I’m in Germany to write about my grandfather, who came from Offenbach am Main (a city not far away from where I’m staying near Heidelberg), before he moved to England in the late 1930s. In the past I’ve written a flash fiction about him, and more recently an essay and a couple of poems. I’m now trying to write a longer piece, with little idea about what that might be.
The point of coming here to write about him (as opposed to staying at home) was because I never knew him, so perhaps I could at least experience the place he came from. There are big gaps in my understanding of my grandfather’s life. I have a few facts and the rest feels like empty space that is very difficult to fill. It’s scary to realise how little we can know of the lives of our immediate family, and the pieces of information I do have mainly relate to my grandfather’s being affected by the biggest events, wars, flight, internment camps and so on. Much of what I know does not feel particularly personal. My grandfather fought in the German army during WWI but I can’t discover anything about his war record because all relevant records were destroyed during WWII. I’ve looked at newspapers but he’s not named amongst the wounded who were reported in daily lists. So, I only have negative evidence for what didn’t happen.
Perhaps as a way of coping with such large gaps I have been walking a lot in the nearby forest. I’ve written about this in previous blogs and am still trying to understand what the link is between walking and writing, and why I feel supported by this walking ‘practice’. Perhaps by walking in the same place nearly every day I’m trying to create a continuous memory, in contrast to the history of my grandfather which mainly consists of gaps.
Like sheep that become attached to a particular piece of land, I am hefted to this forest. Sheep graze on land they’re hefted to, without having to be fenced in. I like the idea of being able to wander around a patch of land with no barriers. And for me, re-walking a place has the same comfort as re-reading a book. My feet move back and forth along the forest floor, like turning the pages of a much-loved book.