Friday, May 4, 2018

Short Story ~ Berliners after the second world war

We know from history that at the close of the second world war that the German capital of Berlin fell to both the Allies and Russia.  Russia got the eastern part of the city and the Allies controlled the western side town.  Russia also got a long stretch of land between West Berlin and West Germany.

West Berliners effectively lived on an island that had just three roads leading across East Germany to the democratic side. There was no stopping and getting out to walk through the countryside.  Once you were on one of the three roads you had to keep moving until you reached the other end.

During my years working at Tektronix in Beaverton, Oregon I came across Germans who shared their stories of what it was like living on the cultural geographic Island of West Berlin.  A common thread to their stories was that no big industrial base could be formed there due to the distances of moving goods in and out of the western sector of the city.

Not knowing what else to do, the West German government gave incentives to artists to come and settle in West Berlin.  Many years later when I visited Berlin it was easy to see that the city remained an artist colony.  The creative spirit remains particularly strong there.

The isolation of the western sector, however, was too strong for some artists.  In the late 1950's a sculpture left and made his way to a small village in France called Audelange.  It's in the Jura.  Out in the middle of nowhere.  Where cheap wine flowed and a sleepy Napoleonic-era canal rolled.

He told people he knew back in the Island of West Berlin that France was the place to come to.  Land and housing was very cheap he said.  People came to visit him and confirmed what the ex-patriot had said.  A few Germans joined him in settling the area.

One young person who's Russian husband (yes, Russian, as she wanted to make a point to her parents who still supported the banished regime) dropped dead of a heart attack before he was 35 years old too felt the need to leave Germany.  Tucking her pet cat under one arm and an egg laying hen under the other she headed to France to have a look for herself.

She found a house that was nothing but a shell.  It had no heating, no running water, and came complete with a big hole in the roof.  No doubt the hole in the roof allowed residents to easily check on the weather.  Water poured into the building whenever it rained.  But it had been cheap.  Soon after moving in the roof was patched, making easy weather checks a little more difficult.  No running water nor heat were yet available.

The residence included an old wine cellar that dated from before the Great French Phylloxera Epidemic.  Big casks would be rolled in from the road through the front door and down into the cave.  It still smells musty in spite of not having held a wine cask for at least the past half century.

Three years after fixing the roof our friend met a man who would be her partner for the rest of his life.  He was an interior designer and they set about rebuilding the house into a home.  The place is now a lovely residence, complete with well tended gardens, porches, a covered space for the car, and, of course, heat and running water.

When Jude and I visited our Berliner ex-pat friend she introduced us to a few of the other Berliners who had been part of the small westbound German Artist Exodus.  It surprised us because she knew Germans in nearly every village we passed.

We learned that similar stories of Germans leaving their Homeland to live across France after the second world war are quite common.

Audelange, Jura, France

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