26 June 2014

Stuttgart shorts

My mother's school.
A steep shortcut.
The new building.
My grandparents' home, probably 1963.
The familiar street.
I spent two of my preschool years in Stuttgart, Germany, and then revisited my grandparents' home there three times--the last time in 1966 at age 13. I've not been back, until now.

My feelings about returning yesterday were complicated. My grandparents, Emma and Paul Schmitz, are long gone (both died during my college years) but they left a very warm place in my heart. A few years ago, Judy found a series of photographs of me with my father (then a soldier in the U.S. Army) and my German grandparents. I'm dressed up for some special occasion. By piecing together the people and backgrounds of the photos, she figured out what was going on--I was at the railroad station, about to leave my grandparents for my future life in Chicago. But the four-year-old in the pictures seemed to have no idea that he was about to leave his Oma and Opa. Certainly I didn't know that I was soon to meet a two-year-old sister I didn't even know I had.

Getting to Robert-Bosch-Strasse was an interesting experience. With a pedestrian Google map in our hands, we took the streetcar to the Russian Church stop, and began our trek up the winding roads leading uphill to our destination. Shortly after beginning our walk, I was startled to see my mother's high school, Hölderlin Gymnasium, named after the famous German poet. I hadn't intentionally included that site on our route.

We continued on. Twice we went trustingly down roads marked as dead ends, and found that the path on our map included steep stairways that were, in effect, shortcuts that saved us from having to follow the hairpin turns of the streets. Finally we emerged onto Robert-Bosch-Str. and walked the last hundred yards or so to "my" old home.

On Google Maps, there was no clear photo of the address--instead the street-view photo showed stacks of construction material. When we got to the destination, I got the full picture: my grandparents' old home was gone. No trace was left. At the same address was a gleaming new apartment building fitted neatly into the same space. There was even a car elevator to take cars down to an underground garage. Two apartment owners were kind enough to talk to us and fill us in on the history of the place since the original house was torn down ... and I was able to tell them something about the house as it was from the late 1940's to the mid-60's.

I admit it was a shock to see that my grandparents' home was no more, but the street in general felt so familiar. I could still recall the feeling of walking down the street hand in hand with my grandfather, on his way to buy me a piece of candy in the store at the end of the street. I could still remember going to that same store to buy Agfa film for my box camera (at age 10) and rigging an aerial tram with ropes and basket to ferry plums from the trees in the garden to the second-story porch in the back of the house. Surely the love I felt there helped me get through many of the difficult times to come.

There's an important connection between my grandparents and Russia: the money that came to me when my grandmother died was enough to finance the remainder of my college education in Soviet area studies, leaving me debt-free, and also funded my first trip to Russia, in 1975. It also financed my participation in Voice of Calvary's summer program in Mississippi that same year.

In a couple of days we'll recognize a major anniversary--one hundred years from the event that precipitated World War I. I recognized the anniversary by reading a book that I recommend highly: Adam Hochschild's To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.

This isn't the first book to lay bare the folly and futility of this awful war, and for those already familiar with the historical details, there may not be much new in the book. No major new thesis is proposed. The strength of the book is its rich human texture, the interplay of personalities and relationships, faithfulness and obstinacy, idealism and opportunism.

Hochschild's gallery of characters is endlessly fascinating. Take the Pankhursts. Until the outbreak of war, Emmeline Pankhurst is even willing to advocate violence on behalf of feminist goals, but war changes things. The most craven superpatriotism, it turns out, and a complete disruption of relationships with her internationalist/socialist daughter Sylvia, were not too high a price to pay for the larger goal of obtaining the vote for women. The relationship between the militantly traditionalist military leader John French and his sister, the social reformer Charlotte Despard--a happy relationship for most of their lives despite their dramatic differences--is a thread running through the book.

War has a way of bringing out the worst in us, on both the macro level (as when high losses are cited as evidence of impending victory!) and micro level (affairs, mistresses, and betrayals seem routine among those presuming to defend civilization). Courage and self-sacrifice are also part of the picture, and in this connection the author includes the courage of conscientious objectors as well as soldiers under fire. Quaker CO Corder Catchpool comes in for brief mention toward the end of the book.

To End All War reads like a novel. It's so well written that it is truly hard to put down: although we already know the ending in terms of the ensuing global reconfiguration, we also want to know the fates of the individuals we meet in this thoughtful and generous book.

Here's a preview--an excerpt from the book published in The American Scholar.

Thanks again to those who answered the survey about my blog. Maybe next week I'll finally get around to summing up what I've learned. Then again, maybe not; next Thursday we'll be on our way from Moscow to Boston.

But to the person who finds the format gloopy, it might be worth stripping off the extras by looking at the blog through the mobile template, which you can do by adding "/?m=1" to the blog address. For example, blog.canyoubelieve.me/?m=1

Andy Freeman, "The Introvert at Prayer."

An update from Friends United Meeting on the handover of Friends Kaimosi Hospital (now called Jumuia Friends Hospital Kaimosi) to the National Council of Churches of Kenya. And here's a related article on NCCK's Web site.

An update on Iraqi Kurdistan from Christian Peacemaker Teams, along with links for further reading. And "Iraq's Dwindling Christians Wonder If It's Time to Leave Iraq."

"Giving Up, Giving Down"--Martin Marty on trends in religious philanthropy, including the difficulty in distinguishing exactly what belongs in that category.

In recognition of Anthony Bloom's 100th birthday: "Becoming the Gospel."

Filmmaker Robert Mugge is putting together a documentary on the closing night of Doc's Music Hall in Muncie, Indiana. The film will be called Giving Up the Ghosts: Closing Time at Doc's Music Hall. It features the band led by John Peterson, a gifted and versatile medical doctor and musician in Muncie with many Quakerly contacts. He's also the author of The True Life Adventures of Captain Wa Wah: Fifty Years of Music, Meditation and Politics.

Here's a clip from the forthcoming film. Don't miss "My Girl" starting at about 7:50.

(Here in Germany the embedded film is blocked. If it's blocked where you are, you can see it on Vimeo.)

Dr. John Peterson and his band perform at the late, lamented Doc's Music Hall in Muncie, Indiana from Robert Mugge on Vimeo.
A performance excerpt from the forthcoming Robert Mugge film GIVING UP THE GHOSTS: CLOSING TIME AT DOC'S MUSIC HALL featuring Dr. John Peterson on keyboards and vocals; Phillip Dunn on Sax, trumpet and vocals; Douglas Hunt on Guitar; and Kyle Ivy on drums and vocals. Audio recorded and mixed by Nick Melander's Walnut Creek Productions. Shot in October 2012 by Ball State students under director of photography Turner Fair. Produced by Robert Mugge and Diana Zelman. Post-production technical assistance from Joe Sailer.


Faith said...

Shoot. I picked the wrong book for my History Book Club at the library. We're reading The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 to mark the anniversary but I'm finding it hard to get through. To End All Wars sounds much better.

Johan Maurer said...

I'm not at all sure you picked the wrong book. Sounds like Clark's book is one I'm going to want to read.

Although Hochschild excels at sampling the human dimension of the war, particularly among the British, his book is not as comprehensive in covering the political and military dimensions as (it sounds like) Clark's book might be. For some of us, it may be that the two books complement each other.