Posts Tagged ‘German’

Life as a sandwich.

June 17, 2020

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It would be rare for most of us to go through life without, at one stage or another, having become intimate with a sandwich. The earliest memories that most of us might have of a sandwich probably dates back to very early childhood. In my own case, I became aware not just of a sandwich but a whole loaf of the ingredients that sandwiches are mainly made of, bread. It was given to me by a German soldier during the last few days of WW2. He was stationed below street level in a cellar in the street we were living in. It was welcomed by my mother like a gift from heaven. We were starving. I feared that the German soldier’s gift of bread might well have been his last action. It happened in Rotterdam.

After that memorable event, and food returning in a more normal manner that the sandwich became a huge part of our lives. And really, it hasn’t stopped so far. There would be few days that this type of food would not be consumed by me today. I still have vivid memories of my mother making huge piles of sandwiches, each day without a let up, except on Sundays when we did not go to one school or the other. With six children and a husband, the making of sandwiches was  a major task which in those times usually fell on the woman of the house.

It was difficult to keep making sandwiches that would satisfy the hungry child and again from memory, it also depended a bit on our financial situation. When money was short, my mum resorted to a simple but generally well liked sandwich, and that was the simple sugar sandwich. A smidgeon of butter and plain white sugar thinly spread and embedded in the butter. A delicacy, still fondly remembered. Another favourite would be the biscuit sandwich. I can’t remember ever having had the luxury of meat on a sandwich. At best, it would be cheese. It wasn’t sliced cheese but a soft variety that could be spread as thin as possible, just to give a mere hint of taste. Peanut butter was my favourite but that did not come cheap!

I am not sure if people still take sandwiches to work. Cafes are now more in vogue and with more money, the home-made sandwich by mum seems to be fighting a rear action. However, the creative side of making sandwiches has made enormous improvements. Some cafes are making delicious sandwiches with combinations that defy gravity, so appealing behind the glass counter, one feels they could take off.

Of course, in the old day when kids took sandwiches to school and well before the advent of air conditioning, many sandwiches during the stifling heat of mid-summer, would get a bit blowsy, stale and smelly. Was  it Barry  Humphries, who when as a schoolkid he would shout out after someone had farted, ‘who opened their lunchbox?’ In those early days, Australian mums would make the much revered banana sandwich, and with the coming of preservatives, the devon sandwich would slowly start making its entrance in the hallowed grounds of the public schools.

And then of course, many schools as an aid to raising funds would open tuck shops. The sausage roll and meat pie made their entries, but that is for another story.

It just never stops.

Stocking up on Cabbages. The end is nigh!

July 15, 2016
Almost There

Almost There

Here in Australia and in the state of NSW, at least grey-hound racing is being stopped and outlawed. They call it a banning of a sport! Lots of people are up in arms about it and claim it is a livelihood for them. However, the livelihood is the betting of money. It is the same with horses and racing. Take away the gambling part and no one would give horse-racing a second look. People could well end up eating horses instead of racing them around.
We all will be lucky to get out of this mess alive. We are stocking up on cabbages and sauerkraut.

The financial tectonic plates are rumbling,scrambling yet again. The US treasure notes pared early gains. The thirty year rate dropped from 1,099% to 1.007% when news got around that Turkey is having a coup. Two bridges across the Bosporus have been closed to incoming traffic and Turkish Pide stall holders are nervously looking over their shoulders. They are getting ready for a run by the public on food items, especially yoghurt.

The German bund rate was just about getting back into the positive territory again, when first Nice and now Turkey shemozzle, it went back in giving investors a mouth-watering negative return.

Our Australian pension is means tested and subject to ‘deeming.’ It meant, when applying for the old-age pension the first time, we had to empty our pockets and show our savings accounts. We are supposed to inform the government whenever our financial situation changes. Even the value of our car and furniture is taken into account in determining the fortnightly pension. The total amount is ‘deemed’ to earn an interest which is then used to lower the pension accordingly. An exemption is the value of our house. We are allowed to have a house.

However, the deeming rate set by the Government is getting tricky. Interest earned on savings is almost zero and getting lower. It will be interesting to see when banks in Australia will be giving negative rates on savings. It is already happening in Japan, Switzerland and Germany. Can one imagine paying the banks to keep our savings? Will the Government in deeming and ‘mean’testing of pensioners increase our pensions proportionally? After all, if interest earned lowers the pension, interest paid out ought to then result in getting compensated as well.

It is a complicated world. Who would have thought people are now investing in negative returns. Some are now shifting money into gold, works of art or old furniture. There are nervous hordes of financiers roaming the world, shifting currencies and doing their well practiced dodgy deals again. Of course, during a real crisis, food is what really counts. This is why we are keenly eyeing the food supply. Did you know that the red pickled cabbage sold out within the first day it appeared here in Bowral’s Aldi? We went back yesterday hoping to buy some more but it was all sold out. We bought the last few jars of sauerkraut.

Even so, the sun is out and Milo is on his favourite cushion. He occasionally looks at us, tries to stir us into getting dressed to go for our daily walk.

All is well in this household.

The period post Italy but pre- Finland. (Auto-biography)

June 27, 2015
Dolomites

Dolomites

The walk from Bressanone rail-station uphill to Bernard’s chalet must have been steep and long. Did I ask for a map or directions? I cannot remember. Consider that in those years suitcases on wheels were yet to be discovered nor were back-packs as progressive as they are now! Today I see young women with such towering back-packs getting from airports to taxi almost to the point of other bystanders ready to give an ovation.  Mind you, even back-packs are now on wheels as well.

I must have had a rough idea and perhaps asked a local for the address. This area was pre-dominantly German-speaking and I was fluent in that language. Bressanone, even though now Italian, used to be part of Austria and still today pre-dominantly Austrian in culture and population. The area is South Tirol.

I do remember reaching the chalet and my friend coming out greeting me. It was definitely sunny. The view was breath-taking with Bressanone nestling down in the valley and at the back of the chalet the towering Dolomites climbing forever upwards, glistening with their limestone faces. The chalet was a small and solid white washed adobe house with ornately carved gables,  window and door architraves, of which that area is famous for, and really an extension of the same architecture of  the medieval town in East Tirol of Lienz were I had spent time skiing during the winter and were I had met the girl with the beautiful eyes from Finland. It was at Lienz where I also had a ski fall and broke my glasses, as well as meeting my future wife. ( while dabbing my bleeding proboscis).

It was all such a liberating event. Liberated from the suburban ennui back in Australia with my family and Frank.  A liberation from wanting to work while wearing a suit hoping for recognition, admiration or at least something of achievement. A kind of something that young people are supposed to work towards. A career that would cement a solid future and  distinguish one from failure. All those things are not always so clearly defined but yet one grows up with as an obligation to fulfil to parents. As those early years passed by I did have a skill to earn some money and that stood me in good stead. However, the making of money is pretty boring unless compensated or alleviated  by an all encompassing and absorbing activity for  soul, spirit or psyche.

There are often moments of great significance that are recognised as such at a much later time. The meeting up with Bernard Durrant was one of those chances that on hindsight proved to be of great influence.  At the time in Italy we met for the second time. I had known Bernard in Australia. It was through him I took to chess playing and reading books and visiting State library.  He gave the advice to run your hand over the back of books at a library and pick the dustiest books! ‘They are often the best’, he said, especially in Australia! Reading in the early fifties was somewhat frowned upon. It was much healthier to play rugby or cricket, spear-tackle opponents. Libraries  visits by young men were rare.

I give you here a very short and copied biography of Bernard from a website by one of his friends.

“Already serving in the Army, Bernard was recruited by British Intelligence on the eve of the Second World War and was smuggled into Germany, but was soon discovered by the Nazis due to an inadequate cover story. Offered the choice of switching sides or death, he was posted to Alexandria, Egypt, where his brief was to spy on Allied shipping in the Mediterranean.When he arrived in Egypt, he escaped his German paymasters, and eventually made it back to the British Consul in the country.By this time he was considered tainted goods and was shipped back to Britain.

Once back on English soil he was promptly imprisoned in the Isle of Man under the Defence Regulation Section 18b, which was used by the Government to lock up more than 1,000 suspected traitors during the course of the war”. ( end of quote)

Girl with the 'Beautiful eyes' at Ankeriasjarvi, Suomi.

Girl with the’Beautiful eyes’ at Ankeriasjarvi, Suomi.

Bernard become the lifebuoy that saved me from going the normal way of career, block of own land and a house in the suburbs. I came so close to it. He got me to accept and understand that life ought to be inclusive of beauty and art. He went further and told me that life is all about exploration and finding what would give the greatest of joy and satisfaction. It all gelled and came together and I finally felt that my search for the essential would have to come through expressing what I felt strongest about. It might also relieve me from having to worry about career and job. It was so helpful that there were people like Bernard who had also travelled that same path and had found that creativity and expressing it was as much a ‘normal’ part of someone’s life as becoming a cigar smoking bank manager. Apart from all that we would continue to play chess high up the Tirol mountains.  I started to paint while Bernard already was writing poetry, some of which he managed to get published here and there. He had contacts and spoke both German and Italian which for an Englishman was somewhat unique.

Earlier times

April 26, 2015

Scanning through a box of photos which seemed to have escaped from being organised in an album, I thought of showing them for your enjoyment. I assume somewhat in a dictatorial manner that you would have the slightest interest let alone enjoyment in someone you have only met here on the internet. Still, I do feel I have met many of you troubling yourself in reading my words, even if not in the flesh.

Me 1942 wearing wooden klompen and pull-ups.

Me 1942 wearing wooden klompen and pull-ups.

The photo above is with my cousin Eva and taken on her parents property that had fruit trees. I don’t know much more than the fruit trees but it must have taken hold because apart from that, I can’t remember anything else. I was just two years old. Holland had capitulated two years before and Germany was now running Holland. The worst was yet to come. When I told my mother many years later how I remembered her cooking some porridge on one of those pump primus’  little heater/stove one very early and frosty morning, she was amazed because I was just 2 years old. She was cooking some porridge before taking me somewhere to a distant relative who still had more food than us. He was a tailor, married but no children.

On the way there my mother pulled me along on a snow sledge. The uncle lived some kilometres away from our place. While she pulled me along she spotted some German soldiers coming our way. She quickly pulled sledge and me and jumped into a ditch hoping they hadn’t noticed us. We kept hidden till they walked past. They had either not noticed us or they were just not bothered. The primus was a solid baked  enamelled green cooking device as was our green bucket that we kept the milk in. Saucepans too were enamelled and lasted for years, lifetimes even. Even when they developed a hole, a special man used to go a round and patch them up. Everything was patched up, restored and fixed. Now we chuck it out and rivers are full of debris choking up reeds, dams and trees during flooding rain. I spotted a perfectly good travel case stuck high up a tree during last weeks rain. I assumed it was in good order because that’s how it is. We buy new not because the old has worn or broken but because that’s how consumerism works. It has got us in its magic (rotten) spell.

1955/56 Just before migration to Australia with friends.

1955/56 Just before migration to Australia with friends.

This photo of me pondering in the middle was  during one of the best times of my life. The peak of teen years having just discovered the roseate softness of budding  breasts and smouldering hot eyes in a lovely  and eager girl. I was full of wonder what else there was still to discover about her? Her name was Margo. All this rudely interrupted with my parents decision to go so insanely far away. I had to live of those fleeting memories with Margo for a very long time after! The Australian suburban nightmare never  quite managed to wipe the good memories away. Of course, ‘the best times of my life’ should not be taken too literally. Times of unlimited possibilities and boundless optimism and belief in everything and nothing, is experienced by most but perhaps all too briefly during those teenage years. Later on it changes and seriousness so easily takes over for many. A routine becomes the enemy but I can say that I have been somewhat successful in fighting this routine and dulling repeats. I never did become an insurance actuary  or dedicated estate agent. Lacking a burning ambition in following a single profession was my forte. But how is one to know?

I did have a period whereby I suffered from not going to work while wearing a suit. I seemed to do jobs always wearing overalls or just work-wear with steel capped boots. I had fantasies of gaining some importance and recognition or worth, by going to work in a proper suit, and if possible with an attaché case carrying important papers. I returned to Holland and achieved this by working for a bank and  wore a suit for a few months.  It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. In the tram (line 22 to East Amsterdam)no one took notice and it was a lonely time in the office. No recognition al all. I did learn some book-keeping and typing.

After a few trips backwards and forwards, an escape from Dutch National Service, the bank job with suit, I ended up coming good after all. I married Helvi in Finland, who I had met a year or more before while skiing in Austria. She was still studying and I was painting pictures.

It was a long time ago. (with apologies to Actuary and Estate Agents)

The Strasbourg knob.

April 22, 2015
My paternal grandparents wedding

My paternal grandparents wedding

It has been a long time in coming but are now getting warm to taking another trip overseas. The closest I have been lately to anything away from these fair shores, is the eating of the occasional Danish biscuit or a generous thick slice of Strasbourg sausage sometimes called a ‘knob of Strasbourg.’. The latter I get at special events. I never get much encouragement when eating anything with bits of white fat embedded in a sausage with H wrinkling up her nose and chucking it back dismissively between its bulging brothers waiting in the frigidly cold part of miles of other waiting and competing sausages with white goods.

The history of the sausage is interesting and dates back to Roman times when the left bank of the Rhine( Alsace)already then supplied sausages to the Romans. In fact, even the word knackwurst dates back a few thousand  years. The work ‘knack’ relating to the sound a good tight sausage makes when biting into it. It is even suggested that long pauses in German composers incidental pieces of music is thought to be caused by the composer taking a break to get stuck into another bite of a good sausage. If a lunga pausa ( long pause) together with a fermata (pause) is indicated on a piece of music it is not always that the composer took a breather, no he simply took a bite of knackwurst. It is well known amongst students of German and Italian music that Bach was known to fancy a bite or two. Glenn Gould, rest his genius soul, indicated that by a humming at every pause while playing the piano. Of course in the performance of an opera one could hardly expect a long pause by Pavarotti or Dame Sutherland taking a bite of a sausage instead of catching their breath.

It was a kind, bearded and ruddy looking man in the supermarket who saw me looking pensively at a Strasbourg knob who said; ‘ I buy one of these every week, they are fantastic value’. I appreciated his honesty and effort to include me in his culinary secrets and answered somewhat meekly; ‘I never had one of these.’. ‘Oh, you should, I love them,I would not go without the Strasbourg, I really love them, one a week for me, I tell the wife each time’.

I tried one after that inclusive and intimate conversation. I did like it but not at the rate of one a week. I have one a year or even less. The one in the fridge I bought yesterday in the lull of a terrible storm, is the third in my life. I just felt a need for it. They are 99% energy, according to the inscription on its taut skin.

Who can resist that during this cold weather?

And the Words we use.

May 18, 2014

href=”https://oosterman.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/imagesamsterdam.jpg”>Amsterdam Amsterdam[/caption]

When H and I met almost some five decades ago we had no language in common. Of course mere words are superfluous when love is there and the eyes have it all. H had studied German and Swedish at the Finnish university in Jyväskylä but not English, while I had studied nothing. In those early (and many if not most following) days, engaging with just few words was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ever since we got hooked, we kept in close contact. 😉

Language is a strange beast. I was fifteen when leaving Holland and yet, my dreams are still in Dutch. I also still cannot follow the English way of spelling. Spell me a word phonetically and I get it immediately. Spell a word in the non-phonetics of the Anglo world and I am totally bewildered and lost. The same with adding and subtraction. I have to do it in the Dutch numbers language still. Is there any hope of losing my skeleton of Dutch language? Cutting the umbilical cord of mother’s tongue seems to take a long time. Even though writing or talking in English by mentally translating Dutch ceased a very long time ago, I have yet to feel that I have successfully migrated to the other side of now owning the English lingo.

There are many sayings that I cannot translate back in Dutch as well. English sayings such as; ‘let’s do lunch,’ ‘give us a call,’ ‘see you later, he/she is such a lovely person,’ are sayings that are not used in the Dutch language. Of course approximate words can and will suffice.

This brings into focus what I feel like. Do I feel Australian or am I still feeling very much Dutch burger? Sorry for this exercise in navel gazing but it does sometimes well up on what one’s cultural ties actually mean or pen out to. In my dreams, mainly nightmares, which probably are tied to bladder urgency, I always am in a muddy bombed out scene but can see Amsterdam clearly in the distance. No matter how I struggle, I can never really get close to it. The mud is treacherous and opens up at each step. Yet I can see Amsterdam’s ‘Westertoren’ in the distance. I am always almost there but never reach the city.

The dilemma is also in the use of thought words. When they float by on the rivers of languages, they are sometimes in Dutch or English and often both. Even Finnish, German words float by. Is it part of knowing words away from one’s only known mother tongue? Most people are born with and take on just one language. It is enough to get by with.

Strange that the city is always Amsterdam. I know the city well but have only lived there for a short while. I was hoping that the nightmares would by now have morphed into Sydney or Bowral.

What does one have to do to obtain those?

The black pudding festival of my Youth

June 5, 2013

9069292-home-made-black-pudding-with-grilled-potato

If ever there were scents of lingering on in old age, nothing in my memory lingers more than the aroma of my mother’s fried up black pudding on a cold winter’s night. It seems as if from yesterday.  Before I wax on any further about the delights of this fare, let me give a short definition of what this delicacy entails.

It is a kind of robust fare made from a mixture of herbs and spices, including cloves, pepper, salt , bay leaf or more, mixed with pig’s fat and…its main ingredient…blood. I sometimes wonder if, in the mythological tales of those vampires busy with bloodletting back in 1734 Romania, the basic recipe of black pudding was not born.

In any case, we are lucky that the recipe has survived, irrespective of fangs stuck in someone’s main throat artery or not. We all make the best of life, and vampires did not ask to be born with that addiction. Drinking fresh blood was the quintessential ingredient and affliction of Dracula as well.  Just imagine a world without Dracula? Well, actually, I can. I never felt the slightest interest in Vampires sucking blood, being more of a blood giver.

Anyway, I am off subject.

Oh yes, those scents of yesteryears. How come roses smelt stronger? One just brushed past a tomato on its truss and one almost passed out with its fragrance. This seems to have disappeared. Are scientists developing faster growing bigger produce and sacrificing scents or are my smelling patches going downhill? Our olfactory skills are pretty feeble compared for instance with a bloodhound but we are all born with between 3 or 4 million smelling receptors. The blood hound has 220 million give or take a few million.

We taste food with our nose more than by mouth as our mouth is only capable with tasting sour, sweet, salt and bitter. The rest of taste is done by our olfactory receptors high up our nose. Perhaps that’s why our nose is above our mouth, seeing that smells go upwards!

It seems unfair that women outdo men in the smell department as well as in the shopping department. Does that explain men can’t get away with leaving the shower till next week or wearing day socks to bed? I always counter complaints about my smells to H with ‘that just born babies have shown to prefer the unwashed breast to the freshly soaped one.’ I further enhance the well known proven theory, that humans find their mate through smelling each other’s arm pits’ pheromones and that the daily shower is now seen by many ‘experts’ as being the final death-knell in many a marriage. She, very sadly, doesn’t accept that and sniffs disapprovingly and (cruelly) turns her back.

The black pudding scent was brutally brought back yesterday when doing our shopping at Aldi’s supermarket. I like to linger at the butter-cheese and small-goods division while H takes the opportunity to, very casually, saunter around and inspect sheets, pillow slips, toothpaste or brush-ware, deodorants isles. As my gaze left the Stilton cheese the unsalted butter and moved slowly upwards, what did I spot next to the buttermilk and bacon; ‘black pudding’ in all its glorious white speckled with fat and dark blood- brown luster. I nearly cried with the memory of it all flooding back. My nostrils were in overtime, quivering like a fierce bloodhound in the snow just metres away from his rabbit.

Aldi is a very German-Euro slanted shopping phenomenon specializing in foods and goods that migrants from Europe sink to their knees before bedtime and pray to be able to buy again.  Black pudding has always been high on my list but I stop short on offering prayer.

This morning, at the crack of dawn at around 5.30 am I was up frying black pudding while making our first coffee.  It was early for H’s coffee, but what the hell; I had showered the night before. As I opened the door to pass H her coffee, she very sleepily said; “what is that strange smell?” “Its freshly brewed coffee darling”, I said. “No, it smells dark and brooding”, H answered with a puckered nose. “Oh, I said,” feigning ignorance, “could it be the cloves in the black pudding. Would you like a slice?”

Helvi does not like black pudding. I gave her slice to our Jack Russell ‘Milo.’

German soldier Bread (Give it more stick Tomas).

January 28, 2013

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They were billeted below ground level in our street. I used to walk past them and it was routine to see their helmeted heads poking up above the edge of the pavement from the basement of the apartments. I wasn’t aware why they were there nor did I question it. It was their helmets which I was most interested in. Why were they wearing them and not us? They are soldiers I was told. What is a soldier? They fight. Why? Ask your father. I am hungry.

Those helmets are back in vogue, especially in the skate board riding world although I have also seen some Harley- Davidson riders with the same sort of helmets. They were a bulbous sort of steel headgear with a lip at the front allowing for good all-round sight. I have never forgotten how they looked like and could not believe they were back in fashion.  When the grandkids were over at our place, one had forgotten his special skate board scooter helmet. We thought it best to buy him one.

Parents now-a-days are obsessively angst driven when it comes to children suffering consequences of falls. Our kids would be having broken limbs and proudly getting signatures of footballers signed on the plaster casts. Modern pedagogy seems to want to deny kids the pleasure of all that. Falling is strictly only allowed if all exposed limbs and body parts are covered in shin-knee-ankle pads with steel gloves for hands and heads protected by full face helmets. The manufacturers are rubbing hands in glee.

Anyway, having taken Tomas to Big W he soon found the helmet he wanted. You’ve guessed it, it had to be one of those brand new German style helmets all painted a somber flat charcoal and in my war eyes, very sinister looking. Still, that’s the fashion now and we were not going to argue. Especially since we had also promised that the only take away food allowed would be from the popular Japanese take-away sushi outlets that now seems too have proliferated around the country’s food halls. Our grandkids accepted that as a reasonable compromise if we accepted Tomas’ choice in the Nazi-helmet department. That’s how it is with children now. Everything has to be negotiated. There is no more ‘do as you are fucking told’, followed with a good smack from your loving Gran. 🙂  Doctor Spock and those Seuss books have a lot to answer for. It will take decades to rectify.

But, going back to those billeted German soldiers below street level with their poking guns and wearing the helmets. We were starved and, as this story has been re-told by my mother so often, I kept walking our street in Rotterdam. I remember those German men being friendly even though I could hardly talk, let alone would have understood their German.

I am hungry again, mum. Yes, but that is because of the war. Why does war make me hungry? I don’t know, ask your father.

It was in the last year and hunger was at its highest in Rotterdam during the winter of 1945. Over30 000 died of starvation including over 2000 children, there was simply no more food. Yet, a solitary act of kindness in a world of destruction with nightmarish Dante like inferno; one of those soldiers billeted below street level stuck his arm out and gave a hungry child a loaf of dark German rye bread. I was that child and I have never forgotten.

Soon after leaving BigW, Tomas was seen at the Bowral skate park wearing his Goth-like helmet. Up and down he went, getting more confident. Go on Tomas, give it some more stick downhill, you can do it. That’s it! Well done.

He comes home and has his lunch, all red faced and chucks the helmet on the chair next to the door. Bread now comes so easy.