The train is crowded with children so he is standing in the space between the compartments. It’s holiday season. Epiphany. He is going to Vichy. From there it’s not too far to Saint Andre Le Coq.
‘My father lived in Liepzig. His dream was to leave East Germany. He was always very active in opposing the life there, in his mind and in his way of doing things. He was married again. I have a half sister. My parents got divorced when I was three. In East Germany, if you had relatives in the West, you could go and visit them and so his wife left for West Germany to visit an Aunt, because she had an 80th birthday or something, and they had agreed in advance that she would not come back. You could request for family reunification and so he did that. He didn’t really know what would happen though you know. Everything was possible at that time.
Some people could never leave. That was one option. They were held in East Germany forever. The other option was that you could leave immediately or you had to wait a couple of years and even then another option was that they put you away… you know? So it was really quite uncertain. It was very difficult for him. He couldn’t work anymore. He had to stop working as teacher because, you know, they were afraid that he would corrupt the minds of the poor little children. Although when you are a sports teacher, what can you tell about the system? During running breaks you tell them the capitalist system is much better? (laughs) But seriously, they told him he had a pedagogical task and that he could not perform that anymore. At some point he got the notice that he could leave but he had to leave the next day. He decided that night that he would take the train from Leipzig to Ludvigslust, which was about 4 hours or something. He wanted to say goodbye to me. My mother was the type to keep everything low profile, you know? Very silent.
The situation between them was very difficult and that night she said I am
not going with you to the station.
So I went there. I was on my bike, I had this green bike, and he was walking next to me and it was about half an hour walk to home and we had a little talk. I mean he couldn’t stay long, it was just sort of an hour or so because he had to catch the last train back, and so then at some point before the station we stopped on the street and he said I have a present for you and he brought out this little box with this golden necklace and he said I bought this for you and said it was very special and expensive and I was so flabbergasted, I was thinking what am I going to do with this. By that time I had realised that this was it and that I probably wouldn’t see him again and then he gives me this necklace? I hated gold. I loved silver and he gave me a gold necklace. Only years later I could appreciate that he was trying to show his affection, to leave me something basically, but at that time I was a teenager. I had hardly seen my father between being three and the year before he left because he wasn’t really interested in us, I had just got to know him and I was like... I’m not going to see you anymore and you give me a necklace? And then it was all very hectic and he had to leave and get the train and I was with this necklace and I remember all the years I took the necklace in the box I never took it out I just put it in the cupboard and I think I looked at it once again later on. But I hated that necklace. I don’t have it anymore, I don’t even know what happened to it. For me it was a symbol, first of all, of not understanding each other and second him really never understanding, you know? That he was sort of happy. He could leave. For him that was a happy ending. He could leave. We couldn’t.’
Against the blue sky of the Western world, the stars symbolise the peoples of Europe in a form of a circle, a sign of union. Their number is invariably twelve, the figure twelve being the symbol of perfection and entirety.
1. The Aletti Palace Hotel. Formerly L’Hotel Thermal. Vichy, France, 2019