Summer’s End

Today is one of those late Summer days one hopes they never end. The sun is doing its best to make us forget the last rainy weeks. We went to the beach to walk in the water. March water is the warmest. There were some surfers at the patrolled beach, but not many. But from there the beach stretches for miles.

Windang Beach

Port Kembla and Windang Beach are just one of many beaches in our beautiful Illawarra. The escarpment is shimmering bluish in the distance through the haze.

Tonight we will put our clocks back for one hour. Adieu, Summer – one extra hour of sleep tomorrow and we are heading for winter. What they call winter here.

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Officially still Summer – but it feels like Winter !

It is early in the morning. But it feels like night, because we still have summer time and wait eagerly to put our clocks back. The sun has decided a few weeks ago that is time to sleep in. But someone in our bureaucratic hierarchy has decided otherwise. Who and how do they make such a decision? They disturb our natural sleep rhythms and couldn’t give a hoot how we feel: miserable!

At least the cooler weather is a great help for my running. I don’t have to stumble out of bed to hit the road. Because it is not getting hot any more, I can choose the time of the day that suits me best. Luckily my running is improving after more than a year of limping about. The knee has calmed down and is not creaking any more. Discomfort? Yes. but this is all. I’m up to 5k now and hope to increase my distance steadily soon.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Last Friday we saw a beautiful movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,  in which  a group of British retirees  move to India to live out  their lives  there. Each one of them was a well drawn character and was played by some of the best actors of British cinema.

Filmed on location in India, it presented us with the colourful chaotic life of that country. The culture shock was immense and it took some time to overcome. It was almost like the  people of the story were thrown into a mixer and shuffled into a new deal. Life for them was not the same at the end.

It is a feel good movie and what is wrong with that if the movie is so well done as this one.

Memory Lapses

‘Betty, d’you know where my glasses are?’ Jack called out from the living room to the study where Betty was busy writing an email.

‘What d’you want?’ came her answer.Jack with a raised voice,

‘Do you know where my reading glasses are?’

‘I have trouble looking after my own, never mind yours,’ she called back. ‘The first thing you do is to look into a mirror. It is more likely the glasses are right on your nose, than anywhere else.’

‘Eureka!’ Jack could be heard. ‘D’you know where I found them?’

‘How can I? Can’t you even remember that? I’m not a clairvoyant.’

‘Don’t be sarcastic, Betty. But have a guess!’

‘On your nose,’ Betty said.

‘Naw. I would have known. No, they were still on my bedside table. I forgot, I have not used them yet this morning.’

‘Could you leave me alone,’ Betty called out to him. ‘I’m trying to concentrate on what I’m writing. Now, look what I have done. The email has disappeared. Could you come here and help me?’

‘What have you done,’ asked Jack as he entered the study.

‘Nothing. You and your silly glasses. I lost all concentration and now the whole email is gone. Kaput!’  She felt like screaming but she reminded herself to control her temper.

‘The first thing you do….’

‘I’m not looking into a mirror,’ she interrupted him.

‘No, no, you look into Drafts or Deleted. I told you that at least a hundred times.’

‘I forgot or you never did. You never show me anything. You always do it for me. How can I learn anything. It is the same with driving. Only the driver remembers the road.’

‘Do you see, there on the left, Drafts and Deleted.?’Jack asked, irritated.

‘Have you taken your medication this morning.’ Betty asked instead of answering him, ‘You seem a little irritated.’

‘I don’t think I am,’ he said. ‘But think of it – I have forgotten to take the pill,’

‘I knew it,’ Betty said triumphantly. She continued with her email and Jack went back to the living room to look for a book in the book shelf.

‘Honey,’ he called out, ‘I’m looking for a book – do you know where it is?’

‘How can you be that dumb?’ she asked. ‘There is no way I can answer that one, because I have no clue what book you have in mind.’

‘We only talked about it this morning. You know the book on …..on the history of Rome.’

‘That was yesterday,’ Betty said, ‘ after we watched the documentary on TV.’

‘Yes, yes, now I remember,’ Jack said, ‘It is in the history section, but I can’t see it, because I must have mislaid my glasses again.’

‘Don’t be silly, they are right here beside the computer where you left them after you helped me with the email. I think you are suffering from Alzheimer’s.’

‘I do not,’ Jack protested, ‘I have a good memory. I still remember my father giving me a mighty hiding for forgetting something or other – I forgot now what it was – but I haven’t forgotten the hiding I got.’

‘I’ll bet, you haven’t forgotten that you still have a bottle of beer in the fridge.’

‘Have I?’ Jack said feigning, ‘But you are right. There are things men never forget.’

‘You know,’ he continued, ‘It is good to have a partner as an auxiliary brain. What one forgets, the other will remember.’

‘I can do without your scatter brain. I think, it is time for a cuppa.’

For a while there was peace and quiet as both were busy. Later, when they had their cup of tea they became more relaxed. They were sitting in the backyard among the greenery. Birds were singing in the trees and lizards were darting about. They enjoyed those uncomplicated moments together.

‘It’s Melbourne Cup Day and we still have to place our bets,’ Betty said.

‘Oh yes, I haven’t forgotten. We can go straight after we had our tea,’

They got ready and went to the shopping centre. As they had other shopping to do they decided that Betty would start the shopping and Jack would place the bets at the TAB and join her later.

‘You know what, Jack? I must have forgotten to bring my purse. Would you give me your wallet, please?’

‘So you are forgetting things too,’ Jack said as he handed her his wallet after he took a Twenty Dollar note for the bets.

‘But don’t spend it all,’ he joked and started to walk to the TAB. When he arrived there it was full of happy, expectant punters. Everyone wanted to be in it. The excitement was palpable. The din only died down when a race was shown on the TV screen. Jack heard a voice talking to him.

‘Do you want a hand ‘Old Fella’? an elderly man asked him.

‘No thanks,’ Jack answered, ‘I still remember it from last year how to do it.’ Another man came in and asked the eager volunteer for help. Jack filled in his tickets and proceeded to the window. All went quickly without a hitch.

‘Twenty Dollars,’ the female cashier said on the other side of the window.

‘And so it should be,’ Jack said, ‘I only need to win now!’ He walked out of the TAB and wanted to put the tickets away. That’s when he noticed that his wallet was missing. He got a big shock. He must have left the wallet on the table where he filled in the tickets or at the window. He rushed back in and looked first on the table, then went to the window. Nothing.

‘Have you seen a wallet or anybody handed one in?’ he asked the woman.

‘No, but you didn’t have a wallet. You had the money ready in your hand,’ came the answer. That is when he remembered, that he had given his wallet to Betty. He calmed down and went to the shop where Betty wanted to do the shopping. He told her his adventure and she called him a ‘silly duffer’, but in a friendly way.

In the afternoon, when they were back home, they followed the proceedings at the race course on TV. Melbourne Cup Day is always a big occasion. They opened a bottle of bubbly and had some cake and nibbles. And as the horses turned into the straight, during the main event, they got excited as two of the horses they had placed their bets on got in front and went first and second over the finish line.

Late that evening, they were in bed and both were reading. Jack closed his book and turned towards Betty. One of his hands touched her as he searched for an opening in her night dress.

‘What are you up to?’ she asked. ‘It seems you haven’t forgotten that aspect of your life.’

‘Never,’ Jack said and grinned, ‘Pure instinct, that is what it is. Even Alzheimer patients have a need for some action. I mean intimacy.’

Betty smiled, put her book down and turned towards him.

‘You win, but turn off the light or have you forgotten it?’

‘No, no, I haven’t. I want to see were we are going.’

‘You haven’t changed a bit,’ were Betty’s last words for the day as she smiled and touched his nose with her index finger.

Earth Hour

On Saturday 31 March  is Earth Hour Day this year. This is what happened to a family last year.

The car stopped in the driveway. The two children, Joshua and Bridget, loosened their seat belt, opened the door quickly and jumped out of it running towards their grandparents, who were waiting on the porch.

“Pop, Nan,” they screamed in unison and in a few steps were on the porch and hanging on their grandparents neck, showering them with kisses.

“Oh may, oh may, you are excited,” Granddad said patting them on their heads. In the meantime the kid’s parents had reached the porch too and the young mother said,

“Sorry, Mum to lump you with the kids on short notice but it could be to our advantage to go to the meeting tonight.”

“That’s quite all right, Larissa, we enjoy the children and always have a good time with them. And on top of that, Pop planed something special for tonight.”

“What, what Pop?” they asked almost screaming.

“We are going back in time,” Granddad said with a smirk on his face.

“Can we go to the Middle Ages, to King Arthur’s court,” Joshua asked.

“No, no, not that far,” Granddad said, “but it might seem to you that far.”

The young parents were in a hurry and left without hanging around or even entering the house. While Grandma prepared a drink for the children Granddad sat down in his favourite armchair and the children on one arm rest each.

“Can I watch ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ tonight,” Bridget asked.

“I’m afraid not,’ Pop said, “but I tell you what, I got the DVD out for you and we start watching it any time before or after our ‘time travel’. You know of course what special day it is today?”

“Nooo,” the children said, “ but what is it?”

“It is ‘Earth Hour‘ day. At 8.30 tonight we have to switch off all lights and sit in the dark. That is when we will go on our time travel.”

You’re are making it up, Granddad,” Bridget said.

“No, no,” he said, waiving his finger in the air, “the people have decided, we all should switch off our electric lights in order to make us aware not to waste electricity ”

“That is awesome, Pop,” said Josh, “will we play ghost, can we?”

“No,” Granddad said,“ as I told you before, we will use the opportunity to travel in time. You will be surprised were we will end up!”

“Where, where?” both children demanded to know.

“You always wanted to know how it was when I was a little boy, roughly the same age as you are now. So tonight you will see how it was. We won’t have the usual tea tonight. I want you to be hungry when we get to Berlin in nine-teen-forty-eight. We will be eating there.”

The children were quite for a while, musing how Granddad would manage the time travel. Did he have a time machine, they asking themselves.

“Granddad?” Bridget asked, “where is your time machine?”

“We don’t need any, we will be teleporting,” Granddad answered and smiled happy with himself that he knew all the answers to his curious grand children’s questions. Grandma was in the kitchen and prepared something, but the children did not take any notice. The clock was ticking relentlessly towards eight-thirty. The children started to paint some pictures at the table, forgetting all about Alice in Wonderland. Just before eight-thirty Grandma joined them in the living room.

“It is time, kids,” Granddad said, “we are doing a countdown now and at zero we will be in nine-teen-forty-eight. Here we go ten, nine …..” They grabbed each others hand and the children felt a shiver going down their spine. They failed to notice that Grandma was standing near the light switch.

“…three, two, one, zero!” With that the lights went off and the house was in complete darkness. Bridget screamed and Joshua said, “I hope there aren’t any ghosts.”

Suddenly Grandma lit a match and with it several candles that were placed around the living room. It was a soft light and the room looked different to the children, calmer, more comely.

“Blasted!” they heard Grandma saying, “just when I wanted to do the ironing, they had to turn off the electricity . An hour of electricity a day is never enough to do anything.”

“You should have got used to it by now, Gisela,” Pop said. “The government does what they can. The Amis and the Poms fly in as much coal as they can to supply the power station.”

“What is happening?’ Joshua wanted to know. “Why are they flying in the coal? Here, in Australia, I see coal coming by rail.”

“The Russians have closed off all rail and road traffic to Berlin. We have only one hour of electricity in twenty four hours. It is very cold. It is not like you have in Australia one hour off a year.”

“But Grandpa,” Bridget said, “we can’t finish our painting now or watch the DVD you promised. But I’m happy you are here with us and I sort of – like it.”

“Listen,” Grandpa interrupted just as a plane crossed their house, “that’s a Dakota or Skymaster bringing supplies so we can go shopping tomorrow. It is called the Airlift.”

“Yes,” Grandma joined in, “I heard there will be powdered milk and powered eggs tomorrow. We will have mashed potatoes with scrambled eggs, all made from powered ingredients, on Sunday.” The children were surprised that Nana was helping spinning the yarn with Pop.

“Yuck, Grandma, how can you eat that?” Joshua wanted to know.

“Sundays we will have our one hour electricity during the day, as the industry shuts down.” Grandma said. “Tonight I have another special treat for you. I’m making you a soup from old bread. Last week we had a ration of white bread, made from Canadian wheat, and I saved it up just for today. There are some sultanas left over from last Christmas and with powered milk added, we will have a hot meal that we like. You will see.” With that she went out to the kitchen and could be heard handling a pot.

“Children,” Granddad said, “I have to confess, I cheated a bit and brought a camping stove along. We can’t have a wooden fire any more as we used to have. But you get the idea how bad it is without electricity. The radio did not work and we had go to designated places in the city where they read the news from the back of a truck.”

In no time the water was boiling and Grandma added pieces of white bread to it. She throw in the sultanas and stirred the mix. After the soup boiled for a few minutes she turned the flame down, made a paste from the dried mild and added it to the soup.

“Bingo, it is all ready,” Grandma said with a smile. “And in the light of a candle it will not look so bad after all. Go sit at the table and you can add some sugar the same way as some people do with their corn flakes.”

The children did not look very happy. Usually they liked Grandma’s cooking but at this occasion it looked like baby food. They probed with their spoon and dipped their tongue into it, then added some sugar and Joshua even some cinnamon.

“You better start eating,” Granddad said, “MacDonald and pizza delivery have not been invented yet. If you don’t eat this, there is nothing else.” The children did just that and soon they said, it wasn’t that bad and they spooned it into their mouths like it was the best food they had ever had.

“You see,” Grandma said, “it was not too bad. We survived a whole winter on food like that. Some times we only had bread toasted on a hot plate.” and Granddad added, “and when we get back to the future we will appreciate  our food more.”

Suddenly the hour was up and after another count down Grandma switched on the lights.

“Ah,” they all said and the children blinked their eyes to get used to the bright lights. Their parents came soon and the children told them their adventure of their time travel and that they had soup made from old bread and it taste not too bad , but, they said,

“We don’t want to have it again. Pop made us starve before they dished it out to us.” They all laughed.

“I know the story,” Clarissa said, “count your blessings that you did not have to eat the soup made from shredded potatoes. It is like glue. All right you guys, we are going home and you can tell us all about it in the car.. If you don’t fall asleep first”.

Americans in Berlin after the War – a personal View

One evening in early July 1945 there appeared soldiers on our street (then Immelmannstrasse, today Dudenstrasse) we hadn’t seen before. They walked in pairs and looked different from the soldiers of the Red Army. They were better dressed, dress not battle uniform, and carried carbines (M1, but we did not know that at the time). We were speculating who they were and some thought they were French because the uniform looked similar to what French prisoners of war wore. We learnt quickly that they were Americans and soon we called them „Amis“.

Why did they wear rifles? They wouldn’t be afraid of us? We had enough of the war and all the killing that went on. They soon appeared without their weapons and settled in as the occupation force in the American Sector of Berlin. We lived near the Tempelhof Airport and they used some of the airport buildings as their barracks. There they were often hanging out of the windows whistling to girls or throwing out sweets or chewing gum to us kids. When they were off duty we could see them in the street, smoking cigarettes, chewing gum or fooling around with each other. They seemed a lively lot.

Their cigarettes (Luck Strike, Chesterfield and Camel) were very popular with the Germans and they were freely available on the Black Market. One cigarette was worth 12Mark and became quickly the standard of exchange among the population. The not so pleasant aspect of the Americans smoking in the streets was when they threw away the butts some nicotine deprived German bent down to pick them up. Some of the soldiers did not like it and stepped on the butts before someone could pick them up and often made sure they stepped on the hands of the men.

The Americans liked their Baseball and soon they had two base ball fields up and running. One at the sport field at Katzbachstrasse and one on the field opposite the main entrance to the airport. We were amazed what heavy equipment they were able to use in the construction of the base ball fields and the removal of radar and searchlight equipment at Katzbachstrasse. They used bulldozers and cranes of enormous size, and even we children understood why they had won the war. Soon they had the stands up and the spectators were able to support their teams with a lot of loud encouragement. We had no idea what they were doing and marvelled at the huge leather gloves and the way they slid with their feet first when they reached a base.

At Columbia Damm they build a large sporting complex for their own use, but they also made it available to German children. They also took over our local cinema, the Korso. We loved that cinema and at first were sad but soon we accepted it as victor’s spoils. Here too they shared their facility with us. Once a week they put on a session for us children. We loved those Western movies like Union Pacific and Destry rides again.

Because of power rationing and cuts after the war and during the Blockade German cinemas were very restricted in the number of session they were able to put on. The Americans installed their own generator So, they had no power issues. Later on they built their own cinema at Columbia Damm, aptly named Columbia. We got our cinema back.

The Amis loved to go out and in the evenings they swarmed out into the streets. We had several pubs, we called them Kneipen, in our street. Two of them became their favourites. One, called Der Weisse Mohr, was frequented by the white soldiers and one other, Jängrich, was prefered by the black soldiers. The latter one had several club rooms and one of them was used exclusively by the black soldiers and their German lady friends. Here they could play their own music. The music was often loud and the soldiers boisterous but there was never any trouble neither with the German public nor among themselves.

I wish I could report the same about the white soldiers. Almost on a daily basis the MP had to restore order at the Weisse Mohr. Fights spilled out on to the pavement. Sometimes the trouble was so bad that the MP patrol had to ask for reinforcement and they came in big number and brought prison vans along. The MP’s formed two rows, with their truncheons at the ready, from the door of the pub to the prison vans. Then they called out the soldiers and they beat them with their truncheons as they rushed to the vans. We kids had great fun and not a little Schadenfreude.

The segregation was not restricted to the two pubs. Often there were fights between white and black soldiers on the street. It seemed to me the white soldiers were the aggressors. Once I even observed a white soldier on a motor bike chasing a black soldier and when he caught up with him, throwing him into rosebushes.

Later, when I was old enough to go into a night bar I became involved in a case of unintended segregation. Many of the night clubs and bars were “Off Limits” for military personal. They were clearly marked as such by large signs on the entrance door. By this time soldiers, when off duty, were allowed to go out in civilian clothes. Perhaps, that gave them the opportunity to be more relaxed and mingle with the civilian population of Berlin. From time to time Military Police would look into those establishments and give them a cursory glance only. They did not really check them out.

One evening, while sipping on a drink I was beckoned by a black young man to come outside. He said he could not go in and he wanted me to pass on a message to one young woman who worked at the bar. I assumed he was a soldier and told him that he need not to worry as many of his buddies were inside. They did not seem to care. But he pointed at his face and I understood. If the MP would have looked in they would have known straight away that he was an off duty soldier because at that time Berlin did not have many black tourists.

Of course the Americans brought the AFN (American Forces Network) into town. That station drove our parents nuts. They presented their programs with infectious enthusiasm. We liked their music much more than the local variety. They also gave German jazz musicians a go. One of our friends, Helmut Brandt, appeared live on AFN and was very popular with the American troops. Jazz was prohibited during the Nazi years and was for us young people a real revelation.

In 1948, after the currency reforms and the start of the Berlin Blockade RIAS-Berlin radio station became our main source of news information. US military cars were used to drive the newsreaders around to read the news at various prearranged spots. Those were the dark days of the cold war. But the good thing was that the Berliners and the Americans came closer and became real friends. This goodwill could be seen everywhere. The Marshall Plan was started, the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek was build and the American people collected money for a copy of the Liberty Bell (Freiheitsglocke) to be presented to the people of Berlin. General Lucius D. Clay became a real hero for us Berliners. He was a real leader and action man. The America House at Nollendorf Platz became a centre of American culture and many young people used it’s facilities.

In early 1951,while the monument to the airlift was being built in front of the airport building, I walked past the barracks on my way to work. It was bitter cold and still dark. Soldiers came rushing out, some still chewing on their breakfast, desperately trying to put on their uniforms as the Sergeant bellowed at them to hurry up for the morning roll call. One soldier holding an apple in his hand and when he saw me he past it on to me before he fell into line. I was happy to have something unexpected for my lunch. The apple was dark red and the colour penetrated into the normally yellowish flesh.

In 1954 I joined the Bereitschaftspolizei and was stationed at the former Patton-/ Oliver Barracks at Gallwitzallee, Lankwitz. During our training we were using some of the facilities provided by the Americans. We went swimming at the large indoor pool at the Andrews Barracks at Finkensteinallee. Small weapons training was done at Rose Range, Dreilinden on the outskirts of Berlin and for the light machine gun firing we went to the Keerans Range at the old AVUS Südkurve. I also learnt later, that a group of girl syncronised swimmers had permissin to use the pool at mFinkensteinallee for their training.

I did not stay in Berlin. After starting a family we migrated to Australia in 1959. We loved Berlin but we sought new opportunities and could not be there when the Berlin / American relations reached their highest point in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

The occupation came to an end on the 2. October 1990 on the eve of the German Reunification. There is a very good and informative website, documenting the American stay in Berlin for all this time. It is the site of the Berlin-Brigade. In the dark days of April 1945, when hardly a stone remained untouched in Berlin, people were saying the Allies would stay for fifty years. Well, 45 years was near enough. The Americans came as conquerors but I’m sure they left as friends who learnt to love Berlin. 

On the Eve of my new Century

2035

Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be 100 – yes, a one  with two fat zeros. They told me the telegram from King Charles is on it’s way. We still are a monarchy. Australians don’t dare to offend the English. Now is not the time, is the slogan.

That I’m still alive is just a miracle. When I was born I had a live expectancy of only sixty-four years. Against all expectations, and daydreaming by my wife, I’m still here. She has been a strong blogger for a long time and in 2007 forecast that in 2017 I will be dead and buried. Her wishful thinking never came true. I’m still around and she is still blogging to her heart’s content. Mind you she is blind but she knows were the keys on the keyboard are. The other day she pronounced with heightened optimisms that I wouldn’t last forever. How true that will turn out to be. Betty is not always right, but I have to grant her this: I won’t be around for ever.

I still remember one day in twenty-twelve when she wanted to speed up things. Couldn’t wait for me to pass away. We need to make arrangements for when the time comes, she told me. We wouldn’t want to bother the children, would we?

It was a rainy day, just as it should be for a funeral. The Wollongong Memorial Gardens looked lush after the monsoonal downpour. It would be a suitable place to rest for eternity. Prices go up for the cremation by about twenty Dollar a year, they told us. The cost than would have been $670. That was twenty-three years ago. So now, in 2035, the cremation should cost almost double.. When hearing all this I made a quick calculation. If I put the original sum into an account with a yearly interest of 6%, compounded, I could be on a nice earner. What a rip off.

Yesterday the bank told me I have accumulated $2560, and I have no desire to bite the dust yet.

And then there is the small matter off putting the ashes somewhere. The ground costs money too or the kids take the ashes to the bush or the sea and dump me there. The only thing I have prepared is the music they have to play at my memorial service, Schubert’s Nocturne. I like that pensive, lyrical piece of music. Can’t get enough of it while I’m still alive.

Betty is in her room hammering out another fantasy story of being a widow. Nothing but wishful thinking. Surely, I can say that the report of my death was very untimely indeed. Let her write, while I listen and enjoy Schubert on You Tube. Tomorrow will be a hectic day with all those people congratulating me for my longevity.