My Germany 2

Lech Milewski

Back home regular correspondence with Inge continued.
We both started work, she was giving lessons of singing and piano and also sang in a choir.
We both got married.
In 1968, Inge gave birth to a daughter – Nora.

In February 1969 I traveled by train to England. As I crossed Germany I decided to go via Frankfurt and visit Inge and Norbert.

At the beginning was crossing of borders between East and West Berlin and few more. There is a separate report about it on this blog (in Polish) – CLICK.

Travel to Frankfurt was uneventful. Inge and Norbert welcomed me on the train station. Just one night and one day. Too short after 9 years of contact by mail.

Then another 9 years passed.
At some stage I suggested we write letters in German.
I had tangible gains in mind.
Firstly I could earn some supplement to my salary for knowledge of foreign language.
I had it already for English. German exam was a bit more difficult, but I passed.
Secondly, soon another opportunity appeared – an Information Technology (I.T.) training in Essen.

In June 1978 we (three of us) flew to Germany.
Sunday evening at Essen train station. There were many people, band played popular melodies, people danced, drank beer.
Our accommodation brought us to reality.
It was a modest, quite nice, clean building.
In the reception we received a letter with basic information.
It started with apologies – training organizers – IBM Deutschland – explained that for the money they received from the Polish side, they could not find any accommodation in Essen at all, so they added a bit of their money and here is the best what they could find.
It was a 3 beds room, actually quite nice, but the room was located in the basement. So through our window we could watch shoes of passers by.

Our finances: we received in Poland an allowance – 20 DM per person per day. At that time it was worth a bit less than 10 US$.
In the reception we learned, that to use a shower we have to get a key – price 2 DM.
Other information was worse – a daily return bus to IBM Education Centre costs 8 DM per person.

We did our balancing.
We brought from Poland some cans with meat and fish and a big chunk (połeć) of bacon.
12 DM per day per person – we could easily buy some bakery and cheap wine, but there was no space for a hot meal.
Of course each of us had a long list – what to bring from Germany. On top of the list were electronic watches.

Next day we traveled to beautifully located Education Centre.
During the first tea break we received brochures with options for lunch in a number of nearby restaurants. Price of the cheapest lunch was around 14 DM.
Our training colleagues invited us cordially, offered transport. Luckily we had a good excuse – we need to use some of lunch break time to prepare for coming lectures.
So we ate sandwiches with bacon and lettuce and studied.

During our earlier tea break, which we had in a cafeteria, we looked into the menu.
Cafeteria served also lunches, quite large and tasty hot meals. But our ID cards, which we received at the beginning of the training, did not open cafeteria door during lunch time.

Our training.
Actually we did not need it too much.
Each of us had already long, practical I.T. experience. Surely there were gaps and inconsistencies, but our professional career proved, that we could make a good use of it.
Training in Western country – it was a privilege. For people like us, without any connections in the Party, the only way to get there was to get it as a reward for some substantial achievement.
This was exactly our case.

Our 3-persons team leader was asked by FSO – at that time the main car producer in Poland, for a rescue. Year or two years earlier, the company ordered from IBM three modern computers (IBM S7) for real time control of industrial processes. IBM provided computers and all support and training.
Two computers have been successfully installed.
The third one… was somehow forgotten. The computer was put to a store room, trained people changed the work place. And then, in May 1977, the director received a call from the Warsaw Committee of Communist Party – comrade, just a reminder – we will come to your place on 7th November, on the 60th anniversary of Great October Revolution, to join you on the opening of a real-time computer system in a car body pressing department.
Panic! 5 months left! Somehow they found 3 desperados, I was one of them.

We put clear conditions: on the successful project completion we will receive: a monetary reward – at least our monthly salary, a voucher for a car (Yugoslav Zastawa) and 2 weeks computer training in a Western country.
Car voucher – the lucky owner had still to pay a full price for the car, but waiting time was substantially shortened – from 5 years to 2,3 months.

Task was not simple. We had to learn to use a new computer with quite new technology, two new for us programming languages. Manuals were not quite complete, many of them in German.
For the first 2 months people from IBM were quite suspicious. They did not want to be connected to a project destined to fail. Then, gradually, we gained their confidence and completed out task in time.
We managed, got our rewards and here we were.

Our tactic was – attack.
Every night in our room we studied training material for the next day and prepared a strategy – take active part from the very beginning, start with presentation of something original, ask questions. It looks like it worked.

On the second or the third day, during our lunch break, between bites of a roll with bacon, we noticed some officials approaching. They came closer and introduced themselves as a Managing Director of the Centre and his deputies.
The Director mentioned, that this was the first visit of people from Poland in their centre, which made them extremely happy and to celebrate it somehow… well they cannot do much, they just want us to feel as being part of their team. A visible proof will be a regular IBM employee card, he handed us the cards, shook our hands and left us a bit disoriented.
– Employee  ID card opens door to the cafeteria – whispered to us one of Director deputies.

I contacted Inge earlier and on Saturday traveled by train to Düsseldorf. She drove me to their family home in Remscheid.
Her family grew like ours to 4 people. Nora got company of a brother – Jochen.
We spent very pleasantly all Saturday and Sunday morning.
Sunday afternoon Inge and Norbert drove me to Essen. On our way we visited some museum – exhibition of ancient Egyptian art.

The rest of stay in Essen was rather uneventful.

After return to Poland my professional life took few turns and 5 years later we landed in Australia.

I continued regular correspondence with Inge and we updated each other about our lives and families.
Norbert climbed steps of his professional career. He became a Professor in the Bergische Universität Wuppertal. Among his duties were few visits to Poland for lectures, workshops and consultations.
Nora is a respected specialist in Chinese medicine, Jochen – another professor, information systems. They live in different places in Germany, but when they gather at family home, there is music.

Portraits on the wall: Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven.
Inge and Norbert are frequent visitors to Bayreuth and music festivals there.

In the meantime in Australia…
My dominant hobby for number of years was cross country skiing. I discovered quite attractive places for skiing in Australia. I entered also a number of cross-country skiing marathons overseas.
This led me again to Austria and twice to Germany.
Germany meant Koenig Ludwig Lauf in Oberammergau. Very memorable event, skiing in the shade of castles in Ettal and Linderhof.

In 2001, after the race I spent few days in Munich. Music of course, opera, but this time it was not the famous Bayerische Staatsoper, but Gärtnerplatztheater – CLICK – which presented more challenging program. The Rake Progress by Igor Stravinsky.

Here I have to confess one shameful event.
At the time when I fought on European ski trails, in February 2001, Inge and Norbert visited Australia 😦
We were in not so frequent touch, I had to plan my leave to Europe many months earlier, so at the time when Inge notified me about their visit it would have been quite messy and costly to abandon my plans. So they visited our home and were hosted by my wife and I was far away.

We still remained pen-pals and then an additional German accent arrived in my life.
Our daughter got married to Peter, young man of German origin. His parents, both originally from Königsberg, live permanently in Melbourne. In our opinion they run a very German home.

Our granddaughter, Sabina, now in year 10 of school, learns German and last year participated in an interschool German Poetry Competition.

The finals were held in Austrian Club in Melbourne.

And the winners were…

Well, Sabina won the second place. Above with her parents, all in dresses bought one year earlier during Oktoberfest in Munich.

More than a week ago I rang Inge and thanked her for 60 years of contact. We reminisced these times – solid, friendly times.

Let me finish with another of poems recited long, long ago by me – CLICK.

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