“Is there a god?”

In a blog (“Can Devices be Intelligent?“)   I read recently, the author  asks at the end of his post whether such a device would be able to contemplate the question,  “Is there a god?”

An AI device would not be able to answer either because it is either programmed by us or if it thinks on its own can not be more logical than we are.  Because the question has nothing to do with logic. I think a god fills the need of human beings to find someone responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. Believers think it is only him / her who can change things around.

I personally think it is better not to have a god because mankind should finally grow up and take responsibility for its actions. If there was a god we would blame him / her for everything and would tear him / her down as we do already with elected officials who do not fulfill our expectations. Jesus lasted only five days from Sunday to Friday.

Pope Francis in his encyclical said humanity’s “reckless” behavior has pushed the planet to a perilous “breaking point.”. He asked for  the cooperation of all people to build a better world. This is taking responsibility.

A Wedding Picture from the Year 1911

Aunt Mary's Wedding in 1911

Aunty Mary’s Wedding in 1911

Today is the anniversary of my Great-aunt Marie‘s birthday and while rummaging through old family photographs I came to an old wedding picture from 1911. It is the family on my maternal side and you can spot my future mother, as an almost eleven-year-old (one month short of her birthday).  She is the tall girl in the white dress at the right.

There are thirty-one people in the picture and I have known thirteen of them.  My children and grandchildren would share DNA with twenty-one of them. But such is life, that most of my descendants would have no idea of them.

The bride I knew as “Tante Mariechen”.  Aunty Mary was extremely kind and a war widow. Her husband died of war wounds in July 1918, four months before the war ended. She had a rocking chair in her apartment in “Kopischstrasse”, Berlin. It is one of the shortest streets in Berlin and at the corner stands a landmark of Kreuzberg, the old water tower.

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My Great-Aunt Marie (not the bride) whose birthday it is today, is standing in the back row, second from the left. She was born in 1873 and lived through an age of innovations and two world wars, a revolution and civil war, as well as the hyper-inflation. On her 80th birthday, there was an uprising in East-Germany and fittingly, her birthday became a national holiday.

I will never forget her!

QUO VADIS, AUSTRALIA ?

“Obviously we’re going through the cases where we do feel that there is a threat to our national security or our national interest, so we are doing that work,” Mr Dutton said on Thursday.
“Potentially hundreds of Australians could be stripped of their citizenship and then deported, without recourse to the courts as to the merits of their defence, once the Australian Parliament passes tough new counter-terrorism laws with the support of the opposition.”

Those two quotes are from an article in the “Sydney Morning Herald”

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/hundreds-could-face-deportation-under-proposed-terror-laws-peter-dutton-20150604-ghgyik.html

The news that come out of Canberra is frightening in its implications. Apparently, a Fascist government has quietly taken over. Nobody is safe from those Abbott followers. The brave cabinet ministers who opened their mouths have been blackened by a possible leak by Abbott and his acolytes.

And where is the Opposition, you may ask? Bill Shorten tells Abbott Labor  will do anything he wants for national security. Every day in parliament Abbott is wedging Shorten. The ALP is full of “shit”! You remember the good ship “Tampa”? The moment it appeared on our horizon it changed us forever. It gave the “Right Wingers” the excuse they always wanted.

Now ASIO is investigating 400 people. Soon they will widen their investigation to thousands and then tens of thousands. More and more resources will be put into the so-called “national security”. This will become paramount. One group after the other will come first under suspicion, then under investigation and then they will be deported.

Doctors and nurses are facing two years in jail for disclosing the  deplorable state of affairs in the concentration camps of Nauru and Manus Island.

The decent Australia we came to love disappears before our eyes.

Our society will be split between Team Australia and people who will have nothing to do with this doubtful label. And like the Nazis in Germany, the Liberals will invent a system of identification for non-team members.

Australia be warned this Liberal government is neither liberal nor will it want a society where different groups live peacefully side by side.  The terror threat is a red herring to control the population. Sure, there were some incidents by some criminal, delusional people, but they  can be handled by normal police investigations. No additional powers are necessary.

The Prime Minister is worried

The PM was standing at the window overlooking the lake. He was worried as storm clouds were drifting in from the West.

“Bad omen, bad omen,” he mumbled to himself. The winter could be really bad in Canberra. Perhaps the capital should be up north. It would be more fun on his bike and he could visit the Aborigines more often and camp with them as he planned to do. He had promised it at the last election and the media were asking silly questions now.

A tall woman, his secretary, entered the office. She has been worried lately about her boss. After his near death experience a few months ago he had become softer, kinder – sort of.

The PM has heard her coming and, without turning away from the window, he said,
“Peta, I’m worried. Yesterday, in the cabinet room, I had a revolt on my hand. I’m really worried, Peta. Six of my most trusted colleagues told me, ‘Nope, we won’t stand for that”. Old Brandis even insisted he is the Attorney General and only he can look after the laws of the country. Doesn’t he know, I could replace him with Scott?”

“Boss,” his secretary said, “we have just discovered another group of ‘double dippers’.”
“Who, Peta? Peta, who?” He said with panic in his voice.

“ASIO has delivered the names and addresses of people holding dual citizenship and receiving pensions from foreign governments on top of our more than generous ‘old-age pension’. They have observed them for years and now they think it is time, in the present climate, that we should know about this potential ‘Fifth column’.”

“Didn’t we force them to apply for this money? It was always good for the bottom line.”

“Yes, Boss! But this was then. Today they are a liability for ‘Team Australia’. Especially as ASIO has cross-referenced them with people who had small arms training in those countries.”

“Peta, aren’t they old and senile now?”

“Yes, Boss, but they influence their offshoots and still love their home countries.”

“I could send them all back, but Julie (the Minister for Foreign Affairs) told me we can’t do that. If we declare someone a terrorist, nobody else will take him.”

“There are some legal issues with that, but we could always send them to another island.”

“Yes, Peta, Tasmania comes to mind. We could declare Tasmania an off-shore territory and solve two problems at one. Tasmania reverts to a penal colony and we get rid of that feisty Senator Jacqui Lambie. You are brilliant, Peta!”

“I’ll get right to work, Boss. The department can work out the legislation and we make Scotty the ‘Minister for the Off-Shore Territory of the New Van Diemen’s Land’. He would be the only person tough enough to control a can of worms.”

“Peta, I love your enthusiasm,” the PM smiled at her, “and the way you pick up on my wavelengths. I would make you a Dame. Really I would make you a Dame, but the bastards stopped me. ‘No more captain’s pick! No more captain’s pick!’ they said.”

When his secretary had left the office the PM turned on the TV. On the news channel, he saw a group of people at the Federation Square in Melbourne unfolding a large banner which said, “Send Tony back to Pommy-land. We don’t want foreigners in Team Australia!” He was disgusted and switched the TV off. He walked back to the window. The clouds looked even darker now.

The PM was enraged and his head started shaking. He was wondering why his parents ever migrated to this country at the ass-end of the world, where half the population are potentially deniers of our freedom to choose our protector.

After a few minutes, he went to the intercom and said, “Get my bike ready. I’ll go for a spin around the lake or this job will eat me alive!”

Pauly the Car

Our  little car at a time of wellbeing

Our little car at a time of wellbeing

We have a little car which was nicknamed by my sister Ilse on one of her trips to Australia, “Pauly” (actually “Paulchen” in German).

We have owned the car for fifteen years now and it never caused us any problems or breakdowns. It went and went and went…

When Ilse named the car, she advised us, never to talk bad about it in its presence. She seems to think, cars have a soul and can easily be offended.

Last weekend was my 80th birthday and I had a really good time. Our son Martin had even flown in from Melbourne for the weekend. He had to fly back on Sunday and we offered to take him back to the airport and daughter Caroline home to Sydney.

The only way out from Wollongong, which is practically just a few meters above sea level, is up a steep road, Mount Ousley Road, across the Illawarra escarpment. It was only constructed during WWII by the Americans with their “can-do”  attitude.

While going up the steep hill, Caroline was driving,  the car seemed a bit sluggish. With four adult people on board, it did not seem unusual. But, we started to discuss the car’s age and Caroline suggested we could buy another car. Maybe not a new one, but at least a well preserved and reliable second-hand car.

Just seconds after discussing this, and not remembering Ilse’s advice,  the car showed severe signs of illness. It lost power and no amount of gear-shifting would help. Soon enough, belching smoke poured out everywhere and we feared the engine could blow up. Our car looked more like an old steam engine than a 21st Century automobile.  We decided to pull up at the turn-off to the Clive Bissell Drive where there is a convenient parking area. We thought of letting the car cool off and then continue.

Caroline did not trust “Pauly” anymore and rang a friend who lives in a neighbouring suburb. He came  and Martin made it, just in time, to the airport.

I set off, full of optimism, that I would be able to nurse the car home. But it was not to be. Our talk about getting another car had offended “Pauly” too much and after about a kilometer the car stopped.  We rang the automobile club and organised the tow away  to our car repair station.

While my first eighty years ended on a high note, the second eighty years started not so well. See how the next eighty years go. And next time we talk about a new car we will make sure “Pauly” will not hear us. I have the feeling it is on its last leg.

Happy Birthday

I’m eighty today and I hope, I have a great day with my family. I  remember a few of my birthdays along the line, but none more so than my tenth birthday in May 1945. 

I lived in Berlin with my mother and a great-aunt. The war in Europe had just finished and the fighting had stopped. A  difficult peace was just one week old. It was springtime and all the trees were in full bloom, compensating for the destruction of the city for all to see. The month of May was always my favourite and that the war ended just in time for my birthday doubled the pleasure. Finally, we could sleep through the nights again.

Early in the morning a cousin of my mother, Aunt Hildegard, who lived only two buildings further down the same street, came for a quick visit to check on our well-being. The two women chatted and exchanged the latest news from the neighbourhood. To my disappointment, my birthday was not mentioned with one syllable.

When Aunty was on the way out in the hallway I ran after her and grabbed her by the hand and told her full of pride, that it was my birthday. She apologised and promised to come back in the afternoon with a present. I liked that idea – but not my Mum. She had overheard us and told me I had practically invited Aunty. That is what we should not do during the difficult times we were living under. There would not be anything we could offer any visitors. She was really angry.

Later, I thought, ‘Today will be the best day of my life’, as I rushed out of the family apartment. to explore the surrounding streets. I liked to watch the activities of the Russian soldiers who were everywhere. That my mother had roused on me in the morning, for something minor, as far as I was concerned, was already forgotten. The Soviets had introduced Moscow time and we had to advance our clocks by two hours. In the courtyard, I met up with a girl who lived in the same building as we did. She was the same age as I was. We went to the backyard, picked up two discarded broomsticks and started to pretend shooting at Russian warplanes that were crossing the sky. The girl soon got tired of this game and went home.

Only then, I became aware of a Russian motor lorry in one corner of the backyard. I saw two soldiers sitting in the back of the vehicle. I approached the lorry in case I could get something from the Russians, who mostly liked children. When they saw me coming they motioned me to come closer. I did not hesitate. I found them drinking something and noticed that they had a bottle in their hands.

‘Kleb – bread?’ I asked them. I was surprised when they handed me a large enamel cup filled to the brim with vodka and they indicated to me, turning their hands up at their lips, to drink.

‘Oh, no,’ I thought and told them in Russian, ‘Njet! – No!”

One Russian got out his pistol, loaded it through and held it against my right temple.

‘Dawai’ – ‘come on’, one said angrily and motioned again for me to drink.

I shook my head and refused. I thought of my mother and how she would be angry with me again. She hated me doing something silly someone else asked me to do. Surely, coming home drunk I would cop a beating from her. I had been in trouble that morning and that was enough.

‘No vodka for me, thank you very much,’ I thought.

The urging became stronger and the pressure of the pistol started to hurt as the soldier pressed it against my temple. NO WAY, would I drink that stuff.

“Njet !” I said to them again. At that moment, I was not able to discern whether they meant it or whether they wanted to pull a practical joke on me. I decided that I would rather get my brain blown out than face my mother’s fury again.

But fate took another turn and help was at hand. Just then, a Russian officer appeared and came towards the lorry. He saw at once what game was being played out. He started to shout at the two soldiers and they removed the pistol from my head. The officer, grabbed my shoulder, to comfort me. He was very angry with the others. I did not understand a word that was said.

After a while, the officer stopped arguing with the soldiers and waved to follow him. He spoke half Russian and half German and made it clear, that he would give me something as compensation for the ordeal I had just gone through. We walked into the entrance hall and went straight to the first door. The door was shut, so the officer knocked and as there was no answer he just pushed his weight against it and the door flew open. We both went inside and explored the kitchen. Nothing of value was to be seen. The people, who had lived there must have left before the fighting started and the Russians arrived.

The Russian opened the oven door of the kitchen stove. And lo and behold, there were two large trays with yeast cake. I noticed that they were old and smelled slightly stale. The Russian offered me both cakes. I took them with thanks and walked, balancing the large trays, the few meters to our apartment.

In the meantime, while I was away and nearly had my brain blown out, visitors had arrived. All women, of course. The cousin of my mother brought a jar full of nougat. One of my Godmothers had made the dangerous trip from another suburb using the underground train that was running again for the first time. A neighbour had called in as she smelled the freshly brewed coffee that had been hidden to be used on a day like this one. They were all chatting and smoking. When I entered the smoke filled kitchen with the cake a great cheer went up.

For the first time, these brave women must have felt the worst was over,  and there was hope again for a better future, even if that prospect was only enhanced by stale cake. The women became animated in their conversation. I was happy that I brought that little cheer into their lives. Standing beside my mother and leaning my head on her shoulder,  I was hoping for a cuddle.

I did not tell them about the threat with the pistol.

Day One after “Zero Hour”

The day on which we came out of the dark world of the air raid shelter and back into daylight was Wednesday, the 9th of May 1945. As I mentioned before, after living in the cellar for days on end, the days of the week had no meaning at all. Nobody would give a fig of what day of the week it was. Abnormality had become the norm.

Bombedout people in the streets of Berlin 1945

Bombed out people in the streets of Berlin 

It was more important to us, that the fighting was finally over and we were allowed to be on the streets of Berlin for an extended time. There was still a night curfew in place, but we could, if even only for a short time, resume life. The most important question was, where would the next meal come from?

Most of the women were with their children on their own unless, of course, they had been sent to the countryside. My two sisters were somewhere in the former Reich. My mother had no idea where they were. And in regard to the men, there were only a few on the streets and those were too old to even serve in the ‘Volkssturm‘, a kind of “Dad’s Army” without the laughter.

My mother had heard, that there could be some food items in cold storage in warehouses at ‘Gleisdreieck’, a station of the elevated train system. It was said, because of the cut in power supplies, that the warehouses could not be kept cool anymore and the stored foodstuff would only get spoilt anyway.

Nothing was sure, but rumours were getting around like wildfire. The fear of the Russians was still great, but dissipating. Slowly people calmed down somewhat. At least the weapons were quiet now and the howling of the dreaded ‘Stalinorgel’ had ceased.

Russian soldiers loading  "Katyusha" rockets for lunching.

Russian soldiers loading “Katyusha” rockets for lunching.

Hunger had become the dominating urge and some found it unbearable, especially if they refused food from the Russians. The fear of death was pushed slowly into the background.

We, my mother and I, had survived the air raids and the storm on Berlin by the Red Army – just so. Artillery grenades had hit our building and none of the apartments had any window panes left.

On the other side of the street were garden allotments where the fruit trees were in full blossom at the time. It was a beautiful sight as if mother nature wanted to compensate for the folly of mankind. Every day we had to go there and fetch water from the pumps. There wasn’t any town water anymore. Sometimes the Russian soldiers worked the pumps for us.

At the suggestion of some people a few women decided they would go on a reconnaissance mission to find some food or anything useful. Mr. B was the only man who accompanied us. He had been discharged from his military unit. It made his wife decidedly happy that he had come back from the war, so early in the piece. He was uninjured at that.

He was convinced that he could give the women, and me as the only child in our little group, some protection. We set off in what turned out to be beautiful Spring weather. We went through the “Viktoria Park”, passed the two air-raid shelters where today’s children are tobogganing in Winter without having any ideas what is underneath them.

Along Möckernstrasse, we crossed the heavily bombed out Hagelberger Strasse. At the corner of Yorkstrasse, we got to the freight depot and climbed onto the railway tracks to check out a freight wagon we had spotted in the distance. Between the rails, we spotted a dead Russian soldier. He must have been one of the last of the fallen.

The old freight depot at Möckernstrasse

The old freight depot at Möckernstrasse

I was curious and keen to see what he looked like. There he was as if sleeping, without any visible injury. His mouth was open and flies came out of it and buzzed about into the balmy spring air.

My mother called out as she wanted to inspect the freight wagon. When we came closer, we noticed its doors were open and the wagon was full of birdseeds which had spilt out of the wagon and onto the ground.

I was delighted as we had a budgerigar at home and not much to feed him with it. On top of it, we could have used the bird seeds as a means to bargain for food for ourselves. Just at that moment we heard the “tack, tack” of a machine gun. The grown-ups got frightened and my mother called out for me to leave the wagon at once. She promised me, that we would stop on the way back and grab some of the seeds then. Before I jumped off the wagon, I saw a brand new shoe-brush. I grabbed it and it was very useful to us for many years to come.

The machine gun stopped firing, but we left the rail yard anyway. There weren’t many people about. Many were still careful and dared not coming out yet. Soon we arrived at the “Landwehrkanal” (a short-cut canal for the river Spree) and found the bridge there, with its back broken, resting on the bottom of the canal. Ruins were everywhere. We turned left because we wanted to get to the cold storage at “Gleisdreieck”. “Gleisdreieck” has its own history as a triangle rail junction.

Where  "Möckernbrücke" used to be was only a shuttle serve by boat.

Where “Möckernbrücke” used to be, there  was only a shuttle service by boat.

Today, I’m not sure why we, in the end, did not go there. Perhaps other people warned us that the Russians had taken control over the warehouses and would not let us near it anyway.

While Berlin was starving, the foodstuff was rotting in the warehouse. Later in June, former members of the Nazi Party had to clean out the warehouses. The rotten meat was disposed of  in another former bunker in the Viktoria Park. The stench was bestial.

Back to our walk which led us to “Schöneberger Brücke” which was still intact. We could see, that on the other side at the “Hafenplatz”, heavy fighting must have taken place. Dead soldiers, of both sides, weapons and other devices were everywhere.

Constantly, the adults were calling me to keep walking. They weren’t so keen, as I was, to explore and examine what I saw. One of the dead was especially grotesque. I could not recognise whether he was a German or a Russian soldier. His body was bent from being burnt in the front but not in back. Most likely he was caught by a flame-thrower. His lower body was exposed and he held an unburned piece of paper for cleaning purposes in his hand. I still have not forgotten this horrible sight and a mother, somewhere, was waiting in vain for her son to return.  

At the corner of the “Hafenplatz”, the Russians had set up a checkpoint. At the kerb, a group of male civilians were standing about. When we reached the post the Russians asked Mr. B. to stand aside. They were not interested in the women or me and they demanded that we move on.

The man stays here!” they said and emphasised that all the men were required for clean-up work only.  Mrs B. was beside herself and wanted her husband back. The Russians weren’t nasty just insistent and tried to calm Mrs B down. They explained there was no need to worry, “only rabota (work)” was their mantra and he would be home in the evening, they assured her.

When we finally moved on Mrs B. was heartbroken. We knew Russians could act arbitrarily. She saw her husband never again. Years later she received the bad news that he had died in a Siberian labour camp.

We walked on and soon reached “Askanischer Platz” a large square at the “Anhalter Bahnhof”, formerly Berlin’s largest and most famous railway station. Heavy fighting had turned the whole area into a heap of rubble. All buildings were destroyed. The station building looked like a ruin of ancient times. In the middle of the chaos, I saw a destroyed German half-track vehicle with a large red cross. I could not see any other heavy equipment but lots of thrown away rifles and bazookas.

The Anhalter Station in all its glory in 1910

The Anhalter Station in all its glory in 1910

Anhalter Station at the end of the war

Anhalter Station at the end of the war

What is left over today from the glory days.

What is left over today from the glory days.

The adults were by now downcast, first because of the incident with the Russians and then because of the unimagined destruction. They were numbed by their experience and seem to have had forgotten why they had left in the morning in the first place.

We walked along “Saarlandstrasse” (today Stresemannstrasse) and to my amazement saw on both sides of the road many Soviet T-34 tanks as if parked. On closer inspection I noticed they all had large holes where they took a hit from the bazookas.

Soviet tanks during the battle

Soviet tanks during the battle

Only sixty years later I was to learn (“BERLIN – The Downfall 1945”, by Antony Beevor) that a group of volunteers from the Nordland Division (mostly Scandinavians) of the SS had hunted down the Soviet tanks and transformed the area into a “tank cemetery” (their words).

From then on we only wanted to get home. We walked past the “Belle-Alliance-Platz” (today Mehringplatz) once one of the prettiest urban squares in Berlin since before the turn of the century. The square (actually round) was totally devastated from the bombing and the battle. Only in the middle of it was the “Peace Column”, with the Angel Victoria still standing on the top, as if it wanted to make a mockery of all the destruction around her. 

When we got home we had not much to show for our pains. I had the shoe-brush only. In the meantime the Russians had cooked another warm meal for the house community. At least we could be thankful for that.

Soviet soldiers ladling out soup to hungry Berliners, May 1945

Soviet soldiers ladling out soup to hungry Berliners, May 1945

The fighting is over. Soviet soldiers can relax.

The fighting is over. Soviet soldiers can relax among the debris