October 27th

Yesterday was the anniversary of my father’s birthday. He was born in the year 1900 and he would have been 113 years.

Fifteen of his descendents live in Australia and nine  in Germany . Two of his grandchildren have passed away. 

I loved him very much but this feeling was not reciprocated.

This is how he looked when I become aware of him during the first years of my life.

My father as a taxi driver in pre-war Berlin

My father as a taxi driver in pre-war Berlin

Oddly enough this photo was taken in the street where the  hospital is in which  I was born in. Perhaps he was there to visit  my mother. Who knows? No date was given for this picture. He looks a bit cheeky there. This is what he was like.

I loved the taxis of that time. They were spacious, had a fold back roof and two  fold  up seats for us kids. I still think he was the best driver ever. Normally he was a   nervous type,  but behind the wheel he was Mr. Calmness himself. He made the car seemingly float through the traffic.

The oldest picture of him, I have is this one. Here he is with his mother and his two sisters as a six year old.

Sunday outing

Sunday outing

On the next picture he looks bit  like young  Master Richard (his name).

possibly 10 or 11 years old

possibly 10 or 11 years old

He was born outside Berlin but his family soon moved to the big city where the work was.  In school he received not very high marks, but we know he was good at German and mathematics. I think he caused  lots of trouble and his reports were accordingly. My sisters and I, we discovered his school reports one day and found that he was not the ideal pupil he always made out he was.

In the next picture he looks even more like a young gentleman.

Young Richard

Young Richard

But his youth was rudely interrupted when WW I started. He volunteered for the army after his father fell on the front in Flanders in 1916.  Because of his age he was only an auxiliary soldier in the occupied Polish – Ukraine.

Auxiliary soldier at Dubieczno

Auxiliary soldier at Dubieczno

Here he was put in charge of the local church. The post card is ninety-six years old. Still, life must not have been easy as he lost one toe due to frostbite.

Church at Dubieczno

Church at Dubieczno

After the war he went to learn  the bank business. He worked in the bank till the great crash of 1929. He was retrained as a car driver and worked then as a pool driver with the Berlin radio station. Later he became a taxi driver. That is what he was when I joined the family in 1935.

Three stages of his life in his own handriting

Three stages of his life in his own handwriting

He hated the Nazis and he forbade us children to ever exhibit the Swastika flag. The world financial crisis  probably made him a communist. He was twice arrested by the Gestapo for saying he would like to kill Hitler. They left it up to my mother whether she ever wanted to see him again. Later she  joked she was stupid for pleading for his release.

When WW II started he volunteered again. He never told us why he did this. Did he like adventure, did anybody ask him to do it in order to spy on the Wehrmacht.? I wonder. His regiment was part of the occupation force in occupied Poland. He was either in Poznań or Lodz. Once on furlough he complained bitterly about the treatment that was dished out to the Russian POWs. He told us they were starving and giving them some bread was very difficult and strictly forbidden. While stationed in Poland he was mostly a car driver.

As a soldier in Poznań 1940

As a soldier (second from the right) in Poznań 1940

In Lodz he was billeted with a German family. The woman there and he became lovers. This, and other matters,  later lead to frictions with my mother and divorce.

After the landing of Western Allied forces on Sicily in August 1943 he was transferred to Italy. His regiment in Poland was later totally decimated (germ.  aufgerieben) at the Eastern Front. In Italy he drove mainly motor lorries with supplies to the front from the north to the south. Every trip became shorter as the Allies pushed up the Italian Peninsula.  It was often very dangerous and a real carnage as the convoys came under attack from  the US Army Air Force. 

Dad (with cap) relaxing with comrade in Italy - Brixen 1943

Dad (with cap) relaxing with a comrade in Italy – Brixen 1943

It must have been terrific and must have had an effect on his mind. Nobody was talking about trauma counselling.  In April 1945 he was taken prisoner by the Italian partisans. The prisoners were handed over to the Americans and taken to Southern German to a prison camp. During the handover the German soldiers were relieved of all personal items like watches, wedding  rings etc.

My Dad always knew how to adjust to a new situation.  He was able to trade his cigarette ration into American Field rations (Type C).  He had an arrangement with a woman outside the camp who helped him sending them by post  to my mother in Berlin. I think, he must have been the only person in history sending  parcels from a prisoner of war camp. The rations contained  tobacco and cigarettes too and they became valuable items for trading for other goods in short supply. It was a great help for my mother.

In May 1946 he was released from the prison camp and returned to Berlin with my two sisters he had picked up on the way from where they had been evacuated to at the end of the war. It should have been a great occasion for me, but it was not.  I think one day I will write a fictional account of that day. The day after he came back he went to join the Communist Party.

From the day  of his return on the  relationship of my parents went downhill. In January 1949 my mother left my dad with us children, and they divorced later that year. Women of her generation had learnt to live and manage their own lives without their husbands. Shortages became the cause for many arguments.

I never lost contact and I saw him often on the streets of Berlin driving his own taxi. When we migrated to Australia we wrote to each other and he even had the idea of coming out here for a visit.

But he became ill with lung cancer and died 5 March 1973 after a long hard battle. The last time I had seen him was in August 1958 on a visit to Berlin. We lived with our daughter Gaby in Düsseldorf at the time.

After the war my father was with us for only two and a half years. There is not much to remember about the time before the war. The time after the war was filled with disputes between my parents. Sometimes he told us stories from the war in Italy. He did not trust politicians very much. Hitler was a criminal for him.   All in all there was not much time for a proper father / son relationship.

He always dressed well. He never had dirty hands. He could cut tomatoes in thin slices with a blunt knife holding the tomato in one hand. He loved to drink beer and bet on the horses (both vices my mother objected to). He never went to a theatre, but liked movies. I think he was just an ordinary guy who would have fitted very well into Australia.

I nearly  forgot. He remarried my mother in the year before he died. It wasn’t meant to be the happy end, but he  wanted to make sure that someone received the widow pension after his death. He moved in with her and she looked after him for many months. They are reunited in the cemetery as their ashes share the same plot.

I miss him and often dream about him.  In those dreams I want to talk to him. Here in the last picture he looks like I always remember him.

My Dad, Grandfather of my children.

My Dad, Grandfather of my children.

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A Conundrum

 

   When we think, we have to make a decision, we assume we take reasonable care and weigh up all sorts of consequences and possibilities. We weigh up the pros and cons and when we have made the decision, we think it was the best we could come up with.  We expect, this way  we will avoid too much stress, money and time and we will do the best according to the circumstances.  

    Now consider you have a natural urge to look  for a restroom or toilet. You are in unfamiliar surroundings and it takes you a while to locate the necessary facility. All the  while your urge becomes more urgent by the minute, especially after having had some beautiful beer with your lunch. The bladder becomes painful and the pain is spreading to the kidneys. After looking for a sign for what seems to be hours, and you could not ask the locals as you don’t speak their lingo, you finally come to a sign that promises you,  to show you  the way to the relief you are so desperately craving. And then you see this.

 

 

The offending sign

The offending sign

    I don’t know about you, but I can’t think straight when I’m looking for a WC.  In that case, a long time ago, the sign even offered me two WCs. But how do you decide? How do you use logic? What would Socrates have done? Where do you go from here, right or left?

    Wouldn’t you expect that the decision making process comes to a screeching halt? A real conundrum!

    I think this episode tells us, that we sometimes need more than pure logic to make a decision. What about the “gut feeling” we often talk about? Perhaps sometimes we have to stop thinking and hand over to our feelings or our instincts.

Next time you have made a decision  observe yourself and find out whether your decision was based on logic and  facts or some other criteria  crept in.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

“Jimmy” Dean

It was our last day of a short, week long holiday. We, Betty and I, had a good time. Nothing to complain. if at all, the time was just too short. Before we had to catch the train home in the afternoon we went to the street fair that had been organised by the local council.

Stalls were put up along the main street which was closed off to all traffic. We mingled with the happy expectant crowd that was moving along. We inspected the wares the dealers had laid out on the tables. Mostly home craft, produced by the locals, was on offer – and food of course. While we waited to be served with a kebab, we noticed a mini bus in a side street coming up close behind the stall. Inside were half a dozen people and all were smoking. I always thought “Greenies” would not smoke, perhaps pot? Something was strange about the mini bus. It had the name of an wild life protection agency on the side. On the seat beside the driver was a man with a small girl on his lap and both were not wearing seat belts. I had to say something and I did,

“Isn’t it a bit irresponsible driving around with the little girl on your lap and all of you smoking like hell and no seat belt?”

“What is it to you, Old Timer?” one of them asked me. “We do what we like. We are free.” They all laughed and let the engine roar and took off. I tried to read the website and the phone number on its site. But I could not read nor remember it. I tried really hard but the car was gone in a flash. We collected our kebab and moved on: all the while looking for a spot to sit down.

We had not walked far when we noticed to our surprise that Lily, our former daughter-in-law, was walking towards us. I was surprised as we had not heard that she had moved to that part of the country. We greeted each other with hugs and kisses as we were always on good terms with her despite our son and her having been divorced.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day today,” she said. “So many people are out and about and really enjoying themselves.” Indeed this seemed to be the case. People need to forget their every day concerns from time to time. A boy, not more than four years old, a toddler really, came up to us and stopped short of Lily and starred at her without saying a word. His mouth was open and his big dark eyes looking at her, wondering about her beauty, no doubt.

“Do you know the boy?” I asked her.

“He must like me,” she said with a smile and a shrug.

“Like you? I think he fell in love with you,” Betty said and we all laughed.

We walked a few paces together when I saw an old poker machine. One could pay a Dollar and play for a few minutes with some tokens just for the fun of it. I started to play and Betty and Lily kept walking. Soon they disappeared in the crowd. I enjoyed pulling down the handle. This was much better than the modern machines where one only has buttons to operate it. The lights were flashing and from time to time some of the tokens were falling back into the tray with a tinkling sound my so called winnings. Suddenly the machine stoppedworking and an attendant displayed an ‘Out-of-Order’ sign on it.

I checked the time and found we should head back to the hotel and fetch our luggage. Two o’clock was the train departure and we had less than an hour. I could not see Betty nor Lily. I started to worry, but not panicking yet.

While standing with a young man, who had asked me for directions, I saw James Dean coming along. I had met him a few times before and we often exchanged some words, like old friends. He recognised me at once and came towards me with his outstretched hand. He had a big grin on his face, squinted his eyes and made some dance-like movements with his legs. You would not be surprised to hear that he was clad in a pair of jeans and a leather jacket over a white T-shirt..

‘It is James Dean,’ I said out of the side of my mouth to the young man, who was still standing by my side.

“Hi, Jack,” Jimmy said, shaking my hand and  offering his hand to the young man.

“Hi John,” said the youngster and I said, “It is James!”

“It’s Jimmy to my friends,” Jimmy said and turned to me.

“Where was it last time we met?” he asked still grinning and showing his white teeth.

‘”I thought he was dead,” the young man said.

“You are dead right, he is dead, over fifty years. Smashed his Porsche on a lonely stretch of road in California, hitting another car that had turned in front of him.”

Jimmy had turned quiet and looked down at his foot as he scrapped with his shoe in the dirt.

“What is he doing here, if he is dead,” the young man wanted to know. Jimmy looked up again with his grin restored.,

“You are a smart kid,” he said and poked his index finger into the youngster’s belly and laughed.

“Haven’t you heard of the Flying Dutchman or Elvis Presley, all restless souls, wandering the world forever,” I asked the boy, all the while keeping a lookout for Betty. Jimmy must have noticed and said, “Sorry, I have to go. Have more things to do and see. Jack, I’ll see you again one day. I’ll make sure.’ He then disappeared with a swagger in the crowd; kicking some rubbish as he went.

I looked at my watch. Quarter to two! I wanted to call, “Betty”. It would be silly in the crowd and I felt I would not be able to, even if I wanted. I left the young man, who was still wondering about what he had just experienced. The hotel was on my mind, when I heard Betty’s voice calling out for me,

“Jack, Jack! It is time for you to get up. The train to Sydney won’t wait for you.”

I shook my head and rubbed my eyes. I could not belief that all this was just a dream and, with weak legs, I stumbled to the toilet.

The Typewriter

The wind was howling through the streets of Sydney, which were shrouded in an eerie twilight, as Cathy was walking fast, almost running, and carrying a box under her arm. The box was heavy and she wanted to get home and out of this cold, biting wind. Despite all the discomfort she felt elated.

She had found a typewriter in the attic of her late parents’ home. Not much was left of the house or its former contents. She had been rummaging in the half ruin of the home were she had grown up. Her parents had not survived the upheaval and its aftermath. Dad had been murdered by looters and Mum died shortly after of a broken heart. Times were not good as a nuclear winter descended upon Earth that brought to an end the much hated coming climate change with the threat of an unbearable rise in temperatures. Mankind experienced two climate changes within fifty years. Catastrophe upon catastrophe!

“What did you find today,” asked Dan, her partner, when Cathy arrived home and shut the door with a loud bang giving it a good kick with her foot, making sure the outside world did not enter their warm home. He had got used to her disappearing and coming home with useful things. He noticed that she cradled something in her arms.

“I think it is Granddad’s old typewriter!”

“That could come useful,’ said Dan and continued, “would love to write something.”

“Let’s see whether it is still working.” She took the cover off and inside was a great looking orange travel typewriter. It had German keys, but this did not matter one bit.

photo (1)

“Look here!’ he even had a couple of new ribbons taped to the inside of the cover. How thoughtful!”

“He must have anticipated our bleak future,” Dan said.

“Dad never threw anything away. ‘Could be useful one day,’ he used to say. He learned that lesson from Granddad who lived through WW II.” She added after a while, “ We could be on a winner here.”

Dan was putting some wood on the fire in the stove that was used for cooking and heating. Plenty of wood could be found in the neighbourhood from the destroyed and deserted houses that used to be family homes. On top of this all trees had died off and could supply wood for a long time to come. Electricity was only supplied for one hour a day and that mostly during the night.

“Paper could be a problem,’ he said as he stocked the fire and added a piece of wood that used to be part of a beautiful crafted banister in a terrace house , “all the post offices and supermarkets ran out of paper long time ago.”

“You remember the old printing shop in Newtown?” Cathy asked. “They used to sell old stocks of paper. Nobody has a printer any more and we could be lucky.”

For a while Cathy was busy with the typewriter. She gave it and and the cover a good clean and exchanged the old ribbon with a new one. She found a piece of scribble paper and hammered out a few words. “Today is a beautiful day,” she wrote and the clicking of the keys and the ringing bell at the end of a line could be heard. She was proud that she was still able to use the typewriter. As a child she had amused herself with it. She actually had no use for it as she grew up with all the modern electronic gear that was available at the time.

From all her activities and the fire in the stove she got quite warm and took her jumper off.

“Dad is helping us from the grave – sending us a message!”

“We could sell or swap it, Darling,” said Dan, “and get something useful.”

“Like what? This is useful! I could write letters with it.”

“When are you writing letters?”

“Not for myself, Dummy. For others. Like writing to the ‘Disaster Agency’, making claims etc. People will come when they hear about this. And when the weather gets a bit better I take this thing onto the road, like they did during the Dark Ages. I’ll become an official letter writer and earn a bit of money. My Granddad always said everybody should learn to touch-type.”

“Clever girl. I knew you would be good for something when I saw you the first time,” said Dan and pulled a funny face.

Next morning she took the bike and rode to Newtown to see the old printer. It was an arduous journey. People walked everywhere unless they were lucky, like Cathy, and owned a bike. There where no cars on the road. It was cold again and this in November – minus 5° C. The position of the sun could only be guessed behind the thick, yellowish clouds.

When she arrived at the former printers she found the large wooden doors shut. People used to walk straight into the shop from the street through the open, welcoming doors. The printer used to earn a bit of money, supplementing his pension by printing small editions of books for mostly self publishers or invitations for weddings and other occasions. But since there wasn’t any more electricity for the general population he could not use his printing machines.

There was a sign at the door, telling people to come around to the back door. Cathy pushed her bike through the lane to the printer’s back yard. A Blue Heeler started to bark like mad announcing her to his master. An old man opened his squeaking back door to see what annoyed his dog so much.

“Don’t worry about him. He is all bark,” he said when he saw it was a young woman only. “He won’t harm you, just alert me!”

“I came for some office paper,” Cathy explained. “I hope you still have some?”

“Nobody has a printer any more. They are useless without electricity,” the old man said and beckoned her inside.

“I found a typewriter and want to make good use of it.”

“Ah – that’s good. I haven’t seen any like that for many, many years.”

“I found it in my parent’s old home. It actually belonged to my Grandfather.”

“Yeah, the old people never throw anything out. Kept it. Used to say, ‘It will come useful one day’.” The old man waved his index finger as he said it.

“That’s what my Dad used to say.” They both laughed. Once inside, he asked her into the old storage room. And led Cathy straight to a pallet with office paper.

“Is that enough for you?” the old man asked, “I bet you can’t cart this away on your push bike.”

“Can I really have it?” Cathy asked, “I can only use it until I run out of ribbon.”

“Ribbon? There must be a box full of them somewhere around here and collecting dust,” he said and limped to the other end of the storage. “Here it is,” he called out, “ ‘will last you for a while and with a bit of luck, there will be electricity one day again.”

“You dear man, what do I owe you?” she asked him.

“Oh…,”he scratched his head and said, “it was pure luck that the fire didn’t get it, but surely the cockroaches will eat it in the fullness of time. So it is free. I like someone having a go and seeing your radiant face is reward enough for me.” She was so happy she planted a kiss on his cheek. His hand went up to his cheek and he smiled a bit taken aback.

“Next time I’ll come I bring you a cooked and preserved rabbit,” she promised and took a couple of packages of the paper and put it and the ribbons in a basket in the front of her bike. She bit him “Good Bye”, swung herself onto the bike and headed for home.

By now the wind had become stronger and snow was falling. She wanted to be home before total darkness set in. The streets were almost empty and when she arrived home Dan said,

“I was worried about you.”

“Ah chucks, the devil gets good people only.” She laughed and gave him a kiss as she dragged in the bike and its precious cargo.

During the next few days she wrote out a few flyers to hand out and putting up on notice boards that had sprung up all around the neighbourhood. She advertised the fact that she was able to write letters for anyone to anyone. A small fee would apply according to the size of the letter.

Her business, that is what they called it, began slowly and over the next few weeks increased. People paid in kind or with the new Emergency Dollar that was issued by the local authorities. Canberra had been wiped out by an atomic bomb and there was no more Federal Government. At least this was a good thing, some people thought.

In the new year the temperatures climbed above freezing point and she decided to take the typewriter on to the street. Dan had prepared a billboard for her. With that she went out and looked for a good spot. She found an abandoned shop and set up store in its doorway. That way she was out of the wind. Because of the bill board people were still able to see her.

“What a good idea,” people encouraged her. And when they understood what she was going to do they promised to use her service. And so it happened. Soon she had people queuing to have letters written. It were mostly claims and statements to the authorities why they had overused water or electricity. Such was life in the new Australia after the Catastrophe.

“What is it you have there and what are you doing?” a girl asked her one morning. The girl, about eleven or twelve, was all wrapped up against the cold. She had her hands in a muff. Her nose was red and dripping. From time to time she wiped her nose with the muff.

Cathy stopped writing and looked up to the shivering girl.

“I’m writing a letter on a typewriter,” Cathy told the girl.

“What is a ‘typewriter’?” the girl asked looking puzzled.

“Well -,” Cathy said and paused a moment, “you remember we used to have computers and wrote on a keyboard? This isn’t a computer, but you can still write on a keyboard and instead of seeing what you write on a screen you see it on the paper. Look here!” She stopped writing and turned the typewriter around so the girl good see what was happening.

“That’s real cool,” the girl said and a smile flashed across her face. “A kind of – manual word-processor,” she said after a moment of thinking.

“You could say that,” Cathy said and smiled back at the girl. She kept hammering away and the keys jumped up to the paper and left a string of words. The clatter of the typewriter filled the air, finishing with a ring of the bell announcing the end of the line and Cathy pushed the carriage back to the beginning of the next line. The girl was enthralled. What a wonder, she thought. The keys chasing each other to and from the paper and the carriage, with the paper, moving forward so the next keys could hit the right spot.

“I never saw anything like it in my whole life,” the girl said, “and the sound the letters make when they hit the paper! I just love it. It is music to my ears!”

Cathy and the girl did not notice a bystander, a young man, who had stopped and observed what was going on. Often people stopped, looked on or asked question. So, this wasn’t unusual. But he seemed fidgety, he moved his fingers like they were itchy. Cathy and the girl were not taking any notice of him till he suddenly stepped forward, grabbed the typewriter, lifted it up, and screamed, “Noooo!” while throwing it onto the footpath. He jumped on it with his boots, lifted it up again and threw it with full force, one more time, onto the foot path. After this it did not look like it could ever be used again for writing letters.

Cathy and the girl were stunned. “You bastard!” Cathy screamed at him, “what have you done? This is my livelihood. I was able to help people – what now?” The young man looked at them with bloodshot eyes and his lips started to move. He had trouble forming words.

“You…you..,” he tried very hard, “you want …to…bring back, the old time! Never again. You people are mad. This is how it started! Printing followed and too many words made people crazy. Never, never again!” he screamed and gave the mangled typewriter a kick with his boot and it landed in the gutter. He turned and walked away.

Cathy and the girl were both crying now. Through this shared experience they had instantly bonded. Cathy was sent back to the past and for the girl a hope for the future had been destroyed. Cathy looked at the girl and took her by the shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze,

“I’m so sorry, darling – what is your name?”

“Cathy,” the girl said and a smile came over the face of the older Cathy as she wiped the tears from her face. “So is mine,” she said and now both girls smiled. The older Cathy walked over to the orange typewriter and picked it up, uncertain what she should do with it. After a few moments of thought she decided to take it home. Dan was very handy repairing things but she doubted that even he could fix it. She gave the younger Cathy her address and said, “If you want come and visit me. Perhaps we could start a new project together. What do you think?”

“I would love that. My Mum is teaching handwriting to me as the schools stopped teaching writing before the ‘Catastrophe’ ”.

“I know, they thought it would not be necessary with every one having the new electronic tablets.” They said, “Good bye,” to each other and Cathy went home with her mangled typewriter.

When she arrived home she found Dan sitting by the emergency radio and turning the handle of its dynamo.

“There is a rumour going around,” he said, “that the government will make an important announcement.” He looked up and noticed that Cathy was carrying the mangled typewriter, “What happened?” he asked as she put it on the table and she dropped into a chair, almost crying.

Cathy told him the story about the fanatic. “Some fundamentalist nut,’ she added. They were both depressed because the little income they had hoped for would not eventuate.

‘I met a young girl, her name is Cathy too,” Cathy said, “she is pretty bright and might come around and visit us.”

“What for?” Dan asked

“What for?” she asked back. “Perhaps she needs companionship or an extended family. And, it will do us good to have contact with a bright child not having any of our own.”

Suddenly the radio came to life. Every day at the same time the government radio station, the only one in the country, broadcast the news and useful information to the public. Five minutes before the broadcast an old alarm clock could be heard ticking and the last ten seconds short pips could be heard ending with a gong telling the listeners that the full hour had arrived.

It is precisely 1800 hour Australian Eastern Standard Time,” the broadcast began.

The Chief Minister of the all party National Interim Emergency Government has announced today that it will start immediately with the construction of localised :Geothermal Electricity Power-plants” or GEPs. It is anticipated that within a year the supply of electricity could increase manifold…….”

Cathy and Dan did not hear the rest as they began shouting with excitement. Things would look up from now on and the worst would soon be over. 

Australian Democracy 2013

We had an election

fools voted to change the government.

They succeeded as they could.

The new PM went to another country

to buy some boats and stop the rest

from arriving on our shores.

Women knock on doors, want to get in.

PM is sorry but thinks they have no merit.

Blokes in blue ties are running the show.

The climate stopped changing on the PM’s command.

Sciences will go back into the box

where they were before the enlightenment.

What can we, the non-fools, do?

We have to wait for three years

and hope that enough fools feel

they have been fooled enough

and they will help vote

this foolish government out again !