Saturday, June 4, 2011

"I know everything," said the Teutonic cabby

Dangers on a train
     Days are wacky in Stettin: daylight lasts till something like 10:00 p.m. And, as my parents might say, “the crag of dawn” is 3:30 a.m. or thereabouts. Night offers little darkness.
     This morning, I managed to sleep until about 6:45, which is good because we needed an early breakfast to make it to the train station in time for our ride to Berlin.
     Our taxi guy arrived at 8:00. The fellow seemed to speak a language with which I am unfamiliar, for it evidently involves only the briefest of sharp ejaculations. When not spurting such verbiage, he hummed along with the radio.
     As we left the hotel, he gestured as if to say, “OK, Bud, where to?”
     “Train,” I said.
     He did not understand.
     Absurdly, I said, “choo-choo” while making like a piston with my arm. Suddenly, he burst into something, I know not what, and off we went in his old Mercedes. I was glad when we seemed to head to the station. We got there fast.
     The lady from whom we purchased our train tickets was hilariously curt and rude. My mom was horrified, but I was amused. I kept smiling at her and asking her questions just to mess with her. “Where do we stand?” I said. She looked at me with contempt. “Where is ze TOILETTE?” I asked. She finally slammed her little window.
     Our train was headed to Berlin by way of a town named Angermünde—a mound of anger, I guess.
     Ah, Angermünde turned out to be mound-less and anger-less too. There, we disembarked our noisy, stinky diesel monstrosity in favor of a relatively smooth electric train. My folks cleverly brought us once again to within inches of the restroom near where people stow their bicycles. The fold-out seats in the toilet zone were hard and uncomfortable, unlike the seats on the rest of the train. But my parents are German, and so they simply sat on those shitty seats and stoically stared forward. And here I am right next to them.
     Right now, it sounds like teenagers (?) are playing grab-ass up at the front of the train, where seats are comfortable. I’m almost inspired to go and look. I could do with some wild youthful nudity or horseplay. Or just a comfortable seat.
     With us here in the car from hell is an aging footballer (with an odd red lastic ball and good humor), a father and son (with bikes), a kindly old woman, and a nondescript old gentleman.
     At the last stop, we picked up various passengers, including a surly woman in her late 20s who refuses to sit down in the only remaining seat, which happens to be next to mine.
     I’ve opened two vents in our hellhole, and the air is almost good. There is much perfume in Poland; I am hoping that the Germans apply the stuff less liberally. So far, so good.
     The train appears to be traveling very quickly. Occasionally, we pass a train zipping in the opposite direction, producing brief red violence, like a flashback to some bloody, swirling hell. No one responds. It is routine.
     My dad insists on speaking with me, which is unfortunate, for my particular hearing problem is most pronounced in settings such as this one: the non-stop background roar. I learned long ago that it is easier to pretend to understand rather than to shout out an explanation of one’s deafness.
     “Yes, yes. Of course, absolutely.”
     In seemingly no time at all, we’ve arrived at Berlin’s main station, and now people are queuing up with their bikes and backpacks. Germans are an orderly people. Everyone is patient, polite. Then the door opens, and all is movement.
     Wow, the station is impressive. Tubular plexiglass elevators! Efficient escalators! We were out of the building in two minutes, where taxis awaited. I stared at them all.

A random Polish derelict along the way
     A tall, bald, energetic man came up to me and said, “do you wish a taxi?”
     “Taxi? Yes." I fumbled for the address. "Do you know....”
     He cut me off. He said, “I know everything.” He immediately led me to his late-model Mercedes taxi. I motioned to my parents to follow. They immediately responded. We were all being very German.
     He ordered us to leave our bags on the ground behind the taxi. “Go now and sit in the car,” he ordered. OK. He seemed to insist on handling the “baggage,” what there was of it, by himself. A point of pride? Efficiency?
     I sat in front. My folks sat in back. Alluding to a family tradition, and before our cabby entered the car, I announced, “We go now.” During his later years, my grandfather, Otto, could be very direct. He would visit all day and then suddenly stand up and declare, “I go now,” and, sure enough, he’d just go.
     So, a few years ago, finding it necessary to expedite movement whenever someone in my family circle sought to depart the company, I would simply declare, “I go now,” and then I'd herd everyone out the door. The practice clicked. It is firmly established.
     Our driver soon filled his seat and asked me where we wanted to go. I showed him the address on a slip of paper.
     “Ah, yes, I know that hotel. Our ride will be cheap. Under 20 Euros!” Off we went.
     Then the talk began. It turns out that our driver was familiar with my mother’s last home in Germany (south of Hamburg) and also my father’s region, which is near Stuttgart. He blathered about dialects. He asked us endless questions. He offered opinions about the Poles. He philosophized. On he went, in his odd, friendly clumsy German way. I could tell that my parents were amused. This was odd, but it was much better than Polish indifference and surliness.
     He got us to the hotel in no time at all. I paid him and off he went. Later, I spotted him driving by, his head still bald.
     Our hotel is no great shakes. There’s no air conditioning, and it’s hot and humid.
     We went to lunch, just down the street, at a Croatian restaurant. We had terrific salads with smoked salmon and bread. We drank too much.
     We staggered to our rooms.
     I think I like Berlin.
     UPDATE: just got back from the hotel restaurant. Man, the food was great! Service excellent. I'm really starting to like this place.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The fading ghost of Rosengarten Straße

     Like an amnesiac with permanent brain damage, Szczecin/Stettin refuses to be what it once was. My mother only remembers the great city before (and during) the massive Soviet bombings of 1944-5. And here she is, 66 years later, trying to make sense of this complex stranger before her.
     On this trip, she had hoped especially to see Rosengarten, a street near the harbor where she was born (in 1933) and where she visited family many times.
     Yesterday, our tour guide, an elderly Pole, seemed to have no idea what "Rosengarten" referred to, which is entirely understandable, since 65% of the city was destroyed, and virtually the entire German population either fled (in some instances, twice), was killed, or died of starvation. Under the direction of the Soviets, the city was repopulated with people from central Poland—and many Ukrainians and Poles who had been forced out of their homelands by the Soviets.
     After the war, there was an active program to eliminate all traces of German culture in Szczecin. In recent years, however, the city has tried to restore the grandeur and culture that once was: the churches, the parks, the public buildings, etc.
* * * * *
     After a little detective work, I discovered that Rosengarten Straße is now known as Podgórna Street. So, today, we visited it. We found that many of the structures of little Rosengarten Straße had been destroyed—or have been otherwise eliminated—though we did find several surviving structures. (See pics.)
     My mother said that she has always had a strong sense of what Rosengarten looked and felt like—"like those movie scenes of old New York, with the tall narrow buildings, narrow streets, and shops and delicatessens and endless hectic activity," she says. It was a small, steep street. A special street.
     "It was a little run down and somewhat poor; it was largely a Jewish neighborhood with many small Jewish businesses, and it was a real community."
     She loved it.
     Today, after walking up and down the little street for ten or fifteen minutes, she decided that there was no doubt that Podgórna was indeed Rosengarten. She remembered her family's old address and she seemed to find that, more or less. Still, the surviving buildings had changed dramatically. And there were new buildings that were nothing like the old ones.
     And the people—well, they really have no connection at all to anyone who lived here 66 or 70 years ago. Those people are all gone, owing to one horror or another.
     And there's no trace of them here.
Looking up to the top of Rosengarten; there are two churches nearby

A shop halfway up Rosengarten Straße; that's mom in the doorway

As the street descends toward the harbor, it becomes darker, dingier. It seems to peter out into nothing

Nearby: a plaque on a wall where a synagogue once stood. It is obscure, hard to get to

A little closer.

Before Kristallnacht: Stettin synagogue

F is for...

When a college looks at courses with the highest failure rate what is discovered and what can be done? Lots, apparently. And it doesn't involve lowering standards either. It includes addressing the phenomenon of the "cyber F," ending online remedial education and dealing with other factors.

from Inside Higher Ed:

Follow the F Grades


...The faculty has just proposed yet another policy -- mandatory posting of midterm grades -- to make sure that all students know exactly how they are doing midway through a course.

In some cases, Hayden said, the college's analysis has led officials to believe that some courses were being offered in inappropriate formats. For instance, several of the highest failure rates were in online developmental courses (around 60 percent) -- and various reforms didn't budge those numbers. So the college has ended online remedial education. "The failure rates were so high that it seemed almost unethical to offer the option," Hayden said.

Most of the changes have involved policies, but Hayden said that in a few cases, deans changed teaching assignments. He said that one course with a high failure rate matched very low ratings by students of the instructor. The instructor had higher pass rates and higher evaluation scores in other courses, and now teaches only those classes. Hayden said that faculty leaders and administrators have watched the results to make sure that rigor is not being affected by the emphasis on these courses, and that there is no evidence of faculty members giving higher grades for reasons other than the grades having been earned....

To read the rest, click here.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

My morning in Szczecin (Stettin)

On "Chobry Seabank," near the Oder River

This is the Old Town Hay Market, near the harbor. My mother's father had a trucking business that would have taken him here many times. (Podzamcze)

The interior of the Archdiocese Basilica of St. James, built between 1250-1300 on the site of an older church.

Looking to the ceiling

This workers union is revered in Poland

I believe that this is part of the complex of the Pomeranian Dukes' Castle

My mother was keen to see the "Rosengarten" district, where she was born, but our tour guide, despite having lived in and around the city since 1946 (he's about 69), had no notion what "Rosengarten" could be, aside from an actual "rose garden" park—which, in fact, seems to have no connection to this district or street. 
I did a little research and I think I have established that there once was a Rose Garden Strasse in the city (see above); and it is now called Podgórna. Evidently, most of its buildings were destroyed at the end of the war (along with most of Stettin), but the street remains, with a new name.

By my reckoning, the "Victory Palace" is nearby. (It is now called the "Red Town Hall.")

Aha! I found this 1910 map of Stettin which clearly shows a Rosengarten Strasse (see green) precisely where the present Podgorna St. is found. Tomorrow, I'll take my mom there.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Annie and "Leena"

     ...Meanwhile, Annie and "Leena" (aka TigerAnn, aka TigerPants, aka TigerAss, aka Li'l Miss Bratty) are relaxing in Trabuco Canyon.
     Annie is fighting the great "Africanized bees" menace and learning new songs on her ukulele.
     Tiger has developed new relaxation techniques.
     In Poland, mom has renewed her passion for chocolate and the like.
     My dad? Well, he called me at 6:45 this morning. I know not why.
     I am researching post-war Stettin and figuring out how to buy a shirt.

Leena in the sun

See How We Are: Extended Play

Rebel Girl's summer travels find her much closer to home than her comrade B. von Traven. But she still has her adventures. Yesterday's perambulations, for example, found her at the Lutheran Thrift Shop in Orange.

Rebel Girl likes the Lutheran Thrift Shop for many reasons especially their unparalleled collection of boy's clothing, all in pristine condition, even the pants because, of course, those Lutheran boys are so well-behaved they don't even wear out the knees of their Levis so Rebel Girl's little atheist can have that particular pleasure for a couple bucks a pair.

Yesterday, at the check-out counter, where two, sometimes three Lutheran ladies often do the tasks that could easily be done by one, thus extending the check-out time exponentially, Rebel Girl admired the stash of the woman in front of her.

It was spectacular. A collection of old parochial school bulletin board pin-ups. Cardboard Biblical characters. Jesus in his robes, various bearded men, little lambs, shepards with their crooks. Faded construction paper silhouettes of Lincoln and Washington. A giant ziploc baggie of all the lost plastic playing pieces from all the old board games in the world: Stratego. Sorry. Battleship. Monopoly. Life.

Who would buy this eclectic hodgepodge? Other than, of course, Rebel Girl, who examined the jumble with some envy and wistfulness. Rebel Girl glanced up and saw that the buyer defied the usual clientele of the Lutheran Thrift Shop which runs to Lutherans, Latino women with children in strollers and disaffected high school students looking for clothing in which to cloak their anxieties.

Then she recognized her.

Exene Cervenka, lead singer of the LA punk band X. Could Rebel Girl count the number of times she'd seen X in concert in clubs, concert halls, demonstrations, festivals? No, she couldn't. Could Rebel Girl sing along, track-for-track to all of the X albums? Yes she could. In that moment of recognition, she resisted that impulse.

She said instead: "Excuse me, I think I've seen you before."

Exene smiled and said, "Do you come to this thrift store often?"

Rebel Girl said, "Yes, but that's not what I mean."

Rebel Girl tried not to gush too much but thought she should say something to this woman whose music has meant so much to her. So she did. Something like: Thanks for the music. It meant and means so much to me. She may have even said, it saved my life, metaphorically, of course.


Exene is older now, like Rebel Girl. They are two middle-aged women counting out their change and handing it over. Exene is in her mid-50s and was recently diagnosed with MS. But she still rocks and she goes to thrift stores and finds what she finds and, Rebel Girl imagines, makes her art of it all.

Before she left, Exene told Rebel Girl, "I'm playing this Saturday."

"I don't get out much," Rebel Girl said and by way of explanation, "I got a kid now, but yeah."

Rebel Girl wanted to say more, so much more, but she didn't. No need to tell Exene who she was and what she meant. She knew. Rebel Girl saved it for the ladies behind the counter and after Exene exited the store, she said, "Do you know who that was?" and launched into an adrenaline-fueled account of Exene's life and career which was lost, alas, on the trio of service-oriented Lutherans behind the counter.

See how we are indeed.


From today's OC Register: Exene tells it straight on X, illness and O.C.


Stettin (i.e., Szczecin)

Mom's dad: Hermann Schultz
     Well, we’ve made our way west, and we have now arrived at the Hotel Atrium in my mother’s birthplace: Stettin—now Szczecin.
     My mother was born here in this harbor town in 1933. Mom's mother died here in 1934—and that’s when mom was taken east to live with her Aunt Marthe in Bärwalde.
     Her father, who owned a small trucking company, died in Stettin in 1938.
     My mother, who was eleven or twelve when the war ended (in 1945), had made several trips to Stettin and remembers the “big city” well. But she hasn't been back here since 1944 or so.
     Strictly speaking, she last laid eyes on Stettin in 1945, when she fled westward on rail flatcars. Her group's train made it through the Stettin station, despite strafing. (The engineer was a Polish prisoner who was instrumental in keeping everyone alive.)
     The next train was not so lucky. Everyone on board was killed by Russian planes.
* * * * *
     The Polish name, "Szczecin," is pronounced something like this: SHTECH'-eena, with the “e” of shtech somewhere between a soft e and a hard i. Closer to the hard i (to my ears). So it's more SCHTIGHCH'-eena.
     The German name, “Stettin,” is pronounced shtettEEN, more or less

     According to Wikipedia:
     Szczecin … is the capital city of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland. It is the country's seventh-largest city and the largest seaport in Poland on the Baltic Sea. As of June 2009 the population was 406,427.
     Szczecin is located on the Oder River, south of the Szczecin Lagoon and the Bay of Pomerania. The city is situated along the southwestern shore of Dąbie Lake, on both sides of the Oder and on several large islands between the western and eastern branches of the river.…
     The city's beginnings were as an 8th century Slavic Pomeranian stronghold. Over the course of its history it has been a part of Poland, existed as an independent Duchy, was ruled by Sweden, Denmark, Brandenburg-Prussia, was part of the Holy Roman Empire, German Empire, Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. It was the residence of the Griffin Dynasty from the 12th until the 17th century.
     While the city was ruled by Nazi Germany the Jews, Poles and Rroma were subjected to repression and finally during World War II classified as untermenschen with their fate being slavery and extermination. After Germany was defeated by the Allies in 1945, Szczecin was awarded to the People's Republic of Poland. The city was emptied of its German inhabitants, who either fled before the advancing Soviet Army or were expelled by the Polish government. Poles resettled and rebuilt the war damaged city, which became capital of the new Szczecin Voivodeship. It played an important role in the anti-communist uprisings of 1970 and the rise of Solidarity trade union in the 1980s.
The Hotel Atrium dining room: pizza and asperagus

The majestic Atrium entrance

Stairs. Dark woods

My room. High ceiling

A friend sent this:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Once a train station (Jewish friends in Bärwalde)

     When, in1934, my mother, Edith, was christened, a Jewish friend of the family was present and gave her the above hand-made cloth. ("ES" stands for Edith Schultz.)
     When Edith and her Aunt Marthe fled the Russians in 1945, they could take very little with them, but they did take this. When mom emigrated to Canada in 1951, she again took it with her.

An abandoned train station in Bärwalde (Barwice): the last time my mother saw her "Jewish friends" was here

Mom's "mother" (actually, her Aunt Marthe) ran a business, as became necessary when her husband (my mom's stepfather) died in 1941.
Marthe had many good friends in town who were Jewish—evidently in the garment industry. My mother remembers some of these friends well.

This old house was perhaps the home of mom's doctor—likely Jewish.

Yesterday: wandering through the graveyard, finding no familiar names.

Yesterday: a random gravestone

My mother and her Aunt Marthe at mom's father's grave, c. 1941

Mom's Bärwalde home, during the war. It was destroyed during the Russian advance

Edith this morning in Bad Polzin, Pommeria

My father this morning

Walking through Połczyn Zdrój this morning

“Park Zdrojowy “

The old hospital is very near the park. This zone seems in between park and hospital.
We appear to be experiencing wonderful, albeit hot and humid, weather

A part of the old hospital where my mother spent many weeks as a 9 and 10-year-old.
I cannot get her to speculate where her hospital room was located. Dang.

Another part of the building

So many of these little towns have magnificent churches

Downtown hustle and bustle on Tuesday morning.

Połczyn-Zdrój factoids:
Połczyn-Zdrój (Polish name)
Bad Polzin (German name, some time after WWI)
• Bad = “bath”
• The town has warm mineral springs, which have been exploited in sanatoriums allegedly to cure rheumatism.
• In 1905 the town had a population of 5,046 predominantly Protestant inhabitants (36 Catholics. 110 Jews), which in the year of 1925 had grown to 5,960 persons.
• Before World War I, the town was known as Polzin. It acquired the name Bad Polzin between the two World Wars.
• In March 1945 the region was occupied by the Red Army, and after the end of World War II it was put under Polish administration. The inhabitants were expelled by the Poles.
• Today, the population has grown to about 8,600
• Its famous park is called “Park Zdrojowy “

8-14: do you regret all the lying?

✅ Trump Encourages Racist Conspiracy Theory on Kamala Harris’s Eligibility to Be Vice President NYT ✅ Orange County Sees Overall Coronavirus...

Goals and Values and Twaddle

blather: long-winded talk with no real substance*
The whole concept of MSLOs [measurable student learning outcomes] as the latest fad in education is somewhat akin to the now discredited fad of the '90's, Total Quality Management, or TQM. Essentially, the ACCJC adopted MSLOs as the overarching basis for accrediting community colleges based on their faith in the theoretical treatises of a movement.... After repeated requests for research showing that such use of MSLOs is effective, none has been forthcoming from the ACCJC [accreditors]. Prior to large scale imposition of such a requirement at all institutions, research should be provided to establish that continuous monitoring of MSLOs has resulted in measurable improvements in student success at a given institution. No such research is forthcoming because there is none….
The Accountability Game…., Leon F. Marzillier (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, October, 2002)
In the summer of ’13, I offered a critique of the awkward verbiage by which the district and colleges explain their values, goals, and objectives —aka SOCCCD'S G&V (goals and values) blather.
I wrote a post each for the district, Saddleback College, and Irvine Valley College efforts. (See the links below.)
This verbiage—stated in terms of “values,” “missions,” “goals,” “visions,” and whatnot—is often badly written. It is sometimes embarrassingly trite.
It occasionally communicates something worthwhile.
No doubt you are familiar with the usual objections to jargon. Higher education, too, has its jargon—an irony, given typical college-level instruction in writing, which urges jargon eschewery.
Sure enough, SOCCCD G&V blather is riddled with jargon and with terms misused and abused. For instance, in the case of the district’s dubious blather, the so-called “vision” is actually a purpose. Why didn't they just call it that?
As one slogs through this prattle, one finds that "visions" tend to be awfully similar to “missions,” with which they are distinguished. The latter in turn are awfully similar to “goals,” which must be distinguished from “objectives.” But aren't goals and objectives pretty much the same thing?
These perverse word games will surely perplex or annoy anyone armed with a command of the English language. In fact, readers will be perplexed to the degree that they are thus armed. Illiterates, of course, will be untroubled.
Here's a simple point: the district and colleges’ G&V blather tends to eschew good, plain English in favor of technical terms and trendy words and phrases (i.e., it tends to be bullshitty and vague). Thus, one encounters such trendy terminological turds as “dynamic,” “diversity,” “student success,” and “student-centered.” Even meretricious neologisms such as ISLOs and “persistence rates” pop up, unexplained, undefended.
Does anyone see a transparency problem with all of this? Shouldn't the public, or at least the well educated public, be able to comprehend statements of the colleges' goals and values?
In the case of the district, to its credit, all it really seems to want to say is that it wants to teach well and it wants students to succeed. Admirable!
So why all the ugly, common-sense defying, buzzword-encrusted claptrap?

Districtular poppycock: our “vision” and our “mission” and our tolerance of twaddle - July 31, 2013

THEY BUZZ: Saddleback College's "Mission, Vision, and Values" - August 4, 2013

IVC’s vision, mission, and goals: nonsense on stilts - August 5, 2013

THE IRVINE VALLEY CHRONICLES: no ideas, just clichés & buzzwords - Sep 30, 2013

*From my Apple laptop's dictionary