We got up early because our friend Uschi came for breakfast, since she won’t see us again before we leave–she lives an hour’s drive from Osnabrueck, and her partner is very I’ll, so she never knows when she can get away for a few hours; this was her chance! We had a lovely breakfast with fresh rolls and the works, and a really nice time chatting and planning future trips; she’s been wanting to come see us in NE for years and maybe it’ll happen next fall! Uschi had to leave around noon, and Mark and I did some more document purging (and, on his end, photographing documents). Then Kai, Mark and I took off for our major shopping expedition into Osnabrueck. Mark and I were looking for various presents for friends in Germany and for my sister, whose birthday is coming up, and Kai was looking for a present for Emmalee and for a way to spend the last of his own birthday money. We were very successful, all in all, and as always, I am a) happy to do my shopping somewhere where I know where the relevant shops are, and b) get it all over with in one fell swoop, since it is by far my least favorite activity that doesn’t involve physical pain. 🙂 We also celebrated the occasion of what is probably our last Osnabrueck downtown expedition by having an elaborate gelato concoction at our favorite gelateria, Fontanella, with its fabulous hazelnut sauce (not chocolatey and unlike anything I have ever had elsewhere).
We got home at about 5 pm, and apart from dinner with my mom at 7 and a bit of packing for our next trip, that was about it for the day. Before we went to bed, and also earlier in the day, I also did a bit more work trying to sort out my papers and also some of my dad’s and my grandpa’s, but I realize I have to do this in fairly small doses. Processing time: I am not sure why it is emotionally distressing to look at the piles of my own things and make decisions–my actual journals are already in the States and this is not essential personal writing, just little account books I kept as a kid, day calendars with notes on what I did, read, and watched on a given day, and then binders full of notes from college and high school, handwritten, sometimes retyped, and in the last years, actually typed on a computer and printed out. With the day-by-day calendars, the hard part is that I am toying with that idea of writing a memoir, so it could be important one day to be able to look back at what I read at a given age, or what I ended up paying for a pair of jeans in 1982; with the notes, what makes it hard to pitch things is that I am so stunned by how much I wrote down, how many courses I took, and how much of this learning process I have completely forgotten. Especially when it comes to the courses I took in linguistics and German literature, so much of this got condensed over time from volumes and volumes into basically a paragraph of reproducible knowledge. I do realize that we all forget so much more than we know or remember, but having these notes (and then simply throwing many of them out) is a reminder of that process that borders on painful. Again, will it be important to have access to what I wrote just in order to be able to say that I took courses on Goethe with the famous Goethe scholar Mandelkow? I do remember the seminars–but I had completely forgotten that I actually also took two lecture-only courses with him, one on Goethe and Classicist Weimar, and one on turn-of-the-century literature. And yet, here are my notes, carefully retyped from the handwritten notes that I would have taken during each lecture. And then there are documents from my dad’s and my grandfather’s life that are all worth “keeping” if I were to learn more about them–and like my mother, I am actually hesitant to go there. My mom’s father kept all kinds of paperwork, and he also spent the last years of his life writing a long and detailed autobiography. It consists of binders of A5 sheets, many hundreds of pages of handwritten material that he didn’t get around to re-typing, and my mom and I are overwhelmed by the decision of saving and trying to figure out how to make time to transcribe his memoir (one poem by him took us a half an hour yesterday, even as we know his handwriting well), or to simply pitch his labor and thereby his own version of his life, as opposed to my mom’s or mine. Every trip to Germany is a trip down memory lane, of course, since I left in 1991, at half the age I am now, leaving my childhood and my German university days behind, as well as my first, German, husband and a handful of really good friends. But it’s more true than ever for this trip, with my mom’s impending move, which means that she wants to urgently get rid of things. What I do have to remember is that I am not George Eliot, and neither is my grandfather–no one will ever carefully turn over page after page of notes or little accounting booklets in order to write a dissertation about my reading habits or an ethnography of a dispossessed, displaced middle-class family of five who spent the post-war years of 1946-1955 living in someone’s requisitioned vacation cottage in the woods in Northern German, barely making ends meet.