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.

Back to the Future

“Back to the Future”, everyone knows that title from the film trilogy  by Robert Zemeckis with Micheal J. Fox in the starring role. It is with a rather quiet satisfaction that I can say, I thought of the title already in 1977  before anybody thought of the film.

 

The title came to my mind for a diary I was going to write about my first trip back  from Australia to West-Berlin.

Germany, and with it West-Berlin, had experienced an economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) and I wanted to see those changes.

 

 

I bought a big, fat copy book. Its title is still  the only written evidence  of that trip. Actually, it is no evidence at all, just a thought bubble.

 

Now, thirty-eight years later, it came to my mind again, as my wife and I, plus a large number of my family are preparing for another trip to that beloved city of my personal history.

 

Berlin has undergone another tremendous change from the time the Wall came down. That event changed the whole world by accelerating globalisation.

 

In the meantime, the youth of the world has discovered Berlin and they are  moving in great numbers  to the city at the river Spree. Berlin is a modern city but not a mega-city per se. It has still a human scale  to it.  It is a far cry from “Metropolis” the famous film by Fritz Lang. It is a much more laid-back, creative city now than was envisaged during the Twenties.

 

For me, the journey back will be my tenth one. I always have to catch up  with what has happened. Only in this way can I keep up with its latest development. So, it is  really a trip to the future as I have not experienced the developing city. I’m playing catch-up with the immediate past. Every time I go there a new future is awaiting me.

 

Last time, four years ago, were there,  we had a good time. This time, we go there with our three surviving children and some grand- and great-grandchildren.

 

Will they notice the unique Berlin sidewalks? Will they see the bullet holes in the masonry of many buildings? Will they fall over the “Stolpersteine (stepping stones)” let into footpaths to remember the Jewish citizens who have been taken to the extermination camps during the black days of Nazi regime?

 

Berlin, like no other city, has shaped the 20th century and we are still living in the aftermath of it. I’m a child of the 20th century and all that happened to that city is ingrained into me.  What I know now  made we wary of politicians. When I see or hear  one,  I smell a rat. The next disaster is just around the corner because of them.

 

When I’m there, I’m fully there and Australia  seems to be a memory only.  This time, it will be summer in all its glory when we get there. Berlin is a green city and most of the streets are tree-lined and the city is surrounded by forests, rivers, and lakes in a landscape shaped by the receding Ice Age twelve thousand years ago.  There will be plenty of opportunities for long walks, outings, river cruises, and to refresh memories.

 

Some of those memories are three-quarters of a century old. Like we, as children, being banned from the main air raid shelter for being too noisy. Grown-ups, who were afraid of the falling bombs,  could not stand the singing and playing of innocent children. Who would have thought then of the year 2016? That would have been the  far-off future, yet  I’m living in that future now.

 

People are being made to feel afraid again; this time by politicians who would like to stay in power. If I could speak to the people of the nineteen-forties, I would tell them of the future and how good everything would be. But for us, the people living now, we have new fears. Fears of others and fears of a future of unimaginable heat and rising sea levels. Our present fears  were not even dreamt of  then.

 

Then we were told, by the politicians of the day, to be afraid of the Bolsheviks and the hordes from the East. Now we are being told to be afraid of asylum seekers, and refugee who come by boats. We are being told that they are illiterate, take our jobs, and they live on welfare. We are being told that the ravages of climate change  are just a load of crap. Climate change does not fit into the electoral cycle.

 

What would  the people, living then,  have thought of a description of the second decade of the 21st century?  Then we lived at the edge of death from the bombs and starvation. Death was a constant companion. Today we ignore the real problems and indulge in imaginary ones.

 

What does the future hold for me? The short-term future looks good, as I’m preparing for my trip to Berlin.  The long-term future is promising me a cool grave and a peaceful eternity. For mankind, as a whole, I can’t predict anything. But, I would like to hear from a time traveller how the future is panning out in seventy-five years from now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

A Wedding Picture from the Year 1911

Aunt Mary's Wedding in 1911

Aunty Mary’s Wedding in 1911

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

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

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

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

I will never forget her!

Thursday 26. April 1945

I do not know when and how my mother found  the time to write these notes. During the day she was out organising anything useful and trying to extent our lives another day. In the evening we were in the air raid shelter and had only candle light. Perhaps she was writing while I slept the sleep  of the just.  This is what she wrote  on the 26. April:

“Day 6 Thursday 26. April 1945

Today we are moving by daylight with our provisions into the air-raid-shelter.  A frightened resident of the building spreads the instruction that all alcoholic beverages should be consumed, poured out or otherwise destroyed so they would not fall into the hands of the enemy.

Well, it seems the situation is slowly becoming serious. But – what is the result of this instruction ? A brainless group of people which senselessly and without understanding pour the  good drop of alcohol into the sand. Some are gathering up courage and take the bottles to their flats and hide them in safe places. The connoisseurs pour  half a bottle down their throat. For sure, this time without much appetite or pleasure.

I, too, am rushing back to the flat and hide here and there three small bottles of liqueur. A fourth  I’m taking back with me to the shelter, as one should have at least something for the odd occasion where a bit of spirit is asked for.

Midday, the news filters through that the Russians are already on the tarmac of the Airport Berlin-Tempelhof ( we lived only 300 m from the airport entrance.berlioz). But, one would be able to get some food items from a warehouse, for instance,  potatoes, bread, semolina, flour etc. Now, we women are on the move! We are not shirking the shellfire, we are only thinking of getting the provisions. Three times I’m going on this dangerous mission.

The especially good food has been taken already. I still can gather approx. 20 kg potatoes, 1 1/2 kg sauerkraut, 1 1/2 kg jam and 1 kg barley.  The barley, I must confess, I took  from a woman’s pram, in which she had many kilos of it. In this case, I called it self-preservation. In the end, I dared myself into the big airport building to look for bread. But the stores were all cleared out by looters. It was high time to return home.

The machine gun bullets were flying all around us. I felt like a front line soldier. I had to take cover constantly. When it was quiet for a moment I jumped up and ran across the road or to the next doorway. When there was a whistling sound I bend down and ran for dear life around the next corner. When a shell exploded people threw themselves on the ground or pressed themselves tight against some walls.

This was the greatest fear I ever had to cope with. But I reached our own shelter unscathed. I was so hot and excited that the sweat poured down my cheeks. My face looked blue for 2 hours.”

 

There is even some humour and irony  in her notes. The situation is becoming “serious” she writes. Of course it is serious if you have to pour schnapps down the drain.  What she did was “self-preservation”, but  the other people were looters. I remember a conversation my mother had with an old man, after one of her missions.  He informed us, that an army under the command of General Wenck was on its way to relieve Berlin and to chase the Russians out of the city. To my horror, I heard myself saying, and I was just  one month short of being   10 years old, ‘The only army that is coming is the Red Army”. Indeed, they were coming closer by the minute.

In the same conversation, the old man said, that the Allies, after their victory, would occupy Germany for fifty years. This time span seemed enormous at the time, but it turned out to be pretty accurate.  Germany was only reunited and an independent country again in October 1990.

But the Russians were not in our street yet and anything could happen.

Tuesday, 24.April 1945

My dear mother wrote:

Day 4 Tuesday 24. April 1945

“We are up since 6 o’clock. During the night there was an air raid for one hour ! Russian fighter aircrafts are over Berlin. Our borough is unscathed.

Russian plane over Berlin. The destroyed building can easily be spotted.

Russian plane over Berlin. The destroyed buildings can easily be spotted.

From 6.30 till 11.30 we were waiting to get 1/2 kg of meat, also we received 30 gr coffee and one loaf of bread.

Just now, we hear that the Anhalter Railway Station  and the Görlitzer Railway Stations are in the hand of the enemy (approx. 2 and 4 km away, but in different directions. berlioz). One can hear intensified artillery fire. and easily distinguish our own heavy Flak. From time to time we can hear targets being hit nearby and observe some aerial combats. And while queuing and shopping we have to take cover from time to time. One is always amazed how people adjust to the prevailing condition and their thought processes quickly find a way to prolong their lives.

The 4th Day passed without any special events. (Shades of ‘All Quite on the Western Front? berlioz)”

It has come to this.  The war was coming closer and closer, the bombardment of the city has intensified and my Mum says, “…the day passed without any special events .” 

While we were queuing for the meat we witnessed some aerial combat. We were waiting at Hefters in Boelkestrasse (what an irony the street is named after a famous air combatant in WW I) close to our Parish church. We heard the sound of the two planes approaching. A Russian fighter  plane was following an ME 109. The German plane tried to shake the Russian by flying around the church which is  actually a  round building.

The Church on the Field of Tempelhof

The Church on the Field of Tempelhof

Quickly they were around and disappeared behind the trees and buildings. But we could hear the onboard cannons of the Russian plane and shortly after a loud explosion as the ME 109 crashed, and exploded  into the nearby hospital a few streets away. Only this year, while researching another story about the hospital -where I was born – I learned  that four  people died in that incident. On that day, my Mum  came home from a warehouse, obviously looting it, with a large soup tureen full of jam.

 Aerial combat, people taking cover, the enemy fighting with the remnants of the German Army in house to house combat and my Mum says no “special events”.

Even during  the  war we can become blasé. Or is this a defence mechanism?

Tempelhof Airport

Today I found an article on the internet about the former Tempelhof Airport.

The former airfield

The former airfield

Tempelhof Airport  used to be the mother of all airports. It has not been abandoned by the people. They love the big open space and they have beaten the developers and make full use of the mother of all open, urban spaces in the world.

The Wright brothers used the field for a longest flight ever at the time.

I grew up there, only meters away. My Dad took us kids on an inspection tour of the building site in 1939.

During the war, it was protected by the Allied Airforces. They did not bomb it.

During the Airlift in 1948/49.I watched the incoming planes and counted them as they came in for the landing, only  90 seconds apart.

Read the article it is full of information. I will be in Berlin next year and so will be members of my family and I will take them out there and guide them, like a mother duck, and show them around. It is a holy ground for me as my mother went with her parents and brothers for walks there, long before anybody thought of aeroplanes. The “Tempelhofer Feld” is actually my birthplace.

An Airbus 380 over Neutempelhof during a flyover over the former Tempelhof Airport.

An Airbus 380, paying homage, over Neutempelhof during a flyover over the former Tempelhof Airport. The building with the green tower is the hospital, St Joseph’s,  where I was born.

After the war friends and I were chased by Red Army soldiers as they found us playing in a former Luftwaffe plane(Ju 88). Later when it opened again for civilian airlines, during the fifties, I flew a few times out from there to West-Germany.

It is good that the people can use the field as a common  park for all. It came full circle.