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"Learn Chemistry with me", my kid asked me to help, where I was of little help. Going through chemical symbols of precious metals, I wanted to know: "And how much does one kilo gold weight?" The question was unexpected, the response evasive: "That’s not in our school book." The resolution was yet so simple: "It weights one kilo!" Learning with the kids serves as friendly reminder to my own golden school days. A time period that has been mostly left behind, except for occasional reunions, where we find it harder and harder to still recognize each other, if we are not prevented from attending by another trip. Nowadays, I like to refer to the high time during high school as...
High School Musical?
Eine Prägende Zeit. Erinnerung an die Schulzeit ist immer auch Erinnerung an das wohlbehütete Aufwachsen, einen Sozialisationspunkt für Klassenkameradschaft, ersten Konkurrenzkampf unter Leistungsdruck wie vor allem Freundschaften, die gehalten oder sich bald darauf auch völlig auseinander gelebt haben. In der Schule selbst war nicht alles klasse, wie könnte es das auch gewesen sein. Aber sie hat uns bis zu einem gewissen Grad geprägt die Zeit, Erinnerung kann nur Bruchstücke davon reflektieren. Die Drop out Rate war aufgrund einer seltenen Lehrerkombination in den Hauptfächern Englisch-Mathematik-Latein an die 50%. Die Kombination war doch allseits als "Bermudadreieck" bekannt, und ein paar gingen halt unter.
Wiedersehensfreude. Bei einem Klassentreffen trifft es sich natürlich wenn man Treffendes aus seinem Leben vortrefflich darstellt. Und so freut man sich schon auf das nächste, obwohl man nicht sicher sein kann, dass der Scherz "Alles Gute für die nächsten zehn Jahre" angekommen ist. (Und wie es der Zufall so will, sollte ich tatsächlich ein fünf Jahre danach angesetztes Klassentreffen aufgrund eines Auslandsaufenthaltes verpassen... und weitere fünf Jahre später sah es auch nicht viel anders aus.) Um beim Herumreichen von Erinnerungsphotos nicht nachzustehen, anbei ein Bild, das es wert ist, "auf eine Webseite geworfen zu werden". Es zeigt einen Klassentreck auf dem Weg nach Osten zum Zelteln und Holzplatte Essen nach der Matura, gleichsam ein "Auf Wiedersehen" nach einer langen Zeit zusammen. Zeit, um seinen eigenen Platz auf einem Planeten zu finden, den manche die Erde nennen.
Lateinische Lebensweisheit. Es war eine schöne Zeit, auch wenn man nicht so gut wie die anderen Fußball gespielt hat, und einem der Schock vom Auftreten der greisen Lateinlehrerin zur Reunion zugegebenermaßen noch in den Gliedern sitzt... "Und männlich sind, oh welche Tücke, dens, fons, mons und pons die Brücke (oder war es doch die Wiese)"? Irgendwie hat man sich doch verändert. Man lebt inzwischen für Familie und Beruf und sagt mehr als zuvor, was man sich denkt.
A picturesque "class trek" going camping in Hungary after graduation. "Come with us and waste your time" as a motto for party & fun, then on the way to new horizons in life.
A Defining Period. Memory of school days will always be thinking back to a well protected time of growing up, a point of socialization for fellowship, early competition under pressure to perform and most of all friendships, which either held or completely drifted apart. In school not everything was first class, how could it have been anyway. But this period of time has certainly formed us up to a certain degree, memory can only bring back bits and pieces of it. The drop out rate was around 50% thanks to a rare combination of English-Maths-Latin teachers. This combo was generally known as the "Bermuda triangle" and some of us kind of drowned.
Anticipated Reunion. Meeting the ol' classmates you have to have a good story of your life to share what you achieved in such a great way. And so you're looking forward the next reunion already, although you cannot be 100% positive whether the final joke in form of wishing "All the best for the next ten years" left a positive echo with the others. (By chance, I would really miss another gathering five years later due to a work assignment abroad... and another five years later it wouldn't look much different.) To stand firmly in the row of passing around memory in form of pictures, enclosed is one worthy of being "thrown onto a webpage". It shows the car trek going east for camping and eating so called wooden plates, a synonym for mixed grill then, shortly after High School Graduation, another way of saying "Good Bye" after a long time together. Time to find your own place on this planet some refer to as earth.
Latin Wisdom. It was a good time of course, even if one didn't play as well soccer as the others. Just the shock of meeting the aged Latin teacher again at the reunion was tough… "And masculine there are, what an itch, dens, fons, mons and pons the bridge (or was it the lawn)?" Anyway, rhyming better in German language, it has been an unforgettable way to remember Latin exceptions in daily life. Time has brought a bunch of changes since. Living for family & work now, you catch yourself more than ever just saying what you think.
Shake Heads before Use. We must admit that those days made some of us stronger to face life, which can be unfair as our English teacher used to explain - apart from taking our heads into his hands and comment: "Shake well before use!" Getting thumbs up was no positive sign, but an order to write up the Irregular Verbs once. Latin lessons on the other hand used to start with the smell-sensitive teacher's battle yell "Fenssster auf - Open the windowsss", before she would go collect beeping watches or praise a pupil as the one-eyed among the blind.
We had learned early on that life was no picnic. Oral repetitions at the beginning of a lesson familiarized us with tension and on-goingly watching exams between (school-) life and death hardened us over time. Later, we heard of the headmaster's decision that "never more shall this Bermuda triangle teach one class together". We had been the last ones to be decimated by a seldom combination of the most strict teachers. Legend and myth may have formed about us, or not. Anyway, if the legend becomes fact, print the legend!
What used to keep those memories fresh was my daughter's repeated request for a true-life bedtime story from my own (long gone) past. Obviously, the right time to dig out ancient anecdotes of adolescent adventures, which then occasionally find their way onto our family website. The other day we talked about funny names...
No Name Tease, Please
Fun at Others' Expense. Do we live in a pleasure society, which is mostly after fun & coolness? Liberating laughter can be an excellent outlet for stress, a relief from the daily pressure to perform. As we tend to make fun of things around us, it may happen that our own behaviour becomes silly & stupid. As so often, the truth may reside somewhere in between. The point is that we shouldn't overdo it with being easygoing & shallow.
Unfortunately, some teachers enjoyed making jokes on the account of the names of some classmates, making us look ridiculous in front of the whole class. A girl whose last name translated into "Earlyman" would be usually addressed as "Earlywoman", a guy was generally called by the first name of his older brother, and another one with last name "Musthe" was often pronounced in a way to sound like the unfinished question, whether he had to go to the bathroom.
Naming Conventions. Obvious jokes with names can definitely get on one's nerves, as I learned later from a colleague, who was regularly confronted with a pun on her last name, sounding somewhat like: "Such a coincidence, Mrs Couincidence." Already in primary school another pupil would make fun of my last name. Unfortunately, his own name, translating into something like "Lightparts", had a similar ending and rhymed with the same words. Legendary is the story of a client's call to a Finance department. The clerk routinely asked: "Your name and customer number please." The client's response came unexpected: "Why." The clerk started to explain: "But we need this information to identify you in our system!" After a while, it turned out that the caller's last name had been "Why".
I as in... Scary Movies
School Film Performance. Thinking back, life may flash in front of your eyes like a surreal movie. For sure it is not comparable to occasional excursions to a movie theater, organized by the school. As part of the good film campaign "Aktion Guter Film" we would watch "pearls of entertainment" such as a Russian sailorman eating up his shoe at high sea. Quite scary, actually... far from Chaplin's amusing leather shoe feast in "Gold Rush". And even further away from a real horror classic like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", which back then inspired a caricature I drew of my classmate.
In the meantime, I am finding out that my own kids went to the movie theater to see the brand-new Disney-Pixar cartoon "Up" during a religion class! They apparently learned about good deeds, as the motion picture featured a pathfinder helping a grumpy old man (no, it wasn't me). Times must have changed a lot, as we never got to see up to date films with school. Nevertheless, one definitely stood out...
French Kennedy-Riddle. Instead, the only highlight had been the French film "I...comme Icare (I as in Icarus)", which more or less openly dealt with the Kennedy assassination. When the main protagonists discuss the nature of crime novels, it sounds as if they justify the movie itself: "If the fiction doesn't have its roots in reality, it is incredible. Without the truth, or at least the possibility, you cannot create any tension." Yves Montande plays an investigating attorney, who experiences the unhealthiness of coming too close to the sun, an allegory of the truth behind a cover-up. A remarkable tale, long before Kevin Costner followed similar tracks in Oliver Stone's lengthy "JFK", based on the book "On the Trail of the Assassins (1988)" by Jim Garrison. A story interpreting the Greek legend of Icarus:
"Icarus was trapped by Minos in a labyrinth. He fabricated wings for himself, which he fastened with wax on his back and fled. But during the flight, he approached the sun. The wax started to melt, he lost his wings and fell into the sea that now bears his name... Apparently, all the myths have a meaning that must be separated from the pure content. Taking for example the sun as a symbol of truth, then Icarus lost his wings, because he came too close to the absolute truth."
Blindly Following Orders. There is one more thing about "I as in Icarus": The late work by French director Henri Verneuil in particular stands out for its reference to the "Milgram experiment", a human behaviour study at Yale University inspired by the Eichmann trial, which had demonstrated blind obedience to a recognized authority, assuming full responsibility for the carried out orders. The unfortunate and often wrongly interpreted Waldheim quote about serving in the German army during World War II comes to mind: "I have only fulfilled my duty like hundreds of thousands of Austrians as well..."
In one way or another, the school years might have felt like a quest out of the Minotaur's labyrinth, along the rescuing red thread of time, between dedicated class spirit and the formation of small, independent groups. It is always funny to meet again after a while. Re-introducing each other at a reunion, I noticed that most previous speakers had started with their career and mentioned their family under further notice towards the end of their mini-speeches. I decided to begin with what seemed most important to me at the time: "I have one wife and two children..." Only to be interrupted by the clever comment "Not the other way round?"
Beyond the Finish Line
On the Way to New Horizons. School days are not only about learning, they are especially about finding one's social status in a community, you'd interact with on a daily basis. Who would be respected and admired, who would be outcast and pitted? What was your ranking in the hacking order of that sports class, where the best ones usually got to pick their teammates? The song lyrics of Christina Stuermer's "Seite Eins - Page One" vocalize a pupil's secret fear of embarrassment in front of the others: "You are a loser, as it may seem. You are the last one, who gets elected into the team!" It vocalizes the silent wish of so many, who dream to raise from rags to riches, from zero to hero, even with most desperate and unsuitable measures.
Learning to Let Go. Approaching graduation, the ultimate goal we had been studying for, a big change hung over our heads like the sword of Damocles, to milk the image of another Greek legend. Graduation parties were filled with rampant relief as well as a slight undertone of uncertainty, caused by well-hidden fameless fear of the unspoken unknown to come. Entering a new phase of life included the uncomfortable uncertainty of having to prove oneself all over again in a strange new neighbourhood. The bargain was to give up nest warmth and family protection in exchange for freedom of decision making and resulting responsibility, accountability attached to one's leg like an iron ball and chain, while sometimes exhausting party-life, tiring but rewarding work-related stress and inevitable occasional relationship problems would be waiting right around the next corner: All those grown-up things, some of which one had not even heard of yet.
Scattered to the Four Winds. Flying out into the world like a bird leaves its nest resembles a big chance - some the wind carries further away while others stumble and stay closely nearby. Having laid the foundation during grow up, one would now have to show that he or she can successfully build a life of his or her own on top of it! For now, let's end this page with a quote from a song, we had enthusiastically & loudly played in front of the school building in the morning after the graduation party...
"Monday morn, Lil John must realize, obligations come along the way and say: It is your choice, if you want an easy life, don't upset your teachers today, okay? Montag früh, Jonas Maier hat die Müh zu erkennen, dass die Pflicht in sein Leben tritt und spricht: Du hast die Wahl, willst Du Segen ohne Qual, verärgere Deine Lehrer nicht!"
(Falco, 1981, Nie Mehr Schule - No More School)
Rediscovered caricatures of most strict teachers would bring back memories of thumbs up, which used to have a different meaning.
Reminiscence of opening windows can still send shivers down the spine. At the beginning of a lesson cold air would fill the explosive atmosphere.
An English home-exercises book, I had kept, revealed how much we got indoctrinated with the American myth around age 12 or 13. It is a miracle that we didn't all leave country.
My version of Jekyll & Hyde was a sweet & sour looking two-face, drawn during a Geography lesson at age 13 or 14.
On the attic, in a Psychology (!) school book my boy discovered a number of Ottifans with then familiar faces.
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