Monday, 28 November 2016

Education - Communist vs Capitalist

Karl the Great!
Sam the miserable!

Before getting into details let me define the difference between a communist and a capitalist.

A communist is someone who has nothing and wants to share it with everybody!

A capitalist is someone who has everything and doesn't want to share it with anybody!

Now that we've established the background, let's get on with the history lesson.
History is in the eye of the beholder! One can make events in the past fit any doctrine, persuasion or ideological persuasion one wants.

This is the tale of education authorities confusing the heck out of a thirteen year old. 
First an explanation of school years / terms in East and West Germany in the fifties. The two sides could not possibly have the same terms / years - that would look like collaboration. Thus, in East Germany the school year started at the beginning of September and ended late June / early July the next year. It had been like that in Germany for time immemorial! It was also practical since the school year ended at the start of the big summer break and resumed after a descent break.

In West Germany the school year started early April (April Fools Day) and ended about Mid-March - not very practical but it did work, somehow.

Until the middle of 1956 I lived in East Germany, thus having the privilege of finishing year 7 in that glorious 'workers paradise' - for more details please follow this link: My mum and I (well mum dragged me along) 'defected' to West-Berlin in July 1956, just in time to celebrate my 13th birthday in the 'Free World'. Thus I had to attend school in the West from early September, meaning they were just over a third through year seven. That is where major confusion and uncertainty descended upon me! I'm not quite sure whether I ever recovered from that - maybe I've suffered post-traumatic- stress ever since. By the way, that term did not exist in those days, one just got on with life.

Anyway, on with the story. Doing year seven in East Germany in 1955/56 we 'learned' in history class about the industrial revolution, i.e. the 19th century. Quite interesting it was, the capitalists in the ascendancy (neatly replacing the old feudalists) and the workers (mostly displaced farmers or farm hands) working in the sweat-shops being exploited by the factory owners. Practises like having grocery shops on the factory premises where workers could buy their necessities on 'credit' - that credit being deducted from next weeks pay. The poor souls were forever in debt to their employers (masters). Most bigger factories even supplied 'subsidised' housing that was also deducted from each week's pay.
The Epic Battle - Com vs Cap
We were introduced to Karl Marx's doctrine as expounded in 'Das Kapital' and learned that the capitalist way was to exploit the workers to the max and line the pockets of the already rich upper class. 'Money shits on money and poor bastards remain poor and get shat upon!'
That was the way of the world and would not change till the Russian revolution happened in 1917, which created the first 'Workers Paradise' on earth.
Along the way I had done three years of studying the Russian language and also learned a lot about evolution, the absence of God and the greatness of Lenin and Stalin. At that stage I was not too certain whether there was a great difference between God, Lenin and Stalin. All three of them seemed to be mean buggers hell bent on destroying people that did not tow the line - Hell and Gulags come to mind here! To many Gulag inmates it seemed to be Hell on Earth and it was!

Start them young - they will die earlier
In the West history was taught with a slightly different slant - the industrial revolution, through the magnamity of the factory owners, freed the poor workers from the hard slog on the land. Things and tasks were gradually being automated or mechanically assisted to save their backs, have regular working hours (like 12 hour days - 6 days a week), get regular pay (a pittance if that) and being looked after like they were family. Funny notion of family, if one got sick or crippled one was out of there with no support or help - in my book family means looking after each other come what may.

Well, the upshot of it was that I didn't last long at school. Not only did the whole caper of who did what to whom and for whose benefit totally confuse me, but add to that the quaint notion in West German schools to teach children religion. One had the option of going to either Catholic or Lutheran classes twice a week for one hour - or have that hour off to do whatever heathens do. That was just my ticket, unless it was a miserably cold and wet day. Being good Christians they allowed you to sit in class as long as you kept your mouth shut, a difficult but not unachievable feat for me.

Thus I decided to pursue my own education in the privacy of our home, becoming a rather frequent visitor to the local library. Apart from reading a lot of ancient Greek literature I soon became side-tracked by discovering travel tales from far-away lands. It gave me itchy feet to say the least. I got curious, wanting to experience how other people lived, what they thought and how their society/culture worked.

The Halls of Apprentice Torture
I soon realised that I needed to earn some money to achieve that dream. To continue with the capitalist paradigm it was necessary to earn money, to earn money one had to work - but at what? A well payed job would be good! My mother agreed I could leave school, provided I had a job. With the help of our neighbour she secured an apprenticeship at a nearby factory for me, training to be a high-pressure pipeline plumber of all things. Sounded outlandish and fancy enough for me, so off I went. The disappointment was almost instantaneous and devastating. I spent two months of stupefying work, filing a lump of iron into a perfect cube - well that was the task anyway BUT I never grasped the concept! I asked my training instructor one day what would happen to that 'perfect' cube, if I ever achieved to it which was highly dubious. His frank reply was: "we throw it in the bin when you have done it"! I mulled that one over for a few seconds and said: "I'm out of here".

What next? There had to be something that captured my imagination and thirst for travel. In the end it wasn't that hard - do a boat building apprenticeship, build my own boat and sail off into the sunset. Luckily, I was able to secure an apprenticeship with a local boat builder. We were getting into very late spring, great weather and what seemed lovely people to work with. Well, well, well - Borsig revisited as it turned out. My main job was to fetch second breakfast (around 9:30 AM) and lunch for the tradesmen. I was also detailed to cut endless rows of wooden plugs to hide the screw and nail holes in the outer planking and decking. Then came the piece de-resistance: climb into the sharp end of the boat with a small piece of sandpaper and smooth the wood perfectly ready for varnishing - it took ages without any visible progress or achievement. Again, it didn't exactly ignite my imagination, I lasted just under three months.

What next? Find something that is exhilarating, interesting and full of new experiences! So, what did I choose? An apprenticeship as a hardware shop assistant! Sounds very dull, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. The shop apprenticed to was a small family owned business. Dad, daughter and grandson. Unfortunately, or fortunately as you might view it, Dad curled up his toes and died about three months after my arrival. Don't think I had anything to do with it, but you never know.

Low and behold it was another lesson in 'capitalism' - a nearby business man made a bid for the shop, eventually being successful. I was transferred to the new owners original (main) shop, which resulted in receiving the best tutoring and mentoring I ever had. The shop was called 'Schrauben-Dorow' and its motto was: 'If we don't have the screw you need or want it doesn't exist'! Very corny when you think of it. Remember, it was the early sixties - people had 'old' machinery and needed bolts and screws. We would make bolts and screws at weekends to meet their needs. I used to work seven days a week, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. It was so interesting and educational - making stands for solar umbrellas, cutting and threading screws and bolts, plus nuts as required. It was work that captured my imagination! Like getting my own 'cash register' - a drawer under the counter with a few compartments in it. I had to balance the 'till' every night and account for any shortcomings or surpluses if they occurred. There was no punishment for either, just questions, educational one at that, why that had happened. Stood me in good steed for decades to come. 

Once I finished my apprenticeship I left the shop and started a new job at a boat parts and accessories supplier (here we go again with boats and ships). It didn't ' last too long - three months in fact till I went off to pursue the love of my life then. 

Not much of a conclusion to the conundrum of Communist vs Capitalist = the Jury is still out and we might never know the final verdict - who is right or wrong? Fidel Castro died recently - was he good or bad? You be the judge -be an individual and make up your own mind!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Fancy How Time Flies - my little Girl turns 50 today!

My gorgeous Girl
It was back in the dark dim ages of scant television (live concert transmission on a tiny 12 inch black&white screen) on a bleak December day - Dec the 14th to be exact - that in mid-evening the girl's mother decided, after the regulation gestation period, to go into labour.
In those days telephones were something only politicians and rich people had. I hot-footed it down to the nearest phone box and rang the hospital. Being twenty years old at the time I didn't have much of clue what was going on, but the duty nurse 'grilled' me sufficiently to instruct me to bring the girl into the hospital.
It was a miserable dark, cold and wet evening. Being young and fearless I walked the girl to the hospital, almost 1 kilometre away. They checked her out and said: "Yep, she's in labour. Go home and ring about seven in the morning to see if anything has happened."
None of this present day 'nonesense' of husbands staying with their wives to go through all the labour pain and gore that follows. One just went home, had a stiff drink, set the alarm and got up the next morning to make the trek to the phone box to find out if there had been any positive results of the 'arduous!' fertilising task.
Telegram to Tante Gisela about the birth
Low and behold there had been! I was informed that a baby girl had been born at Frederiksberg Hospital at 02.25 AM, weighing 3,250 grams and being 52 cm long. Not a bad effort for an overnight journey on a sleeper train.
15 Dec 1963 Frederiksberg Hospital
I was told I could visit after 8 AM to see mother and child. All very well, mother was doing fine and baby was in the nursery section. I was only allowed to view her through the glass window - no touching or contact, just in case I'd pass on some germs or other horrible diseases. - we only bathed or showered once a week in them days. When I saw 'My Little Girl' for the first time I got a tremendous shock!
She had this large purple lump on her head. I raced in to see her mum and enquire as to what had happened. I was informed that Dorit was an ostropoulus little witch that would not eject from the womb! Thus they had to use a suction cup, just like what the plumber uses to clear the drains, to extract her! 

Let's back-track a bit to reflect on how the 'fertilising' happened. Her mum and I, then my girlfriend, were living in Bad Godesberg near Bonn (then the capital of West Germany), at the beginning of 1963. We decided to go back to her mum's birthplace for various reasons. We booked a 'Wagon Lits' compartment for the overnight journey from Cologne to Copenhagen. Being the fancy-free 60's we got a double berth compartment (bunk berth) - goodness knows why. Being young and amorous we only needed one berth. And that is where Dorit was conceived! Must have been the gaps in the rail lines that added that extra BUMP to make it all happen.
After we got to Denmark my then girlfriend informed me, a couple of months later, that she was pregnant. So, what does an honourable young gentleman do? He told her 'we're getting married'!

Omi teaching Dorit manners
Dorit's Godparents - Fritz & Birgit
My mum was not amused about the whole caper and stopped communicating with me for a while, hence the Telegram to my sister - Tante Gisela. However, once the little critter with head damage was born my mother, know to everybody in our families as Omi, relented and travelled to Copenhagen for the Christening. What a blessing that was! Omi took one look at our living arrangements, a two-room flat with a small kitchen and no bathroom shared with my in-laws, and declared: "you can't subject the baby to that!" Being a foreigner I was not entitled to a state housing flat or house. Omi advanced us some monies to put a deposit on an 'own your own' apartment. It was on the third floor, no lift, had a large living room, small bedroom, tiny baby's room and small kitchen. Still no bathroom BUT at least an inside toilet - very smick. That is where we resided and Dorit spent her early formative years till she turned four. By then I had decided that Denmark was not for us (i.e. me) and made applications and arrangements to migrate to Australia. 

In the meantime life proceeded and Dorit grew up - to the extend that she became a very early long-distance communicator, which most likely explains her 'addiction' to the I-Phone these days. Look at her here - making calls to her .... who knows what!
She also developed a very early taste for adventure and foreign lands, having travelled from the time she was barely a year old, at that stage only to Germany and Sweden. A bit later she expanded her horizons and ventured to Italy before coming to Australia.

Tillykke med Foedselsdagen min lille pige

How I became Poppo Mike

This post was written by my guest writer, variously known as the 'war office' - 'she who must be obeyed' - 'her indoors' - but most importantly the LOVE of my LIFE. Here we go:

Why My Mike’s Blog is called Poppo Mike.

1990, Mike suggests a Sunday drive to York. York being a lovely country town, there wasn’t that much open.
I said to him, I have friends that don’t live too far from here in Popanyinning (only just over 100 km’s away), Gill and Ted, who’d been friends since my young teenage years.

Eureka - I found IT !!

So to Poppo we go, at that time Gill and Ted were living on the main street, They also had 45 acres, or as Ted always called it “His estate”. Just over the railway line. They had recently put a house on and wanted to know if we would like to see it. They were in the process of doing it up ready to live in. Mike quick as a whip said “yep”. Back then I was such a city person, always wearing high heels and tight skirts. I went along. We saw the house, then Ted said would you like to walk the block. Mike full of enthusiasm, me “NO” there might be some snakes out there. This was one of Teds favourite stories until he passed away.
Anyway, in the car on the way home, Mike says to me, “I could live there” Me, “I couldn’t”. What would it take for you to live there, asks Mike. Me being funny “A Bath”

We went back in 1994, after we were married, and took Grandchild Venus with us. She just loved running around. Ted told Mike there is a 5 acre block for sale, so went to see it. Venus loved it, however all the time yelling “But NO geese nanny”. That block was not to be.

19995, Mike has sold the yacht Delinquent, he is more than determined now, as he put it: “you either
Will it measure up to specs? Hope so!
live by the sea or in the country”
Another visit to Gill and Ted. We stayed at the Pingelly road house & motel in room 12. Had dinner that Saturday night with Gill and Ted and talked about properties we had seen. None appealed to me. We agreed to see each other the next morning, at their house on ‘the estate’.
Ted was very excited, “I’ve seen a block” 2 and half acres, quiet street, you want to come and have a look?. Of course says Mike. Had to climb fences since there was no gate then. It was just covered in clover and looked beautiful. Mike loved it, and Yes so did I. Ted had all the details of the seller.
Driving back to the city, big discussions, Yes or No. By the time we got home it was a YES.

Phoned to tell Gill and Ted we are buying the block, done deal! Ted was very happy, however, and I still remember this, Gill says to Ted: “What have you done?” “What?” he replied. Gill: “What about Kay!“ Ted’s laconic reply was: “she’ll get used to it.”

Next task was to find a house.

To be continued.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Beating the Stasi

This is a tale of conceit, diversion and sheer cunning - all played out in the good old days of the Cold War, with all it's trepidations and 'excitement'.
Your friendly next door Gestapo Man

Stasi Emblem - says it all - doesn't it?!
The Stasi was (is) a relatively well known internal/external spy organisation of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) - very democratic if you have to spy on your own citizens to keep them subdued and in line. For those of you wanting to know more about this outfit, you can find a fairly comprehensive synopsis by following this link: Stasi on Wikipedia
The Stasi succeeded in perfecting some of the imperfections of the Gestapo and, in my considered opinion, was aided, abetted and egged on by surviving former Gestapo members who saw and grabbed an opportunity to continue their career in this field. Surveillance, record keeping, intimidation and coercion were all part of the repertoire.
The Stasi was penetrative, omnipresent and feared by all throughout the existence of the East German regime - who's stated aim was to create a "Workers Paradise" - as long as your definition of paradise concurred with theirs and you kept your mouth shut, you were fairly right.
Here are a few short stories about how things worked and how one could avoid the scrutiny/harassment of the Stasi!

The first one is about the my Cousin Christel's husband Werner. He was a detective in the CID (Criminal Investigation Division) of the East Berlin Police Force. Werner was  the one who alerted Mum about the impending closing in of the Stasi because of Mum's assistance with Gisela's girlfriend's defection to the West - for details see my earlier blog: Becoming a Refugee
Werner was a lovable bloke with a heart of gold. He was also very 'street-smart' in that he had worked out how to keep away from the Stasi. Having returned from the war he joined the police force. A rather smart move in terms of job security and career prospects.
Werner worked out fairly early on in the piece that things were taking a turn for the worse and that old style Nazi time surveillance was back on the agenda. He worked his butt off to make it into the CID and did his very best to be an outstanding detective. His reasoning was that being in a small elite force he would be able to avoid party membership, close scrutiny from the Stasi and other harassment. He was right! As long as he excelled at his job the powers that be left him alone - they needed good detectives to clear up crimes pronto! See, even in the 'Workers Paradise' crims kept plying their trade - rape, pillage and murder occurred as they always had. Maybe not to the same extend, because penalties were rather swift and harsh - long jail sentences with hard labour or death penalties executed swiftly, were the order of the day.
By being part of that small, elite division of East Berlin's police force Werner had not only access to all sorts of records, he was also sheltered from any pressure to join the party or become an informer.

'Paul's' TV Tower
The second story is about my brother in law Paul, another 'street-smart' gentleman who worked out that one had to be outside the system, so to speak, to avoid scrutiny, yet be part enough of the system to reap some benefits.
Paul, having fled the former German province of Silesia with his parents in the dying days of the war, took up a bricklayer's apprenticeship, which he completed in eighteen months. He then proceeded to buy a vacant, disputed block of land and build his own house on it. Materials were hard to come by, but he found ingenious ways of getting what he needed bit by bit - mainly trading his skills for goods.
Paul joined the East Berlin building monopoly (a state owned amalgamation of building companies) and enrolled in evening courses to become an engineer. He ended up working his way up to chief surveying engineer in East Berlin. One of his greatest achievements was to be the surveying engineer for the construction of the Television Power at Alexander Platz - a showpiece of East German prowess and determination.
Having 'manoeuvered' himself into this position he was fairly immune to the shenanigans of the Stasi - the powers that be needed his talents and cunningness - he'd become an 'untouchable'. Paul could get things done, even when materials were seemingly in short supply, and could recruit/select the right workers to ensure construction was up to standard and completed in the time allocated - a rather remarkable achievement in them days when nothing ever seemed to happen on time.
Both the Commies and the Stasi knew when they had something good in their hands and did everything to protect that asset without going overboard. Paul was, by and large, left alone politically, but he still had to wait the regulation ten (10) years to get his cherished Wartburg car - there was no way around - almost. He could get a new bath tub or toilet bowl when none were available, but a car - no way Jose!
Is there anything more adorable?
So, Paul being Paul, he waited patiently till he received his notification that his car might be forthcoming in the next twelve months. His elation was only tempered by his realisation that he could do little about the process. Thus, he thought he better do something about it - because twelve months is an eternity when you have been waiting ten years AND the notification also stated that the colour of the car was at that stage unknown, but most likely dark red or brown! Paul took some time off work, actually he pretended he had some official engagements somewhere else in Berlin, and waltzed into the office of car distribution to have a 'quiet word' to the ladies administering car distribution. Being a perennial charmer he soon had the ladies in the palm of his hand and found out that on the next delivery, due in seven days, there was a white Wartburg that the allocated owner didn't want to have a bar off or couldn't pay for. Quick as a flash Paul said: "I'll take it! How much do I have to put down to secure it?"
See, in them days in East Germany there was no such thing as Credit, Finance or Term Payments - Leasing wasn't even in the vocabulary. You paid for the goods as you picked them up or earlier. The ladies told him it was all or nothing, he would have to pay the entire amount of East German Marks 21,000.00 virtually then and there. Well, our Paul being not only handsome but also resourceful, told the ladies to hold the car for him, he'd be back in a jiffy. He hotfooted it to the bank, got a bank cheque for the amount required and was back within the hour - THE CAR WAS HIS!
How could he afford it? Between my sister Gisela and him they were pulling in the phenomenal salary of East German Marks 2,500 per month! Having saved for ten years, and not having much else to spend their money on (basic staples were dirt cheap and little else was available) they had saved that amount easily.

But, on with the story. Gisela, my sister, tormentor and whatever else - see Instant Teacher - travelled a road not dissimilar from Paul's. She discovered early on that keeping out of the clutches of the Stasi would be the best thing to do. After doing general teaching duties in primary schools Gisela discovered that political pressures kept increasing every year. 'Sniffing' around a bit she found that there was a school for children with learning difficulties in Koenigs Wusterhausen. Researching through the back door so to speak, these days we call it networking and leaning on colleagues, she go the gist as to what was required to become a teacher there - not much at all, in fact, as they were desperately short of staff and most people found it daunting, to say the least, to put up with these kids. Unruly, undisciplined, slow learners, difficult home environments - you name, it was all there. Gisela figured that this was an institution that the state had to tolerate, whether they liked or not. Anybody working there was blessed with relative freedom, mainly in the form of none-interference from the 'thought police'. She applied and, of course, got the job straight away.
This set her on her course, not only to good pay, but impunity as well.
Years later she found that, with a bit more further education, she could work her way into a more 'elite' school that was even safer in terms of the Stasi wanting informers and what have you.
Gisela applied for a study place, part time, at the famous Humboldt University to study applied child psychology. Took her four years of hard slog, but she got there - got her degree and therewith her ticket to apply for a position at the school for the blind in Koenigs Wusterhausen.
The Heritage listed School for the Blind
This school was quite unique in the GDR - one of only two such institutions for the entire country, but the only one offering university entry level tutoring and examinations. It was part boarding school and part day school. It attracted visiting educators from countries such as Sweden, Finland, Georgia, Turkey, plus numerous African and South American countries. International relations were much sought after by the GDR powers - if they had to get them through these rather burdensome institutions, so be it. With it came the relative freedom that Gisela craved. The Stasi left her alone and the government provided funding they would otherwise have denied - a showpiece is a showpiece. One has to spend money to keep it up to scratch to attract these international visitors.
Gisela advanced to the top post in the school: School Director for this unique establishment. She achieved that without having to join the party or being coerced into the role of informant for the Stasi - quite remarkable, really.
Remarkable people all three of them - but for me, I want to pay special tribute to my sister, teacher, tormentor - most of all my BIG sister - much admired, loved and sorely missed.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Christmas - Then and Now

Xmas anno 1950 in East Germany - very frugal
Xmas Landscape near Berlin 1950's
Well, Christmas time is also a time for reflection. One thinks about what we had then and how we 'survive' Christmas now. Sometimes, it can be a bit frightening. We have come a long way with our affluence and don't, generally speaking, even notice it.
In the 'Good Old Days' (remember folks - these bad days now will soon be the good old days) one was lucky to get more than one Christmas present. If one got three or four, that was Christmas on top of Christmas.
White Xmas - it snowed a lot in the early 50's
The traditional German Christmas (as I know and remember it) comprises two parts: Christmas Eve is the big event (for children anyway), because that is the evening Father Christmas (the Weihnachtsman) arrives and brings presents for all the children.
Christmas Day is for the family feast, where everybody gathers around the 'ancestral' dining table and stuffs themselves to bursting point.
Traditionally, in Berlin, Christmas Eve fare is Bockwurst (German sausages) and Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and mustard. This is 'gulped' down as fast as one can manage around 6 PM, because Father Christmas is waiting around the corner to dispense the presents as soon as the feed frenzy is over.
Bestest Xmas Present ever!
Honestly - who wants to eat when there are presents to be had? BUT - one had to eat to get the present/s.
Due to the very modest circumstances we lived under, Christmas presents generally were confined to two items: one toy and one practical item like a new shirt or pyjamas or thick socks, depending on what was available at the time.
My Bestest ever Christmas present came courtesy of Mum's twin sister, Auntie Maria, who managed to send this metal toy car. It was a wind-up job (clockwork motor), had opening doors, a steering wheel that actually worked and a gear lever featuring two forward gears, neutral and reverse.
Christmas day the traditional fare is goose or duck. In the early 50's geese and ducks were almost impossible to obtain, unless one knew someone who new somebody that had a small farm. The simple reason was that the meat ration stamps would never be enough to amount to even a small duck! Besides, the centrally planned food production system never raised enough birds to go around anyway. Only people high up in the political apparatus would be able to share the few birds officially produced every year.
Us 'peasants' had to make do with pork chops, sausages or liver if one was lucky. Mum, however, somehow managed every year to put on a pretend roast - some chops heavily doused in gravy and plenty of boiled potatoes.
After the Christmas day meal, which is taken at 1 PM sharp, one goes for a stroll through the winter landscape to work off the calories. Then at 3:30 PM, precisely, it is time for afternoon coffee, Christmas cake (Stollen) and a good swig of Brandy (if one is old enough). That is followed by an afternoon nap in order to build up ones strength to tackle Abendbrot (evening bread) - gluggy rye bread topped with cold cuts and cheese. Little boys, of course, don't require an afternoon nap - they play with their Christmas present, or meet friends to hear what everybody else got for Christmas.

Nowadays Christmas is quite different. For starters, living in Australia, Christmas time is usually the start of the hot summer. It was no different this year! Luckily it was not too hot this year, we had about 34 degrees Celsius on Christmas eve.
Australians celebrate Christmas on Christmas day. In the morning everybody gets their presents (note the plural) and bridges the time till Christmas lunch by admiring/showing/playing with their presents. Christmas lunch is, traditionally, turkey and ham OR, Aussie style, a variety of seafoods and salads - all washed down with copious amounts of beer or wine, or whatever your poison might be.
So in 1990, we (the wife and I) introduced and joined together our two very different Christmas's and it's worked ever since. And guess what, the kids love it! This way they get two lots of presents in succession. We are also very 'fortunate' that we have three grand kids having their birthdays on December 22 - partying and gift giving never ends at this time of the year.
The 'stunned mullett' that cooked the roast pork
This year we had the big birthday party on the 22nd for one very excited three year old and two, typically teenage kids, not so excited sixteen year olds. Things went fine, mostly, and everybody had a great time.
Pork Crackling - everybody hankers for it
Come December 24 there was a lot of running around getting last minute things. We were all geared up for our 'traditional' Christmas eve routine: roast pork (with crackling crackling), red cabbage, boiled potatoes and plenty of gravy - followed by rice pudding with chopped almonds in it and  one (or two) whole blanched almonds in it. The trick is, whoever gets the whole almond gets the 'Christmas pig' - which here is either a marzipan bar or a Toblerone (in our family - some family members don't like marzipan).
Well, everybody being sated we 'knuckled' down to the presents - kids couldn't wait! Presents - there were so many the kids eventually got 'presented' out and could take no more.
Next morning they got up and promptly asked: "Can we open presents now?!" We had to tell them that they must wait for their parents to wake before there would be any more presents.
Christmas Day Feast
Once that duty was done we returned to Poppo to prepare for Christmas dinner. Fortunately, that part of our family residing in Queensland was here this year and 'descended' upon us on Christmas day for a family feast. We had  turkey breast, oven roast vegetables and baked potatoes. Went down like a treat, everybody was happy - I think. After dinner we were all sated (filled to the hills) and just slowed down to let the food settle and recuperate.
By and large, another successful Christmas staged, consumed and done with. As always, the best part of Christmas is having little children around for the festivities - to see their eyes light up with joy when they see the Christmas tree and, most importantly, the presents under it. There is nothing better in this world than see their joy and delight every year - no matter how hot it is!
And that's it for this year! Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2013

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Xmas - Froehliche Weihnachten

To all my loyal followers a very big Thank You for reading my posts. There will be no lengthy post this week due to the Christmas festivities and associated hectic preparing for it.

BUT - I do wish all of you a very Merry Christmas - Froehliche Weihnachten and hope you'll be inundated with presents, family cheer and good will.

I have asked some of my much adored friends to help me spread the Christmas spirit.

Have a really good one. Until next week, when there will be a Christmas post - WOOF WOOF

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Foreign Aid Part II - Perils of the Berlin Wall

Sorry for leaving you hanging, but here we go. This is about the about the perilous train journey from Copenhagen to West Berlin.
Lise did it - the candour of youth and fearlessness! We, mum and I, after mum had surreptitiously warmed to the idea of this girl coming to visit, had arranged for Gisela to meet with Lise at Ostbahnhof.
As described in the last epistle, transit passengers had to disembark the long distance train and board the small feeder on the other side of the platform.
The very curious fact, to say the least, was that East Berliners and East Germans were allowed onto that platform since the train from Warnemuende  had several carriages appended to it specifically for East German travellers from the Rostock area going to Berlin.
We had sent pictures of Lise in the months before and there was no problem the two of them finding each other. Mum maintained it was purely to ensure the girl would get safely onto the feeder to West Berlin.

It was a rather brief meeting, the salient point being that contact had been established and they would recognise each other in the future.
I picked up Lise at Zoo (that's what Berliners called the Station - being rather lazy they would never ever say: "Berlin Zoologischer Garten") and took her home on the underground to meet mum.
Being very much in puppy love and all that I didn't notice anything but the girl. Upon meeting Lisa, mum's attitude was perhaps somewhat cold, but it went right over my head.
All mum had in mind, as I found out later, was to use Lise as a mule to ferry 'contraband' to Gisela.
The poor girl was hardly at our place for a few days when mum dispatched her, laden down with two very large carry bags, to East Berlin to deliver the first load of toilet paper and washing powder.
East Berlin U-Bahn network post 1961

Today's U-Bahn network in Berlin
A slight digress at this point. Once the wall went up, underground train services (what is called the U-Bahn in Berlin) were first disrupted and then re-arranged. All lines running in East Berlin were separated from the ones running in West Berlin. Small problem, though! The U 5, the north - south line, run right through the middle of East Berlin. Also, the underground station called 'Berlin Mitte', which was and is an interchange point between two underground lines, were located in the smack centre of East Berlin.
Not really a problem for the crafty Stasi - they simply shut off all underground stations on the U5 that were located in the East, they became 'Ghost Stations', and trains would rattle through them at full speed.
The only exception being Friedrichstrasse. The train would stop there and allow passengers to disembark to enter East Berlin IF they had the right credentials, i.e. be West Germans or foreign nationals!
Berlin Mitte was the same thing, it was only open in certain parts allowing West Berliners to switch from the north-south line to the east-west line.
The deliveries kept being dispatched, seeing that Lise was on holidays and so was Gisela. Both her first husband and her were teachers, so they had time off over Christmas. Gisela and her husband tried very hard to compensate the poor innocent girl for her troubles. Gisela's then husband would meet her in the late afternoon, at the Friedrichstrasse border crossing, carry her bags and take her to the opera, a concert or a play. East Germany, in those days, was very big on cultural activities and spent millions on putting up plays, operas and operettas. Admission was very inexpensive and the performances were exceptional. West Germans would travel to West Berlin to catch shows in East Berlin.
I am not sure that a 16 year old girl really appreciated being taken to a performance of  Berthold Brecht's 'The Three Penny Opera', but she seemed to 'suffer' it with dignity.

The bottom line of it all was that Gisela got her fancy washing powder, toilet paper and lovely scented soaps, Lise had quite some adventures crossing the border (like being strip searched on one occasion - I think the border guards just fancied getting a rather lovely girl down to nothing) and being asked repetitive questions, they had records and knew how many times she had crossed the 'border', about her intentions and motives.

The brave girl soldiered on and delivered all the necessary supplies for the next six months! After all, she was going to come back for the summer holidays and would stay longer than just a couple of weeks.
That way, Gisela's supplies of 'bum caressing' toilet paper and fragrant washing powder were assured for the time being.