HomeThe trip (June-July 2005)

Germany

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[TAD] My immediate family (parents, wife, children) and I, have a curious relationship with Germany that stems from connections made (and in some cases explored extensively) at different times over the past 70 years. When we visited Europe in connection with the trip to India and the International Botanical Congress in Vienna we took the opportunity to renew some of these connections.

 

As far as history is concerned, suffice it to say that my parents visited Germany first in 1949. A few years later my father got a job at a sociological institute in Frankfurt, and all three of us were there for about a year. The job fell through after some time (the American was uncomfortably un-American for the times) and we moved to Marburg on the Lahn, a little ways north of Frankfurt. My father worked there for another American, Milton Mayer, who was then reseraching his book, They thought they were free, about the "little Nazis." In the course of this work my father became interested in the story of a Jewish lawyer who became the intermediary between the Jewish community in Marburg and the Nazi administration of the city. This interest led to a second visit to Germany to research a book on this man, thanks to the financial support provided by our friend, Paul Williams. Another good friend of ours from this time is Barbara, who was then working in an archaeological institute in Marburg, restoring artifacts. Although I greatly enjoyed visiting her at work (see image at the right), I did so with some trepidation because the "Amt für Boden Altertümer" sounded so much like "Amt Verboten...," and I supposed that I was really forbidden to go there even though I could read the difference between those two phrases.

 

Barbara and TAD

Detail of a fountain in the Wilhelminen Platz, just N of the round Ludwigs-Kirche, in Darmstadt near where Barbara lives now.

In addition to the friendships that we made during these visits, these visits to Germany were important because of the way they exposed me to the physical and personal aftermath of war in general and the holocaust in particular. At the age of five or six I saw bombed out buildings in Frankfurt (left, below). Although we were able to rent rooms in a newly rebuilt building (middle picture, below), I played with other children in the ruins next door (right, below). In Marburg, my father's work on each visit involved researching various aspects of the holocaust as they had played out in a small university city. One or two of the people with whom my father spoke became people I knew, and one of them- the shoemaker Konrad Schäfer - was a good friend to a small boy.

 

   
Frankfurt in either 1949 or 1952; photo by and © 2007 Lenore M. Dickinson. Frankfurt, 1952; photo by and © 2007 Lenore M. Dickinson. Frankfurt, 1952; photo by and © 2007 Lenore M. Dickinson.
During this second stay in Marburg I completed 2nd grade in the Waldorf School there, where one of my friends was an American, Andreas. In 1987, on a trip to Germany on the occasion of an earlier botanical congress Meher and I visited Marburg, and were able to renew contact with Andreas. Almost 20 years later Adam went to Germany on an exchange program, and finally managed to get to Marburg to meet Andreas, where his exchange partner, Konstantin, took the picture of the two of them at the right.    

Marburg loomed large in my father's life again in the early 1960s when he got a fellowship that allowed him to study at the Phillips University there, where he earned a doctorate for a thesis on the 19th century American sociologist, W. G. Sumner. That wasn't the topic he planned to work on, but it was one on which it was possible to complete a thesis. Even then, his friends had to tell him that good as his German was, he needed to work through his text with a native speaker, and found him a likely young man for this purpose who was also at the university then.

What's quite mad is that 50 years after our initial encounter with Marburg, I work in a place where I have three colleagues with whom I share this connection. One was there in the 1960s, working as an electron microscopist at the university, and knew John and several of our other friends there. Another lived with his mother just below the Schloss at the end of the war (they were from a mixed Jewish-gentile marriage), and later studied at the university. The third's connection is more sinister, as his Jewish mother grew up outside Marburg and, while the family was able to get out of Germany before the war broke out, they lost almost everything that they had.

Well, fast-forwarding to 2005, after Adam and JS rejoined us in Darmstadt, we managed to visit Horst, who was that young man, and Andreas, Barbara, and Barbara's niece Tina who we had also met in 1987. Here are some of the pictures from those visits.

[Meher]


On the bus to Barbara’s, I ask Adam about their adventures.  I admire my children’s tenacity, resilience and their willingness to snap out of bad moods wrought by horrible arguments and patch up. So, we started talking.

The conversation turns to youth hostels and Adam explains the communal bedrooms, “six to eight, you know, individual beds, you have a private bed and your privacy” he says. “Hmmmm, men and women segregated?” I ask, my thought bubbles colliding furiously. I have been reading about Iran in the eighties under Khomeni’s regime (Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran). Reading English literature had to be done secretly. The price you would pay if found out might be heavy. Flogging. Imprisonment. Or your life. Beheading. Public hanging.

In this coalescing thought bubble, certain things hang together uneasily. I wish I knew howto compartmentalize but my thoughts leak and run into one another. And then there is my personal hang-up. I would have preferred segregated communal bedrooms in youth hostels.  Men. Women. Like toilets.

“No”, replies Adam. “Together”. He seemed perplexed at my reaction to unisex bedrooms in youth hostels.

 

Barbara took us to brunch at a restaurant she likes... and here is a photo Adam took of the remaining four, ... and one of a pensive (or just full?) Meher.
Later that day Barbara's cousin Klaus (der Rote Klaus) joined us for a dinner that was a lot of fun.

After visiting with Barbara we took the train to Marburg, where Andreas collected us and brought us to his house. Sitting in his back yard having coffee, we were visited by the birds who live there. Apparently Andreas and his wife Gabriella nursed the father of these birds, so that they grew up trusting the occupants of their house, us included, as you can see below.

 
   
     

We were collected from Andreas' house by Horst, who was the young man who helped my father with his thesis. Horst took us home with him to Eschwege, NE of Marburg. After university he spent a long time in Australia, so that he too knows about living between two worlds, the one where you grew up and the one you chose.

 
Meher or Horst must have taken this one with our dinky little camera. Horst retaliates with his great big camera. Marliese and Horst.

From Eschwege we made our way to Hattingen, where Barbara's niece Tina lives. Her two kids are only a few years older than ours - we saw them last as slightly more than toddlers in 1987, the year before Adam was born.

 
This visit was a chance for Meher and Tina to talk at length, after not having seen each other since 1987.

Throughout this trip the conversations we had (with Dan and Laureanne, Barbara, Andreas and Gabriella, Horst and Marliese, and Tina) touched on the difficulties that foreigners seem to have integrating into Ireland or Germany, mostly in a way that was sympathetic to their difficulties, e.g. of language, culture, becoming engaged with the surrounding society, etc. The picture below is of Meher standing on the platform in Arheilgen, on the outskirts of Darmstadt, the morning of the day we flew home. After visiting in Hattingen with Barbara's niece Tina we returned to the pension in Arheilgen where we had stayed earlier so as to be closer to the airport in Frankfurt, and to have one more short visit with Barbara. Anyway, when we arrived in Arheilgen the day before we walked to the pension, dragging our suitcases behind us, past a house where some women were standing around a car, evidently two of them seeing the other two off. By the long black coats and headscarves of three of them we assumed they were Turks (or maybe Persians). We kept on going and then realized that a car had stopped beside us. It was two of the headscarved women, asking us in good German if we needed a lift. No, thank you, we are just going around the corner we replied, and so off they drove. But they had given us a big lift, because it seemed like they had provided us with a counter-argument about the possibility of integration, and of being able to live successfully in their two worlds.

 
Meher, on the platform at Arheilgen, waiting for the train for Frankfurt, the morning we were to meet Adam and JS at the airport for our flight back to Canada.

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all text and images on this site are © M. Shaik and T. A. Dickinson 2005 unless otherwise noted; some images are © A. K. Dickinson 2005.