this is the mail I meant to write you.
Last weekend we went to a family gathering,that takes place every two years, always in a different German city, always organized by an other family member.
It´s not exactly my family I am talking about here: it’s my girlfriend Andrea´s and her sister’ Susannes´ extended family.
Both Andrea and Susanne are quiet and withdrawn types,and in the wake of these meetings they tend to be scared to hell.
Because I can be quite easy going, my function was clearly defined in this situation.
Hidden behind small talk, the threat of uneasy silence is always present. Nothing real to talk about. Everday problems , dreams and losses are no topic. We all have to keep ourselves at guard.
It was Doris who initiated these gatherings around eight years ago. Doris is one of the four Winter sisters: Marianne ,Erika, Traudl and her. Marianne is Andreas and Susanne’s mother.
This time Doris didn’t come to the gathering. Her husband Helmer lost his mind bit by bit four years ago, then he died. Meanwhile Doris moved into a nursing home and suffers from depressions.
It was the first time that Erika appeared at one of these gatherings. Up until now she had to care for her helplessly ill husband. Now he has died.
Traudl is 93 years old. She is ever busy, can´t stop working, walks like a young one and stays up until the last family member goes to bed.
Marianne is long dead by now. Her life was a tragedy.
She suffered, so it is said,from schizophrenia.
When I met her the first time, I was visiting Andrea in her tiny room, a former maids room in the fifth floor of an old apartment building. Andrea was not in. Marianne was sitting on the stairway, waiting for her daughter to come. So I waited with her.
It was the house where Leni Riefenstahl lived at that time, but not in a maidens room.
I was young then, inwardly a child even if trying to be a man. To look older, I sported a beard. It was the beginning of my relationship with Andrea,and here I was sitting with this strange old women on the stairway. I couldn´t connect her to my fresh love Andrea.
By now I have got to know bits and pieces of Mariannes story. Yes her soul was sick, but it´s also true, that Heinz, Andreas father, and Mariannes husband,an everyday man, and also an evil man,made her life to hell, with his perverted cruelties and ugly lies. Manipulative as he was,he took a good part in Mariannes destruction.
His shadow has destroyed also the life of his eldest son Michael.
And his shadow still looms over Andreas life and has become a painful part of my life too. May he rest in hell.
So we went to this years gathering. It was raining, it was raining all day long. Our hotel was unbelievably ugly, yes it was stupidly ugly, and all over the floors and rooms the artificial smell of peaches, part of some disinfecting and cleaning agent.
On the daytime agenda, for all of us, a trip was planned to the next bigger city around, a city called Freudenstadt.”Freudenstadt” that means: “City of Joy”.
We all walked around in a circle, around the main plaza of this joyless city on an utterly joyless day.
We learned that the ancient look of this city was a fake because the city had burned down during the last days of World War II in a big, hellish fire.
And then the French army had marched in, to be more specific, some Algerian-French troops, and the soldiers got free brandy to celebrate victory and they did celebrate indeed. Many women got raped those days in this City of Joy.
Freudenstadt was rebuilt then in the fifties as a look a like of the renaissance city that it had been, a fake city and a fake city of joy.
The planner of this architectural Disneyland, was appointed later as professor of architecture.
His portrait, painted in oil, now decorates the city museum, right next to some design objects from the fifties, and sixties, and seventies.
On that evening we all went to a restaurant that was decorated with dead animals, and oil paintings and cute little dwarfs, and all kinds of memorabilia that look “gemütlich” and are supposed to be very German. Terrifying, that it was.
This t evening lots of beer was drunk by some.
And here I am now, with some 600 family pictures we got, stored on a memory stick:
pretty young woman turned old by now, or already buried in wet heavy soil, young innocent looking guys in Nazi uniforms, marriages photographs, fragile gazes looking into nowhere land, a guy with a Hitler mustache, kids playing in the sun, men at work, young mothers and pretty dresses.
Pictures of people I don´t know, and stories I haven´t heard of.
But I sense and feel: time is passing. Old age and death are lurking behind the corner,