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I took on this week’s challenge to celebrate how close our European nations have grown together since that last horrible world war, - now that we are living in the shadow of BREXIT. As a German, I still feel a lot of guilt and shame wrapped around WWII and what it has done to Europe, the world and our collective consciousness. And while I feel guilty about the war, I feel deeply frustrated about BREXIT. This combination of guilt and anger has made this quite an emotional blog to write.
My deepest frustration with BREXIT lies in my inability to participate in the decision-making. As a non-UK citizen, I will not be able to vote in the referendum that has the potential to significantly change my life. Nobody can say for certain, what the impact of BREXIT could be on anything ranging from labour laws to trade arrangements. So my leverage lies in influencing others, as the only born-and-bred Englishman amongst my guests of the ‘War-Rations Dinner Party’ clearly felt.
THE PR OF WAR AND THE POWER OF LILI MARLENE
After an animated exchange over the current Syrian immigration crisis in Germany with an RAF lieutenant, his parting words were: “The real problem is that we stop seeing people as other ‘human beings’”. That reminded me of the Christmas truce of 1914, were joint carol-singing and football games between German and British soldiers took place in the trenches. For a short period they managed to remember their humanity and put that ahead of their war efforts.
The song that is accompanying this week’s video, ‘Lili Marlene’, was chosen for the same reason. Music has the power to communicate and unite across boundaries. It was originally written as a reminiscence of the horror of the First World War, in the hope that those who had not lived through it might get a glimpse of the pain and destruction of war. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, banned the song for not being ‘military’ enough and the composer and singer were charged with ‘moral sabotage’ and placed under house arrest. It was only because the German radio station in Belgrade was shelled and most of their records were destroyed, that ‘Lili Marlen’ was broadcast to the troops in North Africa in 1941. There the song was also heard by the allied troops, where it became a favourite with the Eighth Army, who sang it in German. The American troops followed suit. What followed was a rollercoaster ride, that saw the song translated into various versions (some more truthful to the original anti-war sentiments then others). It was sung throughout the world by stars like Marlene Dietrich, Anne Shelton, Suzy Solidor, Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby, Edith Piaf, Perry Como and Jean Claude Pascal.
THE WAR RATIONS DINNER PARTY
I’m just re-telling these two little stories, to show how powerful simple human acts of friendship, music and hospitality can be for human connection. It was in this spirit that I gathered a Dane, a Brit, an Austrian, a French, a Dutch and myself a German to share a dinner as it might have been prepared in 1941. If you would like to see more on the actual cooking, please check out Virginie’s blog here.
Our night was eventful; wine, music and good conversation were flowing. (You might notice that we rationed the food, but not the drink!) We agreed we were all ‘full’ at the end of the meal and Virginie certainly had a way of surprising us with how much she could make of so little. The main trick seemed to be one of substitution, even down to the barley coffee that rounded off our meal.
Yet a sense of loss and devastation was still palatable 70 years after our armies had laid down their guns. Or maybe it was merely my omnipresent German conscience . . .
Thank you to Henry for this idea.
Stay tuned for next week’s challenge, when I’m going on the wireless, err ‘radio’.