Monday, 24 November 2014

Permutations on Lamps and The People Who Owned Them (IV)

Yes, there had indeed been a meeting, possibly the sort of thing that might be called an emergency council. We didn’t know about it at the time, it was much later that a fellow pupil in my new school told me in confidence, urging me never to reveal the ‘secret’. Or else her Dad, who was a member of the school’s governing body, would get into deep trouble. She also confided that her Dad and my Dad shared political sympathies; if these were known they would jeopardise his position. I was a loyal little body but also so cowed by now that I obeyed without thought, not even telling my parents. I don’t think I ever did.

Herr Thomanek stood above us on the level half landing with Mum and me on the steps below him. His physical attitude was that of a bully but his voice had softened a little. He seemed to be uncomfortable and spoke quietly. I was crying enough not to be able to hear him anyway; Mum listened, she didn’t speak for a long time. She nodded and appeared to agree with him and said to me “I’ll tell you when we get home.” They didn’t explain or ask my opinion..

Before we turned back down the stairs to leave I urgently wanted to make Thomanek understand that I never meant to be ‘cynical’ (whatever the word meant) and that I only smiled at him during lessons because I liked them. Hopefully, I lifted my tear-streaked face, but he turned abruptly, without looking at me.

In the German Secondary School System Middle School was the less academic branch of higher education. Although core subjects were taught, i.e. foreign languages, maths, geography, history etc., the school for academically gifted children was the Grammar School, where subjects included classics, science, music, German literature, etc. School fees were higher and students stayed on to 18/19 years of age.

At that time, in the 1950s and early 60s, both Middle and Grammar schools were occupying the same large building. It was one of the few in the town left unbombed and everywhere schools and other establishments budged up to make room for those who had lost their premises.

The heads of both schools, their senior staff and representatives of the governing body, including my fellow student’s Dad, had decided that the situation in Thomaneks’ classroom had become toxic and it would be impossible to restore order. I would have to leave. I would be offered a place in the same year at the Grammar School; school fees would be waived and I would continue to receive a scholarship. It was to be hoped that I was bright enough to catch up. It was fait accompli. Take it or leave it. The alternative was to return to basic education in the ordinary compulsory state system for all children, which precluded any chance of further academic education. Nowadays the choice would be called a No-Brainer.

Within days I was a Grammar School pupil. Some teachers disliked me from the beginning, rumours of misconduct had gone round both schools but, as now and always, gossip and rumours come and go. The girl whose Dad had spoken up for me and my parents befriended me, we discovered a joint liking for literature and poetry. I didn’t catch up in all subjects, certainly not in those I hadn’t been taught for three years, and I slipped from being top of the class to somewhere in the middle. By and by new, younger teachers came for whom I was an ordinary pupil, not tainted with having caused a teacher’s fall from grace, and we took/didn’t take to each other as such things are arranged in the natural course of events.

Middle School and Grammar School took outdoor breaks at different times but on the same school playground. Sometimes we’d overlap slightly and I’d see Thomanek doing supervising duty. I knew better than to smile at him and besides, he always turned his back on me.



there’s a paragraph or two to do with another lamp to come and a bit of an afterword. But the drama is all over.



29 comments:

  1. I'm glad to read that it turned out well for you, Friko, and that others recognized the situation for what it was and moved to do something about it.
    As a teacher myself, I cannot fathom how someone could treat a student in that manner.

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  2. Wow, what a story! How tragic, yet how often it occurs, that the political climate was so riven that it eclipsed the ability to accommodate the health and welfare of a small child.

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  3. Because I worked as a teacher for a while, I can share that students are discussed in the teacher's lounge, much as teachers are discussed in children's circles. Makes for many preconceived notions which can work for and against someone.

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  4. We never forget being singled out as the different one when children - particularly in school. Yes, I have my story(s) but it would be anti-climactic in the level you have shared here. . . .



    ALOHA from Honolulu
    ComfortSpiral
    =^..^=

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  5. Thank you.
    Sad, powerful and moving.

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  6. It turned out better than I thought possible for you, Friko. And now the mystery is somewhat solved, and you are a strong, educated woman who can write with exceedingly good results. Thank you for this story, and I'll look for the afterword. :-)

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  7. You mom was a brave woman. I enjoyed getting to know her a little during your story.

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  8. Such scars for little children. I just want to hug you and each and everyone who has had such a difficult time. War scars parents and I am sure that was a big part of all of it as you wrote. We Americans read about war and the struggles in Europe, but we are such a protected and pampered population.

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  9. What tough decisions for you and your parents and I am glad it turned out ok eventually, and you even made a dear friend.

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  10. Friko, I do look forward to seeing you on my next UK visit...hoping that will be next year, perhaps in springtime. As I read this series of posts, I kept wishing that I could talk with you about my questions and feelings about these childhood school experiences of yours. Your fine writing has expressed them so well, but in my own curious way, you've caught me with lots of questions.

    You've also got me admiring you even more. Being tested like this on so many levels, at a young age surely does a lot to shape the adult life we will find ourselves living? xo

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  11. Hey, some mystery and a win. Not always did these situations turn out well. Many times the student was destroyed.

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  12. As well he should have turned his back on you -- in shame. His actions are unforgiveable. I so admire all you did in the face of that adversity. Perhaps you didn't even realize it, but to move forward at that age is such a difficult thing for a child to do. Such emotional cruelty is uncalled for. I would hope that would never happen today. But I'm not so sure...

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  13. We are all a culmination of our experiences.. This had to be very difficult for you, but I have a feeling you used this to make you the strong lady you are today.

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  14. What a terribly sad story. I've just caught up on your last three posts. It's so terrible when someone turns on you, and you have no idea why.

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  15. That you had the opportunity to go to Grammar School is the only good thing that came out of this. Well, apart from the fact of seeing your mother fighting for you instead of either simply accepting the situation or rather believing your teacher.

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  16. Hi Friko - being 'a kid' in those days was difficult and I was in England ... but I can feel what you were going through ... desperate times for a child to have to adapt, put on a blank face, and as best one could get on with it. Dreadful times then - but fortunate with the grammar school education .. and now we know where some of your love and knowledge of literature and poetry came from.

    Really interesting - especially as to a point I can relate and compare ... by no means exactly or similarly and I know nothing like you experienced in your early years. Thank you so much for posting these - Hilary

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  17. You chose the no-brainer and it seems like life in school and the yard will be OK from here - looking forward to next installment. Its a true pity when young as you were, that you & your parents had to deal with this - what a frightening start for a young pupil.

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  18. Your story is so interesting on so many levels. Complex political histories, the movement of German people from East to West, in a country devastated by bombs and defeat. It is impossible for people outside of Germany to comprehend the horrors and deprivations of the postwar era in that country. Your story is a perfect exploration of the dynamics of the period and the effects it had on adults and on children. How fortunate for you, that your mother had such strength and fortitude to find a better solution for you -- for your whole future.

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  19. @The Broad; you are right. I was born in Germany in 1952, but my family left in 1953, so I'm completely unable to comprehend the horrors and deprivations. I'm wondering now if this was the reason we left. I'll never know. But now I am very grateful to have been raised in Australia, so very far away from all that went on there.

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  20. I don't know what to say but don't want to say nothing. I am so glad I am no longer a child. I never understand the vast nostalgia for childhood and I say that as a happy person whose family were loving and sustaining and whose childhood was full of the nurturing which makes one able to handle quite how hard life is. Childhood, however happy, is a powerless, choiceless state, or was in the 50s and 60s. To be an adult is to choose. I never experienced anything like this but I am glad to have read about and thought about your experience.

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  21. Wow. It turned out well for you, in the end, but what pain to get there! I would love to sit here, safe and comfortable in my home here in the US, with no threats except that of some random violence maybe and point the Finger of Judgment at Herr Thomanek, to say, "How immature, rude, downright cruel!" But really, as you pointed out, the politics of the situation… I have not a clue what he and his family went through when they left East Germany. I can't really begin to fathom the entire situation at all, it's so outside the range of my experience. Your writings are the closest I've come to understanding that time period… and the first I've read from a German perspective. We're fed the writings of Anne Frank, where the Germans are the enemy, but we don't hear stories like yours where it's just scared people trying to get along as best they can with minimal suffering. I thank you for writing it, especially if the recollection caused you any pain.

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  22. The '50s were a strange time ...
    My mother's parents were delighted that their sons and sons-in-law had all survived the war but were rather bemused by their politics . They no longer automatically joined the unions . One was a SNP campaigner , one had even become a card-carrying communist ! Even going to church had become optional .
    When my father talked about going off to fight in Hungary , my granny briefly thought of kidnapping me .

    I survived , as you did , and rejoiced in the '60s ... to the bemusement of my parents .

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  23. Interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you
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  24. well, you certainly got the better end of the deal...access to a better education. I feel sorry, sort of, for the teacher who had a good student who liked and admired him and he destroyed that over political differences, not with you, but with your parents. what a fool.

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  25. The happy end, Friko. Your story is a bit sad. But you could enter to Grammar School, it was the only good thing!

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  26. History lessons !!! I still have my history lesson book from this time in secondary school ! WWII was mentioned with exactly 15 lines ! Before I was moved to Brussels by my father, mother and I of course had to follow, nobody had ever explained anything to me ! And even then, total silence. Only the day when workers spit on my feet because they heard me speaking German, I asked my parents "Why ???" I was 15 !

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  27. What a shame that things had to be that way but I'm glad you were able to move on to a better situation and become the person you are today.

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  28. I'm glad good came from bad for you, Friko, and that eventually you had the education best suited to your gifts. But what a painful way to achieve it.

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  29. I'm glad that good triumphed over evil in this story. You still had to suffer. He never should have been a teacher.

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