Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft (BL), Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Switzerland

[1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm roll film camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter;
Kodak Ektar 125 (Kodak 5101 | Ektar 125-1) 36-exposure colour negative film]

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, November 1991

Friday, September 25, 2009

Escaping Duncan to Westdeutschland

I was bursting with idealism, but immature and arrogant, a braggard, precocious and voluble, restless, and thin-skinned and sensitive, a daydreaming bookworm, eager to see the world—or at least Europe.

I graduated from Grade Twelve at Cowichan Senior Secondary in June 1981. I could not wait to get out of Duncan, which I disliked and resented for its small-town mentality, sometimes referred to as Drunken Duncan, armpit of the Island—I do look upon this town somewhat kinder these days. I skipped the graduation ceremony, flying off to Westdeutschland the same day most of my 400-plus peers walked on to the stage to accept their graduation papers.
It was Vancouver via Calgary to Frankfurt am Main with Air Canada; 1972 Lockheed L-1011-385 TriStar 1, c/n 193M-1019, C-FTNA, “501”; powered by three 42,000-lbf Rolls-Royce RB211-22B high-bypass turbofan engines; seat configuration F20Y268; operated by Haas-Turner on December 13, 1972; N312EA, Eastern Airlines on December 13, 1972; C-FTNA, Air Canada on May 5, 1973; C-FTNA, Air Canada on May 4, 1981; C-FTNA, Air Transat, converted to 150 on May 6, 1988; C-FTNA, Air Transat, written off at Lyon, France, due to severe hail damage, on February 28, 1991.
I was seated a few rows from the rear, a middle seat in the middle section between the two aisles. This particular aircraft sported traces of Eastern Airlines interior decor as these two companies split the seasons with two Tristars, summers in Canada, winters in the U.S. I found it an interesting feature that Tristars held five lavatories in the rear, wrapped in a crescent, the access narrow between these and the rear galley.
The full flight was uneventful until somewhere over the North Atlantic, Iceland already behind us, the Captain announced that an unscheduled stop was necessary due to higher than usual fuel consumption from heavy headwinds having forced us to fly at a lower altitude. A moment later the seatbelt signs came on as we went into a rapid descent. A little earlier the skies had been coming up a cloudless blue as the morning arrived. Soon many were puking up the breakfast served less than an hour ago—I too needed the paper bag located in the seat back in front of me. This was the only time I ever felt sick, flying.
We touched down on a bumpy runway at Prestwick, Scotland, the cracks sprouting clumps of grass. It was Sunday shortly before seven o’clock local time. The airport was closed and appeared deserted. We were kept onboard during the refuelling but the flight attendants did open every door to air out the stench and let us breathe in the fresh, crisp Scottish air.
I arrived in the land of Atomkraft? Nein Danke—the common yellow with red cartoon sun lapel buttons—and Lieber Tot als Rot (Rather Dead than Red). Frankfurt am Main International Airport in the early 1980s was a high security bastion, the green-uniformed Bundesgrenzpolizei patrolling and guarding with machine guns and German shepherds. Luggage left on its own would be confiscated, removed, and destroyed by bomb squad specialists. Yellow Wanted posters showing the mug shots of various at-large terrorists were displayed throughout the terminals. Westdeutschland was not quite yet out of the long, violent shadows of the RAF—Rote Armee Fraktion’s very active reign of terror of the 1970s.
I went through two passport controls, scanned and scrutinized, just to pass from the international to the domestic terminals, my next flight scheduled for over two hours later. Everyone had to pick up and recheck one’s own baggage as nothing was transferred by the airlines.
I boarded my Lufthansa flight to Stuttgart1980 Boeing 737-230(A), c/n 22116/701, D-ABFD, City Jet Bamberg; powered by two 15,500-lbf Pratt & Whitney JT8D-15 low-bypass turbofan engines; seat configuration F8Y98; first flight October 13, 1980; delivered January 16, 1981; RC-CTB, Croatia Airlines on April 3, 1992; 9A-CTB, Dubrovnik, Croatia Airlines re-registered on July 9, 1992; OM-BWJ, Air Slovakia on March 29, 1999; N392AS, Aviation Systems International on August 3, 2000; ZS-SIP, SAA (South African Airways) on November 7, 2000; ZS-SIP, Comair on April 30, 2003, operated for British Airways; ZS-SIP, Safair on September 2, 2003; ZS-SIP, Comair on February 7, 2004; ZS-SIP, Kulula Air on June 20, 2004; ZS-SIP, Comair on June 6, 2005; ZS-SIP, Interlink Airlines leased on July 7, 2006; withdrawn from use and stored in July 2009.
Stuttgart and Klaus Matzke greeted me in the hot, muggy haze. The Matzke’s lived in the attic suite of a Wohnhaus on Waldmeisterweg in Gablenberg.
To visit the Waldorf school I would walk the short Enzian Weg, turn right a few steps along Im Buchwald, then left to descend the series of stairs—Buchwaldstaffel—and along Libanonstraße at Bergstraße, crossing Klingenstraße, Hauptstraße, Wunnensteinstraße, right on Schwarenbergstraße, left a bit on Wagenburgstraße to curve uphill on the right just before the Wagenburgtunnel, straight to the stairs below and above the back stretch of Ameisenbergstraße, coming out on top at Zur Uhlandshöhe right next to the minigolf. I entered by a gate across from the Sternwarte. Other times I boarded the Nr. 8 tram on Hauptstraße, transferring to a bus at Ostend Platz, the neighbourhood our paternal grandmother Othilie Rott lived in an apartment when we visited her in summer 1968 (my first trip to Europe, this now my second). I would exit at Urachplatz and after a couple of side streets sometimes cut around in a curve the eastern side of the hill to come along Ameisenbergstrasse where Die Christengemeinschaft (The Christian Community) had a house for the Erzoberlenker—Rudolf Frieling until 1986, then Taco Bay and his family until 2005.
One of their daughters was in Martin Matzke’s class—Emily Joan Bay. We crossed paths again in early 1990 in North Burnaby and Vancouver.
Two girls I remember well, also in Martin’s class, were the tall Löhnert twins, although their first names now elude me—Gabrielle(?) and Michaela(?). They were best known by their nicknames, die Lölas, wearing the current teen girl styles of the time, looking much like Nina Hagen on her eponymous first record album cover.
I first heard of Nina on the Matzke boys’ transistor radio in their bedroom with a view of the Fernsehturm, listening to SWF (Südwestfunk). I became an instant fan, remaining so to this day. Within a few days I bought a copy (vinyl LP) of that 1978 album Nina Hagen Band, CBS 83136, at a small music kiosk in the Klett-Passage under the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
Quickly, “Der Spinner” became my favourite song and my travelling anthem,

Ich lauf’n Bahnsteig lang und weiss nich’
Ob ich hier weg fahr’ oder was
Ej, guck mal, da kommt’n Schnellzug und fährt weiter
’N Bulle von der Bahn taucht auf

Ich halt den Brief in meiner Hand fest
Da steht, du fühlst dich tot wie Stein

Und das du dir jetzt’n Wald suchst
Um dir im Mos’n Bett zu bau’n
Dein Riesen Saxophon ist natürlich auch da
Und Flöten, Flöten soll’n auf der Wiese wachsen

Die alte Frau bezahlt mit Kleingeld
Wir warten auf den nächsten Zug

Ich frag die Alte, wo der Wald is’
Sie sagt „Mein Udo is’ schon lange tot”

In meiner Tasche klebt’n Bonbon
Wir steigen in unser’n Zug

Bei Wertheim gab es Salamander
Ich bring dir einen mit ins Moos

Als ich in Hamburg aus’m Zug steig
Lauf ich durch Strassen bis zur Elbe hin
Down To The River

Da seh’ ich dich am Ufer steh’n
Ich fass dich an und so, du hörst nichts
Du sagst, du musst zum andern Ufer
Die Fähre fährt am nächsten Tag

Ich dachte, dass du tief im Wald wohnst
Ich wusste nichts von deinen Ufern


We drove up to Coburg in Klaus Matzke’s yellow Ford Granada four door sedan, staying with friends overnight. Along the way we stopped in several towns.
Schwäbisch Gmünd was our first. I admired the medieval architecture of some half-timbered houses and the former town hall, the Grät Mansion, but not the Baroque-styled terraced square of the Marktplatz with its double-statued fountain to the Virgin. It and the Rococo are too ornate and over-the-top gilded lavishness for my liking. Walking back to the car at the edge of town, we peered over the side of the bridge into the murky, grey swift flow of the Kocher.
Next we stopped in Bad Mergentheim to visit Grünewald’s Stuppacher Madonna. For years this painting was hidden under another.
Then, onward to Würzburg. We toured the Residenz, one of Germany’s biggest Baroque palaces. I preferred the three sculptures by Tilman Riemenschneider, 1460–1531, in the Dom, with its austere and harmonious exterior and nave, in contrast, again, to the Baroque, an example of which was apparent in the stucco decoration in the upper reaches of the chancel.
Next we passed through Schweinfurt and Bamberg. Soon we were in Coburg, visiting the Veste Coburg—a Franconian castle of Sachsen-Coburg royalty fame—and some relatives of Klaus. I think it was an aunt of his, and her son and daughter-in-law, a banker with the Deutsche Bank, fresh returned from a multi-year stint in Singapore.
The next morning we spent exploring the Veste. After the Mittagsessen, we made a local side trip to the Wasserschloss in nearby Untersiemau. It suffered damage in the Thirty Year’s War, not to be restored until the 20th century.
And we drove along a little country road that ran tight against the Deutsche Demokratische Republik border. One metre tall wood posts, painted white with horizontal bands of sky blue, marked the actual borderline along the narrow gravel shoulder. We pulled over at a grass shoulder on the edge of a farmer’s field, and crossed the road to have a close look at the two VoPo, Volkspolizei, in their field grey uniforms, each with a rifle over their shoulders. One held binoculars, the other a note pad and a Leica camera. Within minutes a U.S. Army jeep pulled up, a black Sergeant and a white Private alighting, followed by a tour bus that spilled its contingent of gum-chewing American tourists, trigger-happy with their cameras. Klaus explained how the VoPos would usually watch the frontier within inches of the posts. The border defenses—1,381 kilometres of concrete and steel walls, chain-link fences, turrets, mine fields, patrolling dogs, automatic firing devices pointing to Bundesrepublik Deutschland territory, and watchtowers separating the unequal halves—were about a kilometre back in this area. The Iron Curtain was the most militarised and heavily guarded border in the world. Between was a sort of no man’s land. They always worked in pairs, to discourage any ideas of bolting for the West. But, Klaus added, the VoPos were considered idealogical, loyal, and patriotic to the communist state.
The American Sergeant exchanged gum with the VoPos. They accepted without hesitation. I can not remember what the Americans got in return. Soon the East Germans were chewing. I uncapped the Kodak Retina IIIS, snapping a few shots. One VoPo returned the gesture, snapping several of myself and the Matzke’s. We were close enough to shake hands.
Earlier, before leaving the car, Klaus had warned us not to put even one foot past the posts. It was not unheard of, and not worth testing the rumours, that on occasion the East Germans would quickly pull someone across if one did not watch one’s step, then hold the unfortunate Westie for a few hours or days in exchange for money or other considerations.
To this day, I am not sure this was really true—was it the West’s fear of the communist state, translated into myth? But, as I said, not worth testing.
And who knows what they did with our photos, possibly filed away in some vast archives in East Berlin, becoming part of the mountain of files tossed about willy-nilly, rummaged through, eventually probably destroyed, when many citizens hunted through them after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But, in the summer of 1981, none of us could ever have imagined that in our lifetime the East would come apart from the inside, and go on a shopping trip, vacation road trip, or move westward to reunification. I am reminded of The File: A Personal History by Timothy Garton Ash.
On our way back, we toured the Transitional Gothic Bamberger Dom with its 13th-century equestrian statue, Der Bamberger Reiter, deemed to represent the ideal of the Knight-King of the Middle Ages.
In Rothenburg ob der Tauber I carved my name, city, country, and date in the railing of the eastern parapets of the walled town. Shame on me for this little act of tourist vandalism.
My flight home was aboard another Lufthansa Boeing 737-230(A), Stuttgart to Frankfurt am Main, and again through the high security and passport controls, arriving at the Air Canada gate counter where it was soon clear they had overbooked the flight by about 30 people. This forced them to offer an overnight stay in a local hotel and DM 300,00 in cash—a lot of money for me at the time, but yet I did not bite as I was eager to get home and still fit in some summer fun, river tubing on the Cowichan.
I returned via Calgary to Vancouver; 1973 Lockheed L-1011-385 TriStar 100, c/n 193E-1058, C-FTNI, “509”; powered by three 42,000-lbf Rolls-Royce RB211-22B high-bypass turbofan engines; seat configuration F20Y268; first flight December 21, 1973, test registration N64854; delivered January 22, 1974; converted from TriStar 1 to 100 in January 1979; withdrawn from use in November 1990, Pinal Airpark (MZJ), Marana, Arizona, USA; C-FTNI, Royal Airlines on May 1, 1993; CC-CZF, Chile Inter on January 1, 1998; C-FTNI, Royal Airlines on March 1, 1999; withdrawn from use in June 1999 at Montréal; broken up at Montréal in 2000followed by a sailing with B.C. Ferries, Tsawwassen–Swartz Bay.

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