29) Act to impress?

These stories stimulate some thinking- where does humanity start?

“Thanks to the one story I came to the idea to tell you an event that has some similarity. I do run the risk of spread the uncomfortable smell of self-praise. In fact, I’m concerned with the question: Why do humans do something “good”?

My uncle Karl, who lives in Tanneberg in the Erzgebirge [at the Eastern border of Germany] survived the first world war safe, his sons however not the second one. One died in France, another one in the Ukraine and the third one starved to death in Soviet captivity.

Decades later I visited him in Tannenberg. Uncle Karl, by now over eighty years old and widower, showed me a letter from the German War Graves Commission, that notified him that the bones of his son, who died in Le Havre, were moved to a central German military cemetery 150 kilometres West of Paris. I said: ‘uncle Karl, we are going there’. As a retired man, he was allowed to visit us in Stuttgart [the narration takes place in the time before German reunion, where this was not self-evident] and together we went on a big journey through France. We stayed over night close to Sacré-Cœur, visited the Eifel tower and other sights and found after our continued travel the grave of my cousin on a huge field. Somehow we also had the desire to get to know Le Havre. Close to the beach we found ourselves in a festival-like event. It was the annual celebration of the D-day.

On the way home we stopped another time in Paris. In a restaurant we witnessed how two waiters took of the coat of a poorly looking guest and wanted to keep it, because he could not pay. Spontaneously I intervened, asked of how much they were talking about and payed the sum. Later I asked myself whether I just did that to impress my uncle Karl. At the beginning, I denied. As a former member of the Hitler Youth I traveled in my younger years always full of guilt abroad and would have used as a patriotic thinking person every opportunity to show a more positive sight of us Germans. But if I had been sitting alone in a German restaurant, would I have acted the same way? I don’t know. I really don’t know.”