The Last Return 35

[Top photo a last shot on the way to Minsk in Belarus, second photo a street in Frankfurt Westend. Bottom photos the view from the guest room of the seniors’ residence in the Westend and a heat-/water-stressed linden tree].

Friday 24th May

O. has prepared a lovely Russian breakfast of bliny pancakes with sour cream. As a farewell gift, V. presents us with his USB containing videos and photos of our journey together and says he will send the link to the Mogilev TV news program if and when it broadcasts our interview in the museum.

Driving to the airport, we again pass the President’s compound, and this time there are several men scything in the same field near a horse decked out in an old Russian-style high wooden collar-harness. Maybe they’re making a PR movie of the President. In any case, the area is now crawling with black security cars and soldiers checking along the road for explosives. We joke that perhaps the commanding officer might put out a few empty boxes along the road just to check if his bored soldiers are really checking or just going through the motions …

Driving through a village, I see two storks flying over a field and then a stork’s nest on a high pole which seems to contain hatchlings. Now rare in Germany, storks are also one of the ubiquitous national emblems of Belarus. Can we venture another ‘synchronistic’ interpretation of these avian ‘coincidences’, perhaps almost in the premodern spirit of ‘omens’? First two circling eagles on approaching Veremeiki, then two spring cuckoos in Veremeiki and Lachi, now two storks while leaving Belarus: first the soaring symbols of nobility, the spiritual, predation, war, then of both spring and parasitism, and now the avian ‘bringers of babies’, new life, of spring and renewal. Has this been the beginning and the end of the trajectory of our journey, our last return?

The plane lifts off at Minsk International. I look out. I will never see this land again. Yet now, even should I go blind, it is with me, in me, as memory, ‘pamyat’, as the feel and smell of its soil, its forests, waters, churches, houses and huts, museums, food, people, as a multitude of sometimes dream-like images. No matter how verbally attenuated or reprocessed, our discoveries and stories will hopefully pass on some of all this to our grandsons as they grow up in far-off Australia, and the world heats.  

This time the flight is directly back to Frankfurt. S. is flying on to visit a friend in Zurich, I am staying in Frankfurt a few days with an old friend in a guest room in her Seniorenwohnanlage (Seniors’ Residence) in the Westend. The latter is a low-cost self-care place built by the Protestant church in the 1970s to counter old- age loneliness. I last saw T. sixteen years ago. In her one-bedroom apartment she has, to my surprise, kindly prepared a Jewish poppy seed bagel with a salad of tomato, basil and mozzarella, a meal which may be served on Fridays before Jewish sabbath. I tell her I’ve very recently learned that I may have a small 6% Jewish DNA, a total surprise to me, whereupon she surprises me by saying she always thought ‘I knew she knew I had Jewish ancestry’. (T. teaches yoga, and believes in knowing her past lives and psychic powers).

In the evening we walk in the beautifully empty nearby Palmengarten, now breathing a warm summer evening’s stillness, the plants much more present than in harsh daylight, each standing out in its own special form, beauty, being, preparing for the night. I smell the roses, feel the smoothness of the bamboo. Everywhere various kinds of geese roam around, including the alien Nile geese, their young goslings chipping at the grass, no doubt out-competing native species.

T. is 73 and still works as a yoga teacher because her pension is only c. 600 euros a month, not enough to get by on. She says she is lucky she got into the Protestant church-subsidised seniors’ residence meant for those on a low-income, paying only 350 euros a month rent in the Westend where a four-room apartment can cost 1.2 million to buy or 1500 euros a month to rent. Obviously there is still significant gender discrimination and social injustice even in the German welfare state. A divorced single mother, she has worked lower-income and part-time jobs all her life, working as a secretary for the construction company building Frankfurt’s underground train system in the 1970s. The company had wanted to cut down all the beautiful old horse-chestnut trees along the Bockenheimer Landstrasse, the avenue through the Westend to the university, but she had protested and won the argument.

The Westend and its beautiful bourgeois Gründerzeit buildings were the site of radical sponti-student-led protest against gentrifying development in the early 1970s with house occupations by students and some migrant workers and street-fighting resistance against attempted police evictions. At least the bank skyscrapers were kept out of the core Westend itself. Cohn-Bendit and Fischer were prominent participants in this ‘Haüserkampf’; rock-throwing militancy not my thing, I watched from the sidelines. Now, in the usual historical cycle, many of us are more or less ‘property-gentry’ ourselves.

On a wall in the small common garden, T. puts out trays of water for the thirsty birds and squirrels, and the trays are emptied in a day. She says blackbirds in Frankfurt died of thirst and starvation in last summer’s heatwave and drought. She is happy to see the return of the swallows but numbers are down from once thirty or forty to now six or seven. She shows me linden trees in the aptly named Lindenstrasse where the stress of heat and dehydration has caused profuse suckering at the roots. Welcome to the climate crisis.

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on September 28, 2021.

2 Responses to “The Last Return 35”

  1. Welcome to the climate crisis is right…
    Having recently lost both my parents and this week becoming grandparents, along with retiring to our beautiful Kentucky sanctuary…I’m feeling both blessed and conflicted at being a very small part of the system’s privileged/propertied/gentrifying class…
    Going thru boxes and boxes of memorabilia…and having to toss so much of it…will anyone be around to care about what we do save?

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