Family history

I don’t know much about my family history beyond my grandparents. I don’t even know much about that, it’s never really been a thing. But sometimes, at family gatherings, holidays, etc. stories get shared.

As some of you know, I am half French. My dad is German, my mom is French. I’ve been raised bilingually, spent many school holidays in France, up to four weeks at a time.
There’s more to it, though. My grandpa on my mom’s side used to be German. I knew he was from Husum, northern Germany, but that’s it. I never really asked, he was one of those impressive and a bit scary but also loving grandfather of 26 grandchildren1 in his lifetime. He wasn’t a huge person, his built was average, but his voice, demeanor and strictness scared most of us grandkids. He did have a soft spot in his heart for the German ones2, though.

He died a quiet death in his bed in 1997. I can’t remember if it was then or a few years later when my dad told me the story pépé ((French, affectionate word for grandfather)) had told him one night out on the porch, sharing a few beers.

Grandpa Rudolph was in the military, a stoker/machinist on a German submarine. Well, of course, he was born in one of the northern-most cities in Germany. I don’t know anything about that time in his life, except that the submarine was captured in Lorient, France, when the harbor was taken by the English. He ended up being a prisoner of war, tried to escape three times.
His first two attempts ended up with him being caught in a rowboat on the atlantic, and brought back into camp. On his third attempt he actually got all the way home, but the Mayor – who was a friend of the family, but still – had to send him back because he couldn’t produce any discharge papers from his prisonership. So he got taken back to France. That when he said “Fuck it”, and after being released he just stayed in France. By that time he must’ve gotten a fair command of at least French and English, so he made do with being a day-laborer.
At one point he ended up staying with a peasant for a while, essentially being a farmhand. The guy took a liking to him and in the end tried to marry his daughter off to him, so he’d have someone to pass on the farm. Pépé apparently didn’t like what he’d told my dad was one monster of a woman and fled during one night.

He later married my grandmother Gisèle and did a lot of different jobs from building to being a trucker, which got him to drive from Spain to Russia, from Sweden to Italy and pick up all sorts of languages. My mom apparently got some of the restlessness from him and spent time as an au-pair in London and Berlin, as a late teenager. Then she ended up spending some time in a tiny village in the Moselle valley, working as a waitress in the restaurant/bar my dad and the guys from the orchestra frequented at the time. He was 28ish, she was about 21. He asked her out, she went along to one of the orchestra gigs at a wine festival and nearly got scared off by the guys from the neighboring village telling her: “What? YOU WENT OUT WITH ONE OF THEM?”
In the end all went well, and when my dad told his mom that a) he was gonna be a dad and b) they were gonna get married anyway, she first freaked out and went: “I knew it! It was bound to happen, you always laid with her back in your room! I’m not gonna tell your grandma, that’s up to you.”
To which my dad replied: “FINE!” and went to his grandma, said: “Granny, I’m gonna be a dad!”
My great-grandma’s reply was classic: “Oh. Good. But you know, at your age this didn’t have to happen to you!”3.
My parents married in June 1981. I was born in October that year.

Footnotes
  1. my mom had 12 siblings []
  2. there’s 5 of us, my sis, 3 cousins and me []
  3. as in, don’t get stuck with a kid, you should be smarter than that. but not in a mean way []

Papillon

A while ago in a twitter conversation about lifechanging books, @CairnRodrigues mentioned Henri Charrière’s Papillon, a book I have read.1
That book actually has some relevance for me when you think about turning points in life. Somehow.

13 years and about a month ago I was about to take my oral and final examination for my Abitur2.
The subject was geography. I was neither worried nor comfortable with it. I never had any phobic reactions to exams but I didn’t go into them as if it was nothing either.
In theory, this examination could cover anything we talked about in the final two or three years at school. In fact, the three students that had to go through this exam, me included, had a meeting with our teacher and we got a few subtle hints on what to prepare for.
And, of course, the usual “keep up to date with the news, it’s always good to work current events into what you have to say”.

Tradition had it, that during the two days of the examinations the students of the year before the final provided cake and coffee for those being under the scrutiny while waiting and preparing. So a few of us sat there, waiting, munching cake without much appetite, until our respective teacher came in, led us to an empty room and handed us a sheet of questions to think about for about 30 minutes.
After that they put a collar on us and led us to the gallows3.

When I entered the room, I noticed a few things.
The front desk, where I would sit.
All of the schools current geography teachers, including the headmaster and one teacher who always made fun about geography but apparently wanted to see how I’d do ((he was my history, German and philosophy teacher at the time)) were looking at me. Oh dear.
There was a map and the blackboard.

My geography teacher led me into the room, ushered me to the front desk and said: “Feel free to use the map or blackboard if you want to show or visualize something!”

What I said was something like “Ok” or “Thanks”.
What I thought was “I’m not going to get up from this damn chair until this ordeal is over!”

Next I talked for maybe ten to fifteen minutes about the questions and information they gave me to prepare, a little bit about US oil policy, climate in different locations and I think agriculture in Northern America.4

After that I answered a few questions, responded to a hint or two. Then the teachers grilling me looked at each other. “Ok?” “Yes.” “Good.” *nods all around*
Then one of them asked me the final question: “Is there anything you want to add, maybe something you read in the past few days…?”

I knew what they were talking about, but I have always been bad keeping up with current events and even though I knew it might be relevant, I never bothered during the wait for the big day. I pretty much went about my days the way I’d always done. I read through my materials about the topics relevant for the exams, but that was pretty much it.

My answer to the questions provoked a few things. One of them made a “He didn’t really just say that face”, anotherone just grinned, and then my teacher said: “Ok, thank you, you’re done here. You will all get the results tomorrow at 4PM.”

What I said was: “Papillon, but I doubt that will help me here!”

I got 12 out of 15 points, if anyone cares.

Footnotes
  1. woo! []
  2. the secondary school certificate  required to study at a university. which I didn’t. []
  3. examination room []
  4. Germany approaches Geography in a very global way, it not only covers locations of places, but also economy, climate and maybe even politics and the way they might be affected by geographical conditions. It’s a coincidence that this year NA was part of the topic []

and I would walk five hundred miles

By the time you read this, if you read it less than three days after it being posted, I will be gallivanting around Great Britain, namely Milton Keynes, Watford, Oxford or London.

But I can’t leave you without a funny story to read, can I?

In 2008 I decided to spend my summer vacation in the UK, namely visiting my cousin in Manchester, meet the lovely Alicia for the first time1 and walk around in Wales.

Good plan, right?

Well, on my second day, early in the morning, I was alone at my cousin’s place, I did something really dumb.

I got up from a chair, walked out of the room and rammed my right foot with full force into my cousin’s cross trainer.

Have you ever split your second toe lenghtwise with an axe? No? Me neither, but it felt exactly like I imagine that. I spent the morning letting cold water run across my foot. And because I don’t want to let something ruin my holidays I went out later that day, took a train out of Manchester and walked around some supposedly pretty historical village.

I didn’t appreciate it as much as you might think. But I tied my shoes as tight as possible and rangered on. In pain.
A day or so later I took the train up to West Yorkshire to meet Alicia for the first time and while I could walk, I didn’t enjoy it a lot. During the weekend I spent there2 I got a pretty bruise in the middle of my foot at the base of my toe.  Colours changed frequently and I’m almost sad I didn’t take pictures. Almost.

After that lovely weekend with Alicia, her friends, parts of her family and my toe I took a train to Bangor, Wales, because the main portion of my vacation was scheduled to be walking around on the beautiful3 Island of Anglesey.

It’s totally cool and there’s trains and buses going everywhere and…aw, screw it. The bus timetables where A LITTLE off and I probably nearly killed my ankle because I was walking funny most of the time and I spent what felt like most of one walking from the Holyhead train station to that beautiful lighthouse. Through pouring rain. On that day I learned that my camera bag was way more watertight than my jacket.

The light house was pretty though and maybe halfway there was an information thingy with interesting things about the birds of the area. And a roof. It was dry. Oh yes.

Oh, this is the light house:

South Stack Lighthouse

Bless the french couple who took me back to the Youth Hostel in Bangor in their car.

Another day was spend in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch because you can’t be in Wales and not go to their gift shop if you have the chance4.

A much sunnier day was spent walking5 from a bus stop to a not frequently-enough served bus stop in front of the socalled “Anglesey Sea Zoo” where I saw fishes, had cake and touched shoal, rays and a shark.

shark

So what do we learn from this?

a) I am a stubborn idiot
b) don’t go hiking with a broken toe6
c) Anglesey is beautiful, but make sure you have a car or bike or something else than your mangled feet and the bus service

Footnotes
  1. I had met her on the webcomic forum of the guy who later wrote The Martian, which you should totally read. I got her a cool t-shirt. []
  2. and I had fun, really! []
  3. and rainy []
  4. really, there’s not really much more to see than the signs and the gift shop. It also is dry and heated, which I appreciated greatly at the time []
  5. in pain []
  6. I never had it x-rayed, but I assume it was []

the black things are the music

As some of you already know, I play the tuba. I started in 1993 with a baritone (I was just a wee lad, then) and switched to a rather small tuba within a few years.
I got into it because…well, to be blunt I was sort of forced.
It was either that or sports, probably because my parents wanted me to interact with local people so I get more friends. When I stopped wanting to go to the track and field stuff that I had been doing and that division kind of fell apart anyway, I got put into music.

My dad had been in the local orchestra since he was young as well, and he always had been in the comittee that ran the show. Since I had no actual preference or special talents, they gave me a baritone and said “tuba later”. My dad plays the tuba. Yes, I’ve been through the usual phases where I didn’t really like it, was frustrated with the kind of music we play1 but overall I enjoyed and still enjoy it. No small thanks to the projects and orchestras I was and still am a part off beside the vintner’s orchestra2 that is the core of our local music association3.

The one thing that probably kept me from wanting to ditch the whole thing during teenage years was my school orchestra. Our “Big Band”.  An orchestra consisting of about 40 students aged 12 to 19 lead by one of the school’s music teachers.4

I joined the band in 1996 and it was probably the best decision I have made in my whole time as a student. I made friends, and while musically it might have been dubious5 but it was one hell of a fun time. Our new headmaster had connections to various European projects so we went to Poland in 1997, to Sweden in ’98, Bulgaria ’99, then Poland again in 2000 and 2001. The last trip I joined started the day after I graduated from school and it was our year’s farewell tour. Quite a number of friends from my school year were in the band at that time.

Charles, our band leader turned 60 in 2013 and retired. One of the girls that I think is graduating this year had an awesome idea. She started a year before to contact former students who played in the Big Band that Charles had been leading for more than 25 years. And she made it. His family (two daughters who had also been playing with us) kept it secret and we organized a surprise party and concert in the school gym.

We met up early in the morning, got our old sheet music and rehearsed for a couple of hours. Of course we had a few breaks to catch up with people we hadn’t seen in years, socialise with people who’d played in the band long before we even started. Or after we’d left in my case. We made a wall with old photographs, wrote memories and quotes on it6 and took long trips down memory lane.

It was an awesome group of 60 musicians, about 30 current and 30 former members of the band. When Charles was announced to arrive in a few minutes we all hid in the next room and tried to stay quite. It wasn’t easy, we were quite giddy with excitement. His family led him into the gym and he let out an all too familiar groan. This orchestra sat there. A few teachers, friends, the headmaster, his family. When he sat down, the orchestra started playing one of our “classics”.  Tequila, by the champs. We had agreed on repeating one part over and over and have the former members entering the gym, ordered by age, youngest first. I was somewhere in the middle, having left about 12 years ago.

It was brilliant, we walked in with our instruments, waved, sat down and joined in playing Tequila, finishing the song after all the orchestra was complete. The girl leading the conspiracy said a few words and then handed us over to his lead again. She gave him the cues as to what we’d play next and it was just like old times for about an hour. His current 8th grade class sang a song for him and the current headmaster said a few words about how awesome it was that he made such an impact on people throughout the years to make us gather on a saturday afternoon and play for him. Charles said a few words as well, and it was hard not to start bawling for a lot of us, when we saw his slightly wet eyes.

He was blown away. I think it was one of the most beautiful things I have been a part of, and I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it. Which accounts for my slightly incoherent style today. Please forgive me.

He also impressed us by calling each of us out by name, no matter if we’d finished school one, five, ten or 20 years ago.

And I still get somehow giddy with excitement and a little sad with nostalgia, when I close with the words that he addressed us with so often, when we were about to play the encore, usually “Barbara Ann”.

And now everybody as fast and as loud as they can!

 

Oh, and here’s the new picture for www.52photosproject.com

I didn’t put one up last week because I couldn’t find anything minty or limey to save my life, so here goes. For the blog post obviously something related to music or the orchestra would have been good, but I found something else while looking through pictures of meeting people7

Campfire, Cologne/Germany, 2005

Campfire, Cologne/Germany, 2005

Footnotes
  1. I still sometimes get that []
  2. I live in a region that is very focused on growing wine []
  3. est. 1925 []
  4. let’s call him Charles, because reasons []
  5. playing loud and fast often took priority over precision and intonation []
  6. “the black things are the music” was an alltime favorite, along with “listen up!”, “ok, from the beginning, for the eleventh-last time” and “don’t drink more than you can force into you” []
  7. online friends, for reference see http://www.ollicrusoe.net/2013/12/here-be-dragons-friends-from-the-internet/ []