A Trip to Romantischer Rheinland in May 1952

 

In May 1952 my mother Anne Berns, then aged 25, persuaded my grandparents to take her on a touring holiday of Germany, centered on the ‘Romantischer Rheinland’. Many of her friends thought she had no business going for a holiday in a country which had so recently come within an ace of destroying our own, and which had committed such unspeakable crimes, above all the Holocaust: but as she said, she wanted to go there “to see if the Germans were human”.

        1952 May Frank & Fanny BERNS in Garmisch   1952 May Anne BERNS Mittelsburg

Frank & Fanny Berns                        Town Centre

 

They hired a car & driver and toured a great swathe of West Germany (as it was then): the capital Bonn, Cologne, Heidelberg, Neuschwanstein, Oberammergau, Wiesbaden, Dinkelsbühl, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. They ended up in the Alpine resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen which their driver particularly recommended to them as an outstandingly beautiful spot.

So how were the Germans? As Churchill said in his speech to the US Congress in 1943: “The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet”. With the exception of a one-legged veteran in the ruins of Cologne who spat at them – Cologne had been flattened utterly, except for the cathedral which had been spared, but the city was a neat & tidy ruin –  everybody in the shops, resorts and hotels fawned obsequiously over my mother and grandparents and couldn’t do enough for them.

Britain had been starving for years under rationing, and even my grandparents who were in the fortunate position of being shopkeepers had their work cut out to organise enough food for themselves & their daughter. What they saw in West Germany made their eyes pop out of their heads. In Garmisch-Partenkirchen there were the biggest cream cakes they’d ever seen. Every shop was stuffed full with first-rate produce. My mother particularly remarked upon the beautiful leather handbags. As for the locals, they were plump, smug and beautifully – and expensively – dressed. The war had only been over five years, and Britain was still on its knees recovering. But in West Germany the appearance of the people and the towns was as if there had never been a war. Or if it had, they looked like victors.

1952 May Anne BERNS Garmisch Lodge1952 May Anne BERNS Garmisch Fat_Happy Burgers

In Garmisch-Partenkirchen

 

The manner of the Germans – those who were not fawning in service – was uniformly self-satisfied. It did not appear that they gave a thought to what they and their families had done during the war. It seemed they did not consider themselves responsible for any wrongdoing, and the concept of repentance was utterly alien to them.

Yes, the Germans were human. But they were quite devoid of what we would call humanity.

Advertisements

Farewell, Sylvester

We lost Sylvester today. Sylvester is a semi-feral tom cat who first appeared about 3 years ago. Initially he would just dart in through the cat-flap late at night and scarf down the food we’d left for Tigger and other visitors. You couldn’t touch him, but he seemed to like me sitting about six feet away and singing quietly to him. After two years or so of this I thought I’d try to tame him. I started getting closer to him and about six months ago stroked him for the first time. He liked it. After a few weeks of tentative handling he started to follow me & butt his head against my hand. One day I heard a rusty rumble: Sylvester, after perhaps a decade in the wild, had remembered from his kittenhood how to purr.

But all was not well. Toms get into fights: and about two years ago he lost an ear. After he had become tame – and he was a very affectionate cat, spending a long time each day stretched out with his face pushed into the palm of my hand or rolling over to have his tummy rubbed – Mum & I took turns trying to clean up the remains of his torn-off ear with warm salt water. But it just kept being re-infected. Unlike most cats he couldn’t jump up anywhere – I thought perhaps one back leg, held awkwardly, had broken and healed years ago. Then, a few weeks ago, a swelling started to appear beside the remains of the ear, and his back legs became very doddery. A visit to the vet was called for.

The news was very grim. Sylvester had diabetes. That would have needed two injections a day and an enforced restricted diet – very difficult when Smudge, our little ginger, is so fussy and needs to be coaxed with food. But for better or worse the decision was taken away from us when further investigation revealed a massively swollen kidney and at least one tumour.

Two days at the vet’s without me had turned Sylvester feral again: they said they could barely handle him. This morning I went down there and had a consultation with the vet. He took me into the kennels to see Sylvester. When the cage door was opened he hissed, cringed and spat, but within three minutes some Dreamies, some crooning and a few gentle strokes had reminded him of who I was, and once again he butted up to my hand and purred like a firehouse. I was crying and telling him how good and brave he was.

Andy the vet was very calm and sympathetic as I picked Sylvester up and cradled him in my arms. Sylvester is a big, muscular tom: the sedative took several minutes to take effect, but finally he lay still. Then came the second, lethal injection.

I am glad I had the courage to be with my Sylvester every moment of his final journey. No months of agony in a body resistant to all painkillers; no weeks of agony as nutrition is withdrawn; no days of agony while hydration is withdrawn. I hope to God someone does the same for me when my time comes.

Sylvester 1Sylvester 2Sylvester 3Sylvester 4