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Diary, biography, adventure log, and archive in two languages. Part 2

Hello! Almost 8 years after I started this, my urge to continue finally won me over. But I will have to switch languages. Today, everybody can dump any text block into DeepL (best translation software) if you have trouble with my German. I’m still using my brain and these texts as an exercise and test for me. After two years with only sporadic German exposure, it’s fading gradually so I’m looking forward to my “reconnect trip”. Almost exactly two years ago (January 15th, 2020) I returned from 3 months in Germany, not knowing or thinking it would be so long. Then came COVID.

Where was it easier to endure the Pandemic? By sheer living conditions, I have to say it was the USA, especially Massachusetts, the one State in the Union, where people are called Socialists, just because they try to help their fellow citizens to decent living conditions (with tax money and sensible Government). However, since I am retired, it really did not matter, where I sit on the couch in quarantine or lockdown and watch my Netflix shows. The streaming information and entertainment flow kept me entertained and informed.

Now, however, I’m ready to hop across the pond again to be in the middle of my old neighborhood. Follow me on my trip and I will try to enlighten you for the next six to eight weeks, albeit in German.

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70 Years

August 1st, 1949 was a normal day, my mom was having a good time at her friend’s house, celebrating with some peach punch. That was my cue: I wanted OUT!

So our friend through war and peace times, surgeon Dr. Buschman ordered the lady in labor to his hospital in this tiny village high up on the plain, a medieval church steeple watching over all this commotion. It’s called Münstermaifeld.

And everything went just like clockwork, I appeared at 13:12 pm. Mom, dad, and everybody nearby very happy to see me. Christened 10 days later at that old church and ready to move in with my parents.

My firsts 5 years the only memories are of the rubble of destroyed buildings and strange baths in old-time metal tubs. But that was ok, as long as I got fed and could sleep. I had a friend, who was born three months later, female, and so we enjoyed our first baby rides together in a large baby carriage, that our mothers happily took for walks. I watched French soldiers march along our street and heard some great music from hunting horns.

We moved back to my grandfather’s house in the center of town, across from the firehouse, with eight bays! That’s when life began. I started school and didn’t like it. I banged my head in the historic fountain and spent 2 weeks in the hospital. I took my school mates to my grandfather’s print shop and was kicked out. I just could not get any street cred so I left elementary school and started high school. I didn’t like that either. Banged in my two front teeth in the schoolyard and suffered multiple emotional hits, my dad died when I was 15.

So I left there and completed high school at a business prep school, which I loved. Then I moved away, off to College, a prestigious and demanding technical school called Fridericiana, a few famous German engineers had their busts displayed for us to admire. 14 semesters is a long time but I learned a lot. And met my wife.

When I visited with her family on Christmas 1977, I had no idea where this was going. But uncle Dick, personnel manager for Polaroid, suggested I interview with a company that had started a German contract 10 months earlier and was looking for liaison engineers.

So I married and became a permanent resident and started to contribute to the program office at this defense contractor. 15 years and several air traffic control projects later, I found my new home at the software lab. The new thing was the World Wide Web and Collaboration Software. I loved it, finally on the cutting edge of computer development.

18 years later, I was kicked out, with thousands of others but I really took it personally.

Three years later I retired, right on the dot in August 2014.

I traveled about fifty times across the Atlantic to keep in touch with my family and home. I never lost touch and some German friends think I never left, in 40+ years.

….which brings us to 2019, 70 years later. Where am I going from here? I don’t know. Maybe I can go back so I can answer this question: Home is ….where your friends are.

 

 

Here we go again – es geht wieder los.

Also, nachdem mein englischer Blog 2014 absolut null Reaktion bei meinen amerikanischen Freunden auslöste, werde ich dieses Jahr mal meine Muttersprache zu Wort kommen lassen und wir werden sehen, wie das ankommt.

Sommer 2018, morgen geht’s wieder los für drei Monate. Die Pläne wurden schon im Januar geschmiedet und ich habe mittels YouTube Videos bereits den ganzen Sommer “vor-erlebt”‘

Wie macht man dann so etwas?

Erstens braucht man Zeit, die richtigen Video Clips aus dem riesigen Angebot bei YouTube herauszufischen. Nach einer groben Orientierung (“ich will jetzt mal nach Norwegen”) gilt es, die Zeitspanne und den Umfang der Reise festzulegen. Was mir richtig geholfen hat war die Tatsache, daß ich nur zwei Parameter auf dieser Reise brauchte. 1. Wann geht’s los und 2. Wie lange kann ich bleiben. Der dritte Parameter “was darf es kosten” ließ ich mal außen vor, weil das die ganze Planung unnötig begrenzt. Es ist ja so, wenn man Zeit hat, spielt Geld eine untergeordnete Rolle. Und als Rentner ist nun wirklich dieser Horizont unbegrenzt.

Alle meine üblichen Verbindungen mit der Heimat sind angespitzt. Ist ja auch sehr angenehm, wenn man auf beiden Kontinenten ein paar Leute kennt, mit denen man sich mal auf’n Bier oder ein Glas Wein hinsetzen kann. Darum geht es ja, Kommunikation im Freundeskreis. Deshalb hatte ich ja auch am Anfang Bedenken, ob dieser Blog überhaupt einen Wert hat. Ich wollte nie ein Buch schreiben, oder eine Biographie, und schon gar keine Prosa. Aber Sachbücher habe ich verfasst und auch übersetzt, damals in den 80 Jahren im EFB Verlag. Alles über Feuerwehr in den Vereinigten Staaten, mit Bildern.

Seit unserem Aufenthalt in Koblenz im Winter 2014/15, wobei wir übrigens etwa 3 Meter Schnee zuhause in Massachusetts “verpasst” haben, ist so ziemlich nix los gewesen. Mal bin ich mit einem WoMo in die Schweiz, mal mit dem Fahrrad auf’s Maifeld, mal mit dem ICE nach Berlin um auf dem Tempelhofer Feld zu grillen.  Aber da mein wertes Weib keine Lust mehr auf Reisen hatte, mußte ich mir was anderes einfallen lassen.

Nun gut, es gibt ja ein großes Angebot für Alleinreisende, aber irgendwie ist mir das unangenehm, ich will ja nicht anbändeln sondern einfach nur Spaß haben. Zweimal ist mir das zum Verhängnis geworden und ich bin aus Facebook Gruppen entfernt worden, nur weil ich mitteilte, das der Weihnachtsmann ein kostenloses Ticket für diese Seereise zur Verfügung stellte. Autsch, da waren die Ladies aber sauer. Dabei hätte das ein Super Erlebnis werden können.

Ich gehe dann alleine auf die Reise. Ab Donnerstag in Bergen in Norwegen und ich hoffe mich von dort dann wieder melden zu können.

Tschüss, bis bald.

Getting things done

Good afternoon,

I admit I am a fan of David Allen’s “Getting things done”, a way of life that leaves you plenty of space in your head to have ideas, be creative and enjoy what’s around you.

While I was in the knowledge worker force, and doing umpteen different things on the side, GTD was a goal. But committing all thoughts and to-do lists to some antiquated 3×5 card system or notebook seemed to be a risk at first. Until I realised, it was the process rather than the outcome that mattered. Once it’s out of your head on a reliable “archival” system, you’re free to go to the next subject. Until you’ve cleared your head of most of the “things you have to remember” since you can now safely leave that behind and all of a sudden, WOAH…

In retirement that same system works surprisingly well. You would think, hey – no more work, commuting, or hassles with meetings – but that’s not the case at all. You can’t just “switch off” – then you’re dead. Finding the good activities for your age is another challenge that needs planning and keeping track of..

Now you can look through all those archived “projects” that once occupied your brain without much of a resolution, start re-thinking and being creative on their implementation.

Almost 4 weeks into my three months back in here Germany, I’m feeling encouraged. I didn’t plan or do much, beyond my daily bread and a roof over my head. Living as a hermit has it’s benefits, I translated prayers and (small) parts of the bible and then checked how close I came to the official version. However, to state the obvious: Friends are the most important thing. That can be old friends, new friends or people you meet on the street. I need other people to interact. Everybody is interesting and has a story.

But now I’m ready for action… so stay tuned for the reports…

woah

an English expression that is not easily translated. My world has been upside down for two months and that’s when I say: WOAH!

Getting my bearings back in the USA is proceeding slowly… I just can’t get over the difficulties to living here. I think I have all my marbles in order though, at least for now. Everybody likes me to be back and all that. So what gives?

I am sure this has mostly to do with my change to “retired”. And this would have happened anywhere. When you come out of the rat-race there’s just no easy transition.

So I am just going about my business, planning my next excursions back in the old country. I used to travel with my parents through Germany, Switzerland and France so I will retrace my memories and go again. The good news is that now I can choose how and when and with whom.

I will continue my thoughts and impressions in my blog when I get back in August. Stand by for exciting travel stories… and if you can’t wait, check Rick Steves who is in Germany this week at http://blog.ricksteves.com/

meanwhile, it’s all good.

W

New Plans and Social Media – Home alone –

you thought I was finished?  – Well, there’s good news and bad news: The good news is that I’m planning another trip home in early September. This time it will be a travel event. By myself. And that’s the bad news. I don’t have a travel buddy.

So how do you plan and prepare for this? Social media to the rescue. I’m now working everything I know about AirBnB and Foursquare Swarm into something I can actually use. 15 days in Switzerland, riding trains and the cog-wheel raiways to the peaks. That’s my plan.

Research is easy…setting up the accounts and learning to use them on my phone is the challenge.

I’ll keep you in the loop.

Afterthoughts

One more thing, to round out my writings about living in a “foreign” country for seven months after spending 29 years in Germany, then 37 years in the US of A:

I caught up fast, I learned and understood how to live in Germany today. As a retired person, and that fact makes ALL the difference. My son and other relatives would tell you a considerably different story.

The last guy who did it right is called the expert.

Back here I have now gone mellow again… how nice to sit back in our house and cook a nice little steak on my own stove (no, I don’t own a Weber, my grill is from 1985).
There’s work to do: garden work, car work, housework, “official business” work, and financial work.
That ought to be enough to fill one’s day for a while.

I am so glad that I start to forget numbers, names and connections. I do have to re-build my contact list with phone numbers and email. But in David Allen’s words (the author of “getting things done”), you can only be creative and truly productive if you have cleared your mind and brain of all the information, to-do lists, and conventions (yes, conventions), you’ve been carrying around in your head with you. Your potential unfolds and there’s stuff happening you wouldn’t dream of under normal “work” conditions, because you can’t do it when you’re on that merry-go-round.

Here’s my summary of what I experienced:

The American people:
You can’t make statements about the entire population of America. And please don’t take any utterings of our government as any statement whatsoever of the wishes of the American people. And please tune out the media who try to amplify EXCEPTIONS, not normal, ordinary living families and persons. That’s my number one lesson and it should be anybody’s experience in a foreign country. So come over and visit, we’re pretty friendly and fun to be with. And yes, we are “too big to fail” and the biggest success story in running a country (and I sincerely hope it’s not running it into the ground!)

The German people:
You can’t make statements about the entire population of Germany. However, the utterings of our government are trying to resemble the wishes of the German people. To use Paul Krugman’s term, there are a lot of VSPs (very sincere people) over there who make profound statements on TV and otherwise, amplified by the media. And they are trying very hard but keep interrupting each other. That’s the nature of a representative Democracy. Germany has been relatively new at that, basically only my generation struggled with Democracy, our ancestors were killing each other. So what you hear now is not what you hear tomorrow. Find a few friends and talk with them, it’s much better than watching CNN.

And finally, I have re-read my blogs a few times and would not change one single word. In fact I’m kind of proud I managed to put all this down in writing. Thank you Mrs. Tetreault, my proxy English teacher over here and my three English teachers I had in High School. It was 1. Business English, 2. Literature and 3. Simultaneous-Translations. For three years. Time well spent.

Ciao and aloha!

That’s all folks – packing up to come back –

Our bus trip to south-west Ireland was excellent. We enjoyed the week very much. Pictures and videos are here:
https://www.icloud.com/photostream/#A35Uzl7VSRjho
So we’ll be packing up a few items, most stays here at my place and we’ll be hopping back over again the second week in May.
I have not decided whether I will continue this blog. Tell me if I should.
Some things I will be looking forward to:
1. A LARGE refrigerator with lots of ice cubes.
2. My friends and neighbours.
3. The China Fair store in Newton.
4. Really fast internet at home.
5. Bagel’s Best and iced coffee.
6. WCRB (actually I can and do hear Classical New England online).

Candidates for not liking to come back so much:
1. The train horn and diesel roar starting at 6:11 am every morning (five crossings times four honks makes for 20 earthshaking horn blows – EACH TRAIN). Every 20 minutes, coming and going into Boston, until 11:15 pm. This is noise pollution and one good reason to move away.
2. The health care system. Another good reason to move away.
3. Masshole traffic and bad drivers. And so on.
4. Having to fix things all the time because they break all the time
5. The News – ANY news – ANY way.
6. Paper Cheques.

Some things, I will miss from Germany.
1. The rivers (Rhine and Moselle), ducks, swans and the dull sound of the diesels in the barges. The 8 pm steam whistle of the paddle-wheeler returning from the day trip.
2. My friends who like to meet and talk.
3. Crunchy rolls, fresh every morning.
4. The new regional train system. Amazing.
5. Wine (the good but cheap stuff), about 2 bucks a liter bottle.
6. Wine (the rest), “late harvest” and “select harvest” and “ice wine” and having a chat with the vintner while you’re getting a few bottles for the special occasion.
7. Giovanni in the coffee shop down the street offering me a free espresso when I walk by because he likes to chat.
8. Church bells at 7 am and 7 pm – the morning and evening bells.
9. Singing blackbirds, lots of them, starting before dawn and into the night. This is what they sound like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olIqlnAudJo
10. My e-Bike for a price that I could afford. Bike paths that will get you somewhere.
11. The rides with the fire boat.
12. Everything is close by.
13. Quiet efficiency.

The things I won’t miss from Germany
1. Helene Fischer.
2. Opinionated self absorbed people.
3. Expensive gasoline.

The German soul found in it’s language?

WOW – SIRI is speaking German to me now. I’ve changed my iPhone language to German just to allow me to use type-ahead and auto-correct better. But I can also change SIRI to answer my German questions in German. Just not English and German at the same time, I’m still a wee bit ahead with my language skills.

Speaking of which: In my humble opinion the best measure of someone’s comprehension of another language is if he or she can understand jokes and stand-up comics.

In English it is pretty straight forward. I was able to laugh at Bill Cosby’s family jokes with my school English in the seventies. For me, the masters are George Carlin and Eddy Izzard. I enjoyed Robin Williams in his days. Mark Twain is hilarious when he describes “the awful German language”. But it all started for me with Carlin’s “seven dirty words you can’t say on TV” and I was puzzled. Huh? There is an institution that limits what you can say on TV in America? I eventually figured it out, the why and the how. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbZhpf3sQxQ

Watching the new stand-up comics in both countries is both entertaining and enlightening and educational but more so in German. Why?

German “Kabarettisten”, are fundamentally different. Their material is much more political, less crude, more thoughtful and contain almost no four letter words. So I have to take a John Stewart and mix in some George Carlin to arrive at the method of the German stand-ups. They talk fast and complex, their jokes are subtle (most of the time) but that makes them funnier. So for a non-German speaker, this puts two things against them: First the language as such and secondly the cultural and political context it is in and which is the source for their critique. Because critique like the Court Jester it is and they can say it without risking their lives. Unless you live here and hear the news every day, it is pretty difficult to keep up.

And they don’t need to be swearing all the time in German to be funny either. The word “fuck” does not exist in German, not in the comics texts and almost not in the biological sense either. So Germans translate the exclamation: “fuck!” with “Scheiße!” (shit) or “Verdammt!” (damn). The activity of copulation is also not explained as “fucking” but described with dozens of less obvious words, I heard “poppen” (to pop) the other day. Ethymologists and thesaurus compilers or your friendly bar tender will tell you dozens more.

Consequently, the strongest word a German would attached to the quality of a stand-up comics is “derb”. Which means crude. And it’s usually not “funny”.

There is another reason, German comics are so different. Freedom of speech is a very recent acquisition by half of the country. It was dangerous if you spoke your mind or made political jokes in East Germany before 1989. And all of Germany still has in it’s collective mind the incredible persecution network that Nazi machinery laid over the country.

Thus, the origins are found in the timid beginnings in post-war and post-unification Germany, when everybody all of a sudden was allowed to speak his mind again. It’s even anchored in the new German Constitution. Article 5, speaks about the right to express his opinion openly and freely.

Today there are only a handful of really good German political stage performers, I can’t even call them comics or comedians. Their language bites and their jokes are another form of harsh social criticism. Of course, I will follow them on YouTube and also live if I can. Because we have no more censorship for speakers or listeners in Germany. Except for Nazi propaganda, everything goes.

And the next time you try to say something critical about soldiers or the military in America, watch out!! Oh, and by the way, the best of all jokes are Jewish jokes…

Am I a Socialist?

…so we’re now into politics, something most Americans hate but Germans love. I always wondered why. People over here love to talk and argue about the sense and nonsense of everything. You can start a heated conversation with anybody on the street about Greece, war, the cost of pork loin and where to get the best bang for your vacation buck. People love to talk so they can present their level of education, intelligence, and how much they are in tune with the daily news. If you engage enough of your fellow citizens you get a nice cross section of opinions, from the primitive, regurgitating the mass media (like in the US) to the sublime – intelligent, thoughtful arguments, although the latter are in the minority. It challenges your mind, if you have the time and you get a much broader picture of the “mood” people are in. The only thing that puzzles me is why we end up with an almost exact 50:50 split between liberal views and conservative views in Germany, just like the US. It is because even the mainstream conservative party in Germany would still be labelled “Socialist” by Americans. Germany in shades of blue and America in shades of red. Living in Massachusetts turned out to be as close as possible to my German shade of blue for an American State. For everybody personally, your circumstances are unique and so your convictions and opinions should be unique. I understand that. But when it comes to society as a whole, what makes us think and argue the way we do? Do we even bother (to think and argue)? Was it upbringing? Education? Experience in other countries maybe (see Rick Steves and his opinion pieces)? In Germany, I can play the ignorant American “we’re the greatest country and if you don’t like it, get the hell out”. Actually, that is pretty comfortable and I am enjoying it. It gets you off the hook. When I’m in America, I play the crazy liberal who’s trying so hard to make a point or two. For several months now, I experienced German life and the desire to be living in peace with our European neighbours, once and for all. Europe will never be like the United States because we don’t have the same common cause. The common currency covers up vast differences between ways of life, work and language. We do get along, having learned the hard way for a few generations. And there are signs that we actually starting to celebrate our differences, enjoy each other’s company, because you’re different, not because you think and act like me. This attitude is growing in Europe and more and more suppressed in the US. It’s called polarisation. Prosperity is only one feature in a society. If I can only associate with other rich (or poor) people, then I am depriving myself of a huge part of life’s experience.
So, yes, I am a Socialist, because I like to be social and if you need help I will be first to come to your rescue, whatever that might be.