Monday, 23 November 2009

Peter Zander, born Berlin July 1922, emigrated to England 5 October 1933....

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IDENTITY

I was brought up a German. I was brought up a Berliner. I was not circumcised. I was baptised with Spree water. I went to the local primary school. My best friend was a working class boy Rosentraeger. Herr Kastner, my wonderful teacher, hoped that he would learn high German from me. I learnt Berlinsh from him. We went skating together on the tennis courts, tobogganing in the parks. When I changed to the Goethe Schule, the Gymnasium, and we moved from Friedenau to Wilmersdorf, two local boys or more joined me in games digging caves in the unbuilt-on plot of land opposite our flat, which belonged to my grandmother. Kurt Sureth taught me to eat Matzos and butter and honey. Uve Brandt wore khaki shorts and shirt and a leather belt and a strap across his chest. Weekends I spent in Wannsee, at my parents' sailing club, Verein Seglerhaus am Wansee, where I learnt about sailing, rowing, and looking through the huge binoculars fitted on the balustrade of the terrace, where we drank Berliner Weisse mit! My father shared a 22 Quadratmeter Schaerenkreuzer racing yacht with Adolf Hain. At weekend picnics aboard, the Hains would have wide-necked thermos flasks with hot food in them, and we ate cold pork chops. I was jealous! Their son Peter was a friend of mine, though he was sometimes reluctant to let me control his electric trains, assembled in the loft of their big villa in Schlachtensee on top of the biliard table. No talk of Jews. My parents had left the Juedische Gemeinde in the 20s.

Spring 33 a man came to the door of our flat in Ravensbergerstrasse, sold swastika emblems from a suitcase. I bought a lapel badge, rather like the black white red - schwarz weiss rot - pennant on the lapel badge of the sailing club. I was 10. I learnt from my mother that I could not wear that badge. That I was Jewish. I was 10. Six months later I arrived in Welwyn Garden City. Peter Erich Fritz Georg Zander. Embarrassing.

1934 we went, my mother and I, to Berlin for Christmas. Stayed at my uncle Otto's, my favourite, marvellous uncle, and Lottchen, his aryan wife. I'd started chemistry at school. At the sight of the blackshirts I wanted to squirt sulphuric acid into their faces with a water pistol.

Dr Wegner taught French at school, there was no German on the curriculum. He offered Irene Kaufmann and me free German lessons. Wonderful. We came on Saturday mornings to his lodgings, and did Goethe and Schiller. My mother tongue. The language I learnt from my mother. When I visit Berlin now, and see some of the street names round the Kurfuerstendamm, I can hear my mother saying them, her voice. I now stay in the Mommsenstrasse in a block of flats built 1903, beautiful Art Nouveau.... Her school was round the corner in Schlueterstrasse... Heimat.

1946 I went back to Germany as a Relief Officer with the Save the Children Fund. The first year we looked after refugee children from the Baltic countries housed in requisitioned private villas in Klingberg, in the Schleswig Holstein forest. I went to evening classes about Gerhard Hauptmann in the Waldschaenke. Of course the locals all new I was a German in British Uniform. They invited me to join them in a play, Schiller's little known Der Neffe Als Onkel. We performed in 3 or 4 villages, and got beautiful baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables from the farmers. The British Relief Officer in a German costume. Only many years later did I realise the significance of that. The London Berliner, now the Berlin Londoner.

The following year I worked with the women and children, German refugees from East Prussia, housed in the Bunkers in Brunswick, the huge air raid shelters, with walls a meter thick, no windows. Electric light bulbs and toys from the Qakers. Outings to the Asse. Met Arno Keil, character actor at the Staatstheater, friend of Charlotte's, Brunswick / Welwyn Garden City. Told him he needed a black-edged handkerchief for the last act of the Importance of Being Earnest. Am still in touch with Peter Nikolai, then a student with the Lutheran church welfare. We worked through them, and the Catholic welfare and Arbeiter Wohlfahrt, the workers welfare, organisations.

And every three months I took the whole, or part, of my leave in Berlin. Visited my uncle Otto, who survived with his aryan wife Lottchen. Just. This wizened thin frail old man, who had been my portly Edwardian friend, with his moustache, whose ends he twirled in front of the mirror in his dressing room with a little spit on each forefinger. Heard of the hounding of the Jews. Huddled together in Jewish flats, suitcases at the ready. The terror when the bell rang. The low rations. Of the Jews hidden by friends, neighbours. And I saw the city of my birth bombed to smithereens. After my first visit my colleagues said I was destroyed.

I found Herr Kastner again. He was not allowed to teach any more, failed his denazification, as he had been an early member of the party. This wonderful teacher, who played such an important part in my first four years of school, the decimal system with matches, singing, art, Suetterlin Schrift. And I knew I was his favourite pupil. I was allowed to carry his satchel on school outings, into the old city, out into the outskirts. His son, composer and cembalist, is one of my intimate friends. So are his daughters, architect and jewellery maker, and their families. Connection from 1928, when he was born, and I entered his father's class.

And Pitt married Dada. She and her younger sister Ussi were childhood friends. My mother first saw the little girls in the back seat of their cabriolet in the sailing club car park. I always said I'd known Dada all my life, but Pitt only 35 years. My best friend in Berlin. Invited me at Christmas for two weeks' membership of his sportsclub, and we went swimming 4 mornings, followed by breakfast in his flat.

I visited the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee one year to check on the dates of my father's mother. The young official asked me whether Hans Loewi was any relation of mine. I said that was Hansemann, Onkel Hans. Cellist in Berlin's amateur orchestra, der Symphonieverein. Went to his concerts as a nipper. He said he was buried in his father's grave, and gave me directions how to find it. When I got to it, his name wasnt on the gravestone. I was shattered. I am not a great enthusiast for cemeteries. For my marvellous mother I was able to arrange for a bench to be put up in her memory in Welwyn Garden City. But I felt this was insulting to my uncle's memory. So I arranged for an inscription to be engraved on the stone.

HANS LOEWI, 7 Januar 1867 - 16 Januar 1939.
Onkel Hans musste unbenannt bleiben als er hier beerdigt wurde. Mai 2005.

Uncle Hans had to remain unnamed when he was buried here.

For me there are two Berlins. They connect in me. The one full of memories and nostalgia. My life and the people in it 1922-1933. The other the courageous new, visible and in spirit. My friends there now. But perhaps it is Libeskind's great Jewish Museum that connects the two most typically, and bridges the years of terror.

3 comments:

Stephen G. Esrati said...

This is great writing.
I, too, am a Berliner who was exiled in 1933.

Peter Zander said...

Dear Stephen G Esrati!!!

You might think we are still in the era of the pigeon post, with the pigeons flying particularly slowly! But I have only this minute discovered your kind comment on my bloggery. I was in Berlin again for 3 weeks in the summer, meeting new friends and being spoilt by old ones, and again over Christmas and the New Year.. I have a sort of satelite life there, greatly enjoying their company and plays, concerts and opera, being a regular at Brecht's theatre. I send you meine herzlichen Gruesse, and there may be a couple of new things on my blog that may possibly be of interest to you.

Yours sincerely

Peter Zander

I am rather taken with two German writers: W G Sebald, all of whose books I have bar one, which I am getting, and Jenny Erpenbeck, whom I actually met in Berlin this year. They seem to me relevant to our situation, and may be of interest to you - if you dont already read them....

TheVoiceoverman said...

This is lovely, but if I may offer a suggestion, the title should be, "The thoughts of a BerLondoner".

All the best.