Travelling in Germany.
I am in Cologne. It is a nice city. All that history, from the Roman times. Must have been even nicer before all those precious old churches were destroyed by the Allied bombing. But, as my German friend Hans said, it was the Germans that started it all. And copies of those churches are here now, to remind us.
It is strange to be here. I have known Hans for 40 years. He was my first love. Did not last long, he was a West German student spending two months in Prague on a work experience. Then he left. But our friendship lasted through all those political changes, our marriages, and our divorces. We are close. I came to visit and meet his new partner, a nice, intelligent, kind, sensitive, very polite, and rather formal woman, who is everything I am not. She is petite, blond, reserved, polite, anxious, quiet. I am dark haired, sporty, loud , bold and direct, and very chatty. Nothing shy or reserved about me.
She must think I am an alien.
But like Angela Merkel, welcoming all those migrant aliens in Germany, Anneliese welcomed me in her home.
She is working, so I spent most of the time with Hans, talking too much in my German full of grammatical errors.
He probably finds me a bit too much, too. But I am also a good listener, despite being so talkative. So Hans told me lots of things, too.
We both feel it is so great we can tell each other anything. We spoke about my Jewish family and what happened to them, his family and his unease about the Nazi past of his father (nothing dramatic or terrible), we speak about the similarities and the differences, history.
There are a lot of similarities, the Czechs and the Germans are neighbours.
I bought a book “How to be German”, written by an Englishman. It is very funny. Some things reminded me of the astonishment of my English friends about my habits and life. One example was my double bed. My American lover was rather puzzled by the ridge in the middle. Two mattresses, two duvets.
As the book said “what it lacks in nocturnal romance, it more than makes up for it in practicality, the most prized of German possessions.”
My lover asked me if it was something continental. Now I KNOW it is.
Yes, I am an alien here as I am in England. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that we are all similar. The cultural and other differences are much less important than what we have in common . Hans, despite what happened on New Year’s Eve in Cologne believes that Angela Merkel is right, and that welcoming migrants is a good thing. I believe it, too.
I have now lived in England for almost 30 years , that country which is so different from the rest of Europe, I love an American, I had patients from all different countries and cultures. The most enthusiastic two readers of my book are a black gay man and a young Indian Christian woman, a writer.
I can talk about my murdered grandfather and other relatives with a German man without either of us feeling awkward, and he can talk about the difficulties of being born as a German after the war. I can be close friends with men and women, gay and straight.
We can love our differences and feel close at the same time.
And I dream about the time when we can all do this. The Israeli and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, Europeans and Americans, men and women.
And I remember Kipling’s:
“We are of the same blood you and I”
Hans and Anneliese, thank you for reminding me of all that. By your generosity, tolerance, sense of humour and the way you embrace our differences.