20 October 2016

my homes, part II

This has been unexpectedly difficult. I don't know how many times I have started writing this post. Mostly,  I got lost in much too detailed descriptions of quite boring episodes from happy/unhappy childhood, seasons 1-15, in long and unwanted contemplation of my mother's life, which always ends poorly for both of us. Some days, I found myself considering motherhood in general and how so many adult children I know have this amazing capacity to keep a pragmatic distance, storing their mothers somewhere in a drawer marked 'slightly doddery and definitely tedious' until emergency strikes (this after watching season 2 of Transparent, esp. the last episode). My own daughter is a case in point. She can be adoringly ruthless and dismissive.
If only I could have had some of her confidence at the time.

Anyway, none of which gets me where I want this to go.

Throughout my childhood and my teenage years in southern and northern Bavaria, i.e. Franconia - and later as a university student in Heidelberg - the US army was all over the place. In Freising, where I was born, my parents lived next door to young GI families, sharing playgrounds and childcare and baby gear. Shortly before we moved, my father was offered a research fellowship in Alaska for three years and decided against it based on the recommendations of these GI friends (too cold, too boring). So I have been told but I suspect there were other reasons.
My point is that during the late 1950s, the US army families provided a much needed breath of fresh air, careless fun and pragmatic innocence, new references so to speak, to my parent's generation who had barely if at all begun to recover from the war and all that unmentionable shame.

By the time we moved to our brand new home in this Franconian city, my father, who was in his early 30s, had climbed to a surprising height on his career ladder and that allowed my parents to become somewhat haughty again, which means that our sitting room had walls of books, the music was ever only classical, the table cloth on Sundays old family linen etc. And most certainly no tv, not for ages, the world was always neatly separated into us and them (imagine a pyramid shape).
The house was a 1960s dream come true with central heating, a large open space sitting room with French windows complete with fringed striped canopy, jazzy ironwork banisters, crazy paving in pastels from the garage all through the garden and to the back door. Two (!) bathrooms, a fully equipped laundry in the basement and so on.
my mother knitted our matching blue coats with the white buttons

The area was about to be developed from a sleepy farming village, surrounded by oak forests and a disused historic canal perfect for ice skating, into a neat middle class hub of family life with access to the city. It all looked a bit like this watercolour by Albrecht Dürer. Actually, it didn't just look like it, this is the actual village, only he lived there for a while long before we moved in.

 It was a fabulous place with amazing freedom.

Lots of kids, on scooters, bicycles, roller skates, roaming the forest, climbing trees, building dens, gang warfare with snowballs in winter, collecting mushrooms on the way home from school, flying kites and crossing forbidden main roads, exploring the building sites of this growing suburb, coming home in the evenings covered in muck and dust, no questions asked.

And in between the proper German family homes with their pianos and cultivated gardens, the boring Sunday afternoons with Kaffee und Kuchen using the best family china, there lived many US army families, who had barbecues on the front steps. Imagine: a grilled hamburger between two slices of white toast (we only got white toast when we had a tummy upset). We stood there in our Sunday's best and stared at these lively people wearing shorts and playing loud music from a transistor radio  (music as in AFN). The gates stood open and that's all we needed, never mind the language. I spent wonderful afternoons exploring the mysterious world of Barbie dolls and Superman comics (we were allowed one comic only when we had to stay in bed with a fever and my mother would choose it personally), chewing bubble gum and eating peanut butter - with a spoon. Soon we were friends waving to each other in the mornings on our way to school, the US kids in their strange yellow bus, the German kids on their bicycles.
It was a wild time, believe me.

But with the cold war getting hotter, the army moved their families into compounds and our neighbourhood was once again ruled by Mittagsruhe and white knee socks on Sundays. Still, we had the great outdoors all to ourselves and for a while longer at least, no adult interference.
It ended when I started secondary school - at age 10 - and had to spend hours commuting back and forth, plus piano lessons and horse riding lessons and tennis lessons and whatever else my parents considered essential in molding us into proper representatives of their make believe world of academia.


Colette said...

This is an interesting and compelling depiction of growing up in Germany just after the War, with hints of the great complexities involved. I have often wondered what that must have been like.

Right now, though, I am trying to imagine growing up (or even being) someplace so old that Albrecht Durer might have lived in and painted it.

Anonymous said...

You have stirred up my memories of childhood in Hanau in the early 60s. My dad was a GI. I remember a magical time and so many kind German friends, both children and adults. Thanks!

Dale said...

Wow, thank you for this post!

Ms. Moon said...

What a strange time in history. Do you think that the Americans and their way of lives and their outlooks influenced your thinking as a child?
Do you still like peanut butter?
We all used to sort of be little feral creatures back in those days, didn't we?

liv said...

Adoringly ruthless and dismissive. I love that, it perfectly describes a part of my daughters relationship with me.

I am Danish and German and grew up with grandparents one generation removed from that. So I can relate to some of the "rules" of those times.

I love "too much detail and quite (only for you) boring episodes", which are never so to the reader. A very nice post but I hope you will continue and perhaps give more detail to the relationships that have shaped you. --- If you felt that was appropriate.

am said...

You give so much to think about. The photos from your childhood in Germany are, as always, quite moving. So many of us who grew up in the 1950s did have freedom and hardly any supervision at all, outside of home and school. Family life and school life were problematic, but time spent outside and life in books got me through those years.

Sabine said...

But remember that your part of the planet is just as old.

Sabine said...

The influence was huge! Everything from food to clothing to music and, wow, the toys!!! But only for those few years when the army allowed their families to live in local neighbourhoods, until about 1965 I think.
Peanut butter was exotic and so different but I must admit I never really liked it. But then I don't like nougat or nutella.

Zhoen said...

Fascinating. Everyone else's freedom seems more than our own. Frames of reference all over the place. We get our freedom wherever we can. If I'd not had a bicycle and back yard, I think I'd've gone mad.

I wish I could drop the wall between my mother and myself, but it just isn't safe, for either of us. Too much hurt, too much judgement and disappointment and anger.

Steve Reed said...

I love the sound of your '60s dream house! I often think back on how much freedom we kids had in those years. It seems kind of unbelievable now. I'm sure the academic atmosphere was stifling and harsh in some ways (my own parents are academics, so I get it) but it also sounds, I don't know -- not comfortable, but familiar.