04 October 2018

Deutsche Schule shorts

Not my mother's Kobe

Not my mother's Osaka

German school today
German school in my mother's time

First annual report with my
mother's name.

Student 21. Erika Schmitz.

This post is coming to you from the bullet train taking us from Osaka to Hiroshima, Japan. (See Slow boat to Japan for background.) Just a few words today about our trip two days ago to my mother's school in Kobe.

The school that my mother attended, the German School in Kobe, has changed a lot. Today's Deutsche Schule Kobe International has an English-language track as well as a German track, and pupils finish sixth grade with three languages -- Japanese, German, and English. In my mother's time, the school was located in the hills overlooking Kobe, and now it is on the Rokko island in a new eco-friendly building.

We met with the new principal, Frank Pitzner, who presented us with a book commemorating the school's first century (1909-2009). I've not had a chance to review it in detail, but I noticed that the book seems to deal with the Nazi period directly, rather than downplaying that aspect of its history as some other institutions (as Frank Pitzner observed) tend to do.

We talked about many other things, including the school's adoption of the International Baccalaureate program back in 2006. (I have memories of the same process at the Ramallah Friends Schools.) We enjoyed our brief tour of the facilities, and I especially enjoyed feeling the energy of the children streaming all around us on their way to after-school activities or to their waiting parents. We looked at some of the school's historical artifacts and photos.

None of that really equalled the simple experience of seeing my mother's name on the school rolls. It's among the very few actual points of data that I've ever seen about the German side of my family before 1948. Somehow her childhood -- her whole life before I came along, actually -- became a lot more real to me.

We had originally planned to visit Hiroshima before these days in Kobe and Osaka, but Typhoon Trami got in the way of our plans. Instead of heading for Hiroshima immediately after getting off the ship in Yokohama, we stayed in that port city for two days until the typhoon had passed and the trains had been able to return to normal service. Our own exposure to the typhoon was limited to about three hours of strong winds and lashing rains, which we observed from the windows of our ninth-floor hotel room. We were in no doubts about the solidity of our hotel, but it was interesting to feel it sway in the wind. Other parts of Japan were more severely affected, and three people lost their lives.

Everywhere we went in Yokohama, Osaka, and Kobe, street crews were cleaning up downed trees and broken branches. However, unlike our experiences on the U.S. east coast, the typhoon roared through its land path quickly, with sunny skies the very next day.

I'll return with a more typical format next week. We're twenty minutes away from Hiroshima.

[Update: Another typhoon is heading to Japan and is expected to disrupt transport in and out of Hiroshima tomorrow. I'm adding this update on the train back to Osaka.]

Next chapter: Kobe -- the quest continues.

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