Katharina Niemeyer

“What does this mean, you type something on this device and someone else will receive it on the screen miles away? Without the postal or telegram service?”

My grandmother, 2001

For her it was science fiction and if she was still alive today she might have forgotten about this first reaction and would probably sit in the living room with an electronic tablet – or maybe not if I see that it took years for my mother to use a smartphone, she got her first in 2013. Nostalgia refers historically to homesickness and became within the years more related to time than space. Fundamentally both, time and space, have never been separated in the essence the feeling and representations nostalgia procures and newer technologies do not fundamentally change what nostalgia is about. Those technologies that offer us the promising possibility to reach far and to get in touch with potentially everyone and everywhere in real-time created a sort of ‘new’ closeness, an illusion of immediacy and presence working sometimes so effortlessly that I forget what my grandma was saying in 2003. I remember my first mail, written in 1999 to Daniela, my future student colleague in Weimar at the Bauhaus Universität who is still a close friend. I sat in front of our first second-hand computer at home – it took the machine at least 7 minutes to wake up and not to forget the alien sound of the modem signal – and I thought that it is kind of funny to just type and click, get in touch without calling via the landline or leaving the house to walk with a letter to the postal office.

The strange thing is that when you invited me to write a more personal piece on nostalgia, well, without any surprise from a scholarly point of view at least, I thought of my childhood and my grandmother, my grandfather, and started writing – but not about them. I typed on the keyboard about music and how it makes me travel in other spaces and between all temporalities nostalgia embraces and also about how much I miss playing the saxophone – too paralysed to touch it again but nostalgic of the funky time both of us shared. Actually, I snapchatted the past to myself in form of pictures and I also snapchatted myself from and into the future… what I will miss then and finally now; all the things actually life did not offer to me even if it offered me a lot. Everything I wrote down seemed quite pathetic, so I deleted it and came back to the first snapshots that came to my mind…  

They were the most generous and gentle human beings I have ever met in my life. I have never heard them say anything negative about anyone. My grandmother was the kind of person who baked eight cakes for fifteen persons coming to her birthday just in order to offer them half of it after the party to make sure that everyone would have enough to eat for a week. They were always there in their tiny, modest flat – gardening outside whenever they could – and waiting at some point for my sister and me to come to visit. They never said that they were waiting, but they were always there when we stepped by – at least in my memory. When we left, my grandfather would stay on the doorsteps of the house and wave his hands as if it was the last time; he said “adieu” in French and I wonder today if this habit was not related to his job as he used to be a ticket-inspector of the Deutsche Bahn… as if we left in a train in front of the building – and he would stand waving there until he could not see us anymore. I would have loved to send you this picture via Snapchat in 1987, but to be honest I prefer it this way and who knows: If Snapchat or even Facebook existed in the 1980ies, would I remember this moment the same way? Will we remember our Snapchats and be nostalgic or does it not manner anyway?

Even sad or tired, my grandparents always had a warm smile and find pieces of chocolate in a drawer at some point. I remember my grandmother gazing quite often something else in the water bubbles than the dishes she was cleaning with the always intense and delicate rhythm – sometimes tears were running on her skin. When I asked “Is everything ok?” – she just said, “Yes” and I continued to dry the dishes. I eventually understood years later that she probably would have loved to have another life, to have attended school and not being dependant on my grandfather; even if they seemed to love each other a lot. They disappeared one shortly after the other in 2012. It was years later that I understood why she was always hiding in the basement when a thunderstorm came up. During the war she was 6 years old and afraid of the bombs again when nature made the same noise; the basement was her shelter. The basement was also the place where we found the poems my grandfather wrote. He used to put them in some old books stored there; books also filled with old Deutschmark and pictures taken before the war in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, the part which is now in Czech Republic, the place he was born. The basement – filled with homemade jam jars and other green garden harvests – was their shelter and finally secret garden.

When I was 14 and learned about what happened in those years I did not talk to them during a year, just by conviction that they were responsible even if they were children in the 1940s. Today I regret that I was angry against them when they did not want to talk about the war and their experiences. I do not know a lot about them in the end – also my mother cannot answer most of my questions – so their life and experiences became secrets in my eyes and I make snapshots to keep them, close. And next time I go back to Europe, I will try to travel to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.