Lost in space

The year is barely started but I am time travelling. Most of the time I seem to be in the late 70s and the 80s. I spent 5 years of my life in Germany (West Germany as it was then) and there were many ups and downs. I remember mainly the good times except for the day I took an almost incoherent call from my mother telling me my father had just dropped dead with a heart attack. She was distraught and it took me a while to understand what she was saying. He was 65 years old, a milestone I am about to reach. Music is taking me back. I am playing Nina Hagen, Udo Lindenberg, Nena and a few others who remind me of those hedonistic years. We had Uncle Bill and Tommy Vance on BFBS. Two songs played almost incessantly on the radio: Wuthering Heights and Baker Street. Each time I hear either song I am instantly transported back to the basement I lived in, teaching by day and heading off to the Altstadt by night. The Uerige was the place to go for brewed-on-site Altbier. Zum weißen Bär was the place for a game of pool and if you were so inclined, whatever illegal substances took your fancy. A hearty lunch at Zum Füchschen or perhaps Im goldenen Kessel. Those were the days. I remember going to watch Fortuna Düsseldorf play in the Rheinstadion when they were a top Bundesliga club. And I read a fair amount of German literature too. Probably less than I was supposed to but hey, I was a student. My second stint was when I had supposedly grown up and I had a real job. Two years back in Düsseldorf then off to Frankfurt for another two years. Nena was shocking people in Britain with her unshaven armpits and I was experimenting with culture. I had bought an Abonnement for the classical concerts and I don’t think I missed many. On the 17th March 1987 I went to see Alfred Brendel play. He was my father’s favourite pianist and he played Schubert (rather than pieces from his signature Beethoven repertoire). It was 5 months since my father had died and I remember sitting through the concert in tears, wishing he could have been there.
What sparked this regression was Angela Merkel’s decision to pick Nina Hagen’s Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen for her exit ceremony. I had quite forgotten this. It was actually released in 1974 but it was still played and at the time nobody would have foreseen the fall of the Berlin wall within 15 years. I remember going into East Berlin. We went through Checkpoint Charlie and had to change DM7 into Ostmarks. I think we came back through the Friedrichstraße U-bahn. It’s a bit hazy these days. Alongside the music I have started rereading some of the books on my shelf, kept through the decades. Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf was the latest and before that a bit of Kafka. If only I had been so diligent at the time. I had this weird idea recently that perhaps I should try to read the works of Thomas Mann. Studying German introduced me to Die Zauberflöte too. I remember sitting transfixed listening to the Queen of the Night’s aria and being completely blown away. I went out a bought a 3 cassette set of the opera and listening to it over and over again. I think my main exposure to Mann was Tod in Venedig, Death in Venice. That led me to Mahler and his 5th symphony when I watched Visconti’s gorgeous film. At the time I could never had imagined visiting Venice several times as I have done. Life is a strange journey at times.
I feel this strong urge to go back. I am sure everything is different today and doubtless I would be disappointed. Is this why I take photographs, to have my memories preserved like prehistoric creatures in amber? Why am I suddenly fighting my body’s determination to disintegrate at an increasingly rapid pace. Is it the fear of never being able to recapture what has gone? I was asked yesterday what photograph has a special meaning for me, has perhaps affected me profoundly. Just one. I gave an answer but I am not sure it was a good one and almost certainly not ‘right’. My mind now wanders across the years seemingly at random and beyond my control. I suppose being 20-something again is not bad as long as I don’t have to repeat all those exams. One of my concessions to modernity is a subscription to Spotify. My musical taste seems to have hit the wall around 1980-something so perhaps that is where I belong. Everything stopped when dad died. The few post 80s items in the collection are from my adopted home of Hong Kong (Anita Mui, Denise Ho and the woman with the voice of an angel, Faye Wong). Where will I go next, when Germany has finished with me? Or am I condemned to spend the rest of my life reading Goethe, Schiller and maybe even Nietzsche. It could be worse I suppose – I could be sitting through endless Wagnerian uproars.

How do I find a photo for this? Well I think an old photo of Venice will have to do as all my old German photos are in storage on slides / DIAs. I really ought to have them all digitised before it is too late. Sighs….

16 thoughts on “Lost in space

  1. I must admit, the picture of the Bridge of Signs caught my attention and led me to read your post. For me, having also visited and been inside it many years ago, it represents hopelessness being a place where convicted criminals got their last look of Venice. Now, I know I can never go back there, not being able to travel anymore, but I too, like to revisit the past. I enjoy, not so much going back over things I did, but reading literature I missed, and music I never heard before. It is wonderful to discover new things, even if they are old. And, technology aside, I am discovering, people are basically the same as before-dreaming and hoping. Enjoy your good memories and photos, they sound beautiful. And of course, we always remember fondly our loved ones who have gone.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments and indeed for visiting the blog. This is a time for reflection for many and even if the body can’t travel the mind can. We all need dreams and hopes. Thank you again. Andrew

  2. I can’t say that I have a favorite classical pianist but among our collection we do have a few CDs performed by Brendel and enjoy them.

    Digitizing your slides sounds like a good project and advisable. When I moved to digital/Photoshop I scanned most of mine with a Nikon Coolscan but must honestly say that pre-digital i was not a very good photographer, point and shoot is a good description, and most will end up in a dustbin once I am dust myself. OTOH, judging by this nice shot from Venice I’d say your slides are well worth saving. This is wonderful as an almost monochrome image with the beautiful blue light in the distance drawing us in.

    • I don’t know Steve – there are thousands of slides and many are not worth doing. And when we are dust, who cares? I struggle to see me doing the ruthless editing to get it down to a manageable number. You have many exhibition quality images. I ought to print more because I believe only a print can tell you whether the image is a keeper.

  3. Well, this was interesting. There wasn’t a musician I recognized (reasonably enough), but I checked out Nina Hagen, and whatever I expected, it wasn’t that! Then, I seached out the video of Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen at Merkel’s ceremony, and thought, “How German.” Then I went to Google translate, and was advised that the German song title means something akin to “You forgot the color film.” Now I don’t know what to think! I did watch a 1985 Letterman interview of Hagen, and she seemed rather charming.

    I did notice your mention of “Baker Street” — one of my favorites.

    My own most memorable times involve Liberia and Berkeley in the 70’s, and sailing in the ’70s and ’80s. If I could relive any of those years, I’d choose the sailing years; I miss the experience. But I prefer offshore sailing, and that’s flat hard work, even though it’s an experience like no other. I had a chance to crew on a delivery recently, and turned it down. I know a few who’ve kept sailing into their 70s and 80s, but there are a few sad tales involved.

    • Wow you did some good research. The translation is right. Essentially Hagen was poking fun at the East German regime. She was saying that the reason everything was black and white was because her boyfriend forgot the colour film. In reality life under the communist regime was drab and colourless whatever film was used. The satire passed the censors and became a great favourite. Hagen has a stunning voice – dare I say she wasted it in the punk era but she has a deep operatic tone and her early songs are beautifully melodic. She is what we call ‘a character’. She doesn’t care what others think. She is immensely talented. I don’t sail but I know plenty who do and are addicted. Carry on as long as you can. Enjoy life.

  4. A lot for me to recognise here – some childhood and early 20s years in Germany, a call from my father to me in Spain to say that my mother had dropped dead of a heart attack (aged 69), opera, Venice, lots of slides that need to be digitised… However, my photos are not in the same quality zone as yours. Being older, my lighter music tastes mostly faded out in the 70s. I would not go back to my twenties, in many ways my life has mostly been an upward trajectory, though I could do without the fading muscle power. I do wonder, sometimes, if I will ever see Venice again. Thank you for the lovely image.

    • So many parallels Hilary. I hadn’t realised how much my muscle power was fading but in 4 months I have rebuilt a lot. I do one supervised session a week and 2 on my own. There are plenty of us who are of pension age in the gym. And I do a fair bit at home with no expensive equipment. I think diet is important too. My biggest challenge is sleep. I too wonder whether we will visit old haunts again. We have given up on Tasmania. Very disappointing. But so far we have stayed free of Covid but it is seemingly getting into the general population here at last. Stay well.

      • Ditto sleep! We have radically, but slowly, changed our diet over the last ten years and that has worked well, but regular muscle-building exercise has to be in house, or garden, or toddler-chasing, so not ideal. Very impressed by your gym commitment and results, something to spur me into new effort.

  5. I find myself stuck in the 70’s and early 80’s as well, back when life still felt hopeful and exciting. Both musically and in books, I find myself living in the past. I feel increasingly lost in the world in which I find myself today, and fantasize about living in San Francisco ‘back in the day’. sigh. I’ve just been to the doctor and it seems there is a mass… I can’t help but wonder if my journey will turn out to be much shorter than I’d expected it would be. At best, this makes everything look particularly beautiful and rare. At worst, a black veil seems to hover, just beyond my peripheral vision. There are things that lift my heart, however, and your photography is one. I like how just the arch in this is lit up. Such beautiful details in the carving.

    • Oh I can’t like this reply Melissa. What a shock. I hope you are getting some good emotional support and definitely a second opinion. I hope it isn’t what you fear. A timely reminder perhaps not to live in the past.

      • You are right about that! Nothing makes the present moment feel precious more than the fear you’re running out of them. I’m sorry I wrote that in a low moment. I think I am getting excellent care, and actually feeling well and assuming I will recover.

  6. What a lovely photo, Andrew. It’s interesting how a song, a book, a movie, a photo, or even a noise can transport you to a different time a/o place. Your musings took me back to places of my own and in the one instance to the time of the Berlin Wall, something I never thought to see come down. How long ago some of those things both seem and are. I remember in grade school practicing sitting under desks or in hallways with our heads down. What good that would have done if a bomb dropped, I don’t know, but I suppose we felt safer.


    • Thanks for reading and commenting Janet. The associations in my mind often seem random but there must be a thread running through them. In historical terms 40+ years is not much but in the context of a single lifetime it is (hopefully) 50% give or take a bit. I suspect the plague years of covid that have stopped us traveling are a catalyst for this pining for the fjords. Not all my time in Germany was good but I have some wonderful memories that will stay with me for a while yet I hope.

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