Welcome to our September 2004 Newsletter
I want to wish each one of you a safe Labor Day Holiday
To all of my Jewish readers, a healthy, peaceful, prosperous 5765.
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Last month I had started to talk about some of the 93 foster kids and exchange students that I had been fortunate enough to have live with me and give me joy over the years.
1989 was a very special year for me. Not only was it the year that the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, it was the year that I hosted Tilo Pohl, a 15 year old boy from what was then West Berlin, Germany. Tilo was the first of the seven kids that I had from Berlin.
Tilo was special in many ways. He was my first Berliner. I was a bit scared not knowing how a boy that was surrounded by hostile forces all of his life would react to the openness of America. Although I had hosted a couple of German boys before Tilo, both of them were from West Germany. In the years before the collapse of Communism, West Germany was much different than West Berlin. The siege mentality of being surrounded and isolated did not exist in the Western portion of Germany as it did in West Berlin.
I remembered my trips to East and West Berlin, both during my time as a young Lt. stationed in Germany with Army Intelligence in 1963 and during my travels afterwards. I fell in love with Berlin on my first trip there. However, before the collapse of the wall, I always had a strange feeling being there. A sense of being wary; a sense of something hanging over your head; the wall; the guard towers and no man's land on the Eastern side of the wall; the crosses marking the spots where East Germans were killed trying to cross into the West; in West Berlin, the Memorial at Templehof Airport marking the West Berliners thanks for the Berlin Airlift; in East Berlin, the bullet pocked buildings on almost every street bearing witness to the brutality of the final European battle of WWII; the check points and the baroness when I drove from West Germany to West Berlin through East Germany; my fear of the car breaking down in East Germany on the road between West Berlin and West Germany; the searches of myself and my vehicle by the Russians and German Statsi at Checkpoint Charlie as I returned to the West; all had a sobering affect on me.
My other concerns were that Tilo's father was a high ranking official of the West Berlin Police Department and his Grandfather had been a German soldier during the war. I could visualize a mini Storm Trooper occupying my home.
Commencement Exercises, South Pasadena High School, 15 June 1990
Tilo turned out to be so different from my conception of a Berliner that it set my thinking upside down. First, he was probably the kindest, humblest and one of the most gentle of the kids that ever lived with me. Although the European kids were all more politically aware than their American peers, Tilo was probably more aware of what was transpiring in the world than any kid that ever lived here. Secondly, instead of a Storm Trooper, Tilo was a pacifist and wanted to and did eventually do community service rather than serve his two years in the Army as all European boys must do. His older brother Ingo was studying to be a Catholic Priest. But a Priest with a sense of humor that must have made the Pope shake his head in disbelief.
When I met Tilo's parents and Grand parents, I was in for another surprise. Tilo's father was one of the most gracious people I had ever met in my life. His mother made me feel more welcome in her home than in any home I had ever been in. But that was the little surprise. The big surprise was meeting Tilo's Grand parents. His Grandfather had been a prisoner of war, held by the Russians for a couple of years. Although he did not speak English and my German is not very good, with Tilo's help I had some of the most interesting conversations an amateur historian could ever have.The conversations with his Grandmother about her time in Berlin during the war were also fascinating for me. Of course, her baking reminded me of my Grandmother and made me realize how much alike all people are, despite the broad range of differences between us.
I think that one of the highlights of my life will always be the evening of November 9th, 1989 as Tilo was glued to the TV watching images of the events unfolding in his home town of Berlin.
I will have to leave it to your imaginations as to what was going through this young man's head as he was watching these unbelievable events. Of course, on New Years Eve when Leonard Bernstein conducted the Berlin Philharmonic with the words FREEDOM instead of JOY in the memorable performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Brandenburg Gate, both Tilo and I were again riveted to our chairs in front of the TV watching history being made.
In Tilo's own words after he saw the first draft of this Newsletter
"wow, I was really flattered by the content of your next monthīs newsletter.
When I read the part about the breakdown of the Berlin Wall I got such tremendous chicken skin on my arms, itīs unbelievable. I could see myself sitting on the floor in front the TV watching those scenes in Berlin.
I will translate that letter for my parents. Especially the part in which you write about my motherīs hospitality.
I sometimes miss my grand parents. They were always so eager to know how things were going. I also loved her cakes and the roasted chicken she cooked only for me."
Tilo is now all grown, finished University, a teacher in a German High School and is getting married this month in Potsdam, Germany. I am thrilled that Potsdam was chosen as the place for the wedding. As you are probably aware, Potsdam was the place where the plans for the rebuilding of Germany, first laid out at Yalta, were finalized. To me it is the symbol of the beginning of the new world order in Europe and the birthplace of what post war Germany and Europe was to become. What better a place to start a new life?
I extend all of my love and wishes to Diana and Tilo as they embark on this wondrous adventure together.
In September of last year I had mentioned Wil Wheaton's web site, Wil Wheaton Dot Net.
Wil had played the boy Gordie in Rob Reiner's film STAND BY ME
In the movie he wanted to be a writer, so in a twist of life imitating art, he grew up and became a writer.
A damn good one at that!
Wil's first attempt was a humorous, can't put me down book. However it was a first book, self-published on a shoestring and written by someone full of self-doubts and who could not recognize his own genius.
Wil has just finished his second book. This book was written by someone still full of self-doubts. However with the help of an editor and publisher, the genius in him is fully exposed. It is really a great piece of writing. If you have ever had doubts about who you are and why you are, read this book. If you have been fortunate enough to never question who you are and why you are, read the book anyway. Then you can see what you have been missing by never questioning yourself.
In Wil's own words while addressing some comments from readers: "I'm still
a little terrified that the misconception that it's either a fluffy celebrity bio or (even worse) just a Star Trek book will turn readers off, but these readers got exactly what I hope people will get from my book: I may be the central character, but Just a Geek, is really a story about the struggle to find your place in the Universe, and I'm really happy that they grokked that. For today at least, I can lower my internal terror level from Ernie to Bert." Grokked That? I guess that there is still a little Star Trek left in Wesley Crusher after all these years.
From Wil's web site WWDN you can find several links to places where you can order the book.
Or you can order it from my favorite bookstore and the place where I obtained my copy, Vormans Book Store in Pasadena, CA.
Gordie the wannabe writer then and Wil the writer now.
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On a sad note, just as I was finishing writing this newsletter, I was informed of the loss of my eldest brother
Edmund Daniel Stanley Mann
November 17 1929 French Hospital, Los Angeles, CA - August 1 2004 At home, Centereach, NY
My heart goes out to his wife Beverly and his children
I hope that you have enjoyed this month's letter. I am always open to suggestions and would like to hear your ideas and comments.
Please feel free to contact me.
Until the next letter,
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