May 5th, 1988

The postcard arrived in his mailbox on the 4th.

This was it. It was now happening. The last few years might have been like a dream, but the months leading up to this moment had been like the day of a storm, when the clouds are gathering and the air pressure has dropped, and you know something’s brewing, and you welcome it but at the same time it makes you nervous. There had been massive preparation involved leading up to this moment. And here it was, the postcard.

He knew in the back of his mind that, under what one in the West might call “normal circumstances”, it wouldn’t have been a sure thing that he and she would stay together. It wasn’t a sure thing as it was, but they were in love, and there was so much riding on the decision now that there really wasn’t room for second thoughts. The decision had been made and they were sticking to it. They’d met a couple of years before, back when she had come to his hometown to visit a mutual friend, and sparks had flown from the start. He not being allowed to leave the country, they met regularly in Prague. They spoke for hours on the phone, knowing full well that the Stasi was listening. Eventually they decided that the only way they could be together would be to marry, so they got all their paperwork in order, including the application for permission to emigrate for personal reasons. This last point had required some careful thought – he would have done anything to leave the GDR and emigrate to the West, but this could jeopardize a relative’s chances to be accepted to university or be promoted at work. The state tended to hold things like that against your family if you demonstrated your desire to leave*. They determined that there was no immediate danger to anyone’s career. They arranged a modest wedding and reception. He did most of the planning, as it had to take place there in East Germany. Her parents came over, as did several of her friends. His friends were there. His parents refused to come. Afterwards she drove her car back over the border, packed with more of his things. And then the waiting began.

When the postcard came, informing someone that he or she was now permitted to leave the country forever,  you then had to quickly collect the relevant papers at the relevant government authorities in order to receive an official exit visa which was only good for 24 hours.  He’d already sorted his belongings in anticipation of its arrival, assigning everything he couldn’t take with him – record collection, furniture, housewares. When his postcard arrived, he called round and let his friends know, and they convened that evening for one last night of drinking, smoking, and reminiscing together.
It felt permanent, and sad. He wanted nothing more than to get out and experience life in a free country, but it was painful to look at his friends and wonder if he would ever see them again. He was leaving 27 years of his life behind, locked away forever behind an iron curtain.

A few of his closest friends stayed through the night, and crashed at his place in sleeping bags. The next morning, bags packed, he was accompanied to the train station, where they all said their last goodbyes. There were tears. He promised he would write. What a feeling it was, the finality of it, as the train pulled away from the station. He was leaving his country and the only home he’d ever known, and even though he’d hated it and couldn’t wait to get out, it still came with a measure of unease. What would happen to him now? Would he even make it out? The border police were not above playing games with those bearing exit visas, if they were feeling ornery.

There were three older women in the train compartment with him. Two looked past retirement age – retirees had more freedom to travel in the West, since the GDR half-hoped they’d leave permanently and would have to stop drawing on their pensions. The third probably had a temporary travel permit. No one spoke. This train served as a normal regional train with stops along the way, people getting on and off until the last town before the border.

WikimediaCommons

Gutenfürst, the fortified GDR border station. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

There, at the border station, the train was stopped and the customs officials summoned him to alight and join them for questioning in their administrative building. They made him unpack all his baggage and identify everything while the train sat in the station. They searched all his things, examined his customs forms, asked him questions. After an hour, they were satisfied and allowed him to board again, and then the police came through to see everyone’s travel papers. The train moved again. He stood in the aisle outside his compartment, smoking cigarette after cigarette and watching the land roll by. They passed through the death strip, something he had naturally never seen before with his own eyes, and recognized it as the furthermost boundary of his entire world until that moment.  Beyond that point, the other passengers suddenly became cheerful and more talkative. A member of the Bavarian border police appeared – Grüss Gott, where are you traveling to? Ah, Munich? You’re moving to be with your wife? Very nice. He had never heard someone in uniform speak to him in such a friendly manner. The atmosphere inside the compartment turned palpably lighter. He was in the West. He was out.

She was waiting for him on the platform when the train pulled into Munich. It happened to be her thirtieth birthday, and so she’d made reservations at a nice restaurant in town. He still remembers everything about that day. It was a beautiful spring evening, the sun was shining, and he was riding through his wonderful new city in the passenger seat of his new wife’s Citroen. He was indescribably happy, with a feeling that his future – their future – fanned out before him, seemingly without limit. Hinterm Horizont geht’s weiter. They would travel. They would start a family. There was no way to know that within two years they would split up, that the Wall would come down, that his old country would cease to exist, that he’d start a new career  – after it was clear that his East German diploma, from the best of universities, was somehow suspect – and that neither the career change nor the divorce would be his last.

 

 

*From Wikipedia’s entry on crossing the inner German border: “The process of applying for an exit permit was deliberately intended to be slow, demeaning and frustrating, with a low chance of success. Applicants were pushed to the margins of society. They were demoted or sacked from their jobs, excluded from universities and subjected to ostracism. If the applicants were parents, they could face the threat of having their children taken into state custody on the grounds that they were unfit to bring up children. The heavily politicised East German law code was used to punish those who continued to apply for emigration despite repeated rejections. Those who repeatedly submitted emigration applications faced charges of “impeding … the state and social activity”. If they sought assistance from contacts in the West, such as relatives or West German state bodies, they were guilty of “illegal contact” or “traitorous information transfer or activities as an agent.” Criticising the political system was a crime of “public disparagement”. Over 10,000 applicants were arrested by the Stasi between the 1970s and 1989 on such charges.

Circumitus: Batavis, Boiodurum

IMG_2540

(The name actually refers to the bicycle route and is not, apparently, what the Romans called it.)

This posting hails from the other side of Bavaria, a “detour” onto the Roman road which follows the Danube and also the boundary separating the Roman Empire (in this case, the province of Raetia) from the Germanic Marcomanni to the north. This border is known as the Limes, and covered the lands on all sides of the Mediterranean Sea, in one form or another.

IMG_2542

The Roman Museum in Passau is built on the site of one of the fortified structures from the Roman period, Boiodurum. This name, like many Roman sites in Germany is apparently of Celtic origin. There were people settled on Passau’s peninsula long before even the official founding date of Rome, but according to archaeological finds they were gone, or least no longer present in sufficient numbers (discontinuity), by the time the Romans arrived; no signs of destruction or conflict have been found either. This brings me to something I have been thinking about ever since I started looking at early European history: the way some history texts tell it, the reader can get the impression that the Romans simply arrived one day –  cutting through virgin land with their swords and putting down roads to get to their provincial capitals which had also just appeared out of thin air. Just as there had been settlements here before, and some infrastructure (mule paths over the Alps), there surely must have been some Roman presence here long before as well, even if only in the form of tradesmen or scouts. Polybius made remarks about the Raetians over a century before the transalpine road plans went into effect.

IMG_2561

The museum found a creative way to present the Tabula Peutingeriana in a large enough size to actually read it.

There were plenty of Roman soldiers in this “three rivers” area, but other people as well, judging from excavation finds. Below is a type of “diploma” awarded to a Roman soldier after completing his 25-year service (if he survived that long). He got some money and a little set of engraved dog tags, threaded together with wire like a spiral notebook, according him privilege wherever he went. Did Claudius Paternus Clementianus of Epfach possess one of these? Probably.

IMG_2563

IMG_2549

Part of a roof tile found in the ruins of the Roman Boiodurum fortress at Passau, delightfully marred by a paw print before it was dry.

In Passau one may find a little light shed on the continuity of the place after the Romans withdrew. Roman troops at Boiodurum were among the last to stick it out along the Limes, after other frontier posts had already fallen. Eugippius says that a small group set out for Rome to collect the soldiers’ last pay but were killed by Barbarians, unbeknownst to those remaining and waiting for their return. Eugippius’ biography of St. Severinus mentions “people” – probably both Romans and Romanized Raetians – holing up together in Batavis (the fortified Roman settlement in Passau, on the hill where, not coincidentally, the Cathedral now stands) and defeating the invaders before being urged to leave for safety at Lauriacum (Enns). Eugippus also mentions St. Severinus founding a small monastery at “Boiotro”, most certainly using the existing Boiodurum fortress walls.

IMG_2572

A last sign of the Roman Empire’s long march toward being the Holy Roman Empire: not St. Severinus, but the Holy Bishop Valentin of Noricum (Roman province of Salzburg), who came to Raetia as a missionary. The silver box below his image is said to hold his relics. My understanding of the “Dark Ages” seems to have been a little wrong until now – it was certainly chaotic, violent,  in flux, and certainly dark to live in — but not completely shrouded in misty Unknown. The information is there, you just have to look for it.

A Love Story Told In Books

There may be eight million stories in the naked city; there are at least that many in the antiquarian business, especially if your business involves buying up collections from private estate sales. Through the transactions, through remarks, through the books themselves we get to know their former owners, the books telling us their life stories in an almost intimate way. We try to be respectful. Sometimes I refer to these people as our “angels”, in the way an American orchestra’s concert program refers to the highest donors as angels — they are giving us something of themselves and it demands respect.

A recent purchase belonged to a couple of scientists. Their upstairs neighbors were managing the sale of everything in the apartment, including a few thousand books. The high-end dealers had already been through, the auction house rep and the local science institute as well, and there were still a few thousand books in the apartment, much to the neighbor’s dismay.
We looked them over and decided that, except for a few hundred unsellable copies, we would take them. We don’t have a truck, so the transport involved a few trips with the car over the course of perhaps 3 weeks.
Through these trips we got to know the upstairs neighbor and he shared some information about the deceased owners. The man (we’ll call him H.) was born into a German Jewish family in the 1920s. During the early Hitler years the family resettles in Prague, and some time later our man H., then just out of high school, leaves his family behind and flees for Palestine. Reaching the coast of Haifa, he is put on a docked French warship. That ship is bombed, he survives, but is then for some reason classified along with the other survivors as a “foreign enemy”, and put briefly in the Atlit detainee camp in Israel.
After the war, H. studies and worked as a biologist. He meets a woman (A.), another brilliant scientist, a bit younger and (this is where it gets a little murky) by the early 1970s she’s left her husband and son to come with H. to, of all places, Germany, where they both begin work at a very prestigious research institute. H.’s family has all perished in the Holocaust. But A. learns German (we found the language course on records), and they settle into a middle-class life in a Bavarian village, happily studying their insects and reading books and occasionally winning prizes in scientific research for the next 40 years.

As the neighbor remarked, it seems that all they ever needed was each other. They were all they had, having left everyone else behind.

It is hard for me to imagine what life would be like for a couple of Jewish intellectuals in the Bavarian countryside. To be fair, there are plenty of scientists, artists, and other high-minded folks in their particular geographical area, it wasn’t exactly the hinterlands. I think they lived for their work.

They converted late in life and were baptized into the Catholic church. Why? Their many books tell no stories here. Sure, there was a bible or two, tomes about the Holy Land, ancient religions, and even a small crucifix (a gift, maybe). But not a single book about Jesus or Christian salvation.

My personal theory is that they did it so they could stay together, their urns resting side by side in the village churchyard.

In Memory Of A Girl

IMG_1885

In memory of Ilse Brüll
Born 28 April 1925 Died 3(?) September 1942
and in memory of all those children of Innsbruck who were victims of this time

Ilse Brüll, a Jewish girl, attended school here in Wilten from September 15, 1935. She met her death in September 1942 at Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

From Ilse’s last letter to her family, August 30, 1942: “Please tell my parents and relatives of this letter and that they are not worry…”

thumb_ilsebruell Kopie

The story of Ilse Brüll is one of the saddest in Innsbruck’s Third Reich history. She grew up in an assimilated Jewish family in Anichstrasse in the center of town, her father Rudolf Brüll had a furniture and upholstery business. After the November 1938 pogrom (Kristallnacht) the family looked for ways to leave the country and emigrate to America, but without success.

Bruell_Rudolf_Ilse_l

Ilse Brüll and her cousin Inge Brüll were sent with the Quaker Kindertransports to the Netherlands, expecting to meet up later with their parents. At first brought to a refugee camp there, they sometimes entertained fellow refugees at events, by donning traditional Tyrolean clothing and singing duets. They were brought later to a convent with other children, and learned Dutch.

483

The Kindertransports brought Jewish children out of harm’s way to he Netherlands and Great Britain. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1942 they immediately began rounding up Jews, and demanded that the convent hand over any unbaptized Jewish children. It seems that Ilse had had the opportunity to be baptized but refused (Inge’s mother was Roman Catholic, and Inge had been baptized as a baby.)

Inge recounted in a taped interview that the convent felt it had no choice — if they had disobeyed the order, the entire colony of 200 children would have been disbanded. Ilse was taken to Westerbork Camp in August 1942 (Anne Frank’s family was just settling into the hidden apartment in Amsterdam, but would also pass through here 2 years later) before “most likely” continuing on to Auschwitz to be gassed. She was 17.

Ilse’s parents, Rudolf and Julie Brüll, were interned in Theresienstadt but survived, and returned to Innsbruck after their liberation. Rudolf Brüll fought for and eventually reclaimed his furniture shop, and was president of the Jewish Community in Innsbruck until his death in 1957.  Ingeborg Brüll died in 2011, also in Innsbruck.

Information in German here images 2, 3 and 4 from here. Image 1 by the author.

Teriolis ≠ Tirol

Continuing in the looking-up-one-thing-and-finding-the-tip-of-the-iceberg vein, I recently began looking into an assumption I had made a while back — that the name Tirol was derived from the Roman fortress Teriolis (from which the village of Zirl takes its name). It turns out that this is completely unsubstantiated, and that the name Tirol came to these lands by being ruled by the Earls of Tirol, who in turn took their name from their home, the castle Schloss Tirol, by around 1141.
Whence the castle got its name remains a mystery. Wikipedia mentions that tir meant territory or land in both Latin and Old Irish (Celtic), and that earlier written versions of the name include de Tirale and de Tyrols.

Ah, that mysterious “y” which one finds in the name when written in English! I had always wondered about that.

Then, poking around for anything on the internet concerning the origin of the name, I came across this interesting treatise (de). (I am not sure what to make of it, exactly — it reads a bit like Tolkien’s backstory in the appendices of “The Lord of the Rings”. It also shares some word-for-word passages with this.) The author (if he is the author) postulates that the rocky hill on which the castle sits had been taken in the early middle ages by conquering Germanic tribes, who named it in honor of the Germanic god Tyr (en) (aka Ziu*, both connected in turn to Zeus deus, deva, and our Tuesday). He adds that before the castle there had been an early Christian church on the site, and it is known that those early Christian churches often were built right atop pre-Christian holy sites. So it’s possible that the name Tirol (or Tyrol) is a very old, pre-Christian one.

The first Earls of Tirol were apparently Bavarian (Bavaria was running the place at the time) but they adopted the name of their castle rather than their family name, which lends a little credibility to the theory that the place name had some ancient meaning. Which nobody would have remembered by the 12th century.

The author also mentions a very curious book called Das erfundene Mittelalter (“the invented middle ages”) by a “chronology critic”, who claims that all the years between 614 and 911 didn’t exist, that everything purported to have happened in that time, didn’t, because of some sort of massive calendar jump. Scientists and archaeologists have debunked this theory.

And, completely unrelated to these places: the name Tauern, given to the Alpine mountain region of Salzburg and Carinthia, is evidently connected to the name of its earlier inhabitants, the Taurisci. After the Battle of Telamon in 225 B.C.E., the beaten Taurisci were allowed to resettle further southwest at what is now called – wait for it — Torino, or in English, Turin.

*Ziu and Zirl sound suspiciously alike. Is it not possible that, the Romans perhaps having latinized an already-given Raetian name for that hill there (now the Martinsbühel), the two names might indeed be related, by way of Ziu? The Roman name for Wilten, Veldidena, is thought to have come from a pre-existing name. Did the Raetians share any linguistic origins with their northern neighbors? One might assume yes, as Germanic and Celtic were both Indo-European. And gods are completely transferable, as history shows us.

Kulturblogging: Hildegard Knef

When you spend more than a couple of years in another country, you may begin to realize how much the people around you, while possibly being very much like you, grew up on different pop culture. The American entertainment industry being what it is, they are sure to know many of our well-known pop singers, film actors, athletes and the like, but underneath that they have a whole trove of memories of other famous and successful figures, may of which we Americans have either never heard of, or have forgotten, or whom we did not notice because they worked on the peripheries in the international scene (such as Susanne Lothar). We may not call them minor, because they were not. They just didn’t have a large American following. (Many might leap to the conclusion that, if you’re not big in the USA, you haven’t “made it”, to which I say, open your eyes.)

Knef

So it is with Hildegard Knef. I knew that she had done some work in Hollywood (as “Hildegard Neff”) but did not know that her handprints are there in the concrete, with those of many other stars, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

She started out by being discovered at 18, while training to be an animation artist for the UFA film studio in Berlin, by the head of that studio. A year later she was having an affair with the Reich’s Chief Dramaturg, Ewald von Demandowsky (this would be 1944). She was gorgeous, extremely photogenic, highly intelligent, and one assumes that powerful men were falling over themselves to advance her career.

In a nutshell, her career was tempestuous. In 1948 she signed a 7-year contract with David O. Selznick, wherein she was paid lucratively for English lessons and screen tests, but was cast in no roles. In 1950 (now with American citizenship), she returned to Germany to appear in the film Die Sünderin. With its taboo themes of prostitution and suicide, not to mention a brief nude scene, the film scandalized the country: protests, counter-protests, banning in many cinemas. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany protested primarily that the gist of the film resembled the infamous Nazi euthanasia propaganda film Ich klage an. Twenty five years later in America, a mercy killing could be shown in a film like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but coming right out of the Nazi years in Germany, it was apparently  too soon.

She began a genuine singing career with the release of her first album in 1951. Her voice is clear (if unusually low, probably from all the cigarettes) and her singing style is confident and breezy, in that speaking/singing mix that was so popular in the day, but lets out a sort of dignified containment of emotion, a way of revealing pain without the least bit wallowing in it. Ella Fitzgerald later called her “the best singer without a voice”.

Here a song in English, “Too Bad” from 1969. The person who uploaded this put together an amusing collage of internet images to accompany the song.

Ostracized in Germany from the fallout from Die Sünderin, Knef returned to Hollywood and finally got to appear in a row of films, some good, some forgettable. She was the first (perhaps still the only) German to appear in a leading role on Broadway, in Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings. On the success of her international singing career, she returned to Berlin, enjoyed the spotlight on German television appearances, had a child, battled breast cancer, wrote a few memoirs, and generally made for constant headlines in the tabloids.

Here Knef singing “Aber schön war es doch”, from a television broadcast in 1963. The song lyrics tell of bittersweet memories of a last meeting, (“but it was beautiful”), and every detail — with bench, the trees in bloom, the words he’d spoken — is lovingly remembered.

 

“Written off” in Germany, she fled back to Hollywood where she did some film work but never really got her foot back in the door. In the 80s she played Fräulein Schneider in the musical Cabaret at the Theater des Westens in Berlin, and in 1989 moved back to German for good, heavily in debt. In her 60s, she began to be seen as one of those living legends (as so often happens to people who manage to still be around after the dust has settled), was awarded lifetime achievement prizes, appeared on talk shows, put out a (very successful) album of songs. In 2001 she got her German citizenship back. In 2003, she died of pneumonia, at the age of 76, just two weeks after her last televised interview. Working — and being in demand — until the end.

Image found here.