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

 

 

 

 

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.

The Year 1978

In October, I wrote a blog  about our dear, late friend Ron Bates. He played a  pivotal role at that stage in our life and helped us overcome a family tragedy.

Towards the end of nineteen hundred and seventy-seven, we were looking forward to the arrival of a new member to our family. But fate had other ideas, and my wife Uta lost the baby.

Sure, it was a time of grief and disappointment but we promised ourselves to try again. Just then, Ron came up with the idea of a short vacation with some of his friends up at Numbacca Heads on the Mid-Northcoast of NSW. “That would do you the world of good,” he said.

We went up by train and on arrival were met by Ron at the station. He took us to the home of his friends, Snowy and Eve. What a lovely couple they were. They took good care of us despite not having met us before. The next few days they took us, and Ron, to show us the exceptionally wooded hinterland.

There  is a beautiful spot from where you could  view the mouth of the Numbacca River and  the landscape beyond.

We had a picnic at a nature reserve with a stand of beautiful  tall Sydney Blue Gums.

Uta and Eve among the trees

Uta and Eve among the trees

Snowy prepared a barbeque lunch.

Snowy and Ron

Snowy and Ron

 

Next day we really ‘went bush’, as they say in Australia.  We drove to  the village of  Tailors Arm.  To call this settlement  a village,  is probably a bit over the top. It is a location that has a pub. This pub became famous in the gestation of the  song, “The pub with no beer”.

Uta, Snowy and Ron posing on the veranda.

Uta, Snowy and Ron posing on the veranda.

I can tell you, we enjoyed a beautiful, refreshing beer on that day. Should we have charged the pub with false advertising?

On the next day,  Ron wanted us to meet another friend of his, Mary Boulton. She was a local identity and  had established a Pioneer Cottage at Macksville.

The Pioneer Cottage in 1978. You find other pictures on the webside.

The Pioneer Cottage in 1978. You find other pictures on the website.

Mary Boulton, Snowy and me mascarading as an explorer

Mary Boulton, Snowy and I masquerading as an explorer

Ron and I at the gate of the Pioneer Cottage

Ron and I at the gate to the Pioneer Cottage

We had a great time on that short vacation. It was also memorable because only days before I took up running and ran along the  roads at Nambucca Heads. I wanted to lose weight as I was weighing 88 kg at the time. I’m still running now about three times a week.

Nine months later we had a baby girl. Our daughter, Caroline, just had her birthday a few days ago.

Caroline and her partner Matthew.

Caroline and her partner Matthew. What a great couple they are.

That year, 1978, had a sad beginning, but it ended well.  Life was kind to us and with the help of  friends and family we found our way back into a full life. Actually, we still live in the afterglow of that year.

Everything that is happening now is the result of what has happened in the past. Be mindful of what you are doing today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Bridge of Spies” – Glienicke Bridge

Today, 26 years ago ( on the morning of the 10 November, Australian time) the Berlin Wall was opened. Next day, Berlin Time, the old border between West-Berlin and the GDR (East-Germany) was opened at the border to between Berlin and Potsdam.

Sign on Glienike Bridge, today

Sign on Glienike Bridge, today

The sign reads, “Here was Germany and Europe until the 10th of November 1989 at 1800 hour divided”.

So it was astonishingly appropriate that we, my wife Uta and I, saw a film today that had that bridge as a dramatic backdrop. It was another story, from the time of the Cold War, that was told in the film “Bridge of Spies“.  Here is a trailer of the film.

As a former resident of Berlin, I’m not unfamiliar with the bridge. I visited her many times and the bridge was once before the background for a movie. “Under the Bridges” was the last German film made before the end of the war but only shown after the end of the war.

This particular construction of the Glienicke Bridge was only completed in 1907.

In 1986, three years before it re-opening we were visiting her.

View across the River Havel towards Potsdam

View across the River Havel towards Potsdam (1986)

The bridger with boadersign and guard's hut 1986

The bridge with border sign and guard’s hut (1986)

This really was the border of the Western world. Whereever you were in West-Berlin, you always faced the East.

This really was the border of the Western world. Wherever you were in West-Berlin, you always faced the East. (1986)

Today, you should take a walk across the bridge and let the full impact grab you.  In the middle is a line marking the former border.

This masrks the old East / West borderline.

This marks the old East / West borderline.

This the approach to bridge from the Potsdam end of the border. Today the bridge is the border beweteen the City of Berlin and the Federal State of Brandenburg.

This is the approach to the bridge from the Potsdam end of the border. Today the bridge is the border between the City of Berlin and the Federal State of Brandenburg.

And if you have made it to this spot, you are right in front of the beautiful cafe “Garage Du Pont”.

You can sit and ponder the history of the bridge while you indulge yourself.

 Garage Du Pont

Garage Du Pont

Here you can enjoy a coffee, an apple tart or a brandy  or all three of them.

Bon appetite!

Bon appetite!

The film is not only based on a true event, but it is also a stark portrayal of the American justice system. Justice is not always been done but depends often on people  like James B. Donovan  100 out of 100 for Tom Hanks too. The scenes at the border, in August 1961 when the wall went up, were just frightening to watch.

A few times I had to fight back tears as I saw how Berlin suffered.

Ron Bates

Two weeks ago would have been the 102nd birthday of our late friend Ronald (Ron) Hamilton Bates. We got to know him during the sixties when he gave speech lessons to our daughter Gaby while she was in the Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney, Little Bay. after contracting poliomyelitis.

Ron became a dear friend of our family and stayed many a weekend with us. We even got to know his mother and his sister Jean,  a well-known piano player, in Sydney.

I don’t want to write his biography  here but would like to mention, that he was the grandson Australia’s icon, Daisy Bates. He grew up in Goulburn and was able to tell us a lot about early Australia.

Why I’m writing about him. Well, today I looked at some photos from 1986 when he and his sister came to the airport in Sydney to see us off  for one off our trips to Germany.

You see the late Ron Bates in the centre besides my wife Uta. on the left is sitting me and behind us my son Martin with his son Tristan.

You see the late Ron Bates in the centre besides my wife Uta.I’m sitting on the left and behind us is our son Martin with his baby son Tristan.

He gave us a self-made bon-voyage card and six post-card-sized drawings. I think they are all worth showing to the world.

This drawing is not bigger than a postage stamp. The is a little cottage he always dreamt about once owning.

This drawing is not bigger than a postage stamp. There  is a little cottage he was always dreaming about he could be owning one day.

The next drawing shows a minimalistic  landscape. It shows how with a few strokes he was able to create  a landscape in which the observer finds a lot to interpret.

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The next drawing shows a jumble of items and I have the feeling he wanted to show the creation and life on Earth, culminating in the Dollar. It is not very optimistic but then, he was not very optimistic about mankind. But he understood people well and had a good attitude towards them.

Creation?

Creation?

If people were the pinnacle of creation he shows us on his next drawing that he had his doubts. There is a pair of lovers, but they are outweighed by others arguing.

People being people, loving, arguing and discussing

People being people, loving, arguing and discussing

In the next picture, we see an  elderly woman contemplating the world. She is not in the centre but at periphery looking at a white canvas, so to speak. She tries to understand but can’t see head or tail.

Elderly woman can not see much

An elderly woman cannot see much!

In the next picture, I think, Ron gives us his own interpretation what he thought of the Dollar: he waves it ‘Good Bye’. I don’t think the person in the drawing wants to grab the Dollar, even so it is hovering like a Fata Morgana in the distance.

Good Bye, Dollar!

Good Bye, Dollar!

The last drawing is similar to the first one. It shows the cottage again, but this time surrounded by some trees. Perhaps he meant it for us to come back to, after  our trip.

The dream cottage in the bush

The dream cottage in the bush

Ron became a good friend over the years. Growing up after WW 1 and during the great Depression he missed out on a good education, as so many of his generation did. We had many discussions on a wide range  of subjects with him. Australia needed people like him but could not care less. Australia was the real loser.

The next generation of intellectuals left Australia in droves for the home country, Mother England.  During  the Menzies years, Australia became a white canvas for people to stare at or seek other outlets for their imagination.

The Crime of Poverty

The beautiful Hunter Valley NSW, Australia

The beautiful Hunter Valley NSW, Australia

We. my wife Uta and I, are members of the “Association for Good Government” and last Saturday they held a conference near Pokolbin in the Hunter Region  of NSW.

The association is propagating and teaching  the ideas and principles of the American economist and social philosopher Henry George.

The theme of the conference was  based on a speech Henry George gave on 1st of April 1885 at the  Opera House of Burlington. Iowa, USA.”The Crime of Poverty“.

Burlington Opera House in 1910

Burlington Opera House in 1910

If you read the speech you will find it was no April fool’s joke. We learnt, that about four hundred people attended who each paid  a 50 cents entrance fee.

George suggests, it is not a crime to be poor but poverty is a social crime of which we, the whole society, are all guilty of. It is a curse and in the end we will all suffer from it, even the rich. The rich can not live really  in peace with poor people all around them.

The present financial crisis in Greece and the refugee problem the rich states of Europe have to grapple with are good examples. The “rich” are coming under pressure from the poor.

People all over the world produce goods and food in abundance, but all is not distributed equally. Sure, the world has changed a lot since 1885 but in principle George’s theories are still correct. Still, people are being exploited by other people. And it was ever so.

According to Henry George all has to do with the control of the land by the few. By land, he doesn’t only means the land under our feet, that can be worked, but also all the resources that can be found in the earth.

When we are born we are already designated slaves. At least we a have to work like slaves to satisfy the greed of the rent seekers. All land is already taken by generations who came before us. Henry George was of the opinion that “Land” is a natural right for living beings to share.

If you see a herd of animals or a flock of birds you don’t see a percentage of them starving or living in poverty. Why then can’t we share, with other people, the fruits of the land?

We also learnt at the conference that early, white settlers pushed the Aborigines off their land and even refused them access to the Hunter River for water and fishing. It is always control of the land which controls the people.

Fighting poverty in this environment is much easier.

Fighting poverty in this environment is much easier.

The conference also touched on Tiberius Gracchus a popular Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. He was also a brave and popular military leader who found, that after he and his soldiers came back from the Third Punic War that many had lost their land in their absence. Their wives and children could not make a living from their land without the help of their men. They went bankrupt and the big landholders were buying the land cheaply. The increased holdings were then worked by slaves instead of by free men.  The now poverty stricken people streamed into Rome.

The Gracchus brothers, Tiberius and Gaius by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume

The Gracchus brothers, Tiberius and Gaius by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume

Plutarch reports Tiberius Gracchus saying, “Wild animals who live in Italy have for each of them a place to rest or hiding place. But the men who fought and died for Italy have nothing more than the air and light; unsettled, without home nor house, they roam the land with their wives and children. The generals lie to them during battle, when they call on them to  defend the graves and holy shrines against their enemies. None of those poor Romans owns a grave or altar of their  ancestors. They are fighting  and dying for the wellbeing and the wealth of others. They are called the rulers of the world – but in truth they own not even one crumb of this Earth.”

Tiberius Gracchus then had the idea, that the returned soldiers should be given   plots of 30 iugera confiscated from the rich landholders. The landholders did not like the idea at all and organised a massacre in which he and four hundred of his followers were beaten to death and thrown into the River Tiber. This, according to the Roman historian Plutarch, was the first outbreak of civil strife in Rome.Theodor Mommsen, the German historian, called the year of the massacre, 133 BC, a defining year in the history of Rome.

Settling the land question with a bloody massacre is a defining moment?  It shows that the elite of Rome was just a bunch of land-hungry parasites.

Capitalism teaches us that it is an advantage to have a pool of  poor and unemployed people. That is where the injustice and the crime of poverty originate from. People who have no access to land and its resources live in poverty.

According to a  UNICEF report, 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. and 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. This happens because the human race is not able to  share.

On the way to the conference, we stopped for a short tea break at  Mooney  Mooney, at the banks of the Hawkesbury River.  It is a nice spot alright and not only people are attracted to the picnic area but also the wildlife. Brush Turkeys are coming out  of  the bush and try to find something edible we humans drop accidentally or otherwise. And what did we see? Among them was a feral hen who lives happily thinking she is a turkey too.

One hen and two Brush Turkeys.

One hen and two Brush Turkeys.

What do I want to say here? That two species can live together and share the resources available to them and we humans, seemingly, can’t do the same.

Why Australia?

Today, in a conversation, the question arose, why did we come to Australia? When was the seed planted in my mind?

Ostensibly we came to Australia to have a better future  for us and the children. We could have chosen Canada or the United States instead and could have tried our luck there.  But why Australia? It is the furthest away from Germany and the chances of ever coming back seemed remote at the time.

I have no idea when, in my childhood, I became aware of the continent  called Australia. But it struck me, that the whole continent was one country, that is, one nation where the people are having all this landmass to themselves. . It was almost as big as Europe which contained so many countries. Throughout history, Europe suffered  numerous wars among its nations.

Probably Australia entered my consciousness when I heard that our two pet budgerigars’ homeland was Australia. Then Christmas 1948 or 49 my mother gave me a book for a present. The story of the book was set in Australia at the  birthplace of  European settlement, Botany Bay. The events of the story happened in about 1946 when a group of boys living at  Ramsgate Beach tried to steal an old  cargo ship that was anchored in the middle of Botany Bay with only an old Polish migrant living on it.  He was supposed to keep it in good nick in case the owner wanted to use it again. It was always under steam.

Botany Bay 1788, Charles Gore. The image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

Botany Bay 1788, Charles Gore. The image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

The boys were roughly my age and I liked their freedom with which they pursued their adventure.

I don’t know the title of the book anymore,  nor do I know who the author was. I’m in contact with the library of the Municipality of Rockdale, but so far nobody knows anything about the book.

Around the same  time, two Australien films were shown in German cinemas. They were “The Overlanders” and “Bush Chrismas“. Both films were very popular in Germany and both were starring Chips Rafferty in the main roles. He was an iconic Australian actor. The big, wide country promised a freedom undreamed of for me living in a big city.

Chips Rafferty, picture from Wikipedia

Chips Rafferty, picture from Wikipedia

A few years later I decided to inquire about migrating to Australia. In Berlin, there was no embassy and all inquiries and applications were handled by a Military Comission at the Olympic stadium. When I arrived there with a friend, we found the Commission was closed due to a public holiday. It must have been their Labour Holiday in October. It was a Monday and I learned, that Australians like to have their public holidays on a Monday. This  gives them a long weekend every time. It was just another reason to migrate to this dream country.

A couple of months later I tried again and got as far as applying for an assisted passage. I could not have paid for the full passage at the time. I needed the permission of the government employment agency, and they knocked me back as I had a trade that was highly in demand after the war. I was a bricklayer and they wanted me to rebuild Berlin.

What that knockback did, was for me to change careers. Bricklaying was not for me. A few career changes later and living in Düsseldorf with a wife and a toddler, I saw by then an ad in the local paper. We thought it was directly speaking to us since it said  “Australia needs You!”. There was no need to convince Uta. We both wanted to go, especially since we still had no apartment of our own and a second child was on its way. We applied and  after going through all the procedures we were accepted and the Germans were happy for us to leave: It meant one family less on the waiting list for an apartment.

Today, when we drive along Grand Parade, on the Western side of Botany Bay, I look across Lady Robinsons Beach and think of the book and the story I read as a twelve-year-old and wonder whether my mother planted the seed of migrating to Australia in my mind.

"Montereybch" by J Bar - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Montereybch.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montereybch.jpg#/media/File:Montereybch.jpg

“Monterey Beach” by J Bar – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Montereybch.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia