So, my 45th birthday today. Nothng much to write home (oops – 21st century, nothing much to blog about). Instead some reflection on a few interconnected, inter-related, international, inter-communal threads and “fings.”
Last week was a week of two halves, a mixed bag including what Germans call “negative Highlights,” unstiffening the British lip and having a bit of a cry on Saturday afternoon, albeit followed by a most enjoyable evening down Düsseldorf Altstadt with convivial company, mainly educating Schatz on the less desirables parts of Teesside.
Also, du kennst diese Reklame? Wo sind wir? ‘Am Arsch der Welt.’ Na, das ist Teesside.
I digress (as ever).
That was the weekend. Whizz back to Thursday evening and meeting up with Nadezhda and her boyfriend, she an ex-colleague from my most recent job. While waiting at Düsseldorf Hbf to meet Nadezhda, I think of two things:
- Nadezhda from A Short History of the Tractor in Ukrainian
- Thank God for the person who invented the mp3 player for all the times that someone arrives late for an RV
So, off to a Greek cafe for Kaffee und Kuchen. It occurs to me how very international this all is:
- An Englishman/Brit
- A Russian woman
- German Kaffee und Kuchen
- Greek cafe
- Russian Jewish (Sephardim, be exact) boyfriend
Nadezhda tells me in Russian rather shyly, almost apologetically, that her boyfriend is Jewish. My reaction, er, big deal. The Jewish community is long-established and well-integrated in British life. I tell her, the former Chief Rabbi said the UK is the most un-anti-Semitic country in Europe.
Ganz spontan I am invited to their Russian-Jewish friends in the Altstadt. A great evening, sitting with very gastfreundlich people. I could tell they were originally from Russia. How? We were speaking in Russian and talking about Red Square, Voronezh, etc, etc. They also laughed at my repetoire of Russian-language Soviet Jew jokes.
I knew they were Russian-Jewish and not Russian-Russian. When the host and hostess offered me a glass of Laphroig whisky, I declined. I was immediately offered either pineapple juice or orange juice. Had they been Russian, I’d have been harangued with:
- I beg you, drink
- I beg you from my heart, please drink
- I beg you, my brother, please celebrate our new friendship and brotherhood over a drink
(“Which part of ‘no’ do you not understand?”)
Just before midnight, we head home, our host and hostess wishing us well and preparing for bedtime. Had that been ethnic Russians, we’d have left at about 5 in the morning after “just one last toast.”
Interesting conversation during that visit. Two of the people were looking to move to England to live and work because life as a Jew is easier there than in Düsseldorf.
This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. If anything, they seemed to find it rather tedious and self-righteous when post-war Germans come and do the standard apology:
I must apologise for the conduct of our nation during the war.
(Yeah, yeah, sure, very nice,very sincere, good that you have signed the online petition against Judenhass, but I am not my brother’s keeper (or my (great-)grandather’s, either.)
In fact, the desire to move to England is for more far more prosaic reasons:
- Bigger “critical mass of Jews” in London
- Therefore far bigger choice of which synagogue to attend
- Much easier to go kosher shopping, maybe even online
- In Golders Green you’ll always be able to find a decent bagel bar
- The chance to have an Anglophone way of life, English being a trendier language than German
All the chat about anti-Semitism then reminds me of an incident a month or so ago, and not very palatable.
Sitting on the bus in Essen, off to see Schatz for the weekend, I’ve got my mp3 player on, full-blast. A group of schoolkids board the bus, all very loud, all aged about 11 or 12, tweenagers (sic) as we call them in English, not quite teenagers. Five of them sit opposite and around me. I have Hava Nagila playing. Seconds after sitting down, the youngsters start hurling verbal abuse at me, calling me (in German), “Dirty Jew,” etc, etc. I can still lip-read even with the earphones in.
Let me reiterate. With a name like Ginge in Germany, I am a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), with some Celtic background.
Now, German readers of this blog. please do not offer your standard apology:
I must apologise that anti-Semitism among our people is not dead. I am truly ashamed, etc…
These were youngers of one specific ethnic Mediterranean origin.
Violence ends where love begins.
Have a Judenhass-free day, won’t you!