Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Good German

Dr. Klaus Thannheauser, at six feet three inches and commensurate broad frame embodied the typical German, but for the smile that seemed out of sync with the neighborhood and one that endeared him to me instantly.

I met him on a business trip, wherein he graciously offered to host me for a weekend, and drove me through the idyllic surroundings of Dortmund, Duisburg and Hannover. Somewhere along the drive, I realized, that I'd become as immersed in the fascinating tales of this towering German, born one year after the World saw the second of its biggest wars, as he took me through his formative years and the potpourri of his experiences.

Like any other of his kind, Dr. Klaus grew up in a state of deprivation that Germany was subjected to, in the post war aftermath, as his father attempted to put together the business, that had been dismantled by the machinations of evolving global politics. Herr Thannheauser Sr. was a strict guardian and insisted that all four of his children ought to undergo vocational training that would hold them in good stead in the new World.

Young Klaus had other ideas, and talked his father into letting him go to the United States to work the way he wanted to. I wondered what must have been the deliberation swirling in the mind of his father when young Klaus propositioned thus. A young German, wanting to go, in less than a decade since the end of the Second World War, to a nation that had contributed significantly in the destruction of his own Fatherland.

He relented, as must all Fathers do, and handed young Klaus a cheque of $500 for the next whole year that he was to spend in the U.S as emergency money, and waved goodbye to the steel blue eyes of his ward with the parting words of wisdom ,

"Remember Klaus, hunger is not an emergency!"

As I looked into the eyes of the old man peering across the steering wheel into the sun-kissed gravel, I saw the same steeliness that was forged by the wisdom of his father five decades back. It was so obvious, that he almost didn't need to tell me, "Soumya, it was such a moment of pride for me, when I brought back that cheque and told my old man, that I had made it on my own" (his father coolly said "Oh, well done!" and tore off the cheque in two and went back to his pipe"). "I believe, I'm a better man for those hardships that I endured".

My last question to Dr. Thannheauser was how did it feel like, being in a nation, that had brought his to its knees, and was, in some way, responsible for the hardships that he had to endure during his upbringing. His response smacked of an optimism, that was like a zephyr in an ambiance parched of any freshness.

He said, during the War, his father's best friend, a Jew, fled the country. Five years, after the War was over, his father could track his friend down to London, where he discovered, that his friend had lost his wife and all his relatives to Hitler's depravity. They met up, and vowed, never to let the hatred of the War percolate to the next generation. "Soumya," said the would-be-Septuagenarian, "the greatest battles between the good and evil are usually fought within and we need to ensure that the former prevails".

Fittingly, Dr. Klaus married an American, and went on to expand his father's business in a manner that didn't require him to tell his son,

"Remember Christopher, Hunger is not an Emergency..."!