Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cosy Names and the H word

Here are some shots of our local park. Mads and I have had a few dark moments here - not understanding anyone, not understanding why no one understands us. The other day Mads tried chatting to a group of girls and they looked at her, noses wrinkled and said 'Was? Was?. Mads angrily shouted back 'What are you 'wassing' about?' Then today she was happily playing in some bushes when a mother came over and said, 'that's where the children pee.' Awesome. I wanted to say 'there is a toilet. Have the children considered using that?' but perhaps it's not a toilet. Perhaps it's a cubby. Who knows?

Notice the headstones in the second photo? The park used to be a graveyard, but it was almost entirely destroyed know, the War, and I guess they decided it was easier to just turn it into a play area.

Ah, the War. When Thieu did his 'cultural sensitivity' briefing when we first arrived here, the advice was a. 'never give a German person a boquet with an odd number of flowers in it' and b. 'don't mention The War.' We haven't mentioned it, but people keep mentioning it to us. And it's a hard topic to avoid because even now, 60 years later or whatever it is, there's evidence of it everywhere. We met our upstairs neighbour in the park one day and she pointed to the streetscape and said 'have you noticed the holes where the bombs fell?' I thought at first she meant little chunks out of the buildings, but she actually meant the way in which there will be three older style houses in a row, then suddenly, starkly, a modern one, built where an older one used to be before it was bombed.

Then today, I went to have my 'German lesson' with a very kind mother from Mads' kindergarten, which always just ends up with us chatting in English. Today we started talking about childrens' books. There's a character I keep seeing here called Straw Peter and I asked her about it. She said he's from a famous German kids' book - one of those old style books with heavy, scary morals ('Bob refused to keep his hands off the table. So a monster came and bit them off.' That kind of thing).

I was musing on what would make parents think this was a good thing to read to their kids and she said; 'There was a very terrible man here once called Hitler.' I paused for a moment, then said, cautiously, 'Yes. I've heard of him.' We ended up having a very interesting discussion and what was the most striking thing for me was the terrible guilt and shame she seemed to carry, as a 28 year old, for something that had happened so long before she was born. It was like she'd inherited the awful burden of it. She was near tears when she told me about how, when she used to work for an airline, she would sometimes come across older people who would refuse to speak to her because she was German. And I found myself telling her about the terrible attrocities that the early settlers in Australia did to the indigenous population, as if it would somehow make us more even. As if you could ever been even with something like that.

And now next week, after that conversation, how can I possibly go back to my faltering German and start constructing clunky sentences about how 'I like to read books and travel'?


  1. Hey Merri,
    My oldest friend Meli is 1/2 Germand and I had the good fortune to share houses with her and her German father while growing up. Meli had the Struwel Peter story and he'd read it to us at night- needless to say we had some pretty ferocious nightmares.

  2. Hey Mere

    Another great blog. What camera are you taking those shots on? I like the colours in them.

  3. You poor thing, Jas! Rob, it's just a crappy digital but I've been running them through the Poladroid app to get the colours.

  4. Straw Peter sounds horrific. According to my research, it was originally published with the catchy title "Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder mit 15 schön kolorierten Tafeln für Kinder von 3-6 Jahren", or "Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6". Having your hands hacked off with giant scissors doesn't sound all that whimsical though.

  5. Hmmm- gravestones in the park. St Vincents place just doesn't stack up to that!!

    As for straw peter, my (German) great grandmother passed down a little gem called "Max und Moriz". Innocent title, but Max und Moriz were greedy children who stole bread and ate too much, so were baked in an oven by the baker and then eaten by some geese. Nice. I think it was a tale aimed at 4 year olds. Fortunately my school German allowed me to only translate it aged 14, so we found it really funny. Heidi

  6. Hi Heidi - I'll keep an eye out for Max und Moriz. Sounds like a cracker! The grass is really green in the local park...

  7. Wish l had not clicked on the link to Straw Peter.....that guy is doing nothing for the image of farmers and other straw-based occupations.

    I must say that l am surprised on the effect the'H word' has on a 28 year old, and that she has people not talk to her.

    My father, having hid during the war in Holland has no dislike whatsoever of German people.......but screen any documentry featuring the 'H Word' and block your ears, would make even straw Peter cringe!

  8. Do you think they were pulling your leg about the bushes? Were you
    being Punked by German mothers?