Monday, September 15, 2008

Wiesbaden 5.5.05: Frankfurter Grünsosse and Challenge of Remembrance

Ascension Day—Himmelfahrt—which Wolfram tells us is also called Vater Tag, and is celebrated by men collecting large amounts of beer and schnapps in wagons and going off to drink with other men. No women allowed. Ascension is apparently not always recognized as the reason for the holiday, though it’s a national holiday for all of Germany.

And, sure enough, as Wolfram stood with us in a park outside the Marburg University gasthaus, a man walked up and proceeded to ask questions about Himmelfahrt. He did mock airplane motions as Wolfram explained it all to him, and said perhaps the sky is blue because Christus went there. Wolfram thought this was all facetious faux naiveté, and I agree.

As the entry suggests, we spent the evening with Wolfram. He arrived late—near 10—after long delays on the autobahn as everyone headed south for the long weekend.

As we waited, Steve and I took several walks in Marburg, in between rain showers. It kept promising to fair off and then clouded over again. We spent one rainy spell (after Elisabethkirche) in Klingenhöfer’s café, having coffee. Steve had gulasch (guschi, I hear the waitress call it) and I a Williams toast, which turned out to be two very thick slices of toast topped with ham, over which cheese was melted, and then topped with a pear half strewn with red currant compote. Good, but very filling. To help digestion, Steve had a grappa and I an Asbach, something we had seen on menus and wondered about. Turned out to be a dry, good brandy.

And so it went: strolls, periods of rest in the hotel, strolls as we waited for Wolfram to arrive. Saw quite a bit of Marburg, which is a small city and compact, circling the castle on the hill in semicircular terraced streets with many Gässe.

It’s an interesting city, apparently not touched (as to architecture) by the war. I also had the feeling one day is enough to see it well, and Wolfram confirmed that. He said when he first saw it, he asked why he didn’t apply for a job there. Someone told him he’d have found it charming for a year or two, and then would have realized it was a small town where everyone knows one another—too well.

I had that impression as we walked. Old ladies greeted each other gaily in the streets. Take away the perigrinatory population of students (10,000), and it’s only about 50,000.

Wolfram always such a pleasure to be with. He infuses a good charge in the air, like the ozone rush following a sudden storm. He seems balanced—male/female, old/young, German/cosmopolitan. He’s boyish, in a non-derogatory way, young in an older man’s body. He’s also intensely aware of the needs/feelings of others, and I have the impression not so much through innate sensitivity as through careful training. Altogether an admirable human being . . . and I find few human beings really admirable.

Hessian landscape: less trimmed and spry than much of Germany, with profuse but manageable forests. Hilltops always forested—poor rocky land. The lowland is meticulously farmed in handkerchief-sized fields, alternately bright yellow with rape blossoms at this season, or rich green with upspringing grain.

Ah, yes, Steve has just reminded me of the restaurant last night. We had a very late meal of Schweineschnitzel and Spätzle. Wolfram didn’t like the choice of sauce—Bolognese—and asked for something more regional. It turned out to be Frankfurter Grünsosse, a cold sauce of herbs (parsley, mostly, I thought) in sour cream—not a felicitous choice with the fried schnitzel and spätzle.

For some mysterious reason, the schnitzel came with mounds of fries. Wolfram asked about the spätzle and was told it would come sofort. When it did, it was odd—strings instead of little sparrows—and tough. Perhaps their usual spätzle-maker wasn’t there.

Now in Wiesbaden. It’s an ugly city, hideous heavy late-19th century or early 20th-century architecture, one huge rooming house all in a row, marching down long allées with trees in the middle, which could be beautiful. It’s dirty and uncared-for, a polyglot place full of Gastarbeiter. The people we see on the streets look stolid to a fault.

And coming here, I suddenly seem to remember Aunt Kat telling me Dub was here in the war. If I remember aright, it figured largely in his experiences. Was it here he met the little boy he took under his wing, who called him Willi? Is the boy living? He’d be about Wolfram’s age.

+ + + + +

My father is dead. My mother has died. My brother a year younger than I died in 1991 at the age of 39. My grandparents are long gone. All my aunts and uncles have died except for two aunts, one maternal, one paternal. My father’s sister is in advanced stages of dementia.

If I do not remember, who will? Who but I recalls, now, that somewhere in Germany may be a little boy long grown up, whom my uncle fostered and protected during the war? He would, surely, remember if his mind is clear. His family would, if he spoke of it.

Even I’m not sure I remember. Like quicksilver, the tiny threads of memory still in my mind one by one slip away into some darkness I cannot fathom.

Where does what we once remembered go? Is it forever gone, when we are gone? Something in me wants to believe it transfers itself to other souls. It does so, of course, if we consciously choose to pass it on . . . .

I’d give all the world to encounter that little boy or anyone who remembers his story. Dub never spoke much of the war—as did no men of my father’s generation. Who can pass on what they did not choose to pass on?

And speaking of memory, Steve tells me I didn’t remember (or perhaps experience) the Frankfurter Grünsosse correctly. He says it had dill in the cream, predominantly.

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