Part 1. To Schengen and Walhalla
‘When we met on the train from Antwerp to Mechelen, it was 6 days before a very crucial moment in my life. My sister and I finally settled our parents' inheritance at the notary's office. In 1920 my mother was born in Amsterdam. They lived in Vondelstraat 7, in a posh part of town and had servants. My grandfather was from Jewish descent but he wasn’t practising. He was a well to do businessman. He produced and sold gramophones in cabinets.’
‘In 1932 because of bankruptcy due to the world economic crisis, they fled to Belgium with hardly anything, hoping to make a new start there. They settled in a house in the countryside near Brussels, where I was eventually born. My grandfather had decided to start dealing in vegetables and fruit. So he went to the early morning wholesale market in Sint Katelijne Waver (close to Mechelen) and delivered to customers and shops. My mother recalled she only had one pair of shoes. She had to go to a French-speaking school and while she didn’t speak French she learned quickly and did well. She enrolled in the university of Brussels to study Germanic philology in 1939. She met my father there and they fell in love.
On 10 May 1940 the Germans invaded Belgium. My grandfather fled to France with his family. Near Bordeaux among all the refugees my mother met my father again by coincidence and they promised to wait for each other. He had also fled southward with his parents, planning to travel by boat from Spain or Portugal to Congo. His father was working as a bookkeeper for Unilever and was commissioned to work in the plantations there. In Congo my father joined the Allied Army against the Germans. He travelled all over Africa and the Middle East. He got back to Congo after three and a half years and started working for the Belgian radio world broadcast as a journalist. By autumn my mother’s family returned to their home near Brussels but found it was now a headquarters of the Germans.’
‘I wonder how my grandfather managed because although he denied being Jewish, he certainly had the looks. I think he changed his mother's name on his birth certificate. There is also a story about my uncle disappearing for six weeks, hiding in the woods. All young people were ordered to go to work in the war factories in Germany. Maybe that's why he hid? During the war my mother received letters from my father very sporadically, maybe just a couple a year. I've seen what those looked like: large parts were blacked out by the German censorship. When the war finished in September 1945 my father started working for Belgian radio in Brussels. My mother worked as a teacher. On 31 August 1946 they got married.’
I visited Schengen in Luxembourg. I went to the European Museum but I had really wanted to see the boat that the Schengen Agreement was signed on. The Princesse Marie - Astrid. I wanted to take a picture of it but it’s not there anymore.(1) It’s in Germany now. Sailing as the MS Regensburg on the River Danube. It takes people on day trips to the Walhalla Memorial which I found out is a hall of fame overlooking the Danube that houses busts of important people from German history.(2) As I left Schengen, on my way to the train station at Perl, (which is actually in Germany but just over the bridge from Schengen), and after planning to visit the boat in its new home and take the day trip to Walhalla, I saw a car parked by the side of the road.
The car had a picture painted on it.
The picture, which didn’t occur to me until later, shows a scene from Norse mythology in which a Viking ship sails past another Walhalla,(3) this one being the great hall of Odin, where warriors who have died in battle gather in heavenly revellry. The car had Russian registration plates.
Songs arise from the German bosom,
The horns' sound is exultation;
And its echo reverberates
From the valley back to Walhalla.(4)