I recall, a long time ago, taking what seemed to be a magic book (and a very large one too – but then at 5 years of age everything seems big)into my grubby little hands, and riffled through the pages, looking at photos and maps, and all sorts of things concerned with anywhere else in the world, except where I actually was!
It was a world atlas of course, and since the first sputniks hadn’t yet been shot up into space, the world was still square! This made it easier for the publishers to get everything on the pages!
I recall looking at vast (at least 20 pages long) areas in a place called Canada, which were apparently empty. I couldn’t imagine anything being empty, our house NEVER was, but in any case, Canada didn’t interest me too much. Later on, when I found out that I had an Uncle (as a naughty boy, conveniently forgotten by the family) who lived there, and who had gone into the record books as owning the LARGEST camp-site in the world! May have been of use to have known this a lot earlier in life!Mind you, upon reflection – what use is the largest camp-site in the world if it’s in a part of the world which is empty?
No, my attention, for some strange reason, was taken up with two parts of the world, much closer than the “outer territories”.I was fascinated by Germany and France. Destiny?
Particularly 3 or 4 points interested me at the time, and continued interesting me all my life, and they all had similarities. They were all points on the map where various countries met, having their borders or frontiers.
These areas fascinated me, even at a tender age, because I had been brainwashed into believing that only the British standards and things had any value, but I simply could not accept that. Even now, often the problems in Europe are started or aggravated by UK standpoints which represent ONLY British standards or traditions.
It seemed logical to me that under no circumstances could the language, the traditions, the food, the drink, the people, ALL suddenly change, simply because someone had drawn a line on a piece of paper called a map!
What must it be like, I wondered, to live in some area like Basel, where Germany and Switzerland and France all met? Or in Luxembourg, where even more countries had their lines drawn? What about the corners of France and Germany where all sorts of countries met, eastern and western mentalities clashed, or not.
These were things to find out about – but for the moment, there seemed little chance of my being able to do so. I accepted the fact that because Britain was separated from Europe by what the English called their “English Channel” it would be different, even allowing for the crass attitude of the British towards the European neighbours, but I simply could not believe that one village on one side of a non-existent wall spoke, acted, lived differently to those 100 yards away on the other side of the same non-existent wall!
Destiny!? I was forced to change my beliefs later on in life, when I passed years in West Berlin.
I think that all the feelings I had at the starting point, were correct, but I had not reckoned with the savagery and unreasonable attitudes of the biggest obstacle to “united nations” – Politicians and national bigots – briefly, people!
Anyway, somehow or other, all my reflections and thoughts came into reality over the next 50 or so years.
I lived, and worked, in these areas and regions, and many others, and I found (contrary to that which other people found )that I had been right. Traditions, even languages, were common to the people of maybe 3 or even 4 different European countries, separated by walls, borders, frontiers- for at least a radius of up to 50 or 60 kilometers, and then became more and more mixed, until finally becoming the “purer” version of whatever country I was in.
I lived, and worked, with my wife in the corner of Germany around Basel (we lived in a town called Lorrach, on the German side, which tended to consider itself Swiss rather than German) where we popped into Switzerland to buy a few Swiss specialities (expensive), or popped over to France to buy our daily bread and cheese and wine etc (cheap). Although we could speak French, German, and even the local dialect, we found that the people tried to confuse each other by insisting on whatever language they felt the other couldn’t speak! Didn’t work with us, obviously, but it did with many others. Further proof, I suppose, of the bestiality of the race “People”. Nonetheless, the fact that we could literally just “pop” into a different country was fascinating.
We spent many years in such environments. We lived and worked in Luxembourg, in West Berlin at the time of the wall, in Liechtenstein, in various areas of Switzerland,in Bavaria, Southern Germany, where Check/Polish/Austrian areas, amongst others meet, and in many other parts of a Europe rapidly becoming smaller and strangely enough less interesting.
My wife, Kate’s ashes are buried in Lorrach,Germany, having been cremated in Switzerland,, and I shall probably be cremated in Spain, and my ashes scattered or buried in France!