Being stationary and also falling

I’m coming to the end of my stay here in Dilsberg/Heidelberg and am thinking about what the next stage is for the ‘something’ that I’ve started writing. I am working out how to convey facts as well as my musings on the gaps between the facts – I think the narrative will require a hybrid mixture of fact and fiction. In the past I’ve managed to sustain this sort of writing in a few very short pieces but not over a longer piece.

One of the few pieces of information that I have about my grandfather is that he was part of that unlucky generation who saw active service in both world wars; he served in the German army during WWI and then in the British army during WWII. I am trying to imagine what it must have been like to change nationality to such an extent that you end up fighting alongside your former enemy and against your former homeland. From the perspective of a military environment (which is what my grandfather had to live in for many years of his life) this requires more than a change of identities, it needs a complete reversal of identities, from one thing to its antithesis.

Something else that has been preoccupying me is my grandfather’s repeated journeys between Germany and England in the late 1930s, before he finally settled in England in 1938. I don’t know the reasons for those journeys and I can’t imagine what it was like for him to repeatedly return to Nazi Germany, and see just how worse things were. I have been able to study his passport from that time and it’s clear that each time he arrived in England he was given leave to remain for only a short stay. It’s very challenging to write about that from a position of safety and with the benefit of hindsight.

One thing that I have done in the past few weeks is write a few (still very rough and draft-y) poems about luftmensch, a Yiddish word (I think) that can be used to refer to a rootless, nomadic person. It reminds me of Magritte’s ‘Golconda’; a picture of men who are floating and/or falling. And it also makes me think of Einstein’s thought experiment of a man trapped in a box who can’t see out. Is he freefalling near the surface of Earth, or floating in space?

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