“Don’t move the tracks” the boy yells at his younger brother. But his brother doesn’t care. He moves the tracks, and the train derails again. The boy is in a state of fury. He takes his toy car in his fist and hits his brother with it on his head. The little brother starts screaming. He is bleeding out of a deep wound in his head. The mother is shocked by what she just witnessed. Her little darling got it again from this hothead. The father hears the screams and rushes into the dining room. His wife is taking at once care of her little darling’s wound and is chiding at his older brother. The father figures what happened, and now both parents complain, accuse, preach, chide, threaten. The boy gets more and more intimidated. His bad conscience grows to incredible proportions. And most likely because this time, exceptionally so, he is not getting physically punished for what he did, he will never forget this for his entire life, how mean, evil, brutal he has just been to his beloved younger brother. Not only will he always regret it, but he also decides to be good to his brother in future, as good as he can (Well, apart from the usual sibling fights :))
Change of Scene
The two boys spend almost every minute together playing outside in the yard. The grounds of the vacation resort their father manages are a paradise for children: a small forest, bushes and hedges to hide in, two playgrounds, a small swimming pool, old, decaying houses to explore, lots of fruit trees to climb in and eat from, an old rusty Ford van to play in, two wooden Indian tents, chicken, geese, turkeys, and even pigs – well, they rather stay away from those. Those animals are a bit too big.
Today it is the plum tree at the lower playground upon which the boy is climbing, while his siblings play in the sandpit. But after a while, this rather small tree bores him, and so he comes down, using the bench’s backrest standing beside the tree as a step. But his foot misses the backrest. He cannot hold himself on the branch. He falls. The bench’s backrest hits the back of his head like a hammer. Somehow he manages to get back on his feet, but the pain is overwhelming. He screams out loud. His siblings get scared and run away, back home as quickly as they can. The boy starts to run as well, but his feet aren’t carrying him that quickly. He is dizzy. His siblings run out of sight. He struggles, and after a while, his mother comes running around the corner. She knows already what had happened. His siblings told her. She picks him up and goes back inside. Later, the physician diagnoses a concussion. He has to stay calmly in bed, which isn’t a problem the first day since he doesn’t feel like moving anyway. But at third day, the weather is so beautiful, he feels so healthy, and all the kids are playing outside without him, that he cannot stand lying in bed anymore.
“Mom, pleeeaase! I am really healthy again!”
After being exposed to his begging for more than an hour, she finally caves in and allows him to get in his clothes and to rush outside. But outside, there waits a surprise for him. During the last two days, his father has being roaming the entire lot, cutting off all branches that any child could possibly reach. Some three hundred trees lost quite a few of their limbs! The boy is shocked. Some of their most famous climbing trees are crippled, lacking the most fanciful swinging and rocking branches! And even worse so, this obviously means he is no longer allowed to climb. Or is he? Nobody told him anything. Or did he forget?
It takes him only a few hours to figure out that one can climb up trees even if no branches can be reached from the ground. One just needs to know how. After a few days, all trees are back in service, and he is now even better and more daring in climbing higher and more risky. And he is proud to teach his little brother how to do it. Now they have tricked their father together, are conspiring against his plot to undermine their favorite waste of time! “Well,” he says to his brother, “I think that is pretty much the opposite of what our father wanted to achieve. And it’s fun!”
This boy grows with challenges. And he is unhappy if he cannot find a challenge.
Change of Scene
“We will get you!” shouts the neighbor’s boy. Our two brothers know what this is all about. They run as fast as they can, but they simply are too little. The neighbors’ boys are 11 years old, more than three years older than our boy, and almost five years old than his baby brother. So running away is simply not working. But shouting for daddy’s help is. So both brothers run an scream at once. Of course, the big boys catch up quickly, grab our brothers, and let them feel it. The reason for this demonstration of strength and power is ridiculous, if it exists at all. The two neighbors’ boys are simply rude, aggressive, and seek a fight where ever they can. Sometimes they get along with our two brothers and play together, but frequently the two older boys go after our two brothers and beat them up. Maybe they also resent that the brothers’ father lets them feel once in a while that he is the boss in this vacation resort. And so also this time. The brothers’ father gets wind that the neighbors’ boys went after his sons again, and he reacts promptly – and astonishingly so with consent of the parents of the older boys, who happen to be employees of the brothers’ father. Big boys beat small boys, big man beats big boys. What a strange world. Our boy is appalled by the behavior of these older boys, which gets even worse when they turn 13 and 14. They start smoking, and get more and more aggressive.
“That is just the way some boys are when the are in puberty”, his mother tries to explain to him.
Because he does not want to become such an asshole when coming into puberty, our boy secretly decides that he will stay a child all of his life…
Change of Scene
After their parents moved up on the hill into that isolated monastery they had converted into a restaurant, neither parent has time for their kids anymore. They struggle for financial survival. Hardly any of their schoolmates ever visits them, nor do the two brothers visit their schoolmates too often. They simply live too far away from the village. And nobody can blame their schoolmates for not visiting them: Why bother to have a friend two miles away on top of a hill, when all the other schoolmates live right around the corner? So our two brothers depend on each other to spend their spare time, and they know how to fill it with the kind of excitements boys in that age love so much: they start conquering the wilderness they live in. Their world consists of earth borrows, tree houses, spending nights on high stands in the forest watching deer and wild boars, sleeping in tents – or just in a sleeping bag under the sky – in the backyard or somewhere in the middle of nowhere, spending uncounted nights sitting on camp fires singing songs, telling stories, and watching the stars, climbing on every tree that is a challenge, building hidden fortresses in the underbrush, exploring caves in the northern valley, building dams at the creek, exploring the rooftop of the chapel right next top their home, and felling trees over at the rotten oak woods. Our older boy’s baby brother is more of an introvert, so he can get along without much social contact for a while, but not so his older brother who needs social interaction. This difference in social needs causes some friction once in a while, but then again, there is their older sister who may very well fill the gap once in a while.
Change of Scene
Fall 1979. The mother calls her three kids together:
“Your father has left us. I will file for divorce, and we will pack our stuff and move to the city where my parents live in just a few weeks.”
The boy had heard a similar statement just a year ago. It devastated him then, but now it seems to be quite normal. How easily children can adjust. After a while all three children actually get kind of excited about the idea to open a new chapter in their lives, without a house tyrant and seemingly at a nice place which they know from vacations only. Illusory concepts of their future, for sure, but it makes it easier to say good bye.
So they move, right into the middle of a crowded German city. Asphalt and concrete suddenly surround the two boys who grew up spending most of their spare time in underbrush and woods, on trees and in caves. However, the brothers do not want to let go of their habits. Hence, due to the lack of trees, they start climbing on the neighbors’ houses. Of course, the neighbors do not like it at all. They complain to the police, and one of these afternoons, their mother has a friendly visit by two cops telling her she ought to keep her boys under control. But this isn’t the only thing. The boys were so used to throwing sticks and stones all over the place that they cannot stop this either for quite a while, which leads to some 10 broken windows in just a year, which initiates an investigation by their mother’s home insurance company.
After a while, their parents patch up their marriage, and the father is again a part of the family. It takes only a bit more than a year, and they all move to a new house right at the edge of the city, only a view yards away from a huge forest with cliffs, creeks, and the best of all: Germany’s highest steel railroad bridge, spanning a valley some 350 feet deep. Climbing within this gigantic construction becomes one of the favorite wastes of time for the two boys. Though they have now plenty of friends at hand, they still spend most of their time together. They are so adapted to each other, have developed so similar – and for others sometimes strangely wild – habits, likes and dislikes, can sense each others moods and needs instinctively that they feel like they could not do without each other. And why should they.
Change of Scene
The older brother is now a young man, and after leaving elite high school, he leaves his home to go to university. Both brothers suffer a loss when he leaves. How would they fill the gap?
In the following years, each time they meet back at their parents place, they again spend a lot of their time together. The old harmony does not die. When planning for a vacation, they often do it together: biking through Europe, skiing in the mountains, hiking through the Haut Vosges.
When the older brother finds an interest in history, politics, and philosophy, he starts writing his brother. Especially while at the Army with plenty of time, he tells his brother which books he just read, and what thoughts they triggered in him. He writes tens and hundreds of pages with his ideas about philosophy, about his experiences, his emotions, and his plans. His introvert baby brother hardly ever replies, but he appreciates to read his older brother’s most intimate thoughts. It is not only entertaining, it is also very instructive and informative. Their bond now extends to cover intellectual areas as well.
Change of Scene
“Of course I come. How could we possibly consider to join this stupid act of sabotage of our parents,” his brother confirms on the phone. His older brother is about to marry, but his parents decline to attend the wedding and have managed to incite all his uncles, aunts and cousins not to come either. His parents are opposed to this wedding, not because of the bride, but because they think her oldest son should not marry at all, not now.
“We sent out our announcements that we were engaged last November, that is five months ago. OK, this announcement came to their surprise, and mom was upset that she wasn’t informed before this mail-out,” says the groom.
“I remember. She was in such a bad mood, as if you had secretly married and hadn’t told her. I was really wondering what this was all about. She behaved so hostile already then. But after that, when you discussed this with her, I honestly thought things had been sorted out, and the whole family could plan the wedding, which is what happened during the following weeks, or did it not?”
“That was my impression. She never expressed any fundamental opposition against our plans,” the groom explains.
The baby brother wonders: “I do not understand the reasoning behind it. Just a week ago everybody was planning for the wedding. But when this TV report mentioned your name, they all got excited. As if anything had changed. They all know about your controversial historical research, and they all know that this could stir up a public controversy sooner or later. So what are they surprised about?”
“To be honest, I think they are all a bunch of hypocrites. They all run just because I was unfavorably mentioned in the media. Nobody pays attention to this media crap anyway, and in a week it is all forgotten. Now it is me who is upset. How can parents dare to sabotage their child’s wedding? The media campaign will be forgotten in a few weeks, but the botched wedding will be something eternal in our memories. Particularly my bride is so ticked off that there will be no romantic all-family gathering at the wedding that this will probably poison her relationship with our parents for years to come. Do our parents really think they can prevent the wedding this way? It will be downgraded, probably just a civil marriage, but I sure will not cancel it. I will not succumb to such blackmailing.
You know what is kind of funny, or perhaps even absurd?”
“Do you remember a few years ago when our cousin Markus was about to marry?”
“I sure do. It was a nice wedding, but he had trouble with his mother, too, didn’t he?”
“Exactly. His mother Monika was opposed to his wedding and planned to leave the country for a long vacation during this time in order not to be forced to attend. I remember how our mother reacted when she heard about Monika’s plans. ‘You will not prevent this wedding, but you will poison the relationship with your son and daughter-in-law for years to come, if not eternally, so please do not makes this huge mistake. Attend the wedding!’ Such were her words. Now look what she does!”
“It is incredibly stupid, and it is frightening to see how all of her relatives join into her plot. What ever you will finally do, our sister and I will be there. We will not let you down!” confirms the baby brother.
“Thank you for sticking to us. Our sister has already called and confirmed that she will come under any circumstances. It looks like you two are going to be the only members of our family who will be present. What a blessing it is that we siblings are so close to each other.”
“You are more than welcome. It is the natural thing to do. Everything else would be an abomination.”
Almost 9 years later, during a Christmas visit in our student’s new home in Chicago, his mother gives her version of this event of sabotage:
“No, it had little to do with this media report. Do you remember those weeks when your then bride was in the hospital and we came down south to visit you? At that evening, your father and I went out with you to a pizzeria. And it was there where we had our first intensive talk about what you were doing, about your political views. We both were so shocked about your statements that we decided that this is not having any future, that we could not endorse any wedding under such circumstances.”
The son stares at her in disbelieve:
“I do not remember any of this. I remember many heated exchanges we had on history and politics, but I cannot remember any argument in a pizzeria.”
To which his mother replies:
“No, it wasn’t an argument. You simply held a monologue and we listened.”
“And without discussing anything of what I said to you, you simply decided behind my back to take this as a reason to sabotage my wedding? What exactly was it that upset you? What did I say?”
“I do not remember it anymore.”
Her son tries to give an explanation:
“Well, when going back in time, late 1993 and early 1994 was a year when I was going through a lot personally and also learned a lot about the German repressive apparatus, both by personal experience, experiences by friends, and in the media. And my bride was always a part of it, knew exactly what was going on, and I had the full support of my future parents in law. So for them it was not a big deal. But for you my perspective must have been an epiphany.”
“You sure were under a lot of pressure then, and I understand now that this might have been a reason for your statements”, his mother replies, to which he responds:
“In early 1995, when testifying in front of this show trial, you yourself experienced how the German censorship and kangaroo trial system works, didn’t you? I mean, at that time you were politically very active in Germany’s biggest political party, and you were a lay judge. But you were absolutely shocked about what you experienced there, right?”
“That is right, and this is the reason why I pulled out completely, left the party, and stopped volunteering as a lay judge” she concedes, to which her son reacts:
“So maybe you simply misunderstood my statements in 1994?”
His mother ignores this statement, as she is already one step ahead at what really bothers her:
“What is it exactly you wanted to change politically when it comes to Germany’s political system, if you had the power?” she asks him with a vibration in her voice, indicating that she is a little scared of what her son’s answer would be.
“This is a bit academic, since I will never get into such a position. But very well, the answer is simple: I never had the intention to change any system. It might not be perfect as it is, and it sure needs reforms as every system once in a while. But I think it is generally a good one. What I criticize is that those in power break their own rules. They are the ones who do not abide by the laws. All I want is that they obey international and constitutional law, primarily when it comes to freedom of expression, freedom of science, and other civil liberties. What upsets me is the violation of human rights, not the system. Maybe I didn’t make that clear enough. But after all I have experienced and learned during the past ten years, and you can confirm it by now, I do have a point here, don’t I?”
Her son’s answer takes the heat out of this discussion, and she finally relaxes. What was she thinking anyway? That her son had turned into a revolutionist, a guerrilla fighter, a terrorist? No, he is just an intellectual rebel, an ardent supporter of justice and civil rights.
“I am still waiting for an apology, mom!” her son continues. “Whatever the reasons, hardly anything justifies the sabotage of a wedding, and I still do not think your reason does.”
“Maybe I was wrong. I am not perfect either.”