Ever since I can remember I have wished I was somewhere else. Hardly had I been able to kick the British dust off my heels and actually live on the Continent, I suddenly became desperately homesick for the Motherland. Later we moved to the USA – Florida (“A dream!” said all my friends and neighbours) and I started to pine for Germany. Back to Germany again and oh how I missed J C Penney and the Merritt Island Library. I suppose living in the moment hasn’t been my greatest skill.
Many years ago I had a penfriend in Germany, Fred K.
Fred lived in what was called the German Democratic Republic, which confused me greatly as I had learned in church that East Germany was not democratic at all, and my enemy. Fred wrote to me about the ‘US-Aggressors in Viet Nam’ and I answered telling him about my new cassette recorder.
In 1989 and 1990 my heart still very firmly belonged to the United Kingdom, and although I lived in Germany I watched the Berlin wall being torn down and the Trabis roaring around our small town with a sense of detachment. It wasn’t until Germany was united and (quite coincidentally) I started to live with my own favourite German that I dared venture east. In so many places in Brandenburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thuringia, I started to fall in love with Germany.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and Delight.
Those words were written in the 1840s by a ‘Shaker’, Joseph Brackett.
In 2005, thanks to the rights given to me as a citizen of the European Union, I was able to take dual nationality, and this choosing to be German seemed to me to give me a special responsibility to find out more about the country which had so kindly let me become part of it, even though I kept complaining about the lack of digestive biscuits and the terrible TV. I have been so lucky that my lovely husband has been my keen partner in finding out as much as we can about how and when and why things happened as they did, trying to sort and process how modern Germany has ended up the place it is.
So to celebrate Germany’s national holiday, October 3, here are some German places which have moved my heart:
My marvellous daughter was born in Germany in 1979. My friends at that time were all British or American, and were all expecting babies or had just had babies. I am so grateful to those women who gave me the idea that the act of giving birth could be joyful and triumphant. We all bought copies of ‘The New Childbirth’ by Erna Wright, who based her work on that of Lamaze. This was a sort of training programme whereby one went through various levels of breathing during contractions, leading to the chanting of a song. Who else could I choose but Steveie Wonder, and which song but ‘As’:
“We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet you life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed”
I think of Fred K. quite often. I wonder where he was, and what he was doing in the autumn of 1989.
I hope he, like me and (I think and hope) my children, has been able to come to the place he ought to be.