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 during...you 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'?
Posted by mcb at 5:20 AM