The Most Important Man

Trip Start Jul 20, 2012
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Trip End Jun 28, 2013


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Flag of Germany  , Hamburg,
Monday, July 30, 2012

(Preface: Since my temporary host family is moving to an apartment in the coming months, they are faced with the daunting task of down-sizing everything. Today I helped thin my host father's collection of correspondences, unpublished works and the occasional syllabi or student workbooks.)

There in the doorway of the house lay a pile of large three-inch portfolio binders, perhaps thirty or so. Among these records there were various books and pamphlets; all had come from but one of many bookshelves. To make our way to the area in front of the house we had exited the back door because of the book barricade. Once we made it to the front yard, there were two paper recycling receptacles. He had a poignant look on his face; he was essentially purging his life’s collection of various works. He opened the first binder. He explained to me that 'the universities in Germany do not have archives to store all documents accumulated by professors’, and it was the professor’s duty to retain all important documents. Since it had been nearly 20 years since these documents were written, they had little importance. The first binder contained an extensive record of correspondences to colleagues of his; post, fax, cards, the seldom e-mail. He leafed through the information page by page. Every now and then he would smile and tell me a brief story about a book they published together or a conference they had met at. The next binder contained information about a research project to integrate and teach the newly liberated Bulgaria. "This," he said with a reminiscent tone, “Was a very good project, extremely successful. And I was able to hire some students to carry out the research.” The campaign in a latter file had apparently not worked so well. “This one had little success” he said. Then were the records of conferences abroad. Berlin, Madrid, Kiev, Moscow, London, New Jersey, Vilnius, Washington D.C.; all were high-level history summits. Intermittently, we came across many rough-drafts of to-be publications. He would briefly look over it, and then usually come into agreement that, yes this had been published. Then into the recycling bin went all of the documents. Then we came across an older German book. He told me it was a book about WW1. “This is a problem” he proclaimed. This book was printed in 1936 under the NAZI regime. Setting it to the side he said, “I must refer to my colleague about the historical significance of this book.” Then we came across the draft for one of his favorite publications, A Compilation of Biographies of Punishment in the 18th Century from the Points of View of the Punisher and ‘Punishee’. As it turns out, it is rather hard to find biographies from women and those from the lower class, but nonetheless he succeeded in his work. Success was not uncommon however; he had published nearly 10 books with 30 editions and over 100 articles. After many more memories shared and documents discarded, he looked at me and said, “It is a great pity these all must be put [thrown] away, if I had thought I would be historically important, I would keep them…”  

Personally, I cannot think of a person of greater historical importance, for whomever writes the books today, preserves the stories of yesterday and teaches the history tomorrow.
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Comments

Shari & Curt on

We are thinking of you! The sights are amazing, but it's the people you never forget...Viel Spass! (Hope I spelled that right)...Hasta...

Curt on

Brandon, sounds like you are off to a wonderful cultural and learning experience. We enjoy hearing about yor activities.

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