I arrived in Leeds on a rainy October day in 1973.
I felt quite miserable when I arrived since I had been terribly sick on
the ferry to England. I had been led to the deck by a helpful steward
who then even brought me a cup of tea, which I thought really nice of
him. But after a while he came back to where I was sitting (and suffering)
with some strange wishes – most inadequate for the state I was in
anyway – so it took some effort to get rid of him and finally off
Tetley Hall, the place I was allowed to stay during my time in Leeds,
was quite a revelation to me and soon made me feel better – my huge
sitting-room, my spacious bedroom, a kitchen of my own and the whole wonder
of an old Victorian house. I got submerged in a very British atmosphere
I had not known until then, including the honourable institution of High
Table, where the meals were celebrated for the upper class of students
and tutors. I somehow felt important – coming from a German “mass”
university – even more so when I became aware of that board with
my name on it on the door to my room in the German Department! I had changed
sides since I had left Tübingen – and this was the obvious
proof of it!
My high spirits didn’t last too long as it dawned on me how incapable
I was of having a normal conversation with the polite and helpful members
of staff. Just consider the normal small talk you have at tea-break (and
there were two of them every day!) You couldn’t always talk about
literature and the vowel shift in Middle English. I had some rather difficult
moments then, and sometimes, as we Germans put it, I’d have preferred
“to sink into the ground” or “to disappear in a mouse
This however didn’t prevent me from inventing the most sophisticated
topics for the essays the students had to write. It was the year of 1973.
The students’ rebellion in Germany was still at its peak, and its
impact on me was reflected in topics such as “Die Philosophen
haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert – es kommt aber darauf
an, sie zu verändern. Nehmen Sie Stellung zu diesem Zitat von Karl
Marx!” I got wonderful essays to correct: some full of Christian
‘confessions’ and spiritual ideals, and some which showed
a sound knowledge of Adorno’s theory of negative dialectic. Quite
a few were perfect in language and style – e.g. those of Mark Wood
who is now Head of ITV News, as I learned.
It was an interesting job, including the German Beginners’
class for students who did not actually study German. I particularly
remember two students who wanted to learn German so that they could
read Adorno in German. Now this was quite a challenge to me (and
them) as you can well imagine! Not to forget the German lessons
I gave to a Welsh Professor in the Spanish Department. Unfortunately
I have forgotten his name [Gareth Davies … see
also Petruschke] but
we certainly had great fun. He learned a lot about the burden of
the German working class according to Günter Wallraff, and
I learned some Welsh words in exchange.
A real inner conflict turned up for me when the Duchess of Kent visited
Tetley Hall for the yearly Guest Dinner. We as residents of the Hall were
told to curtsey for her. Could I, should I, as a follower of the pure
doctrine of Karl Marx, bow to a member of the Royals? In the end I shook
her hand, and she didn’t mind one little bit as far as I can remember.
I do remember marvellous parties and invitations. Douglas Cossar took
me to Stratford for a Shakespeare Festival (an extremely cold bedroom,
but fantastic performances!) Richard Byrn and John Wilkie invited me to
the Playhouse to see Brecht, while Raymond Hargreaves, Fred Bridgham and
Helen Chambers gave wonderful parties.
I immensely enjoyed my life in Leeds – and even more so when I got
to know Stephen Rodley, a student in the German Department. He now lives
in Esslingen and is still a good friend of mine. He did a great job, improving
my command of English in many ways. He also introduced me to the wondrous
world of Leeds United fans (this was the year they won the Championship).
I shiver to remember my first and last visit to Elland Road. Leeds scored
a goal, everyone jumped up and I went down, disappearing amidst a seething
mass of roaring Leeds fans. I was terrified.
When I returned to Germany to do my Referendariat I felt I had
returned to barren wasteland, as far as social life was concerned.
There are countless more stories to tell. For instance, the visit of the
German Professor from Leipzig who had come with his Party watchdog, and
gave a strictly linguistic lecture on Shakespeare. We went dancing in
the evening. I think it was Richard, Lilias and me and the two of them.
The watchdog danced ‘freestyle’ with me as proof of the openness
and nonchalance of the GDR system. “Wir sind nicht so dogmatisch,
wie man im Westen denkt.”
I have fond memories of the friendly and caring cleaning ladies at Tetley
Hall who always called me “luv”, and of Mr Dexter, the night
watchman who passed by whistling every night and often came in for a cuppa
with me. Now and then he sang German songs to me. He had learned them
during the War.
I remember so many nice people, and I’d like to say thank you to
all of you!