In Berlin on a Hot Day

On our trip to Berlin in June last year,  we had the opportunity to vote for the federal election at the Australian Embassy in the centre of Berlin.

In Berlin, you can find statues of the Berlin emblem, the Berlin Bear, everywhere in all different disguises. We even found one inside the embassy.

 

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The Berlin Bear greets little Aussie Lucas at the Australian embassy.

But there was a kangaroo too. It looked a bit on the “dry” side in a Berlin court yard.

 

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“Skippy” the Bush-Kangaroo hiding in a backyard in Berlin on a diplomatic mission

In the next picture, you see indeed some Aussies marking the ballot papers. The children thought we went there for a scribble session and Lucas wanted to have a pencil and a piece of paper too.  This is election Australian style. The voting papers are not marked in secret nor are there any cabins where you can hide what you are doing.

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It was a very hot day in Berlin, actually 33°C. So we felt quite at home and what better idea than heading for the water. We did a river cruise.

 

 

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One of the modern buildings replacing the infamous Wall.

Remnants of the Wall can be seen nearby.

 

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Parts of the old Wall has been transformed into an outdoor gallery.

Not far away up-river is the beautiful Oberbaum Bridge. You can see another Berlin anomaly where the underground train is actually an elevated train.

 

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A castle-like structure over which the, here elevated, yellow underground train traverses.

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At the Technical Museum, the elevated train crosses the Landwehrkanal meeting a plane that used to be part of the air-bridge during the “Blockade” of 1948 / 49

 

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The office of the Chancellery as seen from the River Spree. From here Frau Merkel runs the country.

The river cruise took us right through the centre of Berlin.

 

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This is the Central Railway Station. Trains are pulling in from all directions of the compass. The East/West trains are above the ground and the North / South trains are under ground.

 

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This is the Parliament building the centre of the German democracy.

 

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The “Ganymed” Restaurant and the theatre of the world famous “Berlin Ensable” to the right of it.

 

The “Ganymed” was once owned by a member of my wife’s family. Because of the closeness to the theatre, it attracted members of the cast and crews after the show.

 

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The ‘Berlin Cathedral at the Pleasure Garden.

At the end of the 3-hour cruise, we were all exhausted and when we arrived at the train station we found this sign:

 

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Train has been cancelled

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because in Berlin the trains run every few minutes and every station is well stocked with food and drinks of all description. As we were parched we were able to buy some bottled water.

 

It was a memorable day

 

 

 

 

Our Identities in the 21st Century

We all have heard of the famous pronouncement Samuel Johnson was supposed to have made, that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

What then is the meaning of the statement President Trump made in the front of the Capitol when he made his inaugural speech?

“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget that                              whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”

Apparently, he wanted to remind his fellow Americans that they were all patriots and they should put America first.

The same is happening here in Australia. Our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked new citizens if they seek, “to join our Australian family to join us as Australian Patriots – committed to the values that define us, committed to the values that unite us.”

So, is Trump now one of Samuel Johnson’s scoundrels? Or is he just pulling America back from its international role to its traditional isolationist position?

Being a patriot and “our values” in all their forms has a lot to do with our identity. Where does that identity come from?  Our identity more likely comes from our culture and language. This identity is formed by the things that surround us, our family, our neighbourhood, our landscape, the country that is formed by the borders that define the nation, religion, climate etc.

Along come the politicians and ask us to be patriots and defend those national borders. There is no doubt our identity gives us at times comfort and security. At other times it gives us anxiety and we cringe when we are asked, in the name of patriotism, to defend something that does not feel right.

If our language is the framework for our identity then what if we are bilingual and have learnt to love another culture other than the culture of our upbringing? Scientists say our brain is rewired by a second language. Are we then less patriotic? Or can we ask the other way around, are we tied to the circumstance of our upbringing?

Towards the end of the 20th century Europeans, for instance, have grown less nationalistic and have embraced a common European cultural upbringing. Shock horror then when the English people living in other EU countries felt horrified about the negative Brexit vote. They felt more European than British and thousands want to apply for German citizenship as soon as they can. A European identity seems to take over from the old national identities. Suddenly those Britons feel the old border was being re-erected where there wasn’t any anymore. Suddenly the drawbridge is pulled back in and the English Channel becomes a moat again.

For a couple of generations, borders seemed to disappear or at least they became meaningless. Does that mean we were all losing our identities? I have the feeling national borders, often artificial constructs anyway, are not necessarily the cause of our identity.

As the population mix here in Australia changes due to immigration there is a discussion whether we belong to the West or whether we are Asian now. Asian countries become suspicious of us as we are not sufficiently Asian. They are asking whether the old colonial powers have left a Trojan Horse in their backyard. Clearly, their identity tells them we are of a different identity of which they have to be wary.

I’m sure, over the years we will, here in Australia,  develop a new identity. Most of the values our Prime Minister speaks about are universal ones anyway and they are easy to understand.

Who am I then? German or Australian? A bit of both? Or am I already forming a new identity? My two languages give me the opportunity to roam the literature of two cultures, albeit they are not too different. It is said that thinking in two languages is like having two souls. It can be very stressful to have “two souls in one’s breast”! Especially when one’s loyalties are being tested one way or another.

In my opinion questioning the policies of our government is not disloyalty at all. It is the opposite! It shows commitment to a better society. They like to speak about fairness but their policies are anything but. My Australian identity is sufficiently challenged by policies that favour the rich and discriminate against the poor.

Is my anger the reflection of some sort of identity? And if our identities are changing over time who will we be in this and the next century? And if ever there is a threat from outer space, will we discover that we have a universal identity here on Earth? It seems an identity is only apparent with an opposing identity.

I think we should ditch all those different identities and declare that we belong to the same humanity in a borderless, global society where we are all siblings of the same family under the natural guidance of Mother Earth.

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My dear Followers…

 

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Mount Keira

…you are probably wondering what this old man in “Downunder” is up to?

“Why don’t he write? (is one of my favourite lines from the film ‘Dances with Wolves’)”

Yes, why haven’t I written for a few months?  I’m busy coping with life. I am active but everything takes longer nowadays. On top of it, the medical profession has taken up a big chunk of my precious time. They ponder the question of how they can prolong, or extent,  my life. “Prolong” sound negative, doesn’t it? I’m sure I want my life to go on a bit longer.

The photo on the top was taken during one of my two recent stays in hospital at Wollongong, NSW. It is a picture of Mount Keira.  A small hill, compared to all the big mountains in the world. But since it raises 464meters from practical sea level it is dominating the city. It is part of the Illawarra Escarpment.

 

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The coastal plain as seen from Mt Keira

 

And this is part of the view from the top of Mount Keira. It is breathtaking.

The region in which we live, the Illawarra, is as beautiful as it gets. Less than 100 km south of Sydney.  It is almost unknown by the Sydneysiders. They rather go north on their weekends or vacations. And if they go south they bypass the region on the motorway.

During February we had downpour after downpour, resulting in local flooding in local areas. A boy, only thirteen years old, drowned in a creek. He was being swept away in the deluge while riding a boogie board with about twenty other children. That is what children do. When I was that age I played with my friends in the ruins of Berlin after the war. That too was a dangerous pastime. Luckily, nothing serious happened to me and I’m here to tell the story.

We live in a world of unprecedented uncertainty. I know, life was always uncertain but what we have now is on a scale that is simply frightening. People have lost trust in their system of government. And governments have lost trust in their voters.

Much of the uncertainty and the fear it creates is the result of modern communications. The global village is today’s reality and not only a thought bubble emanating from  Marshall McLuhan’s brain.

For me, a frightening world is still an interesting world. It is an opportunity to learn. We are conscious beings, who are forced to learn or we won’t survive. We are craving “input”  like the robot “Johnny 5” in the 1986 film “Short Circuit”. The problem with the majority of us is, that we are craving junk input too. To know what to learn and what not to learn then becomes the question.

At this stage of my life, I have to learn to deal with what my doctor announced with a stern face, “You have a tumour! You know, a tumour?” Yes, I heard him the first time. This is my reality now.

After a couple of invasive procedures and a six weeks treatment regime, I am free to spend my time in a more or less unstructured way. We, Aunty Uta and I, had time to go and see a couple of movies. The outstanding one was “Frantz” a French- German coproduction. It is an anti-war movie par excellence. It is shot mainly in black and white to express the mood of the time in 1919.  Occasionally, the colour appears at some beautiful moments in the story. There is only one very short scene of what actually happened during a battle. Perhaps it was necessary to show why the main protagonist acted in the way he did. War not only kills people but messes with the lives of the survivors too.

Today,  I’m happy to report that France and Germany are the best of friends. And this after hundreds of years of fighting each other. This gives raise to some sort of optimism as those two European nations, having seen the past, understand that the only way forward is through cooperation.  The British on the other hand have pulled up the bridges and wallow in their insularity.

Last month was my birthday. The 82nd no less. I took my wife to downtown Wollongong and we had a cheese platter in a roof top restaurant. The sun shone and warmed us on the outside and the cheese and wine on the inside. We were in a life-affirming mood and were reflecting on our sixty years of marriage.

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We had a great time and wished us both a long life together.

I hope, I will write another post soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in the Future

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When I was a teenager or even younger, I thought the year 1960 was the future. “1984” was the distant future and the year 2000 was the unimaginable, far away, further away future. All those dates are gone now and are part of the history of mankind.

Now, we have the year 2017! I live in a present which was once a future, I was not able to contemplate at all. The last two numbers of years remind us of what happens one hundred years ago. That was a time just before I was born. When I grew up the First World War was still talked about without a quantifying number. It was the World War! That war and its aftermath were so bad that people did not want a repeat nor did they want any world war that had a number attached higher than one. They got one anyway.

My parents were both born in the year 1900 and were true citizens of the 20th century.  While they were growing up new inventions changed their lives. The telephone, movie films, electric trains, aeroplanes and automobiles, the wireless radio,  all those inventions changed the lives of millions. They lived in the most modern city in the world: Berlin.

When I was born, in an almost new hospital, I could not yet know that a madman was already in the process to destroy this modern civilisation. Only smart people could foresee what was coming and if they were able to, they left the country. So much of modernity was transferred to the USA.

All this is, of course, nothing new. There are constant changes and people who bring those changes about have themselves no idea what consequences their ideas ultimately will have. When Gottlieb Daimler fitted an internal combustion engine to a coach he could not imagine that one day it would lead to an environmental disaster.

In 1941 to 1943,  I walked past a tenant building on my way to school in which a young man, Konrad Zuse was inventing the machine that was to became the dominating appliance of human existence in the 21st century, the computer.

The present is always the precursor of the future. We always live in the present but in comparison to what went on before we would have called today’s present the future at any other time.

In today’s world, there are different struggles going on at the same time. There seems to be a religious struggle going on.  I say, “seems to be”, because actually it is not.  It is a rebellion by people who have enough after beeing controlled and exploited by others for centuries, if not millenniums.  Of course. they are guided by their culture, which includes their religion and tribal traditions.

In our European-centric or Western world, we find four main cultural ingredients combined: Roman, Celtic, Germanic and Slavic. All this with a mighty proportion of Jewish tradition to spice things up. Overlaying all this mixture is the Judaic-Christian religion. This is our framework for our  thoughts and actions.

Even if we are not religious we believe in the enlightenment and a basic morality. Apparently, the majority of our politicians don’t believe in any morality. They have been democratically elected to work for the benefit of the population as a whole. But once elected and when they know the ins and outs of the expense entitlement system they go for it like a pack of hungry wolves. They have no shame at all.

The question arises how good is Democracy if it throws up such a mob of parasites? Last century, especially after WW2, Democracy seemed to be spreading. The two shining examples are Germany and Japan. After they lost the war they took to Democracy like ducks to water.

After 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union true Democracy seems to be on the retreat. New governments are still being elected but after the votes have been counted some of the new governments think they have a licence to curtail the rules of Democracy.

On top of all this, globalisation has led to an increase in the influence of big business over the governments. The voters are reacting now by throwing out the governments that appear corrupt and they elect populist new governments which further erode the democratic way of life. That doesn’t mean the new governments are less corrupt.

The USA have voted themselves an unpredictable president who will probably govern by Twitter. Well, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the other day, the future will begin in a few days. We will see what is new about it.

I say, we have arrived already. We live in a future we did not imagine when we were younger. The climate is changing our planet Earth into an uninhabitable rock. What have we done to our children and all the generation who will follow us?

People all over the world don’t want things to continue as they did up to now and they say so in a recent poll.

They want a strong leader who takes the power back from the big companies and their greedy CEOs.

We are living in a present in which the dark clouds of the future don’t show any silver lining at all.

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Memories of the Past and towards 2017

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

These are the words of the refrain from the beautiful song “Bookends” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. A song about two old friends sitting on a park bench – reminiscing.

 

 

If you have more time on your hand you can be listening to the full version here.

Last month,  Uta and I had our 60th Wedding anniversary. It was a moment to reflect on our past together.

Just before we got married this photo was taken of us two on the balcony of my mother’s apartment in Berlin. In the meantime, this building has been torn down and a more modern one has taken its place.

img_20170106_0001 In the picture, my future wife looks rather sceptical at me.  Or is it whimsical? We were innocent at the time. We believed in a better world and eleven years after WW 2 we had all reasons to believe in a bright future. Out of that belief grew our confidence to start a family.

In case you are wondering about the plate on the wall, it has been painted by Anselm  Feuerbach and is of his favourite model, Nanna, in a classical pose. This plate is still in the family and belongs to my son now.

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From then to now it was a time of great changes in all our lives. We moved to Australia and raised a family. Of our four children, our eldest daughter passed away nearly five years ago.

2016 was an especially bad year all round. The election of Donald Trump to be the new President of the US makes for interesting times. Interesting, because he seems to be unpredictable. He loves conflict and will have a fight on his hand, among others, with the American secret services. The establishment believes the advice of the services are sacrosanct without considering that they might have their own agenda.

Terrorism is an old game but since 9/11 it has become global, as so many things have since the end of the Cold War. We shake in our shoes as our governments think of more useless schemes to stop this menace. But all those measurements make the would-be terrorists more cranky.

On a personal level, my health is precarious. At least this is what my doctors tell me. Next week I will know more. At my age, anything can crop up in my body. When I was born my life expectancy was just sixty-four years. Fifteen years later I am still here to tell my stories.

A few years ago, I talked about this with one of my neighbours. We called it bonus time and laughed about it. This was on a Friday and the very next Monday his bonus time came to a sudden end. So, you never know.

In case you wonder what happened to the couple in the first photo. We changed into an old couple day by day without noticing it. And now, sixty years later, we look like this.

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We have come a long way and I’m happy that last year we were able to visit Berlin, our hometown, once more. If we are lucky, we will be able to see Berlin again in two years time. Our health allowing, of course.

I nearly forgot. For the fifth time, we became great-grandparents. So the family is growing and we hope the politicians are not mucking up the great-grandchildren’s future.

For 2017 I wish all my followers all the best. Most of all stay healthy because without good health life can be a drag.

Pauses

 

 

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The backyard of Ruby’s Restaurant at Mount Kembla, NSW

 

Life can be pretty hectic. From the time we are born to the moment we die, life can be full of activities that don’t leave much time for reflections. If we stumble from event to event we could miss the important moments when we could realise, that life is not only a string of events.

If we don’t stop from time to time we are just driftwood in the great ocean of events. The events in the Universe appear to be chaotic. We have been given our five senses to make some sense out of this chaos. By doing this our intellect is only creating an image of reality, according to Deepak Chopra. But do we stop to correct that false image?

I know our sensory experience is an illusion, but nevertheless, I, and we all,  need it as a guidance in our daily life.

Sometimes a pause is forced upon us, like when we miss a train or a thunderstorm compels us to take shelter. The chain of events in which we were drifting is broken and we pause.

Some of us are creative in pausing.  A photographer might be looking at something with his inner eye and discovers that, that has always been there but would be unnoticed by people who hastened to their next event.

A poet is in pause-motion when he writes his poem. He reflects on his feelings and the circumstances that caused those feelings.  And we, the readers, pause again when we try to absorb those very feelings. This could be over a large span of time and distance proving that time too is an artificial construct of our intellect.

And what about music? Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” are such reflections on life as a child and how our childhood shapes us. But do we stop and pause to reflect on it? Children are still daydreaming – pausing in fact – even if they stare onto their iPads. We used to stare out of the windows in the classroom; daydreaming of the world outside that window. Modern children look at the iPad and expect to see beyond to what the screen has to offer.

 

I think pauses make us into proper human beings because they interrupt our constant reactions to the events that shape our lives. In those pauses, we might discover who we really are and our relationship with the world around us. It is worthwhile to reflect on the fact that we are just a temporary collection of atomic particles.

Hanukkah and Christmas are upon us. And when we light the candles it is time to look into the light and let it shine on our inner knowledge.  The holiday period at the end of the year is the big pause when we have the opportunity to recognise that we are all brothers and sisters, made from the same stardust.

 

I wish all my followers a “Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas or just plain Season’s Greetings”. Let the light brighten your consciousness to a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.

 

 

 

 

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The old mining village of Mount Kembla, NSW

 

 

 

 

 

Life is (mostly) a Tour de Force

 

 

 

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On a perfect sunny day, life seems to be perfect

Life is a race to the end  and it  is run in stages. Some are easy stages, we later recognise as happy times, and some are torturous stages, the hill sections, when we learn about ourselves  and others.

 

We know actually right from the start that the finishing line is waiting for us. But it is rather nebulous and as long as the sun shines we could not care less. The finishing line is so far out that it doesn’t matter where it is. We are happy to complete the stages. Even the numbers of stages are unknown to us.

Some of us come around a bend in our lives and before we know it, the finishing line is there right in front of us and we have no time to contemplate our  fate. It is all over. It happened to me one cold winter day when I fell off my pushbike and  lost consciousness. I might just as well have  been dead.

I  belong to the ones who went through many stages. We believe, despite knowing otherwise, nothing will happen to us and the universe will make an exception for us.  “Pustekuchen”, we say in German when our expectations aren’t being met. All our assumptions are then blown away. The assumptions were just hot air.

A couple of weeks ago, I went   to see my friendly family doctor with a minor complaint. After a few tests, he looked at me sternly and told me  straight to my face:”You have a tumour.” When  he saw my stunned face he added: ” You know,  a tumour!?!”

Oh, I heard him loud and clear. What he was saying to me, was that he had discovered  something in my body that marked my point of destination – my finishing line had come into view. It is not clear whether I’m on my last stage or the second last one. It depends on so many variables. If I pace myself properly, I might be able to add another stage to my life. If not, the next bend could bring the end.

Of course, my adult children are in denial and tell me,  I’ll be one hundred one day. The stage I’m now in, there is still a flat section before the final climb,  and I am still enjoying the race. The sun is still shining.

 

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A Black Swan is sorting out the eggs it is sitting on.

 

 

I have been a marathon runner and ran many road races over several distances and I have learnt to cope with pain. I don’t now how the pain will be in the end,  but I hope for the best. So far, I am still pain-free (which makes my situation surreal)  but I do expect the medical profession to add to my discomfort. It is all part of the cards I have been dealt for the final stage (or stages).

I will still be blogging,  and from time to time I will report on what is happening to me.

The motto of my blog is:

“It is about life, as I experienced it, how I see it and how I imagine it…”

 

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Is this an exit or an entrance to something new, as the mountain beckons in the distance to be climbed?