Roots in times of Upheaval

All the upheaval this year has brought on reminiscence and reflections–many of which circling around a childhood whose remains can only be found in museums, dusty atticks, or maybe the odd collections treasured individually.

Nobody would know of the books we have read. East German children books had such sophisticated and brilliant illustrators. Where did they go? Evocative sensory visuals, some have never left me. We didn’t grow up with Disney and in our Elbe valley area not even the secretly, and dangerously, tuned in images of snowy West German TV. My friend in an area of higher altitude knew of McGyver! I was envious and remember dad fiddling with the antenna to watch Reagan’s inauguration. I in turn watched dad watch the barely recognisable figure, standing tall, in black, white and grey. There was an urgency in him–dad that is–on that day. I couldn’t crasp. Maybe he was looking for a change that wasn’t there yet?

So some years back I volunteered to accompany a group of our PhD students to the Isle of Mull and met two others, one South American and one also from the former East Bloc. I felt relief in that sudden common understanding–reprieve even as if these unknown, unshared childhood memories had grown too heavy to carry alone. I rarely get to experience this, not even when back home but that’s a story for another day. At some point and in three different languages we burst out singing The Internationale

I used to loathe all these politically laden songs. Seriously, everything was political, even encyclopedia articles! But somehow in that moment, in an island in Scotland, two decades after Die Wende the three of us shared shadows of childhood memories that can’t be put into words through that song.

Over the last twelve months these memories kept emerging, slowly like gas bubbles in a moor. Growing bigger, more meaningful as they emerged. And maybe that juxtaposition to the rapid changes, and fast responses over the last year was important. Bubbles of pause and rest? Little signposts of belonging, and stories of origin, anchoring the chaos of this year to well worn stories.

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