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Monday, November 9, 2009
Another Brick in the Wall!
Germany--It was shortly after leaving DC, only a few months into my job at Marvel, and my writing partner from Texas, Dr. Lawrence McNamee made an offer I couldn't refuse--a trip to Germany to cover the Passionspiel in Oberammergau...
In short, what you need to know about the Passionspiel is that the whole little Bavarian town, not too far from Munich, invests itself into creating the most elaborate Passion Play on record--the whole town seems to be part of it from the "Virgin Mary" down to the sheep. It really is a spectacle....
Doc had been here before. But not for the Passionspiel. It was something called World War II.
Doc had an amazing past...part of which was being a pugilist in his younger years growing up in the coal mining town of Pittsburgh, part of which was being a translator in Germany during the Nuremberg Trials, being Lindbergh's translator when he was in Germany, interrogating people like Mesherschmidt... in short, he had an amazing life. I'm not even getting into his years of being a Shakespeare professor and German teacher.
During those years in Germany during and after the war, he made many friends--German and otherwise. In fact, the lady we stayed with in Oberammergau was Eliza Krietmeir, a renowned children's illustrator and artist at the time. Doc first met her when she was less than 10 years old, after the war, when he was investigating in the town for evidence for Nuremberg. Her family befriended him--shared their coffee, chocolate, and hospitality with him--the first two like gold in post war Germany, you have to understand. Doc never forgot them. Long after the war was over, for nearly a decade, he would send care packages to Eliza's family--chocolate, coffee--you get the idea.
Eliza never forgot it. In fact, she told me that it was his kindness in part that helped them survive. That she might not have if not for him. It was amazing seeing the two of them sitting on the carved wooden bench of her Bavarian chalet...talking about old times...
Berlin was just as amazing to me. What I remember most on first arriving there via train from Bavaria, were the flea markets everywhere--most black market--most selling Russian military goods. I picked up a great leather case that I later gave Michael Golden, and an amazing knife...and the usual military emblems, etc...whatever could be sold, WAS being sold, and folks from the former east and west mingled amongst the treasure.
At what use to be that border between east and west, Doc's old friend Bernard met us with his car... it was a rare occasion for him as well. For decades, he could not even afford a car, or wasn't given the option to buy one when he could.. much less ever cross the border. Bernard took us to his home, where his wife prepared a lunch of meat and cheese for us--they were so proud of these staple items...something they hardly ever were able to give guests in the past.
Hearing them talk about the pre- fall days was eye opening--lines around the block to buy tomatoes, 10 year waits to buy a car, people separated from their families for years with hardly any way to communicate...the joy of people running across the border when the wall came down...
It certainly did make me appreciate my country...the things we take for granted every day, the amount of things we waste that are like treasure to someone in a less affluent situation. Which is probably the lesson Doc wanted me to learn when he gave me the assignment, now that I think of it.
He was always that way. Mentor to the end.
I still see him, even though he's been gone several years now. The dry witt, the mischievous glint in his eye, the rumpled clothes that could do with a good pressing, the ever present Pittsburgh Pirate hat...the one George Foreman teased him about all the time on our boxing assignments...and I thank him for this particular singular experience.
Sometimes we only look back at these times in our lives with REAL clarity when we are older. The sadness of youth, and the advantage of age, if you will... But, looking back now, I know clearly that this moment in MY history, coinciding with this particular VERY important moment in history, really did make me appreciate even more my friend Doc. His open-mindedness, his service in the war, his ability to forge bridges over cultural gaps and establish lasting friendships based on nothing but the fact that we are all part of...well... humanity!
There are lessons to be learned there...
Borders and fences and ideology aside, THAT is what is important in the end.