Germany

"Oh Du schöner Westerwald"

I was born on a very cold January 8th 1966 and raised in a forest region called Westerwald. It is a region, in which the Roman Empire never was able to conquer the German tribes. As soon as they crossed the Rhine and Main rivers they were slaughtered and could only defend some patches non permanently behind a wall called Limes. A popular folk’s song says: “Oh you beautiful Westerwald, over your heights blows the wind so cold. But the smallest ray of sun, reaches deep into your heart”. When visiting it, I remembered that it is true. 

The forest is not breeding German unconquerable barbarians any more. But it still shapes the character of its people. Today I crossed the woods on a few hours walk to my sister’s village and when I met people with a chain saw in their hands they asked me: “Did you find your number?”. They were out to find their allocation of 15 m3 beech wood cut down and marked by a number and pull it out with a tractor. “I am looking for Oberelbert”, I responded, “right way? ... Do you heat all your house with wood?”. “Of course”, the man responded: “I don’t need Putin’s gas. I have a wood heating, a geothermal heat pump, thermal solar power, and a photovoltaic panel. The government does not subsidize photovoltaics too good any more. But I give a shit on the government. I don’t need anybody”. Must have been hard for the Romans 2000 years ago. They said that no civilized life exists in this forest.

The ravens followed me over the fields. Horses were coming for a treat. My shoes were heavy with mud and the wind was blowing fiercely as soon as I crossed open fields. These are also my childhood memories. When I crossed the woods, I found there is no “Return on invest” for planting a beech tree. People think in generations and just try to do the right thing without thinking about returns. This might make them look stupid in these fast times. But they withstood the Roman legions, were a fierce front to the Napoleon troops and later a tough resistance to the Americans at the Bridge at Remagen (unfortunately - sometimes it is better to be defeated). I remember, I faked my ID card pretending to be 16 to get a job in a saw mill, that the trees were still full with shrapnel and bullets flying through the workshop when the saw hit them. Nobody counted back then how many fingers were lost due to this. 

 

The Westerwald is a wonderful place to be raised in. We still lived here under 1 Dollar a day, half of the family being refugees from Eastern Prussia and the other coming from Luxembourg, but I have no memories of material constraints. When I was a child, and I knew where to find the best apples and how to catch a rabbit. We were growing our own vegetables and fruits and the whole life was going with the seasons and the harvest times. Here I got my roots and also developed my wings to fly away. And both are good things to have.

 

"Draussen nur Kännchen" - in Bonn (Germany)

The first book of Price Asfa-Wossen Asserate, an Ethiopian Prince living in Germany, I read, is called “Manieren” (Manners) and it contains the sharpest views on Germans I have ever read. Not that it would be cynical or unfair. It is just the perspective of an Ethiopian, who sees Germany as his home but from his own viewpoint and by this is a very interesting mirror. Now he wrote another Book titled “Draussen nur Kaennchen” and just reading this title I already bursted laughing. It is one of these idioms which is really untranslatable in any other language (I don’t even try) but hits right in the centre.

I spent some time in Bonn, working right in the middle beside the University, and staying with friends on the Rosenburg. The office was right over one of the large bookshops and coming from Hong Kong, it felt good to see that people are still interested and reading and that the bookshop does not just have a place in the centre of the city, but also in the centre of their life. There are nice coffee houses around, where people meet or just drop by to read the first few pages of their new book. Still many small old stores exist. I bought an old style shaving knife in a shop which still offers sharpening services. And further on I got two pair of hand made Budapest shoes. The staff in there knows everything about their products, greet you with a “Guten Tag”, and advise you on your purchase, but also just chat with you on your interest. 

Bonn was made capital of Germany after the War as it was a neutral ground to be the centre of the new Federal Republic, even it is geographically very far West. After the re-unification in 1989, the capital was moved back to Berlin. Many were afraid at that time that Bonn would go down, but installation and strengthening of European functions, research institutions and also companies have kept the city going. It is a bit like a village with the cultural program of a capital. And in my view it combines the advantages of both. Of course it is less colorful than back in the times when foreign diplomats were on the streets. But it is still a rather civilized city with much to see.