Kept Secrets

A typical August Exter house in Pasing

A typical August Exter house in Pasing

Cody enjoyed walking down August-Exter Street in Pasing, on which whose eponym had built some of the loveliest century-old residences in west Munich. Many of the houses he designed are famous for having a round tower in one corner of a four-sided structure. Cody’s customers who he was meeting in a few minutes had told him all about the man and his specific style, and it was information like that which made Cody glad he was an English teacher in Munich.

He rang the bell at exactly the appointed hour. Within seconds he was buzzed through and was met by the smiling faces of Edeltraud and Franz. They were always smiling when he met them for their two hour English lesson.  They were not typical Bavarians. Their son, who was a pilot for Lufthansa, had married a woman from Jamaica who bore them two grandchildren with cappuccino-colored skin.

“How do you guys always seem to be in such a great mood, in such great spirits?” asked Cody.

“We sleep in separate bedrooms,” replied Franz. He had a very quick wit for his seventy plus years. “It’s the secret to a long and happy marriage.”

Edeltraud smiled and rolled her eyes. She was about ten years younger in appearance and shared his playfulness. She offered Cody coffee, tea, and juice as usual.

After a few minutes of pleasantries, Cody explained the difference between the present perfect and the past simple tenses. He also told them that that was where the better English teachers made their money because it was a difficult concept for Germans to get. “Ich habe gemacht in German does not translate to I have made. It translates to I made.”

They were both retired, yet they treated these English lessons as if they were studying for a university entrance exam, sort of.

“Edeltraud, you’ve travelled all over Europe and you told me last month that you really enjoy visiting palaces and such. See how I used the past simple with last month. What’s the nicest palace you’ve ever visited?” asked Cody. And then whispering, “in your life up to now?”

“That’s easy, Charlottenburg, near Berlin. Here, let me show you.”

Edeltraud then got up and walked to the largest book shelf in the living room and pulled out her picture album of Charlottenburg. Though she pulled books and albums often, neither Cody nor Franz tired of it. She was a former history teacher after all. Edeltraud then explained in much detail the palace and its former residents, the Hohenzollern. Cody did not correct now, and rarely did in such situations, as he felt he had become the student and his pupils were the purveyors. She ended with a lovely few minutes on Fredrick the Great.

“Fredrick’s homosexuality was an open secret,” said Edeltraud. “Charlottenburg is the nicest palace I ever was in.”

“The nicest palace I’ve ever been in,” corrected Cody.

“His homosexuality is a fact,” said Franz, “that the Nazis forgot.”

Cody felt his chest tighten. In the ten to twelve odd lessons he had had with Edeltraud and Franz, he had yet to broach the subject of Nazism with them. This was about to change.

Like many Americans, Cody was fascinated by the whole Nazi period. The best-selling biographies from year to year were not about Jefferson or Lincoln or Washington or Kennedy. They were about Hitler. The top walking tour at Radius Tours in Munich was invariably the Third Reich Tour. How such a cultured and educated populace had been hoodwinked and bamboozled remains one of the most researched ‘case studies’ of the 21st century.

“Franz, are you sometimes frustrated that many people in the world only think of Hitler and Nazis when they hear  the word Germany?” asked Cody.

“What can we do?” Franz asked rhetorically. “It’s the biggest thing in Europe of the last one hundred years.”

“I once read that Albert Speer not only designed his buildings for the moment, but he planned on how they would look in ruin a thousand years later,” said Cody.

“Yes, that’s right. And he had rally big plans for Munich. Did you see them yet?” asked Franz.

“Have you seen them yet, Franz. And no, I haven’t,” replied Cody.

Edeltraud then stood up and walked over to a different shelf. It was smaller than the shelf with the photo albums. She blew off a bit of dust from the top of the book after she had pulled it out. She opened the book to a page that looked a lot like Google’s ‘Earth’ view, only it was in black and white.

“This is a look at how Speer wanted Munich to look like. He wanted to move the central train station two and a half kilometers due west to Laim. The area between Laim and our present central station was to be a wide street with neo-Classical buildings on both sides. It was to be a sort of, what’s the word, Umzug, place,” said Franz.

“Parade ground,” said Cody.

“That’s it,” said Franz. “But they never got to it. I (sic) show you something.”

Franz got up and left the room. Edeltraud and Cody continued to look at the book. They could hear Franz in the other room searching for something. After a few minutes he returned. He was also carrying something wrapped in an old towel or rag.

“Here it is.” Franz unfurled it. “It was given to me by my father’s sister. I don’t even know what I should do with it.” The object was also a book, but the title was difficult to discern. He opened it to the title page. Cody read the words and audibly gasped.  Mein Kampf.  Below those words it said Kopie Nummer #324.

Mein Kampf

Cody felt a wave and a rush pulsate through his body. He hoped that neither of his hosts noticed his excitement. His mind raced. All of his desire to come to Munich, the early home of the great man, the place where it all started, the birthplace of the Reich,… ‘That’s the reason why I came here,’ thought Cody to himself. ‘And now I am looking at one of the earliest copies of the Hitler’s words. Somebody who knew him personally, or Hitler himself, probably handled this book,’ thought Cody. His whole reason for being and leaving Mississippi to come to this cold wet damp place was realized in that moment. Oh how he wanted that book! If only his Aryan Front brothers and sisters could see him now!

“I didn’t know you had that,” said a surprised Edeltraud.

“We all have our secrets,” said Franz.

“Yes we do,” said Cody, as his cheeks flushed red. He felt the twin swastikas tattooed on the inside of his cheeks burn.

“Yes we do.”


Germany Lacks Grace Under Pressure

Katarina WittKatarina Witt, winner of two Olympic gold medals in women’s figure skating, was an anomaly. It’s like she’s from another planet. Her grace in winning those two medals are unlike the normal way of Germans, who excel in discipline, strength and stamina. Germans are not known for their tact. This has been on display for all to see lately.

It is no surprise that Ms. Witt won two Olympic gold medals and numerous other competitions as an East German. It is surprising, however, that she won her gold using techniques which are as foreign to Germans as home-grown citrus. Ms. Witt won because of her grace, not her power.

Looted Nazi artIn case you are unaware, German authorities recovered over 1400 pieces of artwork recently. The works were thought to have been destroyed during WW II. They were in fact discovered in a ramshackle apartment in Munich’s ‘art district’, two years ago. The authorities only came forward with this information a few weeks ago after a German magazine broke the story.

Germany could learn much from Ms Witt. Germany has bungled (as only they could) the opportunity to ‘make good’ on the returning of looted art (see here) from the Nazi period back to the rightful owners with grace and contrition. Instead, we have seen missed chances which have put the darker chapters of Germany back in the limelight.

As the story of ‘Nazi Art’ continues to unfold, Germany has been placed in a most uncomfortable (for them) position. The authorities have been less than forthcoming, have compounded mistakes, and generally have exhibited a malaise that is truly mindboggling.

How could they sit on this for two years?

Yesterday, Germany announced that they had found another 22 works – and they found them in the apartment of a relative of the person who allegedly had the original 1400. Hadn’t anybody thought to take a gander into the lives of relatives of the person sitting on all of these works?

My numerous German friends ask me how long must they bear the Nazi burden. I surmise it will be a long time. Part of the problem is that the Nazis went to such painstaking lengths to document it all. This makes for fascinating reading and study, allows Germany a chance to make amends, and keeps it synonymous with Germany as a whole.

Although the popular idea that Germans are ‘cold, calculated, and emotionless’ is mostly an urban myth, one can’t help but feel certain hints of these when looking at their handling of the ‘pillaged Nazi art’. Germany will always be forced to go the extra mile, and if they hesitate but for a moment, the catcalls will proceed.

Anything the Germans do about the art is sure to be criticized. But whatever they decide, they need to do it quickly and with grace. Just like Ms Witt did.