thoughts – and: Jelenia Gora

It has been more then a week since we have come back from the short trip to Silesia in Poland. In the meantime I have had a lot of thoughts about our trip and about my reactions to  finally seeing the places I had heard so much about …  but I struggle to untangle the different ideas and reflections and to put them into some kind of order.

Some of the themes and thoughts I plan to write about:

* “capitalism is our home” , a sentence I said to my girlfriend before we headed home.

* signs and imagery of different regimes in that region, after trying to imagine how it must have been there with all the Nazi symbolism on buildings … and then thinking that after the war they were replaced by communist propaganda imagery only to be replaced, again, decades later, by our capitalist symbols: huge advertisements on decrepit buildings for all kinds of shopping malls …

* people and buildings that do not go together … or how the Polish people how live there now let the old “German” houses and buildings fall apart and favour new, bland buildings, and wondering if it really is only a matter of money and means (which certainly is the main reason) or if something else is behind this structural neglect of the buildings of a past. Some parts of Jelenia Gora are beautifully restored though, but not the residential areas, where people actually live and work …

*stepping into a picture and into a time …

*layers of time again and again.

Let us begin with some pictures from the market place in Jelenia Gora (Hirschberg), those houses are, of course, all restored  ..

Jelenia Gora Jelenia Gora Jelenia Gora Jelenia Gora Jelenia Gora

My Girlfriend Claudia, her ancestors come from Silesia, and her father spent the war years some 20 km away from the village where my family was deported to … She was never interested in going to this part of Europe, didn´t even know where “Schlesien” was, until I told her about my family and what had happened to then during World War 2 …

Could I have imagined, as a kid, when I was listening to the stories about the war, that one day I would live in the country that was the country of the enemy, that I would have a German partner whose family originated in that part of the former Reich where my family had been deported to? No. But isn’t it an wonderful thing that this is indeed possible? Claudia asked me some time ago: “how can you live in Germany? ” But then I believe that we are all capable of the best and capable of the worst, and that this has nothing to do with where we come from ….


Jelenia Gora Jelenia Gora Jelenia Gora Jelenia Gora

Hamm in der Eifel


picture taken in Hamm /Eifel long before my Dad was born (exact date unknown)

The man with the long beard and the hat is Nicolas Frieseisen, born 1866 in Bettendorf (L), he worked as a forster at Schloss Hamm. He was married to Barbe Gillen, born 1866 in Gilsdorf (L) who was my grandmothers aunt (the sister of her mother, Marguerite Gillen).
Next to Nicolas Frieseisen, on his left, the man with the moustache, is Jean Keip, my grandmothers father.
The woman holding the boy on the left is his wife, Marguerite Gillen, my grandmothers` mother. And next to her is Barbe Gillen, her sister and wife of Nicolas Frieseisen.
On the right, last row, with the hand on her hip is the wife of my garndmothers’ brother Jos. Next to her, with the stripey dresss is my grandmother, next to her, the daughter of Nicolas Frieseisen, and next to her are two sister of my grandmother.
The other people are unidentified.

… ” Wir schickten einen Eilbrief in die Eifel wo ich eine Tante hatte ob ich und die Kinder zu ihnen konnten. Ich fuhr dann mit den beiden Kindern in die Eifel keiner durfte etwas wissen das war eine Fahrt. Der Zug voll mit Soldaten. Immer Kontrollen.Wir waren immer unterwegs zum WC.
In der Eifel angekommen half meine Familie 
mir so gut sie konnten. Eines Tages als Armand aufstand band er nicht seine Schuhe, darauf angesprochen sagte er kann sich nicht bücken der Rücken täte ihm weh., als es nicht besser ging rief ich in Bitburg einen Luxemburger Arzt an (DR.Thys) der dort verpflichtet war. Anfang sagte er ab wegen des Benzins als ichihm meine Lage sagte kam er so schnell wie möglich . Er untersuchte Armand und wollte ihn gleich mit ins Krankenhaus nehmen ein teil Lähmung (?) und Unterernährung. Ich wollte aber nicht ohne meinen Mann zu fragen. Meine Tante riet mir auch zu warten. Wir schickten einen Eilbrief nach Schlesien, ein Mann bekam vom Chef einen Urlaubsschein. Er kam sofort zu uns. Er wollte mit Armand nach Bitburg zum Röntgen fahren setzte das Kind auf die Stange vom Fahrrad nach ein paar Meter kam das Kind mit dem Fuß ins Rad und hatte gleich den Fuß dick geschwollen. Dann ließen wir die Ambulanz von Bitburg kommen. Der Rücken hatte sich aber schon gebessert dank der guten Pflege und dem guten Essen bei meiner Tante. Aber es ist immer etwas zurück geblieben. Mein Onkel und sein Schwiegersohn waren Förster bei einem Grafen auf Schloß Hamm. Der Schwiegersohn war Nazi (war aber gut zu den Kindern) Als der spitz bekam dass wir schwarz da waren war die schöne Zeit um.”
(from my grandmothers memory)


…” Fun der Rees op Hamm hun eh strictement neischt verhaal. Ech ka mech just erenneren dat mei Pap noo komm ass, dat e mech mam velo op Bitburg bei den Dokter gefeiert huet, dat ech ennervee mam Fouss an d Raad komm sin, dat daat zolid wei gedoon huet, sou dat d visite beim dokter duebel noutwenneg waar.

Vum séjour zu Hamm weess ech nit vill, nemmen dat e miir ganz gudd gefall huet: nievt dem Haus stong én Hielennerbaam fun deem ech dei donkelblo bieren (berries) gepleckt a giess hun an nit weit fum hèus waar é floss. Daat alles waar ganz bukolesch, waat manner bukolesch war waar all ooves d réunioun vun der famill an der Kichen fiir zesummen an haart de Rousekranz ze bieden bis et zèit waar fir an d bett ze goen. Ah well, no TV and great piety.”
(my Dad remembers)


home //// part 1

Meditating can provide an inner home (OMAC training weekend in Frankfurt a.M. 2012)

While reflecting what influence my grandmothers (and my fathers) story had on me, I couldn’t help but wonder in how far my inability to really have and care for a home has some of its roots in the fear of having to leave every possession behind. I always wondered how it must have been for them to having to leave without knowing if they would ever see their home, their country, their families and friends again.

And I wondered how they managed to live all those years away from home, in a place where they did not want to be.

The farmhouse in Reibnitz where my father and his parents and other family stayed after they were “lagerfrei”, meaning they were “free” to live somewhere outside of the deportation camps but were still under strict control and supervision. My Dad remembers the farm house well, also the friendly dog.

Whenever I have something that matters to me, I consider how it would be to lose it. The loss is somehow already planned before I even manage to take real possession over the thing / place / home …

The families who had to leave their homes during the “Emmsiedlung”  had very little time to gather a few belongings.
Their houses were taken by the Nazis and given to people working for them, or to families from other parts of the Reich who were regime-friendly … who, then,in turn had to flee after the liberation …
(picture of an official document, taken at the “Mémorial de la déportation” in Luxembourg-Hollerich )

In my studio, there are no shelves on the walls, only boxes of my stuff on the floor. Other people make a place their own as soon as they sign a lease, I, on the contrary, are ready to leave any time. Which isn´t a good feeling. And which often keeps me from making the work I want to make because of intense discomfort (the absence of functioning heating … e.g.) or because I am unable to spend long hours somewhere where I don´t feel “at home” … and so I run off again, to some other place that isn´t really mine …

I have lost a house to a divorce, already knowing while buying and restoring it, that the person I was doing it with was not someone any mentally sound person would stay with.

The fact that since last autumn I co-signed a lease on a garden allotment with a small garden hut on it, is a challenge, also because I am sharing this space and will have to make sure that this time I feel that it is mine as well and that I have the same rights and obligations then the others … As an artist with very small financial means, the tendency to feel inferior is, of course, ever present. Not having real money, not having a place that is mine, my subconscious probably means to protect me from the shock of loss of it all, but actually it prevents me from feeling secure and free.

Apartment in the Göhrenerstrasse in Berlin, I lived there from 2000 until 2008 when a water pipe in the apartment above ours burst and it took the firemen too long to find the main water valve in one of the cellars … we had to leave in a matter of minutes, getting our most important stuff out … and never returned … the place was inhabitable for months …. 

The house. Bought and renovated in 2008. Left it to my former husband during divorce proceedings.

My paternal grandparents bought a house after the war and didn´t seem to be afraid of losing everything again … my parents had a house build in Gilsdorf, really big with a huge garden … it was a real home … my father sold it in 1994, three years after my mothers death. I never really said goodbye to the place, it was too hard to deal with all the conflicting emotions and the memories that clung to that place: a happy childhood, a garden I loved and spent a lot of time in, then, later, a place of conflict and illness , emptyness and sadness  ….

I still haven´t figured out what makes a place a home. Maybe security and permance has less to do with it then I used to think. Since I manage to trust people I like to spend time in our apartment and to take care of our cats when we are away, I realize that it gives me a good feeling to have someone I can trust in our place and it makes me happy to know that someone else can make coffee and sit at our kitchen table and have a relaxing time there … Maybe sharing time and space with friends and family is a kind of home that I like … even though i am a very private person and need ( a lot of) time alone and a space that feels like mine alone …

My parents at their house in Gilsdorf. Where I grew up. My parents did a lot of work to design and build the garden on several levels themselves. I loved this garden. And only now do I appreciate how much work it must have been for them  …

Having grown up with such a big garden means that I feel that outside living spaces are just as important as interior ones … I still have a tendency to feel locked in in houses with closed doors and windows and in appartments without much light … 

Houses. Homes. Such an important and emotional and stress filled subject nowadays. Security seems to equal owning real estate. As if buildings make you immune to illness and death …

Still we all really need a place where we feel protected, safe, warm, dry … a home.

Soldinerstrasse. The only place I ever rented that was mine alone. 2009 – 2014. I used it as a studio mainly, but after the third rent increase I could not affort it anymore. I still miss that place.

That living space has become a commodity is nothing short of criminal.
When your home is causing you stress because you can hardly make ends meet and fear for your job constantly, then your home does not protect you anymore, on the contrary: it makes you sick. Greed, when it comes to housing, is so common that people just shrug their shoulders and pretend it is some kind of natural law that a few people are making insane, indecent amounts of money with a basic human need.

Smelling the flowers at my maternal grandparents house in Beggen. The garden they had was huge, and in my memory, I can always find my grandmother or in the kitchen or in the garden … She lived there until she died in 2001, nearly completely blind and deaf and with a body full of cancer, still she refused to leave that house until the end.

My grandmother from my fathers side spent her last years at a retirement home in Diekrich. She seemed very practical minded when it came to such things as what living arrangements were best for her … She was very social and being alone in a big house wasnot ideal for her. 

Why have we accepted that people have to leave the cities they grew up in so that some guys who don’t even know how many buildings they possess can “invest” in some city … and “renovate” buildings in a way that they remain vacant afterwards because no one can pay the rent they are asking…? Or because they never meant to do anything but resell them anyway and don’t want to be bothered with tenants?


Our garden! It feels good to work on it, in it, to spend time there … and I am happy to share it with people I like.


… to be continued ….

I grew up with war stories.
My grandmother liked to entertain uns with stories form the “Emmsiedlung”, and I do mean entertain. She could find something worth laughing about in everything. And the stories were funny. In retrospect, I do not remember my grandfather adding anything to her stories, or even mentioning the war , he seemed quiet, not keen on talking about those times.
Even thought the anecdotes of my grandmother were meant to make us laugh, they also meant that we knew what had happened to her family during those years. She often tried to make light of what she had been through but the anguish she had felt was still palpable. And she could switch from being funny to being serious rather quickly.
The one time she travelled secretly, without the necessary permission from the authorities, from Silesia to the Eifel on a train in order to get help for my sick father, who was 5 or 6 years old at the time,  seems to me, still today, as something unbearably scary (and brave) to do.
Needless to say, I grew up with rather a resentment against Germans, “Preisen” how we used to call them. That changed when I was a teenager and began to find a liking in German literature and culture. But the deep fear and hate of authoritarian regimes is something that I felt very early and that, of course, never went away.
Another consequence of the lively stories my family told is that I felt their fear and I made it mine. The fear of being woken up in the middle of the night and having to leave everything behind, like it happened to my grandparents, that is one of the irrational fears that I carried with my for year. I remember that even when I was at university in Brussels, I used to sleep with a full outfit of clothes and a pair of shoes next to my bed, laid out so that I could get dressed in less then a minute, and i always had a bag with my most important belongings standing next to the bed as well …  I don´t remember when I stopped doing this, but I must have been well into my twenties … and sometimes now, again, I find myself making a quick mental inventory of the things that I would grab if we had to leave everything very quickly (now my list includes my two cats which makes things a bit more complicated .. )
In these worrying times across the globe and also, especially in Europe, the old ghost come back to haunt me.  I am shocked at people reactions to refugees. How can one not feel compassion for people who had to leave everything behind and who can never go back to their homes, simply because those homes to not exist anymore? How is it possible to treat people who went through horrific experiences as lesser humans? And how on earth is it possible that  people consider themselves “decent” citizens preach, yell, scream and propagate hate and intolerance?

It is in their deeply ugly, grotesquely enraged and empty looks and stupid faces  that I see the spectres of a dark past rising again….

religion and identity



I wondered about all the pictures and the statues of the „virgin Mary“ in the pictures I found.

The cult of Mary had helped form the Luxembourgish identity in the 17th century and then in this time of war and deportation people turned to her again for consolation. There was even a statue that the Luxembourgish people had asked to put up upon an altar in one of the churches in Boberstein … so during that time far away from their country they still had a place to worship their patron saint.
And the only picture put on the walls seems to be always of the Virgin Mary …