Category Archives: Family

Aunt Rosa

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My grand-aunt Rosa lived as a lodger with a rather scary old woman. I loved aunt Rosa. When I was a child she was already well in her late 60s or early 70s, a kind old woman with platinum blond hair, red fingernails and the face of a lovely little monkey. She had an unforgettable spirit, much energy and showed great generosity. Aunt Rosa took regularly the Orient Express to Bucharest visiting her friends and relatives there and in Sibiu, and smuggling stuff out of Romania in her apricot coloured big bustier. No customs officer dared controlling her bust or underwear. She frequently provided us children with colourful rahat or Turkish delight, hazelnut or chocolate halva, pan flutes, very dry figs and dates, oriental sweets and strangely dressed dolls and wooden toys. She provided us with a mixture of oriental and occidental culture and told us tales from the past, the beginning of the 20th and the end of the 19th century. She died when she was 97, after a rich and fulfilling live on her own and with a husband ten years her junior, a first violinist in a theatre orchestra, who had perished when she was sixty.

We did not go to our grand-aunt’s place very often. She regularly came to see us and had always a present for everybody. She brought cakes made with 10 duck eggs or rich chocolate tarts that contained enough butter and cream to feed a whole village. Only twice visited we her place, a separate part of the flat belonging (or not belonging) to the sinister elderly landlord.  Aunt Rosa lived in a huge bedroom with a queen size bed displaying large embroidered cushions, handmade dolls and animal puppets. This room had to serve as bedroom, kitchen and living room; and I believe that there was a shared bathroom.

I remember that my mother remarked disapprovingly that the landlord was not really the owner of the apartment, as this was a dispossessed property that had belonged to a Jewish family before WWII. The story of dispossession and political persecution (to be precise, both the story of victim and perpetrator – a rather schizophrenic situation) also defines the history of my family. But this is another tale.

I will never forget the disgust and  the shame expressed by my mother as well as the uncomfortable feelings arising, when we visited my lovely grand-aunt in this tainted flat  that had belonged to a Jewish family, who was probably dead. If they had been fortunate, they had survived and escaped to a safe place. But nobody ever turned up to get back what had been theirs before the horrible war and still was rightfully their property.

Photo source:  http://kitchenmason.com/

Information: Orient Express in Bucharest, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7V4HwySAw4, 2014-02-10

Video: Ustinov on the Orient Express, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgpmE5MtgkY, 2014-02-10

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Autumn Thoughts

Photo 509

Like my grandmother I am a doomed woman, and – so I am told – a beautiful one. My grandmother was so pretty that the students in her hometown wrote postcards to her with ‘I have to see you and I can’t sleep’ stuff, while the only thing she did was looking through the curtains of a window in a town house.  At the beginning of the 20th century she had been young and beautiful, and she was stubborn throughout her life. Grandmother, so my mother told me, had been a rather unconventional and strong-minded woman. No wonder that my grandfather had to take a mistress, as – in my mother’s words – grandma had been elegant and eccentric, emotionally cold and quite egotistic. Therefore, I was told, he had to have a female on his side who gave him warmth and pleasure and was ‘normal’, somebody who was a bit voluptuous and with a full bust.  My mother was convinced of my grandmother’s culpability until her death. Nevertheless my mother loved her mother and she took care of her until she died, putting her into a hospice when she was terminally ill with cancer and visiting  several times a week.

My father had been brought up with strange values. Female artists, dancers, actors or visual ones were only good for affairs, while educated women like scientists or professors were marriage ‘material’; even writers were tolerated. Father had married a nurse, who wanted to be a fashion designer, but could not fulfill her dream because of my grandfather’s political stance against the Nazis.  My father refused to be informed about my art studies until one day before his death. I made peace with him, but am not sure if he still believed that I was only mistress ‘material’.

In my long relationship with a man (an ex), whose family history is as much entangled and tragic as my family history, I was told that I should have stayed a banker or at least have studied physics (something I had planned when younger), but never should have become an artist. Somehow I was perceived as tainted and slightly odd (eccentric). Probably I was only material for an affair. I believed that on the turn from the 20th to the 21st century times had changed, and 19th century values were not relevant anymore.

When I woke up this morning and looked out of the window I felt like my grandmother about 100 years ago,  although I did not receive postcards from young students telling me about their sleepless nights. I had to realise that I was the only one, who could not sleep.

Music:

Lotte Lenya sings Kurt Weill’s ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’, You Tube

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Family History – Auguste and Inge

Gudrun Bielz, “Box”, Private Virtual Worlds, London 2004

Lets face it. My father’s family was conservative, a family that was at least hundred years behind in values and manners and generally saw men as providers and women as emotional nurses. They were also a family that valued education and knowledge and came from a staunch Protestant background with its strong work ethics and moral codes.

My male cousin – and I will forgive him for this – as he has grown up in an oppressive regime – has become as conservative as possible and needs to rewrite history his way (as I obviously need to do it my way). He has not only told me that we descend from humble people, ignoring the achievements of Auguste, my aunt and Inge, my cousin, but also dismissed my father’s story about the zoologist in the 19th century, my father’s family heroe, who was responsible for his middle name. My cousin has tried to smash into pieces our own family mythology, where my father had always regretted not having become a zoologist; and even my brother is telling his own zoology myth today. Yes, the family had a humble background, too. Partly they were farmers and land owners, who – in my cousin’s own words – owned vine yards and forests. Perhaps, this had enabled them to send all their kids to grammar schools and universities?

My aunt had studied physics in the 1930s. This was quite an unusual subject for women in those days; and as far as I know, she had taught physics in a Gymnasium (grammar school) until her death of stomach cancer at the age of forty. My cousin Inge studied the same discipline. The women in our family were the academic ones in the 20th century. They had also married men, who were less educated and, if I can trust my parents’ observations, had not fared too well because of this.

I am going to celebrate their achievements; and I do want to correct my cousin’s narrative, who – for his own reasons – has to be hostile and never mentions the strength of the women in this family, but has told me that he had to shoot at paper figures of American, British and French soldiers as part of his school curriculum, when he was a young boy.

Auguste (who died very young) and Inge, this is for you. Well done. I am so sorry that my knowledge about you is rather sketchy. This is part of our family story, too. Too much has been swept under the carpet.

Music:

Ann Peebles. “How Strong is a Woman”. 1971. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Twr7zYb5Gmw

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