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A German And Prussian Poland

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Had a great conversation with a German guy in his 40’s the other night. Culture, politics, language, heritage…then I told him my maternal grandparents were from Poland. “When, did they immigrate…after WWII” he asked. No, they immigrated to the US through Ellis Island in 1892, I replied. Told him that the Germans wanted to conscript the boys into the army and force students to learn German in the schools. The main idea of the government was to “Germanize” the Polish community and education was one of the means used. So my great grandfather said…ok we’re out of here. They sold their land in the Prussian sector of “Poland” near Olstyn and sailed to America. I asked him what he knew about what was happening at that time. He said he had no idea. I thought this was odd. Even we in the states know what happened 200 years ago. But ill-feeling would be slow to die. Polish was my mother’s first language and in Montana, living on the family homestead, she used to say that the Germans in school would make fun of her.

The fact is that Poland did not exist as a country for about 120 years…from the late 1700’s until after WWI. Not having defensible borders, Poland was taken over by one country after another. But if you asked my ggg grandfather where he was born he would have said “Poland!”

Then, the next night, on a German TV channel that switches every 90 minutes from German to English, I watched a program describing an educational project. The Germans are rewriting the history books that are used in schools. Turns out there is much written about WWII…but nearly nothing about the history of Germany vis a vis Poland. To illustrate the point both German and Polish students were interviewed. The German students were shocked to find out their own history. The Polish students said they wanted the Germans to know what they did to the Poles.

Then my friend got up to leave. Over his shoulder he said, “when you go home say hi to that asshole Bush for me!”

Former East Berlin

Friday, August 6th, 2004

I am off to Starbucks to spend an hour over coffee while checking my email but their Hotspot internet service is down. It’s a good time to revisit the former eastern sector of the city. Berlin’s architecture is stunning…old and new. Cranes hang suspended everywhere over the city. The Wall fell in 1989 and Germany has not looked back.

The West German Bundestag moved the capital of Germany from Bonn to the eastern sector of Berlin located in the middle of former East Germany and from a former wasteland has sprung a new urban district…a symbol of Germany’s Unity and the country’s success. The Brandenberg Gate is fully visible now with only strips of stone inset into the streets and sidewalks to show a new generation (dressed in retro east German clothing to tweak their parents) where the Wall once stood.

Concrete grey Friedrichstrasse in the former east sector is now the new hip place to be…hardly remembered from my 1965 trip to Europe. I asked a young English speaking guy “(I am German American,” he says) in a music shop to suggest some popular Berliner music but came away with two interesting “out there” Norwegian jazz CD’s.

Checkpoint Charlie that in 1965 released me and a friend from the American sector into the grey colorless landscape of East Berlin is now a tourist site.
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No Chinese Visa In Germany

Wednesday, August 4th, 2004
Today we try to get our China visa in Berlin, but were refused because we weren't Germans. It was suggested by the Chinese embassy that we could get a visa in Hong Kong, but since our trans siberian tickets ... [Continue reading this entry]

U-2 in Berlin

Monday, August 2nd, 2004
Coming up out of the U-2 line of the Zoo railway station and thinking of course of the Irish rock band we enter now-rich, Western, happening Berlin. We pore over maps trying to get our bearings ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jet Lag

Friday, July 30th, 2004
After twenty hours sandwiched in a pressurized cabin in the air we drift down through darkness...time and space dissolving down long corridors and up and down escalators. We change money and language. We are different persons now. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hitching-Hiking Europe In 1965

Thursday, September 16th, 1965
The summer of 1965, the summer I turned 21, a friend and former roommate, Barbara Stamper and I arranged to meet in London in June. She, a teacher, found an economical route to New York going by train across ... [Continue reading this entry]