Episode 12: Graduation & Germany

In my third year inBirminghamI became an evangelical conservative. With Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot as my heroes, I had found ‘the truth’! This was linked to discovering the sacred music of J.S. Bach and through it the possibility of a non-religious spiritual dimension. It seemed to me that ‘Culture’ depended on the nurturing of tradition.. From this new vantage point I was able to come to terms with sociology, and managed to scrape a third. But thereby hangs another tale.

For quarter of a century I had an inferiority complex vis-à-vis my fellow students. But then I organised a reunion of our college year and found that the majority had got thirds. Fast forward another twelve years to my sixtieth birthday. One of our college year who attended the celebrations here in theNorth Lainetold me that we had been taught the wrong economics syllabus! How arbitrarily life deals us its cards. With even a lower second I would probably, at that stage, have embarked on an academic career. Perhaps, though, I’m glad I didn’t.

At college I had encountered Carl Mannheim’s interesting idea that most people are stuck in their own cultures and cannot cross the boundary into another. So I decided to put this to the test by going to live inGermany, the country of my great musical heroes, Beethoven, Brahms and, above all, Bach. I got a post at theBerlitzSchoolinKarlsruhe, but after the director there lowered my salary I moved to Lahr, in theBlack Forest, where I worked as a clerk at a Royal Canadian Air Force base.

I found a garret room which smelt strongly of the brown coal I burnt to keep myself warm. My landlady was a kind woman who supplied me with apples and walnuts from her garden. But she felt constrained to say, awkwardly, that the bombing ofDresdenhad been a crime, and this affronted my sense of national pride.

While living inGermanyI learnt much about the German ‘soul’, but felt excluded and lonely. One day I spotted a familiar union jack on a girl’s carrier bag. She was English, and invited me to join her and her German boyfriend for Christmas inBerlin. We drove there throughEast   Germanyalong the autobahn from Helmstedt. While visiting the wall (which didn’t follow the border exactly) I strayed onto East German territory and a loudspeaker barked at me in true movie fashion: ‘Achtung, Achtung!’ We managed to buy East Marks at a quarter of the official rate, but found the only way to spend all this ill-gotten money on the other side was drinking Yugoslav Riesling. At some point in the evening I became unconscious of events around me. Some time later I found myself on my own on the S-Bahn (an overhead railway system) and only knew I was back inWest Berlinwhen saw a station called Tempelhof (the airport).

My first flight was on a BEA Viscount toHanover. I hitched, in the back of a British Army lorry, toDortmund, where I visited friends. I was hopeful that they would help me find a more interesting life inGermany, but this didn’t work out so I returned to my solitary life in sleepy little Lahr. Over Easter I visited my parents inWatfordand on a whim decided to apply for a teaching post at a secondary modern school inGillingham,Kent. And so after seven months this encounter with the German-speaking world came to an end. It was not to be the last.

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