26 November 2009

Thinking about those who have gone before

Jane's diary, dateline 26 November 1989, Wittenberg (Totensonntag)
Today is Totensonntag, the Sunday to commemorate those who have died. Outside is is snowing, blowing up quite a blizzard. Strange to think that at the beginning of the month I was still walking around bare-legged. Mild autumn has changed to a bitter winter as quickly as the political changes.

Wittenberg looks pretty in the snow, even more mediaeval than it is. At the last demonstration at the Marktplatz it was so foggy you couldn't see from side to the other, Luther's and Melanchthon's statutes were lit up and the loudspeakers were on as usual - it seemed as though the statues themselves were speaking. With all the fog, the icy weather and the voices seemingly speaking out of nowhere, Birgit said she falt as though she was living through a Shakespeare play. They discussed making Friedrich Schorlemmer an honourary citizen of the town.

Apparently on the television the other night (the first live talk show broadcast on GDR television!) Schorlemmer said, "I have been turned from an enemy of the state to a partner". It was interesting to interpret for his interview with Daniel Cattau today, I'm not sure about the picture he likes to paint of himself - certainly he is very literary and well-read and heavily influenced by Tillich, Brecht and so on, but it all seems so very slightly pretentious. One of seven children who needs a crowd! I feel he painted a rather rosy picture of the role of the church in the future and how it will be able to continue its prophetic role.

It's been a time of coincidences for me - first bumping into Keith Forecast last week who had been at Mansfield just the previous evening. And then turning round in the restaurant in West Berlin and seeing our family friends, Theo and Sigrid. Yesterday Daniel arrived in Wittenberg, writing for a US Lutheran paper, a few years ago he interviewed Jan Womer at Mansfield.

I've got used to the idea I was in West Berlin last weekend. But that clear sunshine and fast pace of life seems a time away from the muffled snowy streets of Wittenberg today. I thought about Steve, I wanted to sort out the existential questions to do with getting married and living together, he was preoccupied with the great political happenings. Of course we sat down and tried to sort it all out but there was so little time and so much to say. I have this need for certinty and Steve is so much more sanguine. In just over a fortnight I shall be packing to go home for Christmas. Time is really racing by.

Briefly today I thought of my dead ancestors - rumbustious Stanley Hawley, impeccably turned out, a man who in middle age (he never really seemed "old" to me) showed great patience and love to his two grandchildren. He died carefully and tidily, all his affairs sorted out, his house clean and tidy, during one week's holiday three years ago. I miss him dearly, his love of life, his palpable enjoyment of parties and celebrations, his ability to get on with different generations. It was right that his funeral was a party in the garden on a late summer day.

He and my grandmother Elsie Bennett played a big role in babysitting us and being around in our lives. They had already made a mark on the town we lived in through their involvement in music and shows. My grandmother's wide and very pretty simile, her competitive spirit playing cribbage - even beating my dad at scrabble - but most of all her beautiful soprano voice, rich soaring and so easy on the ears - "the gentle, the gentle sounding lute". I was 16 when she died, the early morning 'phone call came and I felt relief for her and for us all, as well as loss. It had taken a long time.

Martin Stranz my German grandfather was born in 1890, a completely different world. His death shocked me, and shook me early on Saturday morning. I wept in my father's arms and felt gult, "but I had only just begun to love him". He represents all that is intellectual but also a love of the good things in life - his brother-in-law in his will left him red wine to pour into his soup! Part of the money I have used to come here came from the money he gave us, his proud socialism and pacifism came from real experience. I wish I had been able to hold an adult conversation with him. Perhaps my interest in Germany comes as a result of dealing with his death. He was 85 when he died and had lived through two world wars. Despite his age, all of us where unprepared for his death, suddenly on holiday in Cromer after a good meal with friends, Probably he insisted on paying the bill. He only allowed us to celebrate his 85th birthday if he could pay.

Kate Guttmann his wife I only knew from a picture where I am sitting on her bed, she lived to see her first grandchild. She was very unkindly referred to as the Schlange - the snake - or the Hexe - the witch - by her children. From my other grandmother's one meeting with her it sounds as if she was the quiet one in a family of extroverts. The weeks that my grandfather was in Sachsenhausen concentration camp must have been difficult for her. She worried about illegally smuggling her wedding ring out of Germany when they left. Probably she found the move to Britain more difficult that the others. A sensitive, artistic woman. Perhaps we may call a daughter Kate.

I think of you as I write this Stave. Tears are streaming down my face as I do my Trauerarbeit, my mourning, as the Germans like to call it. Death has treated me more kindly than you and not taking my family away from me unexpectedly. I shall stop now and sort out my ever untidy desk - it seems to travel from country to country with me.


Post a Comment