Monday 28 January 2019

Read in 2019 - 2: Jahrgang 1963

Jahrgang 1963 - Eine Kindheit unter dem Einfluss der Kriegsgeneration und progressiven 68er
Holger Hähle

As I said in my next-to-last post, I've been reading two German books in a row; quite a change from my usual reading habits.
This one was an interesting read in that the author describes his own childhood and youth, and since he is only 5 years older than I, there is a lot I can relate to.

Much of the book is dedicated to young Holger's struggle with what he perceives as his own inadequacies, and trying to understand the world around him. 
He has an active mind and is interested in many things, but not overly keen on spending his afternoons with the other children of his neighbourhood - he is happiest when he can roam the woodland behind his house all on his own, making discoveries about natural life he is sure the others know nothing about and are not interested in anyway.

More often than not, he is told (at school and home) that he could do better with some effort, and his clumsiness is frequent cause for breaking things and feelings of low self-esteem. Only when he finds out that practise does indeed make next to perfect, this changes somewhat; he excels in sports by sheer tenacity, pushing himself to his physical limits - never to impress others, but to prove to himself that he can do it.

The world around him is confusing and puzzling. He grows up in an era where in this country (Germany) many of the teachers from pre-war times were still teaching, but at the same time a new generation of young, liberal-thinking teachers were starting their work at schools all over the country.

Some of the elderly men had not changed. WWII may have been over decades ago, but they were still sticking to their old ideas of discipline and racism, acquired during the Nazi years when they were studying to be teachers. In contrast, the new teachers were anti-authoritarian and did not want to teach discipline, but free thinking. A perfect mix to confuse any student!
For young Holger, it means he can not find anyone he really sees as a guide among the adults; his family members and neighbours are just the same as the teachers. Their contradictory claims on what is right and what is wrong is inacceptable. There is only one way - he has to find out for himself, and make up his own mind, his own set of rules and values to live by.

He comes to love mathematics and natural sciences, as they are so clear and logical; there is no confusion in maths about what is right or wrong, and the natural world follows its rules without constantly changing them.

I liked this book, even though I found it unnecessarily lengthy in places. The author obviously tried really hard to convey what he was thinking, and why, but repeating the same thought several times just in different words does not necessarily bring home a point any clearer. Also, there are quite a few bits where he uses a term or expression wrongly, but I should not be too strict - at the time of writing, the author was obviously not (yet) a well-practised or trained writer.
And besides, this was of course a free ebook - one more reason not to complain.


  1. I've read several free books at the Gutenberg site. I rarely download them onto my Nook (to save space).

    Since this book is written in German, it got me much do you speak and write in English in your everyday life? You're so fluent in English that I'd never know it wasn't your first language if I didn't know any better! I'm so envious of people like you that speak more than one language. I still dabble in learning Spanish but I'm not very good.

    1. English features every day in my life, sometimes only in reading (for leisure, rarely for work) but usually also in writing. I am regularly in touch with friends and family in the UK or elsewhere, either by text messages or emails and the occasional phone call.
      Then there is of course blogging, which happens almost exclusively in English for me.
      At work, nearly everything is German, although there are some papers on a EU-wide level that are available only in English; sometimes I have to read these for research and then let my clients know in German what I found.
      With one of the neighbours in this house, I prefer speaking English, as his German is not very good yet (he is from Bangladesh). Of course it would be more useful to him if we spoke German, but if I need to tell or ask him something (I do some of the admin work for the tenants in this house), English with him is quicker and less prone to misunderstandings.

  2. I guess everyone has a story to tell, really. When I stop to think about it, I always find it amazing how much life has changed in just my own lifetime. I remember grown-ups in my childhood talking about "the war" and to me (at age 5 or whatever) that already seemed like ancient history (as anything before I was born). Oddly, the older I get, the more I can sometimes feel the past kind of catching up with me - even the years before I was born! - like if I had lived 120 years rather than 63... (I guess a bit of digging into the family history after the death of my own parents may have contributed a bit to that)

    1. You seem to be more in touch with your past than many others, Monica; what you say about digging into your family history makes sense.
      I am about a dozen years younger than you, and can say the same about how things have changed in my lifetime - just in my original area of work alone, where I started with cardboard cards and stamps and fully experienced the transition to computerised library administration.

  3. My German would not be up to this, though the story sounds interesting. I'm reading The Ragged Edge of Night based on a true family story of some German resistance in an area a bit south of Stuttgart, I think. It's quite a fascinating story.

    1. The location is Unterboihingen, but it has another name now.

    2. Yes, you mentioned the book on your blog, or was it in a comment on someone else's blog?
      My Oma had a friend in Oberboihingen, if I remember correctly. She would sometimes come visiting my Oma here in Ludwigsburg, travelling by bus and train which must have taken her hours.

    3. I think it was the Weaver of Grass who mentioned it and inspired me to find a kindle copy. I'm about half way through....