Roland Dürre
Friday November 28th, 2008

A Farewell to Childhood – the Magic Wand Helps (Trilogy #1)

This is a very personal contribution in three parts (here comes part 1). Before starting to write it, I have spent considerable time wondering if I should publish it in the blog. But I feel the issue is important to me, maybe also as a message for a time when I am no longer among the living. So I will write.

In 1956, the city of Augsburg was still all ruins. The downtown streets, too, were full of hideous gaps. Nights of bombs were not yet a thing of the so far gone past. However, the economic miracle was already under way. In 1956, I was six years old. Winters got warmer, because a fire was regularly lit in the morning. Light, electricity and running water were a matter of course. To be sure, washing water was still cold, because the hearth in the bathroom – which from the perspective of a small child seemed huge – was lit only once a week with coal. Saturdays were family bathing days, and the warm water was evenly distributed among parents and children. On Sundays, we all went to church.

I do not consciously remember anything about the first four years of my life. However, I feel that I was dearly loved by my parents. The part of my education that I experienced as extremely negative must have started later. With my entry into school, the real horror began.

Since 1955, we had been living in a beautiful and bright newly-finished building in the Rosenaustr. 18. Even though it did not yet have central heating, it was quite modern. Between our flat and Augsburg central railway station, the broad railway tracks for both the passenger and cargo station were situated. From our kitchen window, we were able to see arrivals and departures, as well as some sidetracking. And the laundry hung for drying behind the building, to the detriment of my mother, was often soot-black. In front of the house, Rosenaustrasse got more and more frequented and broader as the years went by. Once, a car almost knocked me down. Whenever I go to Augsburg by train, I see this house and remember those times.

The Rosenaustrasse is part of the recruiting area for the primary school “Wittelsbacher Volksschule”, which is where I started school in the summer of 1956. The school was situated behind our local church St. Antony’s. My way to school was 15 minutes. I went through the town park, then past the church and I stood in front of the military-style school building. It consisted mainly of two buildings: one for the girls and one for the boys. Both were towering old buildings with high ceilings, long corridors and big toilets. In winter, the huge radiators of the central gas heating system warmed the bones and joints that had gone cold from walking the way to school. The smell of oil paint and linoleum, like I witnessed it again in the GDR in 1989, prevailed.

Classes were crowded, we were more than 40 in a classroom, of course exclusively boys. We had an older teacher whose disciplinary methods were stunning. Once he had installed a film projector. We were allowed to see a short film, the projector transmitting a small and unfocussed image to the grey wall. On the image, we saw a man who had a vague likeness to our teacher. Then, a coloured man appeared on the image. The coloured man approached the white man, bent before him and offered him an elongated object. That was the entire film. Black-and-white and with considerable optical noise. Probably not ideal for “youtube”.

In our class, this caused a collective, positive attitude of expectation. Most of us had only seen a television set from afar. Cinema for children or such like did not exist, either. The surreal device that transmitted images to the wall was really something special.

And then we heard the explanation that went with the images. Our teacher told us that we had just witnessed something extraordinary. The film, so he said, showed his meeting a magician in Africa. The magician gave him a magic wand particularly suitable for disciplining disobedient children. And now that magic wand lied on his desk. With these words, he showed us a piece of dark, smooth, massive rod made of unbelievably pure wood. My not so reliable estimate from memory would be that its measures were about 2,5 x 5 x50 cm of hard wood, but not ebony. As we would soon feel ourselves, the magic wand had rough edges. Then he started: each of us got hit on the fingers with the magic wand. Afterwards, the fingers were bleeding a little, because children’s hands are sensitive. The beatings were purely for prophylactic purposes, simply so we all know how much it will hurt whenever we disobey. Such were the times.

If you are cynical, you can say that the idea of applying this kind of shock-therapy is quite creative. What had that man done during the war? Basically, I am quite happy that these days most of the primary school teachers are female. I am also happy that I did not turn into a school sharp-shooting assassin.

To me, this sounds like the Americans when they used the atomic bomb. Two Japanese cities were destroyed, just as a demonstration of power. I do not think that this kind of behaviour is excusable, even if the atomic bomb quickly ended the war and thus perhaps reduced the total number of casualties. You cannot measure up human life for human life.

After this experience, my attitude towards school was irrevocably blemished. However, the suffering was not limited to school. We reached an age where the beloved parents, too, demanded that we function in the way they thought was right. More and more, we were “trained”. Rules that, to us, were obviously not making any sense became the determining factors of our lives. In the families, too, alleged misdeeds were punished. The repertory of punishments included physical violence (for example a certain amount of beatings, dependent on how serious the crime was), the restriction of liberty (incarceration) and denial of things that were extremely important to children. Naturally, withholding love was also among them. And this all happened without evil purpose and in the interest of the child. At the age of 6, we were no longer considered children by our environment. Instead, we had to adapt to the social rules. We were more than a little “socially adapted”!

I received fewer beatings than my classmates (if I remember correctly). Instead, I was time and again forbidden what would have meant happiness for me. Often – but not always – parental love won and punishment was remitted shortly before its execution. However, there was also the punishment of “incarceration”. Then I had to sit in my room for an hour or two, during which I fled into the land of my dreams – or thought about revenge (even before I started school, I was an avid Karl-May reader). Occasionally, however, an act of punishment caused a marital dispute between my parents (about the necessity of punishment and whether or not it should be rigorously applied or remitted). Then the punished child felt he was twice the criminal: once because of the misdeed and once because his parents quarrelled over him.

In those days, violence was a normal method in education. We all know the not at all humorous anecdote where the father who beats the son tells him that the beating hurts him more than the son, but that for reasons of education and because of strength of character both had to suffer. By the way, in the 1950ies the “master craftsman” still had the right to use violence against his “apprentice” in the BRD. I think the law was only changed about 10 years after I started school. And I fear with reason that even today, many children are (believed to be) disciplined with violence. Occasionally, I even see in public places like the underground trains that children receive “smacking” or get undue reprimands for the most innocent of “crimes”, thereby being belittled in front of everybody. What will those children do when they are grown up?

In other cultures this is unheard of. I was able to see for myself how intense the parent-child harmony is in Indian families, even in critical situations. Rumours have come to my ear that Germany has the reputation in Japan to be the country where parents beat their children. But also wherever I came into contact with “less” civilized cultures, the parent-child communication was significantly free of violence.

Only few people are prepared to talk in public about these experiences. One of them is Jörg Hube, a famous Munich actor who used to play in the “Kammerspiele” and now plays in the Residenz. In his punch shows, be it with heart and “Biograffl” or be it as hung-up or made-up man, he strips psychologically – and lately also physically – on stage. He shows the spectators his pain. Then he reads texts by the brutal teacher Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber (who invented the “Schreber”-garden and became a hero in his day). And for me, his words are close to home

I estimate Jörg Hube to be about 7 years my senior. He was born during the war. I think he experienced worse than I did. His martyrdom exceeds mine. I always sit in the front row – or at least try to sit up front. When he still played in the studio at “Kammerspiele”, this was easy. All you had to do was be there early. At the end of the performance, I would always have liked to storm the stage and fall into his arms. But that is also something I learned as a child: you do not do this kind of thing! Which is why I was never courageous enough to do it. Then there was a day when, after the performance in the studio, Jörg Hube came and kissed me on the forehead (I have witnesses). Perhaps there is something like congeniality of spirit, after all. Thank you, Jörg Hube! Now I strip in my if-blog just like he does on stage.

In my life, I found a number of people who helped me to heal my wounds. Meeting Rupert Lay, who became mentor and friend, was important for me. When I first attended one of his seminars, I was 30 – and just on the way to becoming a father for the first time. Rupert knew how to let us understand and sense all the ideals parents project into their children from their own lives and how they try to shape their children according to their own perfect image and super-ego. He made it clear that this is a natural consequence of our civilization and socialization processes over a long period of time and that parents, too, are just helpless people who want the best but often fail. Thus, I started understanding what went wrong in my own childhood. They wanted to take away my autonomy in order to make a socially acceptable and successful person out of me. However, to me my autonomy was important. I did not want to let go of it and had to pay the price.

And above all, he made it clear to me that you should never try to point the way for others, especially your dear ones, according to your own concepts. Instead, you should try to give them confidence for their individual path in life. This sounds quite simple, but can have various degrees of difficulty. He also taught me that this is how the vicious circle parents/children can be broken. All parents can do is try to help their children a little towards a successful life of their own. We should attempt nothing more. And this is where I continue to hope that I did a little better with my own children. That is where Rupert helped me and I want to thank him for it.

In his seminars, Rupert Lay also taught us how to de-learn our established mistakes and how to take the sting out of our social “training. Even though this was only a partial success, it was very valuable. If you want to know what I am talking about, I recommend you read his book “Führen durch das Wort” (Leadership Through the Word). At Amazon you can buy it second hand and in good condition for up from 50 cents (plus an additional 3 € for postal service – after all, Amazon, too, has to live) or new for about 9 €.

And 10 years after my first day at school, luckily the beatles came with “All you need is love, love, love” (Music)!

Here two citations from Georg Büchner:

1836

“In order to penetrate the peculiar nature of each of them, you have to love people; none of them must be too small or too ugly, only then you can understand them”

and

1837

“Every human is an abyss”

RMD (translated by Evelyn Gemkow)

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