Tag Archives: history

Do you work?


Date: Friday, March 27th, 2015

Place: Bus stop in Richmond, Greater London, UK

An older woman (and I am not that young anymore) started to chat to me. Either she was bored or she felt benevolent and wanted to suss out other people’s opinions. Whatever had led her to be friendly changed when she heard my accent. I am Austrian. Sometimes people note a Dutch accent, if they are in a good mood they believe I am French. I never had a thick German accent.

So, after her sensitive ears had been offended by my foreign accent, and she had found out that I was not a tourist, her first question was “Do you work?”.

I was speechless. After 18 years as British resident, this was the first time I had been asked this question, a question that implies that either we foreigners are spongers and jobless or are taking away British jobs. She peppered me with this question. So I stuttered, but found my composure again and told her firmly that I worked in Higher Education and had helped and taught  countless British and foreign students. I wanted to convince her that I was a valuable member of society, even as a foreigner who had invaded her little England.

During the short conversation her body language changed from friendly (when she did not realise that I was a foreigner) to defensive (foreigner alert!) to embarrassed/submissive when she realised that I was a valuable working member of society that educated the British youth.

During the last two or so years my status has changed from EU citizen to EU migrant. I do feel this. London is a bit different. It is multicultural and full of people from all over the UK, the former colonies, foreigners who work over here, EU citizens from the old and the new member countries, refugees, visitors.

My status as a migrant makes me into a third class citizen. As an EU citizen I was at least a second class one. First class is only for the indigenous people, preferably white and English (Anglo-Saxon, Norman). As a third class citizen, people assume I might be from a poorer EU country like Poland or Romania. They believe that I take away their livelihood and abuse Britain’s NHS resources. I must note here that countless English bathrooms would still be full of mould and carpets, if Polish craftsmen and builders had not changed the English bathroom and kitchen culture for the better.

The anti-migrant and anti-EU rhetorics of the Tory government and  the rise of UKIP have made me, the (EU) migrant,  feel less welcome and more uncomfortable. For the last 18 years Great Britain has been my home. The future will show, if the UK will expel me or I will leave voluntarily or I will stay in this still rather freedom loving, open and interesting country.

Music: Klumzy Tung and Beardyman “Little England”



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Aunt Rosa


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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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.


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

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Man on the moon: Please stay up there

So man on the moon you did this long journey exploring the universe and set foot on this dusty area nobody before had touched other than some metal or the remains of ancient universes.

Do us a favour man on the moon and stay there safely tucked away no wars today on earth as man on the moon decided to smoke his pipe and read a book about conquering women.

Moon is a satellite to earth oh man on the moon. Don’t you know that la luna is female and moon is neutral and der Mond is masculine. Has nobody taught you in all these years of knowledge invasion and ticking boxes on worthless spreadsheets has nobody told you that FEmale is mitochondria and you can scratch your ar*e and pretend you don’t know but hunting ain’t your sole purpose on earth neither quarrelling nor being this grumpy old man mocking yourself without irony.

Please stay up there and get some sleep.


Kid Cudi. Man on the Moon. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5moUsN8Vfp4>.

Hank Williams sr. Howling at the Moon. 1951 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvsqlTGgKeg>.

Bedtime baby. Toddler lullaby. Fisher Price song. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vn-NyrVdXaY>.

(Photo source: nasa.gov)

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Family history – Going back in time – Confessions 2

Subtitle: Complexities – Family mythology – From slug to Draculina

This is the person in my father’s family who gave him his middle name, or so my father had told us children. My brother and I still benefit from this personal mythology.

  Michael Bielz, 1787 – 1866, Transylvania

My father: Walter Mihai (Michael) Bielz, born in Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania.

Family hero: Michael Bielz, geologist and zoologist, 19th century,  Transylvania, Austro-Hungarian Empire. He discovered a slug called Bielzia coerulans. <http://www.animalbase.uni-goettingen.de/zooweb/servlet/AnimalBase/home/species?id=1274>.

Michael’s son Eduard Albert was also a zoologist. The town of Sibiu has named a street after him.< http://www.sibiutourist.com/location/1429.html>. He had discovered and categorised molluscs in various geographical places. You can find more about him here, which is not a lot,  as most of the publications are in Hungarian, Romanian or German.  So just a taster showing his name connected to molluscs:  Oxford Journals. Life Sciences. ‘Journal of Molluscan Studies’. Vol 27. Issue 5. Pp. 218-222. 28 Jul 2011.  <http://mollus.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/5/218.extract>.

The Landesmusem in Graz, Austria, has collected books, information, perhaps some molluscs by Eduard Albert. Graz was also ‘die Stadt der Volkserhebung’ (the city of the popular uprising) in Nazi Germany. (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorary_city_titles_in_Nazi_Germany>).

My mother’s father had been declared an enemy of Nazi Germany, which included Austria, this mercurial country that unlike Germany has never really admitted to its guilty part. My grandfather had been tortured by Hitler’s executioners in a prison in Graz.  My mother had always insisted that his death was connected to this event of torture and disgust. In our family there was this saying: ‘You don’t do to your worst enemy, what had been done to your grandfather in prison’. I cannot and do not want to imagine what had happened to him there.

Graz is the connection between my families, besides my mother and father having met each other in another infamous city: Linz, the town Hitler wanted to make the capital of his Third Reich,  and a town that had re-invented herself famously as a working-class steel town. (Review by Ries, John M. Burr Buckey, Evan. Hitler’s hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908 – 1945. Indiana University Press. 1986. 28 Jul 2011. <http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v09/v09p380_Ries.html>).

The connection, of course, runs deeper and lies in the violent history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an empire that had tried to tame and oppress her multi-cultural peoples throughout the centuries. Info: <http://www.historyhome.co.uk/europe/aus-hun.htm>.

My father had often talked about wanting to be a zoologist. My brother had continued talking about it. My nephew, Thomas Bielz, has done his PhD with research in the Nanostructures Group/Inorganic Chemistry, Fritz Haber Institute (Max-Planck Society), Berlin and the Institute for Physical Chemistry, University of Innsbruck. (<http://www.fhi-berlin.mpg.de/acnew/groups/nanostructures/pages/research.html>, <http://www.uibk.ac.at/physchem/staff.html>).

Perhaps a shorter way to zoology? 🙂

Info in German. http://www.ostdeutsche-biographie.de/bielmi87.htm


Draculina, Music by Alkaline Trio 2010

As we live in such a visual world: Here some delicious slug content and a lovely Draculina dreamscape.


(Photo sources: commons.wikimedia.org, biolib.cz, Gudrun Bielz)

Music we listened to as children (besides lots of classical stuff, also opera, and mother’s favourite Niccolo Paganini <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPcnGrie__M>, then Felix Mendelssohn’s viloin concertos <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRXJWUzn240> and Styrian folk music like this, as mother was from Styria <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4p3qN5KdMs>):

Hungarian folk music from Transylviania like this one from Zoltan A. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQNhbi9KZfU>.

Transylvanian music like this one <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLig4uePuv8>.

Not to forget the traditional gipsy music like this one <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H638IdI5Ks&feature=related>.

Romani (gipsy) music like this <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVdzCIibGiM>.

Music and dance: Musica tradicional rumana. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKM2l836G7I&NR=1>. (Note: I still have got one blouse similar to the ones worn in this video).

PS: There exist different versions of this mythology. My cousin insists on another narrative. It does not matter. My father’s story, which I remember from my childhood, was that his middle name was Michael because of the zoologist Michael Bielz.  It is a fact that my father wanted to become a ‘Naturforscher’, a zoologist, and so wanted my brother. I have experienced that my cousin has a very different version of the family and their history. Who knows which one is right? It might be a virtual event. In the end, all what counts is this specific mythology within my family and what it has allowed us children to develop into. My cousin denies that our family was dysfunctional. I am talking about my father and his brother and sister and their parents. I believe that my father did not like his father, who might have been a controlling person and even abusive. So, I beg to differ. Although,  I know that people want to live in denial for their own specific reasons. Let them do so.


The Beatles. Let it be. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0714IbwC3HA >

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