The Germanic 48th Parallel: Art, death and our very own pop music in Germany, 1967


© 2005, Jeff Lynch
 

It is all Michael Kennedy's fault! I will not introduce you to Michael Kennedy for it will only complicate matters, but the fact is, that he sent me an image of a painting of a man who may be a wizard in a red cloak. This faintly primitive painting is entitled 'Der Bergeist', or if you will 'The Spirit Of The Mountains'.

He told me that the creator of this painting was one Josef Madlener, or rather, he told me that it was by Herr Madlener and I discovered that he was called Josef. Then I found that some of his paintings are exhibited in Memmingen, in Swabia, which is, as you may have already guessed, on the 48th parallel. The painting, together with the fact, that the importance of Josef's image really lies in that it was made into a postcard in the 1920's, assisted my mind to slip a little into postcard territory and now I am writing about this zone, of the 48th parallel.

I should really start in Yarrawonga, for in a way, when I left there for the second time (and with a wife to boot) I was, in a manner of speaking, on my way to the German Southlands. To please you, by creating a shorter version of a tale though, I will omit any further reference to Yarrawonga and go up a cog, towards matters Germanic.

The brief version begins then, on 'The Australis', which may be tightly translated to 'Young Australian Girl', in late 1966. I was inordinately pleased with myself, as we steamed up the eastern coast of Australia with holiday pay still in my pocket from my teaching job, and on the way to Southampton. Onassis owned this old liner before he married Jackie, and it was a leftover from the past glory times, of fast steamers on the Atlantic run. It plied between Greece, England and Australia, having an eye to ferrying Greeks from Piraeus and ten pound poms, from Southampton to Melbourne and Sydney. We were the ballast on the return journeys. To pass the time the Greeks sold us cheap beer from their bars, which was an expensive affair, and showed us Zorba the Greek. We also danced the blooming Zorba!

Well, after a successful navigation of the Pacific, visiting Suva in Fiji, Acupulco, and then steaming south, to go through the steamy Panama Canal and it's locks, and a swift call to Port Everglades Miami, we were docked in Southampton and lost in Britain.

After pocketing some wages from working in a Scottish Camp School north of Dundee, we purchased an Austin, or to you, a Morris Mini-Minor van, in London on a buy-back-basis. This van was in very good nick; with only some battery acid stains in the back of it. Mechanically we thought it worth taking a punt on. Experience on the continent, strangely enough, proved us right! We aimed it at the Swiss Alps, with hardly a pause in Carnaby Street, in the early spring of 1967, and planned to repose in this van, at our leisure in caravan parks. This more or less worked out, but, with a little more rigour than we had anticipated, for; dear reader European springs, are not Australian springs at all! In a twinkling, we were singing "And The Lights All Went Out In Massachusetts" as we watched German backpackers exercise outside a Youth Hostel in Chalon-Sur-Saone in eastern France. It gave me an odd feeling too, watching them!

Soon enough we had conquered the Alps, at least one way, heading past Domadossala and the Lakes, Garda and Como and sliding, ever so gently down into northern Italy to the usual Renaissance and post Renaissance watering holes, with a smattering of Baroque thrown in. We again tackled the Alps in a more easterly putsch up the Brenner Pass with a bare side trip to Cortina D'Ampezzo, and so into Austria, for my first Germanic encounters. I was not disappointed by Vienna, nor the green wines of the early summer of the valley. These immature wines advertised by green branches hung from premises, are indeed, diabolically affordable, in a Viennese Beerkellar. We met an old Aussie girlfriend of ours, who was a little homesick. As we left her city apartment workplace, where she worked as a Nanny for Prof and Frau Naussbaumer, we sang "She sent me a letter saying she couldn't live without me no more", by The Boxtops. The girlfriend was only semi tragic in her loneliness as she had an Austrian doctor for a boyfriend. I think we laughed, and turned west.

In 1967, I myself was like the cheap wine of this part of the Danube valley, too green to appreciate much what I took in. Vienna was however, to ground me in the art movements such as the German Expressionists Marc, Kirchner, Grosz and others like Emil Nolde and the movements Die Brucke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider). I also discovered two fine painters there, in Oscar Kochkoska whose prescient painting, 'Bride of the Wind', was a burning warning of the first holocaust of the current Germans… namely the First World War. The Bride of The Wind blew me away, and in truth it still does to this day. It was only some 30 odd years later when I was in Berlin on a summer's, with the temperature 97 degrees and rising, in a very fine Berlin Museum, not very far away from the Alexanderplatz, that I was able to come to a full appreciation of the devastation visited, on a generation in Germany by this bloody war. Also in Dresden, in another Museum, saved after yet another holocaust, on the same trip as Berlin, were stunning examples (well at least the ones that were not stolen by the Soviets) of a young, vanished world; a generation gone with the wind, and the machine guns. Trampled by their elders! It also taught you too, that the passionate politics of the painters moved the shakers and movers of German politics in the thirties, not one jot! Also impressive for totally different reasons was the earlier, of Austrian Fin-De Siecle fame, Gustave Klimt. A surely refined and daring painter, in his own locked-in style. A kind of contemporary to Gustave Mahler, but in 1967, I had no idea who Mr. Mahler was!

Also in the architectural realms, en route to Salzburg, and not far from the railway line (I know, from a subsequent trip that it can be seen from a railway carriage), is the monastery of Melk. It is much closer to the capital, being perhaps some 15 kilometers outside Vienna. It is a masterpiece of the Baroque grandiose style, built on a bend of the Danube and yes, looks a lot like the cover of a Strauss record, on a summer's Sunday. We left Vienna singing exerpts only, from 'Itchy Koo Park'. Salzburg is, as you will observe, if you are observantly applying yourself to the map now, bang on the German-Austrian border in these days. Salt roads of yore though, crossed no frontiers save those pronounced by Princes. However I was not prepared for Munich and beyond!

And so with only a tiny bit of license, we are truly on the 48th parallel. Already, it is early summer, and the mini van is hurtling westwards, to a town full of salt mines and Americans, not so very far at all from the ‘Eagle's Lair' or Bergesgarten. The town in question is Salzburg with a form of it's own 'Der Bergeist' or spirit of the mountains, with roads and streets cut deeply through the mountains as a legacy to meat preservation. These hills were indeed once, alive with the sounds of pickaxes and, dynamite. Sadly too, the USAF employed much higher forms of explosives on Salzburg late in the 'good war', I think from memory.

Fearsome damage was done to the town, as was to Memmingen too, when 300 people were killed, and I do not know how many injured, about the same time, as the raids on Salzburg. And, you can imagine if you just close your eyes, our (and by extension your) beloved, grey, mini van, with nary a cough, ploughing westward again, reversing the Anchluss and its young occupants, were wondering about cavernous and smelly beerkellars of political fame in Munchen at the time of the early and failed Putsch, which saw Hitler placed in the slammer to practice his writing skills. Still following the 48th line I arrived at Munchen, while we sang or rather whistled, "A Short Walk In The Black Forest".

Munich surprised me from the start. Blocks of barely cleared bombing sites remained, 22 years after the bombs had fallen. The good Munchkins-folk were tarting up their yellow brick roads by slipping an underground railway under the rubble, while things were still disturbed. We began to imagine early National Socialist gatherings, in our minds. We debated whether to go to Dachau, which is really practically, a suburb of Munich! Years after John Cleese in Fawlty Towers (or should that read…?) had echoed the thoughts in our own heads in 1967 ‘whatever you do, don't mention the War.' It must be remembered that Liz was only 23, and I was 26 and the combination of our ages and our ignorance, were a positive drawback to our possible education. We did go to Dachau in the end, which of course, was dreadful. They did not use gas chambers, at Dachau, but that was the only good news. Getting lost tested the Cleese maxim, and we were too embarrassed and too scared to ask the locals if Dachau was just around the next street perhaps? I got another odd feeling as I climbed out of the car at Dachau.

We were not in particularly high spirits, or good order by now, and as Nuremberg loomed, we sort of spat the dummy and hurtled out the other side of the town, saying that we had to get to the little (and cute) town of Rottenburg. And so we left Leni Reifenstahl for another day. I have published a piece of verse in the Tol Harndor Ezine after Ms Reifenstahl's death, in 2005 at the age of approximately 101. That is mostly the amount I wish to say about this lady. My wife and I revisited Nuremberg at some leisure later, in the same period as the Berlin visit, for part of a very high, and jolly holiday. I believe that we, by then, after all those years, finally overcame the trauma, we forced upon ourselves in the mini-visit, so to speak, of our salad days.

Rottenburg is indeed a very, very cute town as is, I suspect, Memmingen. And I am indeed, very sorry too, that the USAF bombed it so mercilessly. Yes, now I have to confess the truth, that I have never seen Memmingen at all. Never! Oh I saw photos, after I looked up web sites when Michael assaulted me with wizard paintings and postcards that much is true. It is entirely possible that one day, Michael Kennedy will shout me a trip to Memmingen, in Swabia, because, after all it is his fault. Memmingen was south of us as then in 1967 as we scurried across to cute Rottenburg, and there are so many pretty villages in the Southern regions of Germany are there not? We were heading for Rottenburg because it had once been the home of the Brothers Grimm. It is funny how we always say that isn't it? The Brothers Grimm, and not in the normal way. It might have been a publishing thing! It may have been so, that we were only familiar with brothers first, Grimm last from the storybook covers, but I cannot remember. I cannot remember. City walls, crenellated towers, and double arm width streets and unseen cellars and Oh so-cutesy pubs that give nine inch heads, of beer a good name. I'd like to be the publican in on that lark! And Rottenburg was a little bit like the Hollywood film of "The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm". That, after all the reason that we were here in Rottenburg at all! We were teased away after all then, from the darker part of our history traps.

We were singing again. We were singing, “When you're Goin' To San Francisco, Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In your Hair". Shades of Allen Ginsberg but better looking, we sang as we steered our beloved mini van, following the Rhine Valley downstream, past the Rhine maiden and headed for gray old Belgium, and we sang that song, because after all we were hippies in our heads weren't we.

Jeff Lynch


 

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