say. His knowledge of languages is superb. So are his desktop publishing ventures.

The question that haunts me, however, is whether or not I shall overcome whatever it is that I am overcoming: anxiety, the past, fear of continuing in the same manner, fear of September and the university routine. Will I last and learn in Germany and enjoy the country as well?

On the evening of the 29th, M's son drove us to the Köln symphony. The avant-garde pieces were fascinating to hear, but what appealed to me most were the old pieces by Brahms. - Of this we must do more in Berlin. - The symphony hall was large and spacious with high ceilings and superb acoustics. Then the wonderful human element: suppression of coughs during the performance, a cacophony of them at each break.

December 30, 1994

Back to Köln to straighten out train tickets, see the dome; see the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, and the Käthe Kollwitz exhibition. Many years before me, Käthe Kollwitz was born but two or three houses from where I was born, on the Weidendamm, in Königsberg, which was then part of East Prussia.

The streets of Köln's inner city are bursting with people. We walk in the rain under a grey sky. At the end of the walk, we reward ourselves with a Torte. I think how similar the western world is and yet how different. Expressions of human bitterness are plastered on the scaffold surrounding the Kölner Dom. Resentment against Christianity is expressed in a crisp, bitter saying - when the crisp, bitter saying expressed only human ignorance of a long tradition.

Did Käthe Kollwitz's anti-war art make the least bit of difference? Did it increase our understanding of human suffering - could it if we were to let it? I found the fixation of her art on motherhood oppressive. But is that not my problem? What she said about World War I, namely, "never again," also looks hollow in light of the fact that World War II followed on its heels, indeed, is its direct consequence. Instead, should not her art have expressed a foreboding of the Second World War? Was her visual expression of suffering too politicised, too centred on stereotypical symbols? - On sterile phrases? - On mother and child? - On solidarity? Take solidarity. To my mind, solidarity is to communism as gay is to homosexuality. And while the meaning of gayness holds no further significance for me, the meaning of solidarity-cum-communism is palpable. It is there in every grey and dilapidated building of East Berlin. It is there in every out of shape and out of work East German.
to be continued
Berlin Parliament Buildings and Spree River

Potsdam - Happy Moment with Irving