Thursday, 5 December 2013

A point of entry or ‘Does she speak German at all?’

When I was 18 I wanted work for this firm, I do not even recollect the name of it. It was a shitty job, the kind of job you do when you just need and want money to do some travelling in order to find yourself and that sort of thing that you do when you are that age. In order to get paid I had to officially open up this business that allowed me to do shitty jobs like that. So I went to the Finanzamt where I first had to queue to get a number and then had to sit and wait for that number to appear on a screen next to the number of the Schalter where I would be advised and helped to fill out the correct forms and apply for the correct status. Eventually both numbers appeared, which then felt like a great relief. (Time passes so slowly while waiting.) 
When I entered the room a very cosy man (the kind that likes to watch the TV in the evening and drink the casual can of beer with it) welcomed me into his arena of duty. On his desk there were plants and little souvenirs (Kitsch!) and of course some documents here and there, a computer and all the other stuff that made this hole a bit more serious. As I explained my concern to him it turned out that there was something unusual about it, something that this domesticated gladiator could not answer (no clue what it was). But as in every Finanzamt there is a clear-cut hierarchical structure.

Luckily, his boss was only four quick dial numbers away and he almost immediately answered his phone. To my bewilderment the speakers of the phone were turned on so that I could hear every word they said. Mr Gladiator struggled to explain the difficulties my case was causing. After a few seconds of anxious waiting the voice at the other end of the line asked and his words struck me by great surprise: ‘DOES SHE SPEAK GERMAN AT ALL?’. Of course thought I, impertinent … (you can imagine the words that popped up in my head immediately). Never had I ever experienced anything like this. And what was most peculiar to me – what did it matter? This question was not the answer to the question the voice had been asked concerning my case. The case now seemed to be of a whole other kind – xenophobia. What if? What if I, thought I, could not speak German? Would I then have been refused my documents? Would I have been assisted by a translator (I am trying to think positively here)? 
In the end I got my documents (because I did speak German? Because I am German?). But this now does not really matter anymore. What matters is my last name, which other than the usual German last name sounded ... foreign: N A M I S L O W. But till that day I had never thought of the implications it could have on other people – implications I could not control and that I would have not been aware of otherwise. My friends sometimes made fun of it saying name is love or marina love, but with good intensions.

All I know was that the name is SUDETENDEUTSCH, because my grandfather was Sudetendeutsch. This ethnic group of Sudeten Deutsche was forced to leave their Heimat after WW II and my grandfather and his family was among them. When I was at the Finanzamt my grandfather was already in a home for old people and even if I then had asked him the questions that I had he would not have been able to answer them anymore. Maybe in his mind he had returned to his Heimat already, a place unreachable for me.

The Sudetenland today does not exist anymore. It is part of the Czech Republic. When my grandfather’s twin sister died this year, we were not even able to contact the city where she was born. It just was not there anymore. In order for her to be buried in Germany we needed a verification of her birth certificate. Because the whole process took so long the funeral could only take place one month later. So in a way her right to rest, to have a site of memory at the graveyard in Mannheim was still suspended over 50 years after there deportation because she too was Sudetendeutsch. But of course her particular place in Mannheim is not a transcultural place of memory. It is bound to our memory of Tante Lea. Where - then I am wondering - is a place for the memory of the displaced after all? 

No comments:

Post a Comment