The Rhine between
My father. A storyteller if ever there was one. A memory-keeper in a society that was muted and has turned deaf. When I think about him back then, telling folk tales or making up stories as he went, I once more realize how different I grew up in this country where traditions are mostly dead, the threads hacked off by shame and guilt and haunted by the ghost of political incorrectness. My memories are a layer of inheritance that passes unseen: my father singing old ballads with his untrained but beautiful baritone driving our old VW bus, travelling long distances to the shop from our village. My mother’s thread was poetry and literature: I remember her lost in it, in Rilke’s “Book of hours” and the “Duino Elegies”, the “
There she is, black and white in front of her Alma Mater, her red skirt that was my father’s death turned into shades of grey by his camera’s eye. Dreamy, exotic black-haired minx, with a soul longing for truth, searching for her lost Jewish ancestry, another thread cut of. Her eyes are those of a seeker, they look away, into a great distance. Her eyes are my inheritance. When my mother sang it was rather tuneless but with a lot of good will. She only remembered the odd verses and lines. Fragmentation seems a symbol of her generation, passing on to mine its twisted and shattered sense of history. How can one tie on to fragments?
I look to Loreley’s rock, bathed in dazzling sunlight. For all I know, she is still there, an enchantress forever singing her lore, the lore of this land. As long as I can see her, she will be there. I see ghosts everywhere. I always have. When I was six years old, I ran off to the woods close to our house one afternoon. Took my bike and passed the battered playground on its fringe. There was a graveyard there, in the middle of the forest, behind a rusty iron gate. It was grey and forgotten, and very sad. I could feel the sadness whispering to me, luring me in, and so I climbed over and sat between the bleak stone plates, covered with pebbles. The only feature that caught my eye was a Star of David, wrought into the bars of the gate. There were no names. No dates. Only voices in the rustling grass and the wind. I got lost there this day, holding council with them. When my distressed mother found me in the end, all I would say was that “the stones talked to me”. When I asked her about the Star of David, she tried to explain – but how to tell a six-year-old about the genocide committed by its grandparents?
I had found a Jewish cemetery, laid out during the Third Reich, when the Jewish rites and traditions were banished and penalized. And the ones buried there had been the lucky ones. It meant little to me then, but their story was still there, and it was my first rite of passage into the memory of place. This country is ringing with it, especially memories that tell of shame, loss of identity and the shock of how quickly a nation of poets and thinkers can turn into Pandaemonium. At least those are the stories heard and witnessed. But I do not want to content myself with that. Can an unsolved trauma, can 12 years of history truly swallow this country’s richness of story? These 12 years took our roots and genetically modified them, turning the Germanic into a master race, using archaeology and other historical disciplines as a tool of legitimisation. They took the Rhine Gold and the Nibelungs, placating Siegfried slaying the dragon as a symbol for the new
I, too, am finder of stories and memories. It is my thread of Ariadne, leading me all the way from
Let’s reclaim our fragments from their sterile glass cases and the dirty debris of WW II. Let's re-enchant them, tend them and amend them. Let's embed them in a new eco-bardic, spiritual and global context, building on our post-war sensitivity to disunity. Let’s not allow the dust to settle.