I’m about to move from Seattle to Berlin. I’m retired, live in a fine apartment in a terrific city with a sweeping view, and I have great family and friends.
Why leave …
I’ve heard of an East Indian tradition where older men depart the worldly, then wander in search of the Holy, forsaking everything. I wouldn’t put myself in that league; however, there is something to be said for knowing that there are deeper influences and rhythms in life and being curious about them.
At first, I intended for this blog to be a place where I laughed at, made sense of, and tracked my efforts to learn German. That’s why it’s MeTalkGerman. But, now I realize there’s more to share.
I’m American, Jewish on both sides. I know very little about my dad’s family: he was kicked out early, and I never met anyone or heard mention of European relatives. My mom’s side was quite the opposite. My grandma kept close contact with her many siblings and other relatives who lived in Warsaw prior to the War. My mom and aunt were deep in the fold, too. Everyone had a share of old-country photos—parents and kids in various poses and places, happy young people in the park, a couple walking down the street proud in their modern clothes. My grandma also had letters and postcards written in Yiddish. In the sad end, which I experienced as a small child, my grandma sat on the floor sifting through the artifacts she kept in a bottom dresser drawer, and she wept.
I’m going to Europe as a family representative. The truth is that mine is a murdered family, a suddenly and shockingly ended family. There are ghosts. My family’s experience was undoubtedly intense: startling and painful and horrific. The experience was real. But, it was also only representative. There were millions. There was horror and death across vast tracts day after day, on and on for seemingly endless years.
Inevitably, the Holocaust is an ingrained, collective experience for Jews. This is not all of life by any means, but if you look there are many ways that the shadow still darkens the day. The Germans were the players on the other side of this immense drama of torture and demise. The shadow falls upon them as well. This is hardly a groundbreaking observation, but it is true, nonetheless.
I plan to live in Berlin like a normal person, enjoying a great city in exciting and challenging times. I’ll also be keen to learn about and somehow feel, really feel, the 100 or 150 years of German experience that leads to, includes, and moves beyond the Holocaust.
Shocks move down the family generation to generation. I, as the representative of my family, am the one who returns. I believe that in witnessing and feeling with the intent to heal, there is healing. We shall see.
Seattle, May 2016
and maybe one day I’ll write a post in German