On the blog before last, I promised to write about meeting German relatives for the first time.
Before I go any further, let me tell you that my mother was the family renegade . . . the black sheep of the younger WWII generation. When we showed up at the relatives’ doors, they all expressed surprise when they saw her. “You are still alive!” was the first thing from their lips. The second thing was, “We all thought for sure you would be dead by now.” For anyone who has read my previous ‘Babysitting My Mom’ blogs, this sentiment will come as no surprise.
I grew up with hair-raising stories of Mom’s childhood. Like the time she and her older brother sat on the metal gutter of a several storey building until they had the horrified attention of everyone on the street below. Or the time she dropped left-over napalm bombs into the courtyard of her apartment building because the flaming napalm made such pretty rainbows when it scattered everywhere. All this happened before she was a teenager. Afterwards, she broke even more rules of common sense.
The first relatives I met, besides my mother’s cousin, Uschi, was Uschi’s son Andreas, his wife Angelika, and their two children Adrian and Alan.
Andreas is a West Berlin policeman . . . or was when there was a West side to Berlin. That’s the official version of what he does . . . or did. The reality is anybody’s guess. He would disappear for a week at a time. He knew about bombings and terrorist activities in advance. And he couldn’t talk about his work. The clincher came when Mom refused to translate German into English for me during one visit. He had been trying to show me how to attach his 35 mm flash attachment to my 35 mm camera.
“Tell her yourself,” she said in German. “I know you speak English. I’ve watched you laugh at her jokes.”
I had noticed that as well, but I thought he was either nervous at having strangers in his house, or merely being polite. Never did I assume he understood more than he let on.
“He doesn’t speak English,” Angelika, his wife, said in German.
“Yes, he does,” Mom said as if he wasn’t there.
He tried once again to share his camera expertise with me in German. I understood the basic gist, but not the particulars. German was my first language as a child, but no one had ever uttered the words “attachment”, “viewfinder”, and “shutters” to me when I was 3.
“Do it,” Mom said, refusing to be drawn into the translating vortex. Andreas looked at her for a long moment – there was a silent clash of wills – then he sighed.
“Okay,” he said in perfect English, “you need to take the base of the attachment and push it against this part here until it clicks. Then tighten the knob on the apparatus until it is good and tight, then you just flip this switch. It should be already charged and good to go.”
Everyone – except for Mom – stared at him, aghast. That included his mother and his wife. Later, Uschi told us that she had always suspected he worked in Government Intelligence as an agent . . . but he never admitted to anything.
Now that I think about it, I have no idea which side he represented – the East or the West. He still isn’t talking. I suppose I can safely assume that no government official somewhere will read this and take action. What a ridiculous way to have one’s cover blown.
On my next blog, I will tell you about my Aunt Truda and her son Horst . . . A whole blog in itself.
Until then, I will leave you with more German pictures . . .
Until next time . . .